Purpose

A blog that focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

What's the Point?

At times life can be frustrating, discouraging, or even hopeless. When one sees no apparent reward for his effort, no apparent value in his existence, no apparent reason for his circumstances, no apparent connection with others, or no apparent stability in his situation, he can easily ask the question, "What's the point?" He loses determination, motivation, and interest.

A father tries to support his family but loses job after job through corporate changes. A single lady waits many years to be married, only to have her husband die after a short time. A couple's lengthy pursuit of children results only in miscarriages. Parents who have tried to carefully lead their children see one after another leave the church. A person in the prime of life faces persistent health problems that rob his best years. A widow lives on for decades with no one to support her. A single person endures a distasteful job so that he can come home every day to an empty house and a solitary life. Liberalism or false teaching creep into a ministry to which a faithful man had dedicated years of labor.

These problems are not exclusive to the modern day. After an unimaginable series of tragedies, Job faced a devastating health condition, while finding no comfort from his friends. Under these conditions, he did not want to keep living. "Why is light given to him who suffers, and life to the bitter of soul, who long for death, but there is none?" (Job 3:20-21). Job agonized, "What is my strength, that I should wait? And what is my end, that I should endure?" (Job 6:11).

Moses faithfully served God, having chosen "rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin" (Hebrews 11:25). His reward was repeated challenges, provocations, and threatenings. On one such occasion, Moses cried to God, "Why have You been so hard on Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all this people on me? . . . If You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once" (Numbers 11:11&15).

After three years in hiding, Elijah acted boldly at God's command, but victory dissolved into discouragement when Elijah's life was immediately threatened. Elijah went "into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and requested for himself that he might die, and said, 'It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life'" (I Kings 19:4).

Asaph's psalms reveal a sincere and sensitive heart for God. Faithful Asaph became discouraged when he observed the comfortable life of the wicked. He admitted, "But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling, my steps had almost slipped" (Psalm 73:2). In frustration he bemoaned, "Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and washed my hands in innocence" (Psalm 73:13).

If anyone could have succumbed to the frustration of a life beset by problems and trials, it would be Joseph. He was hated by his brothers because of his father's choices, sold as a slave while obeying his father's command, falsely accused when he fled evil, wrongfully imprisoned, and forgotten by someone he had helped. Joseph spent decades separated from his family, living in a strange land in the service of others. Joseph was consistently faithful and innocent, but every time he started to see the blessing of God, a new tragedy would strike.

The Bible does not record any desperation or frustration from Joseph. Joseph did not cry out, "What's the point?" Joseph was different in the midst of trials, because he focused on God's truth. Joseph told his brothers, "Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life" (Genesis 45:5). He later stated, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Genesis 50:20). Because Joseph focused on his role in God's service, he could continually face life with peace and assurance.

God also has truths for His children today. No matter how wrong or frustrating or worthless or pointless life may seem, there is always purpose in life. In the midst of setbacks, disappointments, reversals, and pain, God always has a plan for His children. Here are some applicable truths from God's Word that can provide purpose in any situation.

"Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

"Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship" (Romans 12:1).

"For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body" (I Corinthians 6:20).

"Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (I Corinthians 10:31).

"According to my earnest expectation and hope, that . . . Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death" (Philippians 1:20).

"Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men" (Colossians 3:23).

"So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (I Peter 1:7).

If one's goal in life is to experience health, comfort, stability, success, or respect, then life has great potential to seem pointless. If the most important thing is to enjoy life, spend time with family, be active socially, or prosper in ministry, there is ample opportunity for frustration to creep in. However, if one's goal is to please and honor God, based on a foundation of verses like those listed above, life cannot be pointless. There IS a point.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Hugs

Hugging has multiple identified benefits. Physically, hugging lowers blood pressure, lowers the heart rate, facilitates healing, reduces pain, balances the nervous system, relaxes the body, increases energy, improves concentration, and promotes better sleep. Socially, hugging decreases loneliness, aids in social bonding, promotes trust, and strengthens interpersonal connections. Emotionally, hugging makes people feel happy, wards off depression, soothes fears, promotes calmness, and reduces stress and anxiety. Hugged children benefit into their adult lives, and hugged seniors benefit through the end of their lives. Physical touch benefits people by adjusting levels of oxytocin, dopamine, seratonin, and cortisol. Virginia Satir, a family therapist states: "We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth."

Two realizations can provide some parameters for considering hugs (and other physical contact). First, people without God perceive a greater need for hugs, as they try to replace with human interactions everything that God can supply. Even significant interaction with people cannot match or replace the interaction with God. Second, God made both the human body and the emotions. The benefits of hugging are not accidental, but are by God's plan. Guided by these two factors, a Christian should recognize the God-intended value of hugging, while not depending upon it as desperately as the world does.

The majority of hugging takes place within a family, between spouses or between parents and children. Where do people without a family (or without family nearby or with a dysfunctional family) get hugs? The simple answer is that God actually describes the church as a family. The bond between brothers and sisters in Christ can transcend that of biological family. "Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another" (I Thessalonians 4:9).

God intends for members of a church to meet each other's needs. "Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:1). Christ's new law to His followers was "that you love another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (John 13:34). Christians should desire and aid the well-being of others. "But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth" (I John 3:17-18).

God makes powerful statements about love in the church. "Fervently love one another from the heart" (I Peter 1:22). "Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another" (I Peter 4:8). "This I pray, that your love may abound still more and more" (Philippians 1:9). "May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another" (I Thessalonians 3:12).

God wants believers to love one another fervently, increasingly, and demonstratively. One might argue (correctly) that he can do that without physical displays of affection, but even the Bible encourages physically-expressed love. "Greet one another with a kiss of love" (I Peter 5:14). Hugging is an appropriate and common cultural equivalent.

Hugs (and other touches) communicate, usually positively. Hugs can communicate each of the following Biblically-appropriate sentiments.
  • I greet you as my sister in Christ.
  • I'm glad to see you.
  • I love you.
  • I'm sorry.
  • I forgive you.
  • Thank you.
  • Congratulations.
  • I'm happy for your good news.
  • I sympathize with your loss.
  • I care that you are hurting.
  • I realize it's hard to be in a spiritual (or emotional) battle.
  • I'm here for you.
  • I'll miss you.
  • Goodbye.
Hugs can also communicate negatively. Some people's hugs are so stiff that it seems they are trying to hug from across the room. Other hugs are obviously obligatory. Hugs can be given from mindless routine, without even looking at the recipient, or while already moving toward another person or activity. These hugs can actually be hurtful. Beyond failing to communicate the positive sentiments in the list above, they actually assert, "I don't want to hug you. I felt trapped into this. I don't really care that much."

An absence of hugs also communicates. Even human psychology recognizes what God declared as true. "That their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love" (Colossians 2:2). "Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity" (Colossians 3:14). Hugging promotes unity and trust by allowing and even welcoming another person into one's personal space. Without that expression of acceptance, trust is curtailed, acceptance is questioned, and the ability of the relationship to grow is hampered.

People come from different backgrounds and therefore different comfort levels and different expectations regarding physical touch. While Christians should grow into this aspect, it is important to be sensitive to other people's preferences and to the growth process. "Huggers" should not inundate "non-huggers" with frequent and lengthy hugs, while "non-huggers" should be sensitive to the needs and feelings of "huggers." It is important to note that meaningful hugs are an outgrowth of a meaningful relationship. Hugs without a supporting relationship have little meaning, but as a relationship becomes more established, hugs should become more frequent and more meaningful.

Many fellow Christians especially need hugs from their church family. There are widows and singles. There are people with alienated or unsaved family. Older couples, empty-nesters, and "church widows," (those whose husbands don't support them spiritually), need hugs. Children and teens need hugs. People who work in a secular workplace need hugs. Those who are sickly or shut in need hugs. Most people particularly welcome hugs in times of trial, bereavement, or tears.

Sometimes a brief hug is sufficient, while at other times a sustained hug is needed to do the job. Considering the positive and healthful benefits listed in the opening paragraph, believers should recognize hugging as a legitimate and valued Christian expression.  

"Let love of the brethren continue" (Hebrews 13:1).

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Spicing Up Devotions

My most recent posts have examined various frustrations that can occur regarding daily devotions. It is hard to continue any activity that is viewed as difficult or profitless, so I have attempted to give guidance to make devotions more accessible and productive.

The final of the six considerations I presented was "I am discouraged from having devotions because I get bogged down or bored." I discussed the need for variety in devotions, essentially for balancing slower, more in-depth study with quicker and broader but more shallow reading.

In addition to varying the format of actual Bible reading/study, a Christian can add many other activities to complement his structured reading of the Word. Obviously, he cannot do all of these every day, but maybe he could do a few of them regularly and others sporadically. The beauty of the following activities is that they can help to extend a devotional attitude throughout the day. They can also provide something meaningful to do on a day when extra time is available.

1) Pray.
This should be a fairly obvious suggestion and a regular part of any Christian's life. The presentation can vary, however. Whether it is regularly structured or "extra" prayer time, different categories (self, family, church family, friends, leaders, missionaries, ministries, country, etc.) could be prayed for on different days. A day could be dedicated to a particularly pressing need. Special prayer could be focused on one's own growth and revival. Various Bible passages could be used to provide the content of the prayer.

2) Memorize Scripture.
This is a valuable practice for various reasons, including being able to properly focus one's own thoughts during challenges as well as being able to help others. In my experience and observation, memorization works best with some purpose and structure. There are programs available that compile lists of especially pertinent verses. Memorizing a passage (or even a book) can be more profitable than scattered verses. One can choose a favorite, familiar passage and memorize it.

3) Keep a journal.
There are multiple types of journals and journal content. Some people write down inspirational thoughts and quotations, perhaps from books or sermons. Others keep track of special blessings and answered prayers. Some include sermon notes or Bible study notes. Others focus on verbalizing their struggles, aspirations, or soul thoughts. There isn't really a right or wrong thing to record, and certainly a journal could include any combination of the above. A related activity is to go back and read past journals, perhaps even typing ones that were previously hand-written.

4) Listen to hymns.
It is helpful to listen to quality recordings or radio. Better yet, one can play hymns on a piano or other instrument or sing hymns mentally or out loud. He can make his own recordings of special hymns. He can memorize favorite hymns, which is great preparation for times of challenge or for the middle of the night. Another related activity is to read hymns, perhaps purposefully identifying Bible truths or underlying Scripture texts.

5) Read books.
No book is a substitute for the Bible, but many books can apply or enhance the truth of the Bible. There are many resources available, both in print form and electronically. One could read a theological book (gasp!), a Christian growth book, a devotional book, or a biography about a missionary, Christian leader, or ordinary Christian. (As a word of caution, Christian books come from many different backgrounds; not everything promoted as Christian is fundamental or Biblically sound.)

6) Listen to sermons.
While most effective when one can give his full attention to the message, recorded sermons can also accompany driving time or household tasks. Many churches offer recordings of their sermons; this is a good way to reinforce sermons, either on a regular basis or perhaps just for messages that had particular impact. Not all sermons come from a church setting; conferences and retreats are a source of much life-changing teaching that could be reinforced by listening to recordings. As with books, there is a lot of variety (and false teaching) on the online realm. Therefore, it is best to choose sermons from a pastor, church, or other resource that is known to be fundamental.

7) Type old sermon notes.
Many people who take sermon notes never refer to them again. This does not deny the inherent benefit in taking notes, but that benefit can be enhanced by reviewing the notes. One way of doing this is to type the notes, which not only reminds a believer of the content, but can also translate that content into a more accessible and neater format.

8) Write a Bible study.
It has often been stated (accurately) that the teacher learns more than the student. A Christian can learn much by pretending to be a teacher. He can write a Bible study as if he is the one who would be teaching it. For ideas, he could think of the topic for next week's sermon or Sunday school lesson, a Bible study or retreat that he was unable to attend, or a class that merely surveyed a topic.

9) Personalize a psalm.
Other passages of Scripture can be used also, but psalms are probably the easiest. Either verse by verse or concept by concept, one can write down a personal parallel to the passage. The believer can insert his own struggles and situation, thus leading to applying in his own life the lessons learned or the truth rehearsed by the original writer.

10) Be creative.
When a truth is especially meaningful to a Christian, he can sink more deeply into that truth or extend his time considering that truth by writing a poem or an essay or a song about that truth. He doesn't even have to be a professional, since he and God are the intended recipients.

Each of these methods can enhance or extend devotional time, while adding some variety or spice to a believer's spiritual life. Try something new!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Reasons for Not Understanding the Bible

Some Christians say they don't read the Bible (or read it only with frustration) because they don't understand it. This is sad, because God intends for the Bible to be of great benefit to the Christian, benefit which cannot be fully attained in one or two sermons a week. Self-study of the Bible is a necessity. Increased understanding of the Bible generally comes with increased study, but there are various reasons why some people really do struggle to understand the Bible.

1) A Christian could have a preconceived notion that ordinary Christians can't understand the Bible. A believer who is convinced that the Bible is only for church and only to be explained by the pastor has erected a barrier to understanding. God intends the Bible to be for all believers. God commends the believers in Berea, stating, "Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). Far from relegating Scripture to the church setting alone, these believers went home and studied the Bible to make sure the preacher was instructing correctly.

2) A Christian could be limited due to his intellectual ability. God has not given every individual the same abilities or opportunities. Someone with more education and a higher reading level is better equipped to understand anything he reads, including the Bible. This does not mean, however, that a less educated person cannot understand the Bible. "The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple" (Psalm 119:130). If the wording of the King James Version is restrictive, a believer might consider using a reliable modern translation, such as the New American Standard Bible or the English Standard Version.

3) A Christian might not be using profitable reading techniques. I have discussed this elsewhere, but a few general guidelines are that a reader should pause to absorb what he has read, should summarize content in his own words, should read passages within their context, and should approach the Bible systematically.

4) A Christian could struggle due to limited Biblical background. Understanding of the Bible builds over time. The truths found throughout the Bible interconnect with and support each other. As a reader gains understanding of one portion of the Bible, he will be better prepared to understand other portions. As his understanding of those other portions then increases, he will be better equipped to increasingly understand the initial portion. Understanding the Bible is an ongoing process that constantly contributes to increasing understanding. Even new Christians can have some understanding. "Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation" (I Peter 2:2).

5) A Christian might be troubled by his inability to understand certain parts of the Bible. Some parts are harder to understand than others. Peter describes Paul's writings: "In which are some things hard to understand" (II Peter 3:16). The Bible deals with eternal and divine concepts; mere mortals won't be able to understand completely. Limitations in understanding some portions of Scripture should not prevent a believer's continued sincere attempts. In some cases, a Christian might simply need to set aside a certain passage and focus elsewhere. "But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil" (Hebrews 5:14).

6) A believer might struggle to understand because he has "become dull of hearing" (Hebrews 5:11). The author of Hebrews rebukes certain Christians: "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food" (Hebrews 5:12). The problem is not with the Bible, but with the reader.

There are indeed people who can't understand the Bible. "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised" (I Corinthians 2:14). This ought not to be true of a Christian, who has the Spirit of God to enable him to understand spiritual truth (John 16:13). A failure to reasonably understand the Bible can be an indication of carnality. While Christians have a spiritual nature, they can allow their carnal natures to squelch their spiritual natures; when carnality rules, spiritual discernment wanes.

Carnality can be expressed through a love of the world. "Do not love the world nor the things in the world" (I John 2:15). "Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?" (James 4:4). An obsession with, desire for, and following of the world's lifestyle, philosophy, and pursuits creates a great barrier to spiritual discernment by putting a believer in opposition toward God.

Carnality can be expressed through distraction by earthly things. Life contains necessary "distractions," such as family and work; life can also be filled with unnecessary, chaotic, and detrimental distractions, like technology, entertainment, and activities, which quench spiritual appetites and sensitivity. II Timothy 3:4 refers to those who are "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God." No man can effectively love both (Matthew 6:24).

Carnality can be expressed through resistance to God. A believer can "quench the Spirit" of God who wants to give him understanding (I Thessalonians 5:19). A believer can fight with God over some issue, thus introducing a barrier. "God is opposed to the proud. . . . Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God" (I Peter 5:5-6). Un-confessed sin also introduces an obstacle (I John 1:6-9).

The Bible is powerful and effective (Hebrews 4:12), and God intends for it to be a source of light and understanding (Psalm 119:105). A believer who struggles to understand the Bible should examine these potential areas of limitation and should earnestly ask the Spirit to aid his understanding.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Devotional Drags and Snags: Part 4

The final post in this series shares two additional statements of frustration, confusion, or carelessness regarding daily devotions. Again, the sample statements are not intended to criticize, but rather to provide a springboard for profitable examination.
Part 1: "I didn't have my devotions yesterday, so I had a terrible day" and "I have to read the Bible to get a verse to help me today."
Part 2: "I read the Bible every day, but I don't remember what I read."
Part 3: "Here's what this verse means to me."

5) "I'm almost finished with this devotional book, so I need to find another one."
I don't have an intrinsic issue with devotional books; I have written a couple myself and have contemplated writing others. My concern is for people who only ever use a devotional book, never studying the Bible on their own. Some Christians even claim devotional books are a necessity, as they can't understand the Bible without help. (I intend to do a post soon exploring why people might struggle to understand the Bible. My goal in this post is to encourage those relying on a devotional book to initiate seeking truth for themselves.)

Devotional books primarily contain man's words. A good devotional book will strive to accurately explain and apply God's words, but because of the imperfection inherent in a human author, his words and interpretations can be flawed. There is the danger that a devotional book may not be completely reliable in its teaching.

In many devotional books, a daily entry contains a single verse or perhaps only a portion of a verse. The reader might be exposed to no additional Biblical text in the remainder of the entry. A second danger is that someone using only a devotional book may receive a very restricted diet of Scripture.

A bigger concern than the amount of Scripture is what the author does with that Scripture. While some authors deliberately focus on God's words by explaining the verse(s), others primarily present man's input. The opening verse can be followed by an interesting story or inspirational anecdote so devoid of Scriptural teaching that it could be found in a secular genre. A third danger is in being deceived that one has examined God's truth when he has merely had his ears tickled.

God has given Christians His Word so they can learn about Him and about what He expects of them. The Bible itself claims to have much profit for the believer. "All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness" (II Timothy 3:16). Just like one person's physical exercise cannot profit another, so there is no substitute for personal spiritual exercise. A fourth danger of reliance on devotional books is that a believer might remain weak and dependent.

Devotional books can be valuable when they guide the reader in understanding the Bible. Devotional books may be helpful for new Christians who do not have a Biblical foundation. Devotional books can be beneficial to believers who are in a particularly challenged time of life. Overall, however, Christians who want to grow should pursue the Word itself as the primary focus of their devotions, delegating devotional books to a secondary role.

6) "I am discouraged from having devotions because I get bogged down or bored."
This is a valid concern. Rather than discouraging one away from devotions, however, it should encourage him toward seeking better methods. Any aspect of life - meals, exercise, marriage, activities, daily routine, work - can fall into a rut when it is always the same day after day. The answer is not to stop eating, exercising, being married, seeking diversion, living life, or working. Instead, the person in question should seek to add spark and variety.

From observation and personal experience, I suggest there are three common methods of having devotions: reading an entry from a devotional book each day, reading a chapter of the Bible each day, and reading through the Bible in a year. Christians typically choose one of these methods and then follow it month after month and year after year. It is no wonder that they get bogged down and often perceive minimal return for their investment. It is not surprising that devotions can become an obligation rather than a desired pursuit.

Using a schedule to read through the Bible in a year is a wonderful plan with certain advantages. It helps believers to understand how the parts of the Bible fit together, ensures that a believer is regularly reading all parts of the Bible, and helps to build a strong foundation of Biblical knowledge. But anything with advantages in one area will have weaknesses in other areas. Using this method exclusively prevents a believer from digging deeply into particular passages. In fact, none of the three methods listed above provides the opportunity to delve into the profound truths of the Bible.

A variety of devotional methods can lead to a well-rounded devotional experience, as each method contributes its own areas of strength. While I don't advocate jumping from one method to another with no cohesion or plan, it is certainly reasonable and advisable to alternate methods - perhaps a year at a time, a quarter at a time, at logical junctures, or when freshness is lost. Consider the following sample progression.

Read the Pentateuch at several chapters a day.
Read Genesis, examining the promises of God.
Use Leviticus as a springboard for studying God's holiness.
Study Moses' charge to Israel (Deuteronomy 29-30).
Study the phrase "wait on the Lord."
Read the gospels at several chapters a day.
Read Mark, focusing on Jesus' heart of service.
Study names of Jesus found in John.
Study in detail abiding in the vine (John 15).
Do a word study on peace.
Do a verse by verse study of James.

Broader, general studies can be interspersed with deeper, specific studies to provide a fresh and well-rounded devotional life.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Devotional Drags and Snags: Part 3

The illustrative quotations in this series are intended to reflect common statements of frustration, confusion, or carelessness regarding daily devotions. Rather than questioning the intent of people who make these statements or denying that truth they may contain, I merely desire to clarify or redirect those thoughts.
Part 1: "I didn't have my devotions yesterday, so I had a terrible day" and "I have to read the Bible to get a verse to help me today."
Part 2: "I read the Bible every day, but I don't remember what I read."

4) "Here's what this verse means to me."
I cringe inside when I hear these words. Granted, they can be simply imprecise wording by someone who wants to explain why a verse is special to him. Other times, unfortunately, people mean those words "to me" literally. With literature, the Constitution, and even common terminology, people have come to comprehend things based on the individual reader's interpretation rather than the original author's intent. Sadly, this same fallacious method has transferred to the Bible.

If an author hasn't first clearly identified his message, his words will be unorganized, empty, confusing, and even contradictory. Sometimes authors might be ambiguous intentionally, but generally writers have a clear message they want to communicate; otherwise, they wouldn't go to the trouble of writing. Of all the authors ever in the history of the world, this is certainly true of God. Never has anyone else had a message so important or a desire so fervent for people to understand His message.  God therefore chose His language carefully and deliberately so He could communicate that message effectively.

The Bible is not ambiguous or open to personal interpretation. When a Christian reads the Bible, therefore, he can't decide what he wants a passage to mean; instead, he must endeavor to find out what God intended it to mean. "No prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (II Peter 1:20-21).

Repeatedly the Bible reveals about itself that the Holy Spirit directed men to record God's words. This important truth gives the Bible an unsurpassed level of credibility. It means that God accomplished His goal of accurately giving His message. This divinely-inspired accuracy and precision allows for no error or interpretation. With a man's writing, I might realize that he didn't say exactly what he intended to say; I might adjust my interpretation accordingly. God's words cannot be adjusted, adapted, or personally interpreted. He actually did say exactly what He meant to say.

Paul admonished Timothy, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth" (II Timothy 2:15). Timothy was to preach God's Word straight and smooth, right down the line, without straying from God's intended message; every believer should strive for that same accuracy.

Each part of the Bible was written within a historical context. These historic events cannot be plopped into the middle of an individual's modern life. For example, one summer I traveled on a missions team to Mexico. In nearly every location we faced water shortages, and it never seemed to be my turn to do laundry. I happened to read Exodus 19:10: "The Lord also said to Moses, 'Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments.'" While perhaps humorous in my context, that was not an instruction for me personally.

Promises in the Bible were given to specific historical people. God told Abraham, "I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son" (Genesis 18:9). This should not be construed by any modern couple to indicate that they will have a miracle baby. Some of God's promises are repeated and restated elsewhere in Scripture to broader groups of people. For example, Joshua 1:9 was spoken specifically to Joshua, but it is one of many times that God declared He is always with His children; this verse is therefore a good example of applicable truth to the modern day.

While error can come from imposing a historic context or promise onto a modern situation, other error comes from seizing upon a word or phrase regardless of context. In his final challenge to Israel, Moses stated, "I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live" (Deuteronomy 30:19). I read an author who took those words "choose life" and interpreted them to mean living life to the fullest by moving on from grief, embracing family, and becoming involved again in activities. That isn't at all what God intended to say through Moses; He was presenting the option of following God or not.

Readers can easily err in understanding the Bible when they have some favorite topic. Rather than reading passages literally or with a mind seeking to receive the intended instruction of individual passages, they impose their favorite topic onto nearly every passage they read. This could be an already erroneous teaching, such as "I have liberty to do whatever I want, so don't judge me," or even something totally scriptural like soul winning.

Each Bible passage has an intended message, and each careful reader should find the same message when reading the same passage. God's specific truth can certainly apply to many people in many situations. For example, "Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you" (I Peter 5:7) can encourage an overworked mom, a pressured breadwinner, a struggling missionary, or a lonely widow. The specifics of each situation are different, but God's truth is the same.

Instead of "what this passage means to me," a better statement might be "Here's how God's truth impacted me" or "Here's what I believe God means in this passage."

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Devotional Drags and Snags: Part 2

In this brief series I'm examining areas of frustration, confusion, or carelessness regarding having daily devotions. The opening statements that represent these drags and snags often have some validity; my desire is to provide some clarification or refining of those thoughts in order to encourage more profitable devotions. (See part 1 for "I didn't have my devotions yesterday, so I had a terrible day" and "I have to read the Bible to get a verse to help me today.") Here is the third statement.

3) "I read the Bible every day, but I don't remember what I read."
This statement is generally true of every kind of reading, whether it be the Bible or anything else. It is therefore less reflective of Bible reading in particular than of general reading technique.

For many years I tried to teach students how to read their school assignments more effectively. Various systems promoted over the years have the same basic premise - that the reader has to be looking for something when he reads and has to identify what he has read. The idea is that if the reader has some idea beforehand what the passage is about, he will be better prepared to understand it. The ability to summarize the content in his own words afterward demonstrates that he understands what he has read, while knowing he will have to summarize causes him to read more alertly and purposefully.

For example, in the SQ3R system, the reader Surveys, Questions, Reads, Recites, and Reviews. Here's a rough demonstration of a history assignment. Survey: student looks over chapter title and section headings and observes, "This is about beginning of the Civil War, the reasons it started, and the way the sides divided." Question: student composes questions. "How many causes were there? What were those reasons? How did states choose their positions?" Read: student reads the passage, especially looking for the answers to his questions. Recite: student verbalizes the answers to his questions. One section at a time, he states in his own words what each paragraph or section revealed. Review: when the student reads a later assignment, he again summarizes the previous assignment.

The Bible is not merely a textbook and is not designed like a textbook, but a similar approach is helpful in reading, comprehending, and remembering the Bible. There is little profit in reading the Bible just to check it off a daily list of requirements, and there is even less profit in rapidly reading to accomplish the task more quickly. I would suggest a variation of the above method, using at least the questioning, reading, and reciting steps.

Question: The reader should know before he starts that there are answers he is looking for. Here are some general questions that could work for any Bible passage. (I introduced these questions in Teen-Aged Aimlessness, which is primarily a personal testimony of my initial struggles to have devotions.)
·         Why did God put this passage in the Bible? What is it supposed to teach?
·         How can I summarize this passage in one to three sentences?
·         What does this passage teach me about God?
·         What things can I pray based on this passage?
·         How should this passage impact my life?

While the above questions are a good start, a reader could also ask and answer questions pertinent to a particular passage. In reading John 10, for example, about the Good Shepherd, the reader could ask, "What does a shepherd do for his sheep? What makes Jesus a good shepherd? What is the difference between a good shepherd and a bad one? Why should I trust Him as my shepherd?" If reading Jude, a reader could seek to learn where false teachers come from, what their false teaching is, how to respond to false teaching, and how to avoid becoming a false teacher.

Read: The most crucial requirement of reading is to read with care - not rushing, not skimming, not mindlessly. It may be necessary to read a verse more than once, and it is often helpful to go back and read a previous verse or verses again to lead effectively into a new verse. The reader is primarily looking for the literal meaning, trying to understand what the words actually say. With that foundation, he can seek to comprehend how the different verses fit together and what God intended to teach through the passage.

Recite: I believe that perhaps the most beneficial component of devotions is to write something down - a summary, an outline, answers to the above questions, personal application, etc. Formulating the thoughts in this way prevents a fuzzy and imprecise "I think I have an idea what that was about" result. Many teachers would assert that if a student can't explain something in his own words, he hasn't really learned it. In Write It Down, I demonstrate a very simple approach that I used when I first started to read the Bible. In Basic Questions Applied, I demonstrate what answering the five questions above might look like when reading Psalm 23.

Over and over again I told my students, "The more times you handle a piece of information, the more likely you are to remember it." Writing truth down is a very effective way of handling God's truth again (beyond merely reading it). Writing His truth in one's own words has the same reinforcing advantage that actually baking a cake or building a birdhouse has over merely reading the recipe or instructions.

Some of the profit from reading God's Word is subtle, gradual, and progressive. Value comes through habitual reading over the long term. Value comes through regularly prioritizing the Bible and maintaining a mental estimation of its worth. Value comes through repeatedly yielding to God's Word as it impacts the heart.

In addition to this long-term growth, daily benefit can be achieved when the reader states, "I will utilize strategies to help me understand the Bible better."

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Devotional Drags and Snags: Part 1

While most Christians are aware that reading the Bible regularly, (often referred to as daily devotions), is a good idea, many believers are frustrated in their attempts. Others fail to appreciate the potential of such a routine.

Some common thoughts lead to these devotional drags and snags. As I provide sample statements to represent these weaknesses, I fully realize that they can contain a measure of truth and can be meant differently by various people. My intent is not to criticize or condemn, but rather to clarify or adjust the thinking in order to provide better understanding and prompt greater profit.

1) "I didn't have my devotions yesterday, so I had a terrible day."
People who think this way often reflect a similar thinking about God in other areas. They see God primarily as a disciplinarian, perhaps impatient, ready to punish them for every offense. They know that God loves them, but His love is viewed as more intellectual and dutiful than personal.

The truth is that God has a very personal, intimate, and tender love for each of His children. He wants His best for them, and He wants to bless them. He is ready to prosper their struggling attempts and is quick to forgive. The statement above (and the thinking that goes with it) would be much more applicable to ancient deities or animistic religions than of the true God.

God is not magical or mystical. He is not capricious or vindictive. He will not make someone's entire day fall apart or his life be beset with tragedies because he missed reading His Word that morning. Having devotions is not a good luck charm. Someone who thinks this way (or the opposite - "I read my Bible, so I'll have a great day") is placing too much emphasis on his own efforts and merits. The truth is that God will give to each day what He deems best for that day; His decisions are based on His great wisdom, not on one's failure to have devotions.

Obviously, someone could carry this clarification too far in the other direction, asserting that it matters not at all whether he reads his Bible. That is, of course, false. Reading the Bible does matter. The reason that the above quotation sounds legitimate is that regularly reading the Bible helps a believer to learn more about God and helps to direct his thoughts God-ward. It helps him to have a godly and biblical mindset as he goes throughout his day.

Just like conversation or interaction with any special person, such as a spouse or friend, interaction with God has a positive and beneficial effect. It can be a helpful and encouraging opener to the day. It can help a Christian to start off on the right foot, so to speak, but failure to read the Bible will not inevitably or mysteriously ruin his day. A more precise statement could be, "I didn't give any thought to God yesterday, and that oversight affected my ability to handle my day properly and with a biblical mindset."

This truth can encourage someone who for whatever reason misses his devotions on a particular day. He may not have the opportunity to sit and read his Bible during the course of work, school, or activities, but he can still direct his thoughts to God. The day is not hopeless, and the opportunity to properly channel his thinking is not lost.

2) "I have to read the Bible to get a verse to help me today."
This sounds like a wonderful thought. The person verbalizing it realizes that he needs help and that the Bible is the place to find that help. To that extent, it is good thinking. It is short-sighted, however, and comes from someone focused on the immediate. This Christian is probably in a constantly overwhelmed state by whatever challenge happens to dominate that particular day.

First, he faces a challenge in successfully finding his daily verse. Unless he limits himself to the Psalms or a few choice verses, he will have a hard time effectively locating an applicable verse for his current state. The Psalms are wonderful, but there is much more to the Bible, so, secondly, this believer is likely to have a shallow and unbalanced knowledge of the Bible.

Third, this type of person can be frustrated, thinking that the Bible doesn't apply very well to his life. He might view the Bible as old-fashioned and impractical, not lining up with his life circumstances. Fourth, skimming or scouring the Bible for a verse to meet a particular need or a specifically-focused trouble can easily lead to misinterpretation. The reader filters everything he reads through his current problem and can construe verses to mean what they do not.

Fifth, and perhaps most significant, this reader is likely to have limited profit from the Bible. When he finds a verse to apply to his immediate need for the day, he stops looking. His searching of the Word ends too soon, and he misses the grand purpose of the Bible. Instead of looking for help for himself for the day, he should be looking for God and His truth. Ironically, it is in knowing God through a thorough knowledge of the entire Bible that the reader will find the most meaningful help for each day. With a strong foundation, a Christian has spiritual stability and is not nearly so desperate for the daily "perfect" verse. Changing daily challenges are less capable of throwing him into desperation, and he will be more likely to know where to go for help in specific challenges.

There are days and even seasons of life in which a person might need to dwell in a certain part of the Bible, a particular truth, or a special verse. There are days when the proper statement is "I especially need God's help today," but a better habitual statement would be "I need to progress deeper into God's truth."

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Introduction to First Peter

I Peter was written to suffering believers. In the 105 verses, I find at least thirty-four references to suffering, beginning in the very first verse; fifteen of those references are actually some form of the word suffer. Throughout the epistle Peter gives instruction about suffering; he especially desires that these suffering believers make a difference in their world, handling their suffering in a way that impacts others.

Being able to influence others in significant ways (when the suffering one would seemingly be the one needing help) would require something special. That kind of person would need a strong foundation, a profound hope, and a deep relationship with God. He would need insight and understanding about God and His work.

Peter provides that needed insight. In fact, the early part of the epistle focuses on those foundations rather than on suffering itself, as Peter lays the groundwork for what a suffering believer needs to know and think about. 1:1 introduces the suffering. 1:6-7 talks about suffering. 1:11 mentions suffering (Christ's). After this handful of mentions, this book saturated with the theme of suffering does not mention the topic again until 2:11 (a gap of 25 verses).

Instead Peter talks about what God has done for these believers. He talks about how God saved them, gave them new life, holds an inheritance for them, protects them, gave His Word to them, has a hope waiting for them, purchased them with a precious price, helps them to grow, shows His kindness to them, puts them in a special position, provides an example for them, and so on. Peter expounds these wonderful truths about the hope found in God so that the believers can endure the suffering and can be what they need to be through it.

After acknowledging in the first verse that his audience is made up of persecuted saints who have been chased from their homeland and scattered as aliens in foreign lands, Peter shares some wonderful truth. "Who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure" (1:1-2).

More important than the fact that these believers were scattered was the fact that they were chosen. These people were selected as favorites, as extremely special. This choosing was not by fairly insignificant people like neighbors or society, nor by special people like family or friends, nor even by powerful people like employers or rulers. No, they were chosen by God Himself. Being chosen by any of those other people would lack both the temporal significance and the eternal ramifications of being chosen by God. God's choosing means everything.

The believers were chosen by the foreknowledge of God. God knew ahead of time that He would choose them, because He has had all knowledge for all eternity. God receives all who believe, and He has always known who those believers would be. Throughout every moment of eternity and history, God has simply been waiting for them to be born and believe so that the choosing could come to fruition. For eternity, God knew each individual and thought, "Someday John or Mary will turn to Me, and I anticipate receiving him/her practically, as he/she is already chosen in My heart."

Part of God's foreknowledge is that He has also always known every person intimately. He knows every flaw, every shortcoming, every failure, every rebellion, every sin. He knows the wickedness and deceitfulness of the heart. Knowing all that, being completely aware of their condition both before and after salvation, God still chose them. Such unworthy people were chosen as special by the Most Worthy One.

The believers were chosen by the sanctifying work of the Spirit. The Spirit purified them and made them holy. This is why God can choose such horrible and unpredictable people: because He has the power to change them. They do not continue to be who they were before. There is an immediate change as God makes them new creatures and imputes Christ's righteousness to them, and there is an ongoing change as God progressively sanctifies them. This dramatic change cannot happen by self-effort, but only as the indwelling Holy Spirit teaches and convicts.

The first purpose for being chosen was to obey Jesus Christ. These believers are to hearken attentively to Jesus, comply with His wishes, and submit to His commands. They should desire to know what Jesus wants them to do, find it out, and then agree to do it. As a believer grows in sanctification, he will become more successful in obeying Christ. Obedience is the demonstration that sanctification is happening.

The second purpose for being chosen was to be sprinkled with Jesus' blood. Jesus' sacrifice paid for their sins. While obeying is in active voice, being sprinkled is in passive voice. It is a fact that when the Spirit sanctified these believers, without any effort or merit of their own, God chose to apply Christ's redemptive blood to them. This sprinkling established the relationship to God once for all, not through deserving or earning, but wholly because God chose them.

After this description of the amazing and completely unmerited blessing of God in choosing them, Peter indicates that the blessing is not exhausted. He desires for them grace and peace in the fullest measure. He wants these great blessings to be added on to their already wonderful position. He wants God to pour out on them rich and abundant expressions of His favor, giving them undeserved blessings. He wants God to give them quietness and rest in their knowledge of the complete provision of God. In fact, when God chose these believers, He extended the ultimate grace and the profoundest peace. Peter desires that these qualities multiply and abound so that these chosen and blessed believers will have every bit of grace and peace possible to face their suffering appropriately and triumphantly.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Book Review - Shadow of the Almighty

Several books relate the lives and ministry of the five young missionaries who were murdered by the Auca tribe of Ecuador. Through Gates of Splendor shares the story of their attempted outreach. Elisabeth Elliot wrote another book specifically about her husband Jim, the best known of the five men.

Shadow of the Almighty has a different focus than Through Gates of Splendor. While there is necessarily some overlap between the two books, Shadow of the Almighty is written not so much about Jim's life events, but rather about what made him who he was. The book draws largely from Jim's own writings - letters and journals - to reveal the heart of a devoted servant of God.

Three major emphases stand out to me. The first is that Jim's life was entirely in God's hands. Jim did not die at the hand of the Aucas because God was not able to protect, but rather because it was the means for accomplishing God's purposes. God could have spared Jim's life, and He did so on multiple occasions when Jim was  mere inches or seconds from death. Narrow escapes include the bullet through his hair, the train that demolished his car, flood waters that swept the clinic building over a cliff, and a prolonged raging fever. Jim died when and only when it was God's time for him.

The second emphasis is Jim's submission to "the Will" (as he called it). Jim was absolutely committed to following God's plan for his life; he was sensitive to God's timing and made deliberate choices based on his understanding of that will. Jim's personal preferences and desires were secondary to what he believed would best accomplish God's work through him. This firm passion to follow the will led to decisions about attending college, extra-curricular activities while in college, being a wrestler, spending time with his family, learning life skills, involvement in ministry opportunities, devotion to the Word, dedication to language study, postponing marriage, and much more. If something would help him to accomplish God's work, he would do it; if something would hinder him, he would refrain.

The third emphasis is that Jim was passionate but not perfect. He clearly had a heart that pursued God, and his writings reflect that intense heart desire. Through Bible study, prayer, Christian fellowship, and so on, Jim attempted to protect and increase his devotion to God. His spiritual life was not, however, one of unbroken excitement and intensity. He faced times of discouragement and emptiness, when his spirit seemed dull and when nothing seemed to be happening. He battled through seasons when his Bible study and ministries seemed unproductive and profitless. Through these times, this man with a heart for God persevered and pushed through. He continued faithfully due to his conviction that walking with God really worked and really was worthwhile.

Jim Elliot was used greatly by God through his life and his death. Such effective ministers of God do not happen by accident. They happen when there is an individual who above all loves God, who deliberately pursues a relationship with Him, and who gives himself unreservedly to God's work. Oh, that more men and women today would live that way! Wherever in the world those people exist, that is where God is doing a great work.

Some readers will prefer the easier narrative style of Through Gates of Splendor, but a Christian who wants to be challenged in his walk with God would profit from Shadow of the Almighty.

Here is a list of other books about the five martyrs and the ongoing work among the Aucas. I knew about several of these, but found a more complete list on a blog by Natasha Metzler. Her post provides brief descriptions of the various books as well as some other related resources.

·         The Journals of Jim Elliot
·         Jungle Pilot: The Story of Nate Saint, Martyred Missionary to Ecuador
·         Peter Fleming: A Man of Faith
·         The Savage, My Kinsman
·         The Dayuma Story: Life Under Auca Spears
·         A Saint Among the Savages
·         Unfolding Destinies: The Ongoing Story of the Auca Mission
·         End of the Spear
·         Gentle Savage Still Seeking the End of the Spear
·         Unstilled Voices: A Look Back at the Auca Massacre and the Lives It Touched and Changed

"He is no fool who gives that which he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose." (Jim Elliot)

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Motivation for Ministry - Part 2

The previous post revealed wrong motivations for Christian service. It also provided the foundation of love as a proper motivation. There is much more to consider regarding a heart that lovingly desires to serve God.

Service for God is not like any other labor. It comes from people who have been changed by God and enabled to serve on a spiritual level, reflecting worship back to Him. "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship" (Romans 12:1). "So that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter" (Romans 7:6).

Service for God is based on deep gratitude for an amazing Savior. "Serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you" (I Samuel 12:24). "Let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe" (Hebrews 12:28). This gratitude should spark a deeply rooted desire. "Serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind" (I Chronicles 28:9). "I delight to do Your will, O my God" (Psalm 40:8).

A properly motivated Christian realizes that all service is ultimately for God. "Slaves, be obedient to . . . your masters . . . in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; . . .  as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart" (Ephesians 6:5-6). "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Colossians 3:17). "It is the Lord Christ whom you serve" (Colossians 3:24).

 A rightly thinking servant knows that an all-seeing God will give all the reward that really matters. "And your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you" (Matthew 6:4). "With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord" (Ephesians 6:7). "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord" (I Corinthians 15:58).

Proper motivation comes from a heart of humility. "Serving the Lord with all humility" (Acts 20:19). "The one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant" (Luke 22:26). "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me" (Matthew 16:24). The servant expects no credit, realizing that he is a mere instrument in the hand of God who does the work. "I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth" (I Corinthians 3:6-7).

The humble servant willingly serves God and desires that ultimately all the glory go to the God who rightly deserves it. "As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever" (I Peter 4:10-11). "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (I Corinthians 10:31).

Even man's weakness, employed in service that would ordinarily be ineffective, is designed to glorify the God whose immense power brings success through inadequate vessels. "I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God" (I Corinthians 2:3-5). "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God" (I Corinthians 1:27-29). "Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me" (II Corinthians 12:9).

Should a believer not care at all how others evaluate his service or whether anyone else notices it? What about the pastor, for example, whose responsibilities include overseeing the ministries of the church and training leadership to assist in the service of the church?

In one sense, it should not matter at all what others think or see. If the believer is sincerely serving God with the right motives in the ministries to which God directs him, the evaluations of men do not matter. A servant might do something that no one else ever knows about, and that is okay. The primary benefit of someone else noticing and approving the work is that of confirmation that the servant has properly executed what God has asked of him. He can, however, accomplish that objective without the commendation of any human.

A spiritually discerning pastor or coworker will discern the same thing God discerns, making human approbation redundant of God's approbation. An onlooker who improperly discerns is unfortunate, but does not in any way diminish the effectiveness of the service or God's approval.

Either way, whether noticed and approved or not, the servant can glorify God. The God who sees all and who always properly evaluates will take care of the reward and of directing into future service.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Motivation for Ministry - Part 1

For several reasons, I recently volunteered to teach a class at my church's VBS. It enabled me to be a part of my church's ministry. It helped to fill a need. It allowed me to support the couple who was directing the week. It gave me an opportunity to teach Bible truth. None of those are bad motivations; in fact, I believe they are all in keeping with the mission of the church.

In the midst of my desire to be used as a servant of God, I also perceived thoughts of a different nature. To put it bluntly, I wanted people to think I was doing a good job. I wanted to be respected and valued as a teacher, at least partially so that I could be entrusted with other opportunities in the future. As I realized these desires for the praise of men, I knew they were not right, and I determined to adjust my thoughts with God's truth. I wanted to see more clearly what God says about motivation for ministry.

Jesus addressed the wrong type of heart behind spiritual service. He warned His listeners, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them" (Matthew 6:1). "How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?" (John 5:44). The notice and praise of men should never be the motivation for service.

Wanting to make people happy and pleased is another wrong motivation. A servant cannot effectively serve two masters. Devotion to pleasing men negates the ability to truly please God. "Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh . . . not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ" (Ephesians 6:5-6). "For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10).

Self-promotion is a wrong motivation for service. Paul talked of men "who cause dissensions and hindrances"; these men who wanted to be seen as right were, in reality, "slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites" (Romans 16:17-18). Paul himself was okay with the description that "his personal presence [was] unimpressive and his speech contemptible." Paul knew that being compared favorably with others was not important or even wise: "For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding" (II Corinthians 10:10&12).

It is wrong to serve God with a conceited mindset, assuming that no one else would be able to do the job as well. "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude [humility] in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:3&5).

The pursuit of personal profit is a wrong motivation. Paul speaks favorably of Timothy, who had a genuine concern for the church's spiritual welfare. Paul set Timothy in contrast to many others, who "all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:21). Not only is such self-seeking service ineffective in God's work, but it does not bring the results people seek. "For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption" (Galatians 6:8).

Peter spoke harsh words to Simon, a converted sorcerer, who was enamored with the power of the apostles. Peter ascertained a dangerous motivation: "Your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity" (Acts 8:21-23). Simon had some serious heart problems that caused him to desire the spiritual gifts of the apostles.

In addition to identifying wrong motives, thankfully the Bible also addresses proper motives for service. By word and example, Paul admonished the believers, "You must help the weak." He continued by quoting Jesus' words, "It is more blessed to give than to receive"(Acts 20:35). It is good and right for believers to want to reach out to help their brothers in need.

Ministry to any need within the church must be motivated by love. "If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing" (I Corinthians 13:2). Without love, the service is empty. The Bible actually commands loving service. "Through love serve one another" (Galatians 5:13).

An even greater motivation than love for others is a love for God Himself. Love for God is the motivation behind the joyful and willing keeping of His commandments, one of which is to lovingly serve others. "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15). "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome" (I John 5:3).

A believer who truly loves God will want to do what God wants him to do. Part of God's will is to serve others in need and to serve within the church. Love motivates a believer to perform this service willingly and joyfully, not seeking praise, prestige, or personal profit.

Was it wrong for me to want to do a good job? Not at all. I should desire to serve God to the best of my ability. My motivation, however, must be independent of the perceptions of others. I should want to do my best for God alone, whether people notice or not.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

I Can't

Humans are weak and fragile. The Bible provides the negative extremity regarding this topic: "For apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). People are absolutely powerless. Job described himself as "the weak" and "the arm without strength" (Job 26:2). Heman said, "I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit; I have become like a man without strength" (Psalm 88:4). Various verses compare man's weakness to grass that withers, flowers that fall, or vapors that vanish.

Since mankind is so weak, it is wonderful to know that God is not weak at all. "Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?" (Jeremiah 32:27). "He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless" (Isaiah 40:23). "It is He who made the earth by His power" (Jeremiah 51:15). "'To whom then will you liken Me that I would be his equal?' says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars. . . . Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing" (Isaiah 40:25-26). "Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power" (I Corinthians 6:14). "And what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might" (Ephesians 1:19).

The next consideration provides hope. One could ask of God's strength, "How does that help me?" Actually, God pays a great deal of attention to weak people, not just out of pity, but because He wants to do His work through them. "Who is like the LORD our God, who is enthroned on high, who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap" (Psalm 113:5-6). "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong" (I Corinthians 1:27).

Hope increases when the believer realizes that his mighty God gives some of His strength to His weak followers. "Strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might" (Colossians 1:11). "He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. . . . Those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary" (Isaiah 40:29&31). "I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand" (Isaiah 41:10). "For I am the LORD your God, who upholds your right hand, who says to you, 'Do not fear, I will help you'" (Isaiah 41:13).

How can a believer receive this divine power? The simple answer is that of expressing dependence. The needy believer must acknowledge his own weakness and cry out to the mighty God who can help him. The believer must rely on God alone to do through him what he cannot do on his own. "Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know" (Jeremiah 33:3). "I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm" (Psalm 40:1-2). "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might" (Ephesians 6:10). "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. . . . My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit" (John 15:4&8).

When divine power is shown through weak mortals, how great can that power become? At the very least, it will be enough to do the job, but that is a bare minimum. In reality, God's power is enough to do what man cannot imagine to be possible. "And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness'" (II Corinthians 12:9). "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed" (II Corinthians 9:8). "Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us" (Ephesians 3:20).

This study began with the negative extreme - the realization that man is so weak he can do nothing on his own. Now the study has reached the positive extreme. "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). There is no limit to what someone can do when he is relying on God and His strength to do what God has asked him to do. Nothing is impossible. Great things are possible.

Finally, it is important to keep in mind the reason why a mighty God uses weak people. "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves" (II Corinthians 4:7). "To keep me from exalting myself" (II Corinthians 12:7). "So that no man may boast before God" (I Corinthians 1:29). No matter what God does through people, they are still weak, and rightfully He must receive the glory for what only He can do.

"He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. . . . so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything" (Colossians 1:17-18).