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Weekly posts and an opportunity to ask questions or give your perspective. Let's study the Bible TOGETHER!

29 August 2012

Listen to God - 29 August

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)

Our last study, worship, reminded us that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection took away the need to worship by blood sacrifice at God’s temple. As Christians, we are the temple of God and our bodies are to be a living sacrifice to God.

We know that we have many failings and that in most ways we are completely unlike Jesus, yet we want to be like Him. When we really notice our faults, it’s God calling to us! We need to respond by asking God to make us more Christlike.

Have you ever read a passage and seen that you don’t live up to the words you’ve read? When that happens, you have a choice to accept or reject what you’ve read. Many times we hear people justify behavior by saying “it was a cultural thing back then” or “it applied only to that time” or my favorite: “it’s not a clearly stated position”. All of those excuses, or whatever excuse I choose to use, is simply a way for my sin nature to keep me conformed to the world. I can choose to keep going my way, or I can accept God’s prompting and challenge and tell God that I want to be like that – not like I am now. God will then work in my life to transform me. sometimes it’s an instantaneous process, but most often it’s a long process with many failures. The bottom line is that we listen, acknowledge what God has to tell us, and work with God to do His will.

What do you think Paul means by renewal of your mind?

How do we test to discern the will of God?

The only available source we have to know God’s will is the Bible. We can plainly see what He expects of us when we read His Word. That’s the way we discern His will, but what do we do with that discernment? I believe that this is a part of renewing our mind. When we read our Bible, we get rid of the junk that the world offers us and fill our mind with the goodness of God. That’s why certain Bible verses are so popular. When we get stressed, we can renew our mind with a verse like:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (KJV)

When we want to yell and scream at our boss, our co-worker, our loved one, we might recall:

Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips. Psalm 141:3 (KJV)

Or when we’re tempted to curl up in a ball with fear, God’s promise to Jeremiah might come to mind:

Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 1:8 (ESV)

Once you are able to recall specific promises, your communication with God will improve! You can “pray the Scriptures”:

…Lord, I’m afraid of my boss. He always seems to be out to get me. He constantly attacks me in front of my co-workers, and I just want to defend myself. I know that what I say to him wouldn’t be nice, and so Lord I pray that you set a watch before my mouth, Lord and guard my lips. Make my words to him be what you would want me to say and not what I would want to say. You’ve promised that you would deliver me, Lord, and I’m taking you at your word.

If you prayed that prayer, and your actions reflected those promises and desires, what might that do to your situation? As you act more Christlike, your coworkers would see Jesus in you. Might that be a way to open a conversation of your faith?

How would your prayers be hindered in that boss situation if you were conformed to this world? What steps would you need to take before you could have a conversation with God if you “gave him what he deserved”? How would those words affect your witness to your co-workers?

We’ll talk more about the issue of communicating God’s truths on Friday.

I try to end all of my prayers before I interact with people with “let the words I say be that ones You’d have me say and not what I’d come up with”. It’s based on  Psalm 141:3. I find that it’s easier to keep my emotions in check when I pray that particular verse.

We all have verses that are special to us. We may use certain verses for peace, or calm, or to remind us how to behave. I would love to know what some of your favorite verses are – and why! If you’ve ever used a verse to help you though a specific situation, could you please share (no names or revealing details please. Focus on how the Word helped you!). We can all find help from different verses and it will be interesting to see what you use.

See you Friday!

27 August 2012

Listen to God - 27 August

God loves us. He is our life – we are alive because He breathed life into Adam. We can’t exist unless God allows it. He is our creator, and He made the world for our enjoyment. He has provided us everything we need.

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, 6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— 7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. 8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Gen 2:5-9 (ESV)

We have privileges. We are placed on this earth to rule. But with privilege comes responsibility. We were created perfectly, but the temptation of that tree in the garden was too much for Eve, and then for Adam. Before the couple fell for Satan’s trickery, they spoke directly with God (Genesis 2 and 3). Imagine the created beings speaking directly with the One who created them. Ahhhhh wouldn’t it be wonderful? But instead of sticking with God’s plan, they listened to Satan. God stopped talking to them directly. And because of that original sin, we need a Mediator even today. We cannot speak directly to God.

We can’t speak to God and yet we are expected to communicate with Him.  He has made that possible through the Holy Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict us of our sin. The Holy Spirit is the one who makes sure we know that we need God. Once we’ve accepted the free gift of salvation, the Holy Spirit’s focus changes and He becomes our comforter and counselor.

If ye love me, keep my commandments. 16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; 17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. John 14:15-17 (KJV)

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. John 14:26 (KJV)

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8  And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10  concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11  concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15  All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. John 16:7-15 (ESV)

When we become Christians, we are new creatures. What does that mean? How does our “new birth” affect Adam’s sin?  What does any of that have to do with our Christian walk, and with our ability to listen to God?

As we grow in Christ, we begin to see ourselves for what we are – a sinner who God is forming, shaping, and transforming as a potter shapes a piece of clay. As we see ourselves, our sins, our strengths and our weaknesses clearly, we begin to see others in the same light. Jesus gave us a specific command regarding others:

These things I command you, so that you will love one another. John 15:17 (ESV)

Why did Jesus have to give this command? Is it easier to look at others differently than we look at ourselves?

I, like most people, have a specific set of preferences. If a person doesn’t fit into “my” mold, I am less likely to want to interact with him or her. The further from “my” ideal a person is, the more likely I am to turn my back on them. But Jesus tells me to do something else. He says I am to love everyone.  What does this commandment have to do with listening to God? Can I hear God if I love someone who to me is unlovely? Does obeying Jesus (and obeying all that’s in the Bible) help me to listen to God? Of course it does! If I start with the basic command – love one another – and I see that it has a positive effect on my life and the life of others, will I be more likely to listen to other commands from God?

Today we talked about understanding the truth – that the Holy Spirit is here to guide and comfort us, and that we are to listen to what’s written in the Book. That’s called comprehending the truth. On Wednesday we will talk about conforming ourselves to the truth. We will talk about what it takes to do what God wants us to do.

If you have questions, comments or prayer requests, please email me or leave a comment. I really enjoy hearing from you! I wish you the best of years! See you Wednesday.

24 August 2012

Listening to God - 24 August

Did God give us the Bible so we could interpret it in any way we choose? Of course not! But we all have our own viewpoints, prejudices, desires and wishes, and we all tend to want the Bible to agree with our point of view. When we have accepted the free gift of salvation offered only by Jesus Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit as our helper and comforter. The Holy Spirit is a part of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This study does not deal with the issue of the Trinity, but it’s still important to understand the Holy Spirit’s role in our everyday life.

But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Cor 2:7-14 (ESV)

Satan controls the spirits of the world. The Spirit of God  helps us discern the things God gave us. Only those who have the Spirit of God accept God’s things freely given.

Think for a minute of all the things God freely gave you when you received the free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. You might consider writing them down and then offering a prayer of thanksgiving, naming all your blessings.

We can never fully know the mind of God, of course, because we are human – and sinners. Our understanding of God may be limited because we have not read His entire Book. We may not understand the Bible as well as we’d like because we don’t necessarily have the cultural background of the writers, or we may simply be immature as Christians. We might not yet be saved, which would keep us from a deeper heart knowledge of the Bible, or we may not understand some of the vocabulary. But nothing I’ve mentioned (or any excuse we could come up with) is a true barrier to understanding God. we can study, read, discuss, pray, gain maturity, learn a bit about the history and culture, and ask God’s Holy Spirit to teach us.

These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. John 14:25-26 (ESV)

bring to your remembrance. This is a specific promise from Jesus Himself. The Holy Spirit will bring specific Scriptures to mind as we struggle with life’s challenges. To receive all the benefits of this promise, however, we need to do our part. We need to read, read, read!

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Psalms 119:11 (ESV)

When I read my Bible, I have a notepad with me. As I read I jot down an outline of the day’s reading. If something is particular troubling to me, I make a note so I can do additional research. I also tend to write life events before my daily notes so I can see how God applied His Word to a specific problem. If a verse or two pops out, I write down the reference. Later, I print the verse on a regular sheet of paper and tape it somewhere that is easily seen. Because I’m a computer junkie, I also tend to put them on a nice background. I have a thumb drive attached to a television. I have the verses cycling randomly on the television, so whenever I glance up I see God’s Word. The backgrounds help me to remember the verses (although they may not be memorized), and the Holy Spirit frequently prompts me to remember the words or the picture.

What do you do to help get God’s Word into your heart? I’d like to hear how others work through their Bible readings and prayer time. Your ideas may be what someone else needs to start their reading and praying program. It can seem quite daunting, especially for a first timer!

I look forward to hearing from you and pray for a blessed weekend – and an uplifting worship service on Sunday!

22 August 2012

Listening to God - 22 August

Hear, O my people, while I admonish you!
O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
There shall be no strange god among you;
you shall not bow down to a foreign god.
I am the Lord your God, who brought you up
out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.
“But my people did not listen to my voice;
Israel would not submit to me.
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
to follow their own counsels.
Oh, that my people would listen to me,
that Israel would walk in my ways!
I would soon subdue their enemies
and turn my hand against their foes.
Those who hate the Lord would cringe toward him,
and their fate would last forever.
But he would feed you with the finest of the wheat,
and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” Psalm 81:8-16 (ESV)

God is pleading with His people. All He wants is for them to listen. He wanted them (and us) to listen and learn to submit to Him. The upside: He would then be able to bless them and satisfy them.

God gives specific blessings for those who listen. He promises to subdue our enemies and turn against our foes. He promises to feed us and give us satisfaction. Why don’t we bother to listen? Our head tells us that we should pay attention to the precious promises of God but our hearts are turned toward the glittery stuff the world has to offer.

God created us for fellowship with Him. He wants to walk close with us, just as He did with Adam and Eve. He gives us gifts and wants us to give back to him. He promises us to provide for our needs and asks that we rely on Him to supply those needs. Like an earthly father, God desires that His children be healthy, loving, and loyal to Him. In return, He promises to protect and keep us from our enemies. But God’s timing is not always what we want, and  sometimes it seems that He isn’t keeping up with His side of the bargain. Have you considered that when God doesn’t seem to answer you it may be because you are not listening to Him or obeying Him?

God wants us to comprehend His truth. We need to learn who we are and more important Who He is. God sets the rules for our relationship. It’s our job to see what it is that He expects. He gave us the Bible as a guidepost and gave us Jesus as a role model.

When you read the Bible, to you stick to whatever you consider “the good stuff”? Perhaps you like the calming effects of the Psalms. Maybe you prefer the words of Jesus. Or do you like to read about the end of the world? Whatever parts of the Bible you prefer, it’s important to remember that the entire Bible is our guide. The Scriptures – Old and New Testament – all have important truths for us. Sometimes I don’t want to hear what God says and frankly I’d rather skip the parts I don’t like. Don’t just stick to your “favorite” parts of the Bible. God has stuff for you to learn in His entire Word.

Will you commit to read the Bible – the “good” and “not so good” parts? Will you commit to not saying that parts of the Bible are inapplicable because the authors were discussing cultural issues? Will you commit to taking to God specifically about the parts of the Bible you find offensive, or uncomfortable, or less than interesting? Perhaps His Spirit is trying to get your attention in those parts!

We’ll talk a little about the Holy Spirit on Friday. See you then!

20 August 2012

Listening to God - 20 August

Welcome to our new study on listening to God. We will learn more about hearing His voice through His Word.  We will be challenged to stop and take time to pay attention to God, and as a result, our relationship with Him will be deeper than ever!

In our relationships with people, we need to learn to talk and listen. But in our relationship to God, we sometimes forget to talk (pray) and we sometimes forget to listen (study). I think we have more problems developing our relationship to God because He is not a physical presence. Sometimes God has to work to get our attention. Recently I might have been too busy for God (!). I was doing stuff for God, but I wasn’t resting in God. He got my attention in a dramatic and everyday way. It has helped me to stop and listen to Him more than ever.

But when things go wrong in our lives, does it mean that God is trying to get our attention? I don’t think so. The entire book of Job shows us how badly wrong things can go in someone’s life, but Job’s troubles were not because of Job’s sin. God used Job to show Satan how faithful Job was – and He uses that story today to give us peace in the midst of life’s storms.

How does God speak to us?

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  Heb 1:1-2 (ESV)

God has always spoken to us. Today, he speaks through his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus speaks through the Bible. Everything in the Bible applies to us today. If you’re like me, you don’t always like the subjects God speaks of, but we are expected to listen and apply what God tells us.

Likewise, every Bible-based sermon you hear applies to you. Every radio and television teacher who speaks God’s word has done so for your edification. But notice that I specifically say Bible-based and speaks God’s word. Preachers (and regular people) who tell you that they have heard a private word from God – a word that they can’t share because it’s secret – are deluding you and themselves. God doesn’t speak in a vacuum. He doesn’t play favorites.

You may receive a chastening from God that’s so private you don’t want to share it. That’s not what I mean. Please remember that for God’s children, His word is clear and applies to all. The word of chastisement, correction or promise may seem like it applies only to you – but His unchanging word applies equally to everyone.

Here’s the best (or worst) part: God’s word is true and whatever He promises, He will do. He will give us the blessings He promises for obedience; He will chastise us for our sin. He expects you to converse with Him, to pray and read your Bible daily.

How’s your conversation with God? Can you see places where you are strong? Perhaps you’re a prayer warrior – WOO HOO! You might  be faithful in Bible reading – great! But are your prayers heartfelt? Do you read to hear what God has to say, or do you simply go through the motions?

If you’re like me, you probably have both good and not-so-good days when you pray and read. Sometimes I want to ‘fess up to my weaknesses and sometimes I want to pretend they don’t exist. But no matter how I feel, I know that God wants me to strive for improvement daily.

Let’s pray for each other. We all need to grow in the Word and in our prayer life. Will you commit to taking extra time this week to both listen and talk?

17 August 2012

Worship - 17 August

And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ 8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” 9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God) 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” Mark 7:6-13 (ESV)

Ouch! Jesus called it like He saw it – and what He saw was worship with the lips and not the heart and worship through tradition. He was very clear that manmade  tradition voids the word of God.

Does that mean that we shouldn’t have traditions? Of course not. He was speaking of our way of justifying our behaviors by calling it tradition.  It doesn’t matter what we do in His Name if it’s not what He wants.

This passage causes me to stop and think. In our day, we see people invalidating the Word of God all the time to become politically correct. We justify our behavior by saying things like “Jesus never specifically spoke on that topic”, even though the topic is amply covered in both the Old and New Testaments. We allow women to take positions in the church that Paul specifically condemns, saying that it was a cultural issue. We sanction things that the Bible clearly disallows so that we can better fit into society, and we even allow anti-Biblical behaviors into our worship. What good is worship if you’re not truly honoring the One Who you say you love?

Take a look at your worship service. Do the songs honor God? Do you feel like you’re in a concert hall or a hall of worship (and this not disrespect to any particular style of music. There are some churches whose worship includes elements of a “stage production” similar to what you’d see in a secular concert – fog lights, effects, etc. Do those elements serve to focus our attention on God or on the worship team?). Is the church’s approach to prayer casual, or do you offer prayers with fear, trembling, and honor? Does your pastor speak truths from the Bible, with plenty of cross references and Biblical examples, or does he give more time to comics, news stories and anecdotes?

Let’s look inward as well. Does your home worship include daily Bible reading? Are “prayer requests” just a way to pass on gossip, or do you truly have a burden for others? How do you treat those who are less fortunate? Your enemies? Does your speech remain chaste, or do you sound like “all the guys”? If someone walked into your house without warning, would they know you are a Christian by your books, music, artwork or would they get the impression that Christians are just like everyone else? Do you try, day by day, to become more mature?

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” 5  Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,  “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 8  Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ” Matt 4:1-10 (ESV)

Satan tried to tempt Jesus. He offered Jesus everything to turn from God, but Jesus refused. Satan tempts us the same way today. He offers us all the pleasures of the world if we simply turn from God. When we turn toward the world, we forget how great our God truly is. When we look at the glittery offerings of Satan it’s easy to forget the gruesome way that Jesus died to purchase your salvation. When we turn from Jesus, our worship becomes mechanical. We’re not alone. Moses warned the Israelites about this problem long ago.

“And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, 12  then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 13 It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. 14 You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you— 15 for the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God— lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth. Deut 6:10-15 (ESV)

Our God is an amazing God, but He’s also jealous for our love. We need to worship Him in spirit and in truth and in honesty. People should see Christ in you. Your speech, attitudes, demeanor, dress and life should reflect the astounding love of God. we should stand in awe of what He’s done for us every moment of every day. I pray that as you continue through the path God has placed you, these words reverberate in your heart.

Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth!
Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.”
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest
sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
and the peoples in his faithfulness.
Psalms 96:9-13 (ESV)

God bless you. See you next week for a new study.