Monday, August 8, 2011

Practical Tips for Expressing Faith

Whatever is not of faith is not pleasing to God.

--Hebrews 11:6--

To conclude this series on the psychology of faith, I have some practicable ideas on putting your faith and your life together.

1. Don’t insult God with small requests. God is able to do great things. Ask Him to do great things; expect Him to do amazing things, and He will do things that are much greater than what you ask and much greater even than your wildest imaginings. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

2. Don’t assume without asking. Faith is not the assumption that God will fulill all of your requests. You must understand how God works and seek His will before acting in faith. You must have faith in something, not just faith in the strength of your own faith. (James 4:2)

3. Ask only for things that God can bless. Do not ask selfishly, merely to suit your own convenience and desires. God does not bless your selfish requests, when you ask only to suit yourself. (James 4:3)

4. Believe that God will grant your requests and goals. Do not ask God without believing that He is capable of fulfilling your requests. God hears all that you ask and all that you do not ask. He knows your faith and your unbelief. He hears you. He is capable. (1 John 5:15-15; Matthew 9:27-30a)

5. Ask God to give you greater faith. As the apostles asked of Jesus, God can supernaturally increase your faith in Him. God can work to bring you into greater faith in Him. (Luke 17:5)

I hope this seven week series has helped you to understand faith and the importance of integrating your faith in your mind, your emotions, and your will. Faith doesn’t always work how we’d expect, but God does work and we are to have full faith in Him above all else.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Faith and the Will

He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.

--Matthew 14:29--

Faith involves the entirety of the soul, including the will. We must choose to believe, to have faith. It is an intentional act. You do not passively decide to have faith. You do not passively trust in God’s provision. You must intentionally act in faith.

Faith that influences our wills is not just “any old faith.” It does not come easily and is not present in all Christians. Jesus calls us to have God-sized faith. God wants to deliberate choose to have God-sized faith. God-sized faith exhausts the full resources of the human soul, which is evidence that we expect God to show up. It is deliberately choosing to believe God, and to act in a way that shows that belief. As the old adage says, “actions speak louder than words.” Saying that you believe God, but continuing to act in a way that relies only on you - your time, your money, your abilities - is NOT God-sized.

Jesus says in Matthew 17:20 that faith the size of a mustard seed is enough to move mountains. A mustard seed, if you don’t know, is tiny. It looks in significant. The mustard plant, however, is a large tree, big enough that many birds will live in its branches. Faith is played in our actions, in what we choose and what we do.

God-sized faith is one’s utter resignation to the fact that, unless supernatural activity takes place, there is no possibility that a given goal could ever be realized. Setting goals that can be accomplished by you alone does not show your faith in a sovereign, omnipotent God. We must choose to rely on God’s provision in our lives and act on that intentional choice. This is the only type of faith that gives God great glory – because only these types of things actually require God to act.



Monday, July 25, 2011

Faith and Emotions

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

--Hebrews 11:6--

Your soul’s emotions aren’t merely feelings. In their fullest sense, human emotions have to do with our feelings, sentiments, affections, attitudes, beliefs, and convictions. Feelings are fleeting and should be limited in their influence on our lives and decisions. Emotions are broader and are instrumental in our lives. Feelings can develop into beliefs and convictions and so influence our soul and our faith, but our emotions are more than feelings.

Before your emotions can help you express Biblical faith, each area must be Spirit-controlled. The Holy Spirit should lead and direct your decisions and your emotions. Take time now to think about how the Spirit can influence and control your feelings, your sentiments, your affections, your attitudes, your beliefs, and your convictions. Think about the role of each of these in your faith. How has or how can the Spirit direct your affections? Do your attitudes come from your flesh or does the Spirit control them? What are your strongest convictions and do they come from God?

As such, what happens in our emotions in the moment of truth dictates whether or not we please God, because feelings and convictions are critical elements of a Biblical psychology of faith. Our faith is firmly rooted in our emotions, in our belief, but faith isn’t only belief alone. Faith has to do with the object of belief or it is merely faith in faith. You must have faith in something. To believe in something, you must understand it. If you really believe something, you will act on that belief. We should seek to increase the degree of our faith, to have enough to step out of a boat and in to the waves.

Our choice: CONVICTION – strong, unshakable belief in God or INDIFFERENCE, APATHY, AND FEAR

Your cry should be the same as the father with a demon-possessed son in Mark 9: I believe; help my unbelief!”

Monday, July 18, 2011

Faith and the Mind

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine [think], according to His power that is at work within us

--Ephesians 3:20--

What happens in your mind is one of the most important factors in your faith capacity. Rational study and understanding is sometimes forgotten in Christianity today. Our focus has been more on connecting our beliefs with the heart and less on discipline and conscientiously studying God’s Word or logically understanding our faith and beliefs.

An important foundation to understanding the role of faith in the mind is realizing the difference between the brain and the mind. The brain is a part of the body. It is physical, material, and visible. It can be seen and touched (although you probably wouldn’t want to!). The brain works through electrical and chemical means, through interactions of chemicals and synapses. It receives information from the physical senses and from your self-embedded memory. The mind, however, is a part of the soul, as we discussed last week. It is immaterial and invisible; it cannot be seen or touched. The mind, contrary to the brain, works through psychic and spiritual means. It receives information from the brain, as well as from the emotions and Spirit.

Faith works in and with the mind and the brain. When you disbelieve or doubt that something is possible, the brain immediately slows its workload and reduces its “firing capacity,” which short-circuits faith. As a result, the mind’s ability to believe is immediately reduced, resulting in unfaithfulness. When your mind is not being controlled by the Spirit, it stops thinking supernaturally and downsizes what God can do. As a result, it begins to be “pressed into the mold” of thinking, which shrinks your capacity to believe God (Romans 12:2).

Our choice: To BELIEVE God – to trust fully in Him, His promises, His ways, and His purposes or DISBELIEF – our refusal to accept something as true.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Faith: How Does it Work?

This week we’ll begin the main discussion on the psychology of faith, the interaction of our faith with our minds and emotions. In discussing this, it’s important to consider three key truths first.

First, faith doesn’t work how we think it works or how we would like it to work. Faith doesn’t work perfectly, as God originally intended, but it does work. It is to have a significant role in our lives. Secondly, faith only works as God ordained it to work. We cannot manipulate how faith works; we cannot manipulate how God works and make things work how we want them to. We must seek to discover how it works. Understanding faith and understanding God are vitally important in our Christian lives. Thirdly, our ignorance of Biblical faith greatly minimizes God’s work in and through our lives. A lack of understanding may limit how God can work in us, to transform us, and through us, to carry out His will in the world.

Forming a psychology of faith first requires that we understand the field of psychology. ‘Psychology’ comes from the Greek word psyche, which means soul. In our Biblical understanding of personhood, the soul is the center of each human being. A person is made up of a body, a spirit, and a soul. The soul itself is then made up of the mind, the will, and emotions. Psychology seeks to study the soul of a person, to understand how the mind, will, and emotions interact and make a person into who they are.

Much psychology is fundamentally flawed and ungodly because it miscalculates human nature and, as a result, the human condition. Those who seek the services of such well-intentioned people tend to fall deeper into the morass of hopelessness and addiction because they are being treated in ways inconsistent with how God made us.

What happens in the soul tells us whether or not faith is Biblical. Biblical faith involves the whole soul and is played out through the mind, will and emotions. Faith must be logically understood, connect with your feelings and your heart, and it must be lived out in your actions. ‘Feeling’ spiritual or connected to God matters little if you do not truly and deeply understand God and faith. Logical study and understanding is insignificant if you don’t connect with your emotional, affective side or show through your actions. In the same way, the right behaviors show nothing without the beliefs and convictions to back them up.

In the next four weeks, we’ll look at how faith plays out in our mind, emotions, and will as well as practical ideas to put together this knowledge with our lives.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Five Facts About Faith

In seeking to understand faith, which is vital as we discussed last week, there are some foundational ideas to understand and apply. I’m going to introduce and explain five realities of faith which must be understood.

1. Your belief that God will act does not obligate Him to do so. In 2 Corinthians 12:8-10, Paul describes his affliction, his “thorn in the flesh.” He writes that he asked God three times to remove this hardship, but that God told him instead that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” God does hear your prayers and requests, but even a firm belief that God can and does heal, does not mean that He has to because you ask Him to. God’s purposes are not our own and His will may differ from ours.

2. God sometimes acts apart from your exercise of faith. God may act and heal those who do not have faith in Him. As stated in the past point, God’s ways of acting and His purposes may be different than what we expect and different than what we want. In Matthew 8:16 and in many other instances, Jesus healed many who were brought to Him, without considering the faith of those whom He was healing. God can have compassion on those who don’t have faith in Him as well as those who do.

3. Sometimes God does require us to exercise faith before He acts. In other stories in the Gospels, Jesus heals people because of their faith. For example, He heals the woman in Matthew 9:21-22 because she had enough faith to reach out and touch Jesus’ cloak. She believed that touching His cloak would heal her and it did; His power ‘went out’ without Him being aware of it. He knows, of course, but it was her strong faith in the power of Christ that healed her.

4. Sometimes God wants to act, but our lack of faith keeps it from happening. When teaching in His hometown, many people doubted Jesus’ power and saw Him only as a carpenter’s son. Matthew 13:58 says that “he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” While God can act apart from faith, sometimes He does not act because we lack faith.

5. Whether or not God requires us to exercise faith before He acts is His business. How God chooses to act is an essential part of His divine prerogative as God. If God was dependent upon us to have faith, He would not be an omnipotent sovereign God. If He needed us for anything, He would not be our divine Creator. God needs humans for nothing; it is up to Him to choose to act or to choose not to act. We can be sure that His ways and His purposes are above ours, that they are for our best, but we do not dictate the plans of God. Our faith can change God’s mind, as Moses’ plea for the Israelites did in Exodus 3211ff, or allow Him to act in our lives differently than if we did not have faith, but we are not in charge.

Human faith plays a central role in our Christian lives. Understanding these five realities of faith is also vital to a correct understanding of the role of faith. God can act in spite of our lack of faith or He may require our faith in order to act. It’s up to God to act or nor; it’s up to us to have faith and to trust in His ways and His purposes.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Thinking About Faith....

Have you ever ‘believed’ God would do something but still been disappointed when you didn’t receive what you hoped for? Have you ever shown half-hearted faith and, somehow, still saw God work? Why did faith work one time and not the other? Is it possible that God’s Will is for something to happen but our lack of faith keeps it from happening? Are there times when God works apart from our faith– meaning, times when our faith isn’t required for God to act? And does that mean that God is completely unpredictable and arbitrary in how He acts? Is the Christian life a complete “wild card?” Does God want us to be completely confused about one of the most important issues in the Christian life or are there things we can know?

It’s not that faith always makes sense, but nor is it that faith never makes’s that it sometimes makes sense.

Faith in the Christian life requires that we think about these issues. We should live out the Christian life, but we also need to reflect on it, to think deeply about issues of faith. Metacognition is thinking about how you think, the mind reflecting upon itself, being aware of your cognitive processes, and understanding one’s own thought patterns.

As humans, created in God’s image, we are capable of personal reflection and analysis. As Socrates taught, we should know ourselves. Failing to think about faith and about ourselves doesn’t mean that there are not issues we need to understand. Just as being ignorant of scientific laws, like the law of gravity, doesn’t mean that they don’t apply to us. Likewise, failing to understand how the laws of faith work doesn’t exempt us from understanding them either.

Generally, does God want me to understand how He works? Yes! God “made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel” (Psalm 103:7).

God wants you and I to think about our faith, to deeply ponder and contemplate issues and laws of our faith. To better understand the role and importance of faith, I encourage you to read Hebrews 11 this week. Read about faith in the lives of the ‘heroes’ of the Old Testament, and how the law of faith applies to us here and now.

I’m going to spend the next six weeks discussing faith, studying five foundational facts about faith, a psychology of faith, and how faith interacts with our mind and with our emotions. Faith is foundational and vital in our Christian lives and is something that all Christians should take the time to think about.T

Monday, June 20, 2011

Being Conscious of Your Conscience (Part 3 of 3)

Even after two weeks discussing what the conscience is and how it works, some of you may still not know why understanding your conscience is important. To conclude my series on the conscious, I'll address this issue and how to apply what I've been talking about the past two weeks.

Now, Why Does It Matter?

You might say, “So what?” Who cares? Here’s why it matters how you live. IT’S JUST YOUR LIFE.

You’re either going to be happy in life or you’re not. MOST PEOPLE I KNOW AREN’T VERY HAPPY IN LIFE. They lost the battle of the soul--- they didn’t obey their conscience when they were your age...

Ecclesiastes 12:1: “Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old & no longer enjoy living.

The bottom line: There are only two sides to the coin of life: Joy and Joyless. You’ll be one or the other. Joy comes from obedience to God (1 Timothy 6:6). Joylessness comes from disobedience (Psalm 32:1). Which one you’ll be depends on whether or not you obey your conscience.

Let me close with a story that shows how important this is...

Earlier I said that the conscience is your soul’s automatic warning system. Planes have automatic warning systems too.

In 1984 a jet crashed for no apparent reason. The plane was flying in the dark and the pilot was unable to see. That meant he had no sense of where he was and couldn’t get his bearings. But that shouldn’t have mattered, because planes fly in darkness all the time. That’s why they have devices that tell them their altitude: so they don’t fly too low or in the wrong direction.

During the night, air controllers lost contact with the pilot and it was later discovered that the plane had crashed. During the investigation, the cockpit voice recorder was found, and officials made an eerie discovery:

On the recording, they could hear the computerized voice of the airplane, warning him, saying: “Pull Up, Warning... Pull Up.” You see, the pilot was flying too low.

But the pilot, didn’t listen to the voice of warning; he thought the gauges were malfunctioning. On the tape, the pilot is heard several times telling the computer to “Shut up.” Finally, the pilot got tired of listening to the warning and just turned it off.

Minutes later the plane crashed. Everyone died.

What’s the point?

The point is that just like a plane has a warning system that is designed to keep passengers safe, the soul has a warning system designed to keep us safe spiritually, and that system is called the conscience.

But many times, we get tired of listening to our consciences, so we don’t. We tell them to shut up and try to turn them off.

Here’s my challenge: Be conscious of your conscience. It’s something God gave to help you, not to hassle you..

Monday, June 13, 2011

Being Conscious of Your Conscience (Part 2 of 3)

Last week, we began our discussion of the conscience with a definition of what the conscience is, its role is and presence in all people. The conscience is different than the Holy Spirit in Christians. This week we'll discuss how the conscience actually works.

How Does Your Conscience Work?

Our conscience works in conjunction with our souls, and I’m going to show you how.

“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” --1 Thessalonians 5:23-24--

God’s desire for us as Christians is to be Sanctified or made holy, “through and through” or “in every way.” What does that mean? God wants us to be completely committed to Him in every way... in every part of our humanity: body, soul and spirit.

Here’s how that works: don’t miss this!

We win or lose the battle of holiness in our soul. 1 Peter 2:11 tells us: “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.”

The soul is the battlefield of good and evil. Well.... what is your soul? Your soul includes your mind, emotions and will (Deuteronomy 4:29; 6:4; etc.). It consists of what you think, what you feel, and what you do. And if we are going to become holy, we’ve got to win that battle in the soul.

If we THINK like God wants us to, FEEL like God wants us to and DECIDE how God wants us to, then we’ll become holy. If we don’t THINK, FEEL and MAKE DECISIONS like God wants, we’ll stay carnal and live unhappy, defeated Christian lives.

The problem: There’s a war going on inside of us!

In our bodies, bodily appetites want us to sin. Our spirit wants us to be holy. And our souls are trapped in the middle, fighting a battle. Here’s how the Apostle Paul explained it in Romans 7:21-23:“When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind (in the soul) and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.

As you know from personal experience, we want to fight the good fight, but sometimes our soul has a hard time doing the right thing without some help. That’s a reason that God gave us a conscience.

When we’re faced with a decision and the battle begins: Thoughts go through your mind. Feelings go through your emotions. And options are presented to your will and your will makes a choice, good or bad. That’s why God gave us a conscience: To help encourage us to do the right thing. As your will is making a decision, your conscience kicks in to help you.

That’s why every decision you make triggers a response from your conscience: When we consistently make good decisions, our conscience defends us— and we feel joy, self-respect, peace, happiness and dignity. It feels good. It’s what the Bible calls a good/clear conscience (Hebrews 13:18; 1 Peter 3:16-21). When we consistently make bad decisions and violate our internal standard of right and wrong, our conscience accuses us— and we feel a sense of shame, regret, disgrace and fear. Those bad feelings are what God is using to convict us, so we’ll live the way He wants us to. It’s what the Bible calls a guilty conscience (Hebrews 10:22).

That’s how your conscience works.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Being Conscious of Your Conscience (Part 1 of 3)

Hello. This is your conscience speaking....”

Just kidding. But if your conscience was speaking to you, what would it say?

Over the next three weeks, I’m going to talk to you about being conscious of your conscience. I want you to consciously think about your conscience.

We’re going to talk about three issues: What your conscience is, how it works, and why it matters.

What Is Your Conscience?

Let me begin by telling you what it is and what it isn’t—

1. Conscience is a “human thing,” it’s not something that plants & animals possess

God only gave human beings a conscience. Only people are capable of ‘moral choices’. You can’t sue a kitty cat or execute a gerbil for doing something wrong. Plants never “feel guilty”. They don’t have a conscience, so they don’t “feel” anything. When my wife’s marigolds died this summer, they weren’t depressed... they were just ‘dead.’ Animals can’t sin. Since my dog Hugo doesn’t have a conscience, he doesn’t FEEL BAD when he leaves my carpet a gift from his lower intestines. Plants and animals just don’t have a conscience, it’s a “human” thing.

2. Though the conscience is a “human thing,” it’s not just a “Christian” thing

Romans 2:14-15 tells us that everyone has a conscience, Christian or not. The conscience is a good thing, but it isn’t the best thing. It isn’t the same thing as the Holy Spirit or voice of God. All people have a conscience, but only Christians have the Holy Spirit too. Those who aren’t Christians only have their conscience, which is helpful, but not nearly as helpful in making right decisions as having God Himself living inside of you. The Holy Spirit works in believers by echoing God’s Will and acting as God’s Voice to Christians... but to Christians only.

Let me give you a simple description of the Conscience (mentioned 30 times in NT). It’s your soul’s “automatic warning system,” like a warning light on your car’s dashboard or on the computer. It’s automatic, like your body’s involuntary actions of breathing and blinking. You don’t have to even think about it... it just reacts to the stimuli it encounters.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Do YOU Want to Change the World?

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:
If one falls down, his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

The one thing that you have to do if you want to change the world is to have ACCOUNTABILITY in your life If you want to attempt great things for God, to give Him great glory, and to be a mighty man or woman of valor, you’ll never do it without accountability in your life. Every great leader has multiple levels of accountability in his or her life. Various Biblical leaders show the importance of accountability. David was accountable to Nathan (2 Samuel 12:7), Paul was accountable to Barnabas (Acts 15:36ff), and Peter was held accountable be Paul (Galatians 2:11-14).

What is accountability?

Accountability is giving other people in your life the right to ask you the hard questions– and them giving you the same right– not for the purpose of tearing one another down, but building one another up. It’s for discouraging each other from harmful patterns of sinful living and encouraging each other toward godliness.

We need it because spiritual growth is often uneven– we win some; we lose some. Together, we can win more. We still have a sin nature, even as believers. But we have power over it through Christ– and that power is greater when Christians unite and encourage one another.

The best way is to have an accountability group is by using what I call the 3 Musketeer Model (All for One and One for all). Ecclesiastes gives us the best advice: "A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." An additional important element of this accountability is to meet regularly, most likely weekly. Accountability groups should also be of the same sex, as spiritual intimacy can often lead to physical intimacy.

Biblical Models of Accountability

Paul– Each of us needs a spiritual mentor (older in the faith, a giant “to us”, a seasoned believer; youth usually need an adult for this role, someone you approach who is willing to help you grow) Think of who it will be for you...Think of 2-3 and pray about it– be very serious before doing it or you’ll crash and burn

Silas– Each of us needs a spiritual equal (someone on our spiritual level) Who might be a good fit?

Timothy– Each of us needs to help disciple someone younger in the faith (2 Timothy 2:2)

Look for those who are more experienced in the faith, who can be your mentors, those who are your spiritual equals, and those whom you can disciple. In order to grow, you need mentors, equals, and others that you can mentor. Accountability is essential and vital in our Christian lives, to be mentored and to mentor others.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Galatians: Chapters 5-6 (Part 6 of 6)

As we discussed last week, Christian maturity and spirituality isn’t about ‘trying’ but about simply pursuing a love relationship with Jesus. This week, we’ll continue with the message and content of Galatians.

Chapter 5, verse 1 is the key verse of the book of Galatians. The point of the Christian life is freedom/Christian liberty– the freedom to live in ways that position us in blessing, due to what Christ has done for us. Freedom from sin– yes, but freedom from living with the million requirements of the law on your mind 24-7. Even as a Christian, God will let you live in spiritual bondage. If you won’t learn what God says about living the Christian life; He will let you live in bondage... after all, most Christians do, and fail to enjoy what Christ purchased for them by his blood.

Verses 3 and 4 teach that if you’re going to live by the law, legalistically, to prove your self-righteousness, you can’t pick and choose, you’ll have to do it all. Of course, if you do– you’ve taken a lesson in ‘missing the point’ and your ‘circumcision has ‘cut you off’ from Christ (joke by Paul under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration). Falling from grace, here, is not losing your salvation as many believe— but is rather moving from living in the higher state of freedom and liberty, to falling back/down into law and condemnation.

Paul then moves on in verses 6 through 8 to further enforce that externals are not the point... It’s not righteous acts that make you right before God. It’s faith and love for God and others (Great Commandment).

Verses 9 and 10 address spiritual false teaching. It is dangerous because people are gullible. That’s why doctrine is so important. When we fight wrong beliefs, we teach the truth; call out those who teach falsehood; and pray for those in false belief. Verse 11 addresses the essence of the grace of the Gospel message. The former strict regulations are overthrown and we are given grace freely.

Verses 12 through 15 further discuss freedom. Yes, but not the wrong kind... don’t confuse legitimate freedom for ‘license’ (Rom 6, e.g.). The immediately following verses, 16-25, discuss the secret of Christian matuity and power. Life isn’t in Christ that gravitates toward sin and self-destruction. The fruits of the spirit discussed in verses 22-25 are all singular: “Fruit (singular) of the spirit is (singular verb)...”

Chapter 6 concludes the chapter with some final thoughts from Paul. Christians must help and encourage Christians in sin.. How? GENTLY AND HUMBLY (meaning, the exact opposite of how they usually do— which is roughly and arrogantly).

In verse 6, Paul teaches that Christian leaders/teachers deserve to be paid.... it adds accountability and gives the adequate time to study. Why does Paul include this here? If they’d done it right and had that kind of adequate time, they’d stayed out of false teaching in Galatia.

Paul’s closing and concluding teaching is that we bless other people, especially Christians.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Galatians: Chapters 2-4 (Part 5 of 6)

This week, we’re going to move on to Paul’s main message in his letter to the Galatians. Because this is such a challenging passage, I decided to just draw out the primary principles— and teach it from those “big ideas” in the text and not try to force you to wade through the very involved sections of scripture here that require you to have a lot of background in the Old Testament— I knew in my heart that most people would get lost, so I believe God wanted me to approach it this way.

And as I say this, I know there are some people who probably can handle it and would be able to follow me... and others who fancy themselves really informed about the Bible but who aren’t and would actually get lost. So I’m going to do us all a favor and go the more practical route, because what’s really important is that people understand what God has said to us in His Word.

In the previous section, recall that Paul is laying the foundation for his authority. He seeks to show Galatian Christians that his message is from God alone, that he has not been taught and influenced by men. On that foundation, he builds the following passages of his letter.

The first of Paul’s big ideas is this: If you’re a true Christian, don’t let the freedom Christ gives you– spiritual liberty, living in freedom and spiritual abandon, be taken away from you by self-righteous people who claim to be (and may be) Christians. Unfortunately, some Christians (or posers) get lost along the way and start having judgmental spirits and live self-righteously and hold other people in contempt for (1) enjoying the amazing spiritual liberty Christ gives a person to live OR (2) for not letting those self-righteous people put you under their thumb in order to control your life and to gain praise and adulation from others because of their high standards.

Paul’s second big idea is: It’s OK, perhaps even necessary at times, to confront self-righteous people who judge you and everyone else, but who are (themselves) hypocrites. God wanted Paul to call out Peter— Peter was in sin.

Paul’s third big idea: Righteousness (peace with God, a right standing with God, being in a right relationship with God where God is pleased with you) does not come as a result of your own good deeds. As good as you may be, it’s not good enough– because God’s standard is perfection, which is something we’re not capable of... only Christ was able to do that (on the cross).

Paul’s fourth big idea is this: The secret to the Christian life... is unexpected. It’s simply letting Christ live in and through you. When a person becomes a believer, the Holy Spirit (God in spiritual form) takes up residence in you and wants to live His very life through you (we become partakers of the divine image). But if you try to impress God with your OWN self-righteous acts and good deeds, your conscience will always accuse you for your inconsistency, and you will forever live feeling condemned.

Christ was perfect, but He died to take on my sin... meaning he died a sacrificial death to pay for the human debt of sin against God.

The Christian life isn’t about ‘playing defense.' In other words... it’s not about trying to QUIT everything— and stopping doing whatever it is that you’ve been doing. That’s no way to live. Self-righteousness is driven by will power, and it always leads to (1) Defeat, because we’re weak and (2) self-righteousness and then, because we’re weak and too proud to admit it, (3) secret sin.

The Solution? Stop playing defense and play offense.... Live in abandon to Jesus. Just love him with all you’ve got and stop trying to impress Him and everybody else.

In chapter 3, verses 1 through 4, Paul asserts that if you’re not careful, you can get so religious and ‘churchy’ that you miss the point of the Christian life. The freedom of the Christian life begins to get cloudy and obscured by religious people and self-righteous people.... to the point that you soon forget that the Christian life isn’t about keeping a bunch of rules and regulations, and about image-management so everyone will be impressed with you, but it’s simply about developing your relationship with Jesus— imagine that!

Spend your time being vulnerable with God and transparent with others about your frailties and insufficiency. The holiest people you’ll ever meet are well aware that they have issues, but know that God is taking care of it— they’re not people who are trying to front with holier-than-thou attitudes.

In verses 8 through 13, Paul’s point is that if you swap “Christian freedom” and working on your relationship with Jesus for “religion” and start playing the “church” game, you may as well be living back in Old Testament times— because when you decide to live by impressing God and people with your own acts of devotion and self-righteousness, God actually expects you to obey the whole Old Testament and its requirements, since you’re clearly no longer allowing Christ to be your righteousness– But unfortunately, this type of living will keep you in spiritual bondage, constant self-condemnation, and you’ll be an unhappy Christian with a critical spirit, always judging others.

The Old Testament Law with all of its restrictions, the dietary regulations, the requirement for men to be circumcised, etc. were certainly there for a reason at one point in history– and were good at that time for that purpose. But now we are in New Testament times— and living under the New Testament means placing our trust in Christ and LETTING HIM LIVE THROUGH US. Good deeds don’t make us righteous— that’s not why we do them... to prove we’re righteous, but because Christ is making us righteous, we consequently do good deeds.

In other words, the self-righteous person believes his own good deeds are the CAUSE of His Righteousness.... whereas the Christian living in God’s grace knows that his good deeds are the EFFECTS or consequences of Christ living through Him... and that they aren’t his own doing.

Paul then moves on, in verses 19 through 29, to state that since Christ is the only righteous one... and only as He lives through us can we live in a way that really pleases God and lives up to His expectations, we don’t’ need to live ‘keeping tallies’ of our self-righteous acts.

Me? I don’t even THINK about TRYING to live the Christian life. I don’t TRY to be holy. I don’t TRY to do anything... I can’t. Instead, all I do is work on spending time with Jesus and being intimate with Him and doing things that move me closer to Him (worship, prayer, giving, serving, confession, studying, etc.) and AS I DO NOTHING MORE THAN WORK ON MY RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM (just as we work on our relationships with other people)– as I cultivate my love relationship with Jesus, just by spending time with Him, He begins to rub off on me, and I begin to become holy, BY DEFAULT.

I know this next idea is going to frustrate some of you, but— this is the gist of what Paul was talking about in this passage..

I personally SPEND MY TIME cultivating my time with Jesus— not spending my time “observing days and by avoiding festivals”– meaning, I’m more concerned about loving Jesus and being with Him than sitting around thinking of ways to show everyone I don’t celebrate Santa Claus or by preaching against Halloween....

The Christian life isn’t about that stuff— It’s not about EXTERNALS, as if anyone cares whether you dress up in a bozo costume or not (not that, if you did, anyone would think you are a devil worshipper)— it’s not about externals, but INTERNALS– whether you are being TRANSFORMED into the image of Christ because you are so consumed with your love relationship with Him.

Also in Matthew 15:18, Acts 10:14, and 1 Timothy 4:3, it’s taught that it is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man." The point is that we should work harder on fixing ourselves from the INSIDE OUT than the OUTSIDE IN. Paul likewise teaches the Galatians that the internal state of a person is more important to address than external behavior.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Galatians: Chapter 2 (Part 4 of 6)

This week, we’re going to discuss chapter 2, verses 1 through 10. In this section, Paul is preparing to challenge and fix the Galatian churches’ false teaching about the true message of Christ.

He reminds them he had basically no interaction with any other apostles and was not influenced by their message... the message he was sharing was from God alone.

14 years after Paul first met James and Peter, he went again to Jerusalem, meaning he had preached the same message for 17 years now, without any previous instruction. He told that a message from God alone, received directly from Jesus himself. Paul here is talking here about the Council of Jerusalem that occurred in Acts 15 in AD 50. What was the purpose of that visit and of the Jerusalem Council? To address the current controversy, to address what is required of non-Jewish/Gentile believers. Specifically, he discusses that Gentiles do not have to do extra things to make God happy.

Why did Paul mention Titus? Remember, Paul wrote a letter to Titus (Titus 1:4-5). But why did he mention him? Because Paul had led him to Christ and Titus was an uncircumcised Gentile Christian, which was the very thing the controversy was about. He wanted to show them a real life example of such a believer and that even without doing all the extra things the Jewish self-righteous and legalistic believers expected of him, Titus was clearly godly. His point is that there are Christians who don’t look like you, live completely like you, dress like you, have different cultures than you and express their faith differently than you– but they love Jesus JUST AS MUCH.

In Acts 15:1, Paul mentions Judaizers who came to Antioch, which is in Pisidia or Galatia. These Jewish Christians were coming at that time, teaching that you had to be circumcised in order to be a Christian in good standing with God. Then, at that Council in Jerusalem, after Paul told them what God had done among non-Jewish believers, this group of Judaizers still said (Acts 15:4-5) that it was necessary to circumcise them. Paul said no. We shouldn’t place too much emphasis on externals; even without those things, Titus was actually MORE RIGHTEOUS than these Galatians. So when the Judaizers were confronted with the truth about their legalistic perversions of the gospel, they ‘kept silent.’

In verses 3-5, Paul discusses false brethren who taught that circumcision is necessary. They tried to spy out our freedom, to put us back in religious bondage (religious tyranny), making us and others do more than God required. But, Paul said, we didn’t yield in subjection to them for even an hour. We only cared about the truth. When it comes to impressing people with being overly strict and proving to them that you’re the real thing and accommodating them and their self-righteous, extra-biblical demands on your life– Paul said he wouldn’t deal with it.

That’s why Paul calls them ‘false brethren;’ they knew nothing of the grace of God, they were just religious zealots wanting to control people’s lives for their own power. Those phonies and power mongers had sneaked into the leadership— Paul here is using a type of military language, where people enter a camp by stealth with an objective of sabotage— and they wanted to bring people into bondage (the same word that implies ‘slavery’).

Paul’s point is that these people were more interested in controlling people and performing self-righteous acts to earn favor from God and praise from one another MORE THAN realizing God gives His favor as unmerited and free, without performance. MEANING, anything we do for God should be out of love and devotion for God, not to impress or control others or to gain the praise of other people.

Paul enforces his point through a variety of methods and supports. In doctrinal issues (beliefs), Paul changed nothing– as it says here. He wouldn’t change his beliefs to make them palatable to people, Christian or not. But in ministry matters– to reach people for Christ, he was always being unconventional; 1 Corinthians 9:22 says I ‘became all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”

Example: Though Paul didn’t have Titus circumcised (a Gentile) he did have Timothy circumcised. Why? Titus wasn’t circumcised because Titus was a Grecian Gentile and had no relationship to Judaism. But because Timothy was half-Jew, without being circumcised, Timothy couldn’t have gone into the synagogue to preach and minister to Jews. Titus, the Greek, had no inroads to the Jews, but Timothy did– but for ministry reasons, not theological reasons, Paul wanted Timothy to be circumcised...not for self-righteous reasons, but because it allowed him to be more effective in ministry with his people.

In closing, Paul said in verses 2:9-10 that, having said all this, Peter, James and John– the BIG THREE during Jesus’ ministry... pillars (a phrase implying ‘great teachers’) of the church gave him the right hand of fellowship, welcoming him into their leadership circle. Right hand meant a solemn vow had been made in trust. Fellowship meant a “partnership.”

Here in our churches we offer the “right hand of fellowship” too. Though it isn’t biblically required for membership, when someone becomes a member, we want to show them that we are now partnering together– and that we trust one another and are working together to advance the Kingdom of God as a team.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Galatians: Chapter 1 (Part 3 of 6)

e’ll continue our study of Galatians again this week, beginning with chapter 1, verse 11.

Paul begins this passage in verse 11 with “I would have you know,” which is from a strong Greek verb (gnorizo) that means to make known with certainty or to certify. He uses brethren to address all Christians at the churches in Galatia. When he states that “the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man,” he shows that, unlike every other religion in the world in which righteousness comes from human effort and works, in Christianity God’s good news in the Bible is that grace is free.

In verse 12, Paul is taking a stab at the Judaizers, who received their religious instruction from rabbinic tradition and memorization of what others said, rather than studying the scripture directly. He states that he did not receive his knowledge from men and was not taught wisdom by other men. Hearsay is usually heresy. Study the Word for YOURSELF, don’t rely on what you’ve ‘heard’ This is probably a reference to the charge that the Judaizers were making, that Paul had received his teachings from people in Jerusalem and not God. Paul asserts that he received knowledge through revelation from Jesus Christ. He uses apokalupsis, the same word as the name of the book of Revelation, as a revelation. It indicates an uncovering when God removed the lid and unveiled something, though it was previously secret.

This revelation or uncovering was not just FROM JESUS, but it was OF Jesus. (Acts 9). Paul knew some things before his experience with Jesus on the road to Damascus, since he was an Old Testament scholar, but it was at this time that the information he had studied became living to Him and made spiritual sense (1 Corinthians 2). It is the same with us: when we are saved, we have ‘spiritual eyes,’ which can not discern spiritual truth.

Now, in the next 12 verses, he substantiates the claim that he did in fact have direct revelation from God— anyone could SAY it, now he shows it. Here he gives his autobiographical credentials, and really, what Christians call a “testimony.” Paul tells his testimony in the same way that many Christians now tell. He tells about himself before Christ (verses 13-14), when he encountered Christ (verses 15-16), and after he encountered Jesus (verses 17-24). Paul was transparent about his life.

Paul first tells of his life before Jesus or pre-conversion. The key word in verse 13 is “MY FORMER manner of life when I was in JUDAISM.” Paul was the model Jewish believer (as we see in Philippians 3:5-6) and was so zealous about defending the Jewish faith that he used to persecute the church of God beyond measure. ‘Used to persecute’ in the original language (GK imperfect tense) means a persistent and continued intention to harm. Paul states that he tried to destroy the Christian movement. That’s a big statement. ‘Destroy’ is a military term used to speak of soldiers ravaging a city– and doing so without stopping, a continual action.

Paul had “advanced in Judaism beyond many of his countrymen being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.” This translates to Judaizers that: You have NOTHING on me. Your level of expectation and commitment to Jewish tradition is nothing. You’re a wannabe. I was the real deal. I honor my ancestral traditions– they’re my roots, but I was wrong. Those traditions were an exercise in “missing the point.”

Furthermore... watch this: a person like Paul at this time in his life was in no mood to change his mind about how he lived– he was hard core. But he radically changed when he met Christ. Paul’s point? No sinner is outside God’s reach. God takes even murderers— as they are, and can give them spiritual zeal to surpass even lifelong Christians, if there is such a thing.
Secondly, Paul describes his conversion and calling or ordination from God. He states that (verses 15-16). “God had set me apart, even from my mother’s womb.” God is sovereign, even though Paul was going 180° degrees in the wrong direction, God had a plan for Paul all along— just as He has one for you and me. Paul was set apart from his mother’s womb. Paul wasn’t called because he had demonstrated some great quality– he hadn’t even been born! That shows God doesn’t choose us and work in us because of our potential, but because it pleases Him to do so. 2 Peter 3:8 says God wants ALL to come to repentance in this way.

Paul came to God (was called) by His grace or unlimited favor, because it pleased God to reveal His Son through Paul’s life and God wanted Paul to preach to the Gentiles— the very ones these Jews Paul was addressing wanted to keep out of the faith or UNDER the faith.

Paul then concludes this section with a description of his life after his conversion (verses 17-24) He tells that “I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood.” Paul, remember, is giving his credentials and the basis for what he is saying in this letter and his overall message. He is telling them that he didn’t talk to anyone else about what to teach, or about what God wanted. He didn’t want anyone’s opinion or clarification to the revelation he had received. God had spoken to him; what clarification did he need?!!

Paul opens his letter to the Galatians with a discussion of the pervasiveness and perseverance of the Gospel and the sovereignty of God (1:6-10) and then discusses His own God-given credentials. He hasn’t gained wisdom and knowledge from men, but from God. He is not called due to his abilities, but because of God’s choice alone.

Next week, we’ll move on to chapter two, in which Paul begins the real ‘meat’ of his message and his ultimate purpose in writing to the Galatians.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Galatians: Introduction (Part 2 of 6)

After Jesus resurrected from the grave, He gave the Great Commission; part of it came in the form of Acts 1:8. Jesus told His followers to witness in Jerusalem (Acts 1-7), then in Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1-4), to upper Samaria (Acts 10:24-35), and finally to the outermost parts of their known world (Acts 11:19-24). So churches are springing up everywhere at this time— the New Covenant is in effect. God’s people are sharing the message of Christ (forgiveness, hope, abundant life now and eternal life later) to both Jews and Gentiles.

Since most of Christian believers and leaders are scattered, they are going everywhere– especially the Apostles. The Apostle Paul made his primary work reaching out to non-Jewish people with the message of the Jesus because some of the other Apostles were effectively taking care of the Jewish people.

So churches are being established. The Apostle Paul is traveling with a group of friends. Leaders are helping him set up communities of Christian faith throughout the Roman Empire. He takes several such trips, called missionary journeys. The first missionary journey occurred around the late 40s AD. We read about it in Acts 13-14. Some cities mentioned on Paul’s journey are Pisidia, Lystra, and Iconium.

The gospel (the good news of Jesus’ love for all people, his forgiveness, and the possibility of abundant life now and eternal life later) is being taken to the outermost parts of the world– like it was supposed to be. Paul has taken his first missionary journey, and goes to the area of Galatia.

Later on, he hears of some events going on there and writes a letter to those churches– in hopes of clearing up the problems there. The main problem was that, after he left, some people there began to distort the truth of his message. The book of Galatians was written to clarify what the Gospel is about and what it gives believers,

Let’s begin, reading verse 1-5.

Verse 1 clarifies that this book is an epistle, a formal style of letter. Unlike other letters in the New Testament, this one isn’t addressed to a specific person or a specific church– it’s written to a group of churches... all of which were positioned in Galatia (present-day Turkey). The letter went out generally to all of the cities in the region, because they were all dealing with the same issues at that time.

In this verse, Paul notes that he is called “of God.” His authority is from God, not from any denomination or group who thought he was a nice guy or a human organization who gave him ordination papers. God calls— all an organization can do is recognize a man is called.

In verse 2, Paul discusses the fact that he is not alone; there are men and women with him in his missionary travels. Paul refers to them because the Galatians know who some of those are (because these are people who traveled with him in Acts 13-14), and these others have credibility with the Galatians as well. So Paul is saying, “we’re still here— we’re still saying the same thing. We’re of one heart and mind on the issues we’ll discuss in this letter.” Strong Christians add to the credibility of Paul’s message— that was going on here. And the others also cared about the Galatians and wanted to say ‘hi’ as well.

Verse 3 is a typical Pauline greeting, wishing ‘grace and peace’ to the Galatians. Grace ALWAYS precedes peace in his letters. Grace remits sin, and peace quiets the conscience. Without grace, there can BE no peace.

In verse 4, Paul reiterates that Jesus died for sin. Sin is so vicious that only the sacrifice of Christ could atone for sin. God planned that Jesus would die for sins. WHY? To rescue the world from itself, from self-destruction and from destroying others. Sin includes personal evil, societal wickedness, and territorial and spatial wickedness. Christ died to free people from all types of sin.

In verse 5, Paul breaks out in praise– all glory belongs to God forever and ever. Because God HAS rescued the world from evil through Christ— Christ’s work defeated the cause of evil and broke its power.

For that reason, Amen (true, yes!)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Galatians: Context (Part 1 of 6)

Today I’m beginning a series on a book of the New Testament called Galatians. Each book of the Bible is indispensable and important in its own way and Galatians is no exception.

In fact, Galatians is a very important book for both professing Christians (people who think of themselves as followers of Christ) and for those who are at a point in their lives that they want absolutely nothing to do with self-righteous people, organized religion or the institutional church.

That’s because, in this book, God gives Christians the facts on what the Christian life is really all about—and helps those who aren’t Christians see that a lot of what is sometimes called the Church and that masquerades as Christian Faith actually has nothing to do with Jesus or with biblical Christianity. So, if you’re a Christian, a spiritual seeker or something in between, this study is for you--- and I’m glad you’re reading.

Today, before I really get into the text of the book called Galatians, I want to help you understand the historical background that led to the writing of the book.

WHY? Why spend time on that? Because anytime you study ANY book of the Bible, you need to understand what led to and precipitated the writing of that book. Nothing happens in a vacuum. God doesn’t just inspire Scripture for no reason. There were goings on in the early days of Christianity—things that became of such a critical and serious nature that God Himself intervened and, through the agency and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, guided the Apostle Paul in the writing of this book.

The problem with that is that lots of people feel lost in the Bible, and studies like this often get a little confusing to people. For that reason, as I approach this study, I’m going to break it down into little, bite-sized pieces—and I’m going to explain it bit by bit, piece by piece and morsel by morsel, so nobody feels left in the dark. And I’m going to try to take the complex and sometimes complicated story of the Bible and New Testament and put it in plain language that I hope you can understand. And with that introduction, here we go!

The Old Testament Context

To understand Galatians, you must understand Judaism and the Old Testament. So that’s where I’m going to start, with a brief introduction of how the Bible and the book of Galatians fit together.

Judaism as an organized religion isn’t the first ‘organized’ religion in the history of the world, but the Judeo-Christian God (the God of the Bible) is the only God that Christians believe in and that is the one mentioned throughout the Bible. God is eternal and has always existed. That God created humanity and all that is. God established boundaries and expectations for people, which they broke and violated. God expelled them from His presence because of their disrespect and rebellion—because their actions proved they weren’t interested in having an intimate relationship with Him. Even though God allowed people to rebel, like a loving parent, He still loved them and pursued them with forgiveness and cared for and provided for them.

Fast forward: At a certain time in history (around 1450 BC), God established a holy covenant with a man named Abraham. Abraham had a child, Isaac. Isaac had two sons, one of whom was named Jacob. So the God of the Bible became known as the “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Genesis 32:9). Jacob was later renamed Israel after a supernatural experience he had with God. Jacob, now Israel, had twelve sons, each of which had large families that, over time, became clans, then tribes. Generally speaking (and this is oversimplified and not exactly the way it occurred), the dozen sons of Jacob/Israel became the Twelve Tribes of Israel. God wanted to honor the agreement He had with the descendents of His follower, Abraham. They had been enslaved over the centuries that followed by Egypt (Exodus 2:23-25). God then rescued them from Egypt and gave them a parcel of land (called the Holy Land) that He had promised to them hundreds of years earlier.

They later became a nation under God—known as the nation of Israel (comprised of the twelve tribes of Israel)—and they were governed by God’s Law—that is, the Old Covenant, and namely, the Ten Commandments. And when they broke the Law, they had to make blood offerings to God (Leviticus 1-7) to show sorrow for their sins and make restitution to God for what they’d done. Later, the nation had a break up, and what remained were two smaller nations—one named the nation of Judah (which was comprised of the tribe of Judah, namely the Jewish people). God then continued to interact with them, to have His Will done on earth through that Covenant people.

The New Testament Context

Ultimately the Jewish people, as a whole, failed to keep their end of the deal, leading to a New Covenant— meaning God established an additional covenant with a new group of people, in order for His Will to be done on earth. The original people He made this covenant with (John 12) were the Jews—but were told to include all people, particularly Gentiles (Matthew 28). So while the Old Covenant was with the Jewish people as an ethnic group, the New Covenant still honored that covenant (Romans 9-11), but introduced all non-Jews, called Gentiles, into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

How does this work? Well, instead of breaking the Law and making offerings of animals, Christians trust in Jesus Christ who made HIMSELF an offering for sin which is why He died on the cross. After Christ was murdered and then resurrected from the dead, the church sprang into existence. That meant Christians would no longer make offerings and do all of the things written in the Old Testament (like be circumcised as a young child or man, make animal offerings, keep certain dietary or eating regulations, and so on). All of those things became obsolete when Christ did His work (Hebrews 8:8-18).

In Jerusalem, at a Jewish holiday called Pentecost, a few weeks after the resurrection, the Christian movement as we know it today sprang into existence and Christian bodies/churches—groups of Christians meeting together (I’m not talking about churches as-in ‘buildings’) began to be established everywhere. Over time, those churches spread throughout the then-Roman Empire. They first began as Jewish followers of Jesus (in Jerusalem, Samaria and Jewish communities elsewhere), but in time churches were established among Gentiles too—just as Christ had told them to do.

The Pauline Context

The leader who helped Gentiles (non-Jews like many of us) become introduced to Jesus was a Jewish leader named the Apostle Paul. The primary leader who helped Jewish people find Christ was the Apostle Peter as well as James, the half brother of Jesus.

But understand this—because this is part of the key to understanding the Book of Galatians— In some churches, there were both Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians. Not only were they different ethnicities and nationalities, but were from totally different cultures, and the Jews were known to have a great sense of pride about their heritage as God’s people. But now, as you know, God was including Gentiles in His plan—like He had ALWAYS wanted to, but the Jews failed to do. Some Jews were jealous that God had included the Gentiles in His New Covenant—and were resistant to non-Jews coming to Jesus in the New Covenant (Acts 14:45-47).This ongoing struggle led to the situation in churches in the area of the world known as Galatia (basically current day Turkey).

In the New Testament, after the life and times of Jesus appears (in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), there is a short history of the early church (Act.s) and then the letters to the churches begin. Those letters are called ‘epistles’ because an epistle was a type of letter writing technique at that time. Paul wrote many epistles—letters—to Christian believers, some Jewish believers and some Gentile believers. Here, in Galatians, we read of a church with both. They were having problems understanding what the New Covenant really meant—and what God expected of people. There was a sharp disagreement about that, and it was confusing people about the truth.

Today, people are also confused about the truth. Why? Because Churches are often confused too. In the next few weeks, we’ll discover the real truth about the Christian message—and it’ll help both Christians and seekers understand what the message of Jesus really was and is.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Live Life as if it Really Mattered

Sometime at the end of high school or the beginning of my college years, I began to understand how important life really is.

What is life? What does your life consist of?

Life is the cumulative effect of every decision you will ever make. We can conclude, if this is true, that decisions are important. And not “just” important... they’re ultimate. Since they’re of ultimate importance, it’s a good idea to learn to make good decisions and every decision begins in the mind.

Because of the centrality of the mind in our decision-making, I want to challenge you to explore your own thought process to see if you can improve your ability to “live as if it really mattered.”

Socrates said that the unexamined life isn’t worth living. Let’s take his advice and examine three things about our minds

Examine Your Decisions: Think about WHAT you DO.

You and I both know lots of people who live their lives as if it’s a game--- like the stakes aren’t that high... never stopping to ask themselves, “WHAT AM I DOING? WHERE IS MY BRAIN?”

The truth is that one decision you make in a moment can have lifelong ramifications--- for good or bad. Those who don’t think about what they do end up making bonehead moves with a high price tag attached to them.

When was the last time you just weren’t thinking about your actions and harmed a relationship? hurt a friend? wounded a family member? violated another person? dishonored your own body? offended God?

Remember the advice of Colossians 4:5, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” 1 Peter 1:13 tells us to “Prepare our minds for action.”

Examine Your Assumptions and Beliefs: Think about WHAT you BELIEVE

Most people’s beliefs are like a patchwork quilt, a family heirloom. Passed down from generation to generation without much thought, they’re a hodge-podge of ideas from all kinds of different places. Without even realizing it, many Christians hold conflicting positions about political, social, moral, legal and spiritual issues. Sometimes the views are so inconsistent it’s absurd, but they don’t realize it because they haven’t really thought about it.

You must have a workable philosophy of life... one that’s consistent with reality-- one that’s in harmony with truth and the way things really are. If you don’t, life will eventually cave in on you because you’re living a lie. That’s why the Apostle Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is within you.”


Examine Your Thought Process: Think about HOW you THINK

Most people don’t think much about anything... they live on autopilot. Don’t veg-out and put your mind in neutral. Don’t get so lazy mentally that you don’t think critically

When you don’t think about how you think, before you realize it, instead of your mind being transformed into a powerful tool God can use, it becomes like a lump of clay that is molded and conformed into thinking like everyone else. That’s why the Apostle Paul said in Romans 12:2 not to let your mind (your thinking) be conformed to the world, but to be transformed-- to undergo a metamorphosis so you’ll know how to live like God wants.

So that’s my challenge to you today: Live As If Life Really Mattered by:

Thinking about WHAT you DO
Thinking about WHAT you BELIEVE
Thinking about HOW you THINK

Monday, March 28, 2011

Meditation: Gaining the Mind of Christ through Prayer

Meditation, pondering spiritual themes in reference to God, helps us understand how to apply God’s truths and gain insight into God’s truth.

It helps us understand difficult passages, relate truths to other scripture passages, network doctrines together and come to biblical understandings of doctrinal systems, and helps us distinguish between concepts, among other things. In Joshua 1:8, we are told to meditate on the Law day and night so that we will not depart from the way of God. Because of meditation, God will make our ways prosperous and successful.

Meditation is a part of praying without ceasing. It is pondering, chewing on biblical concepts and going at them in different angles, looking at the supposed contradictions of faith and the Bible only to ultimately crack the shell and find the truth therein. We must work to find it and only when we really intend to obey the principle wrought by that word should we expect to find truth.

God doesn’t intend to impart undiscovered truth on us until we intend to obey it.

Meditation helps us gain and learn the mind of Christ, to be more and more like our Lord.

Because we don’t meditate, thinking clearly and biblically, we have messed up ideas of Scripture and doctrine. We then depend on others thinking. We don’t want to do it ourselves. When asked to justify our beliefs, many say, “That’s what so and so said, I heard it on TV.” We are chronically gullible because we cannot distinguish ideas, due to our lack of meditation.

Meditation yields inner peace, brings greater satisfaction in our devotional lives, and gives us an opportunity to be a more obedient servant. It gives us a divine perspective, that we may see God’s thoughts and God’s ways. Meditation can help us understand life better and make better sense of our circumstances..

The fruit of meditation is insight to truth. Truth liberates and changes things.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Thanking God in Prayer

Thanksgiving is related to praise but they are not one and the same. Thanksgiving is to express appreciation for the things that God has done for you, for others, or for any acts He has performed. Praise is to express appreciation for who God is, His Person, His Word, His Attributes.

Thanksgiving is mental or vocal. It is to be specific gratitude. Thanksgiving-- like the whole of prayer itself, is not just an act, but a lifestyle (1 Thess 5:17-18).

It focuses on God’s faithfulness and thereby increases our faith because it reminds our hearts of what He has done. Faith is always trust based on the Lord’s faithfulness of the past. Thanksgiving increases that. It is one of the best cures for depression, pity parties, disappointment.
As I asked readers to practice praise a few weeks ago, I ask you again now to practice thanksgiving. Allow your mind to wander through the days activities. Allow God to direct you toward blessings you overlooked and failed to thank Him for. Don’t just thank Him, “Thanks God,” but thank Him by exploring the goodness of God in those items. Thank God specifically, not just a blanket statement. Thank Him individually and sincerely.

You can thank God for His goodness to you, to your family, to the world.
You an thank God for His blessings in the past, His blessings in the present, and His blessings that will come in the future. God’s blessings can be people, things, ideas, confirmation of His will, and nearly anything else. Blessings can be material, spiritual, relational, physical, and external.

You can thank God for His sovereignty and His ruling over the world. The Bible tells us to be joyful in trials and tribulations, so you can also genuinely thank God for tragedy, for hard times, for persecution. Our trials and tribulations bring about our perseverance and develop our character.

Give thanks to God in all circumstances, unceasingly.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Watching for God's Working though Prayer

Just before being arrested, Jesus tells His disciples to watch and pray. ‘Watch' comes from a Greek word meaning to be alert, awake or vigilant. Intent, awake in order to guard, close observation. Spiritually speaking it is to be awake and alert spiritually in order to be on guard.

On guard for what? The wiles of the devil and the working of the divine. That’s what was the key issue in the garden of Gethsemane-- discerning where God or satan was at work.

Watching means to develop discernment. Discernment means to separate truth from falsehood; better to detect and understand a distinction from that which is of God and that which is not.

Most Christians are not discerning. Most do not always even understand when God is speaking to them and when He is not. This is due to the neglect of our personal lives. The spirit of God communicates to us through prayer, Bible study, other Christians, and circumstances. Since many neglect most of these we have only a part of what God is saying to us. For this reason, most Christians don’t know how to distinguish, detect or understand anything other than the most obvious things that aren’t of God-- they rely on feelings.

That’s why watching is so important. It is a time of examination, of peering closer and magnifying everything with the Illuminator. Ephesians 6 describes the armor of God and to conclude the passage, Paul commands the Christians in Ephesus to watch and be alert, continuing in prayer always.

Fatigue is often a harm in our prayer, and decreases our ability to watch, because it takes a clarity of mind that is not at our disposal when we are tired and our minds aren’t sharp. It also makes us more susceptible to sin....Why? We are not as discerning and do not recognize satantic snares as quickly. We are reactionary. Watching then is not an idle activity but an active one that requires diligence and vigilance.

To watch, we must make ourselves aware of satan’s work to hinder our prayer. He tries to, through various means, distract us from prayer in the first place. Don’t allow satan to draw you from the important prayer issues. Satan works trough fatigue, though distractions, through anything to keep our minds from being alert.

We should keep from praying using meaningless repetition and many words. This can also be tools of satan and may actually weaken our prayer, because we dilute our request or distort it into uselessness. Take time to be aware of the wiles of the devil throughout your life and the world. Where is he at work in the community, the nation, or the world? Become aware of it. Develop discernment and alertness and pray against such things.

Watching also means to become more aware of God’s working throughout the world. How is He acting and what is He wanting to do?

There are several things we can do to better watch for God’s working, to be aware of His presence and alert to His voice. Read material that aids you in becoming aware of specific global Christian needs, such as mission awareness books and publications, as well as news material. Newspaper, the radio, television, and news magazines can all inform us of what’s going on in the world, where God and satan are working. Merely looking around can also be a powerful way to watch for and discern God’s work. Weather disasters, picket lines, strikes, world crises, church crises, government actions and other things can all reveal God’s work to us.

Finally, ask the Spirit of God to show you how to react to it. James 1:5 tells us to ask the Spirit for wisdom. We need wisdom from on High. If He doesn’t guide our prayer as we watch, we could be misled.

Watching involves God revealing His mind to us, like 1 Corinthians 2 says, and allowing us to see those mysteries, in a spiritual way. As we are allowed into this realm, we begin to really identify with these items, and like Ephesians 6 says, we persevere for the saints with supplication, because God ignites our compassion and spiritual sensitivity.

We must watch to gain this sensitivity and discernment. This will cause us to pray more specifically, clearly, directly and hence, more powerfully and in line with the desires of God.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Praying Through the Scriptures

The Word is crucial to prayer. The degree to which we believe it and apply it in prayer is the degree that God will pour out His power in our lives. YOU CAN NEVER expect to grow in spiritual confidence (faith) if you spend little or no time in His word, because that’s where you get to know him.

Use the Bible not just to read, but devotionally. See it as God’s daily love letter to you, where you respond to what He says to you that day by praying it back to Him. God’s Word is powerful, “Let there be light”, “peace be still” , “Lazarus, come forth.” It has ability to create ‘ex nihilo,’ out of nothing. When we believe God and pray to Him with His powerful word, He is able through faith in Him to create those things out of nothing, when it seems unlikely, because with God, nothing is impossible.

Not faith in faith or even faith in prayer, but have faith in God and the fact that His Word is a representation of His character. But we don’t just try to have faith in His Word, we have faith in Him-- His Person, from whom His Word emanates. When we read His Word, it is guaranteed to be true, just as a dollar is guaranteed to produce buying power. Just as a savings bond is guaranteed a return. Prayer is nothing more than redeeming God’s Word into God’s actions.

Increasing our faith comes through the Word (Romans 10:17). The Word of God is the Christian’s book of prayer. It is a guide and foundation for all effective praying. Remember that in Luke 11 when Jesus taught the disciples to pray, part of that was ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.’

How do we know what God’s will is and How He wishes to build his kingdom apart from His word?

We can pray Scripture in praise of God, in our confession, and in the context of any devotional passage. Scriptural prayer flows from the Word of God and is alive, just as the Word is.