Dirty Hands

See the source image

“Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:2)

“Why won’t this thing come clean?” I muttered as I scrubbed the water reservoir for our coffee maker. I had washed it twice and still felt a film on the surface. Then I realized that I had grease on my fingers. The problem was me, not the container. It wouldn’t come clean because my hand wasn’t clean.

King David sat on his royal throne as Nathan the prophet told him about two men, one rich and one poor. The rich man had large flocks and herds, the poor man had one ewe lamb that was like a child to him. When the rich man had an unexpected guest, rather than taking a lamb from his own flock to serve, he took the poor man’s beloved ewe lamb and slaughtered it to feed his guest. David was incensed. The rich man must be held responsible for his actions! That is when Nathan turned to David and said, “You are the man!” David had taken the wife of one of his soldiers and had her husband killed to cover up his wicked deed. David was the problem. His hands were very dirty. (See 2 Samuel 11-12)

When I find myself grumbling and complaining about things going wrong in my life, God often gently points to my dirty hands. Honestly, the vast majority of the struggles in my life have my own fingerprints all over them. I am quite often the problem. Now I don’t know about you. Maybe you are darn near perfect and you don’t make foolish mistakes or give in to sin. But for me, I have to own my actions – from my finances to procrastinating with my school work to my weight and a lot of other things.

That’s why I’m so grateful for new mercies every morning. I run into trouble every day, but God is faithful to forgive me and wash my dirty hands. Beloved, do you need clean hands? Do you need a fresh start? David and I found cleansing with the Lord. You can too.

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean: I will cleanse you from all your impurities” (Ezekiel 36:25). That’s a promise.

Bible Study 101

“They are not just idle words for you—they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47).

Twenty-some years ago God stirred in me a passion for in-depth Bible study. It started with a Ladies Bible study group. That whetted my appetite for more. And the more I chewed on Scripture the more I wanted. I went to seminary. I’m currently a seminary grad student. Bible study is life-long work, and God has made it the mission of my life. Studying the Bible changed EVERYTHING. Suddenly I had a whole new perspective on my life, my circumstances, my purpose, my struggles, the church, relationships, the world, and human history – I saw it all through an eternal lens. The Word became – and still is – the filter through which everything passed. The Bible is light and life to me and nourishment to my soul.

I’ve been asked often about my “Bible study methods,” and I developed a course called “Bible Study 101,” to encourage believers to dig into God’s Word. Here are just a few points: NEVER take a verse out of its context. Always read the surrounding verses. If you do nothing else but this, you will avoid the majority of errors people make in understanding the Bible. Also, chase down the cross-references. Let Scripture interpret Scripture. Don’t just rush through in a five-minute devotional time. Meditate on it. Marinate in it. (I don’t recommend trying to read through the Bible in a year until you’ve had more experience with it. I like a three-year pace.) Pray for insight and listen to the Holy Spirit. He wrote it – He can tell you what it’s all about. I like to write out the Scripture passage and do word studies. Granted, this is all much more time consuming, but it helps the Scripture take deeper root in your heart.

Beloved, the Word of God can change your life. It can change your heart and mind. It can change your perspective. It is Light. It is Life. It is what your soul hungers for. Spend some time in the Bible and it will be “the Joy of your heart” (Psalm 119:111).

Sing Your Song

See the source image

Yesterday after church and lunch, my sweet Joy-Joy and I settled into the recliner for our Sunday afternoon siesta. She wanted her toy dog “Violet” to play lullabies, but even as she snuggled next to me with the soft music playing, she let me know she wanted to me sing to her. I turned Violet off and started our nap-time song selection. That wouldn’t do. Joy wanted both. I turned the lullabies back on and started trying to sing. Have you ever attempted to sing a song while a different song was also playing? Let me tell you, it ain’t easy! I had to focus very intently on what I was singing to avoid being pulled into Violet’s tune.

There’s a lot of noise in the world around us that can interfere with the Jesus-song we’re trying to sing with our lives. It’s a constant cacophony of voices and shouts and it seems that everyone has a megaphone. There’s a lot of “wisdom” and folks are quick to share their advice. How are we supposed to stay true to the song of Christ? Paul gives us three pointers that will help us stay focused. Go grab your Bible and read Galatians 5:16-25. I’ll wait for you here.

Did you see them? “Live by the Spirit” (v. 16), be “led by the Spirit” (v. 18), and “keep in step with the Spirit” (v. 25). Jesus promised to send His Spirit to live in us, to remind us of His teaching and help us stay true to the song of the Savior. I know, that sounds really “spiritual,” but not practical. But it is. It comes from the Bible and prayer. If you and I are not filling up on the Scriptures every day, those outside voices are going to be hard to shut out. That worldly wisdom is going to sound so sensible.

Beloved if you’re struggling to stay on pitch, I encourage you to get into God’s Word, spend time in prayer, and then listen. That still, small voice becomes the sweetest song and stands out above all the rest. Trust me, you’ll recognize the tune; it’s the song of holy love.

 

Are You Sure About That?

What do these statements have in common?

“Copy and paste this to your page to circumnavigate the Facebook algorithms and see all your friends again!”
“If you’re being held up at an ATM, put your pin in backwards and the bank will alert the police.”
“My lawyer friend said to copy and share this legal statement to prevent Facebook from using your photos and posts without your consent.”
“When Jesus folded the napkin, it was a sign that He is coming back!”

Besides the fact that they are shared over and over and over on social media, they are all false. They are lies. But because they have been passed on multiple times, people assume they are true. And they keep sharing them.
Paul warned about false doctrine that takes deep root in the church. He said, “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7). In the three letters Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus, he prefaced several statements of doctrinal truth with the words: “Here is a trustworthy saying:” He wanted these two young men, whom he had assigned to care for the believers in Ephesus and Crete, to be careful with what they believed and what they taught. He wanted them to only pass along “trustworthy sayings.” My favorite Bible folks are the Bereans from Acts 17 who were considered “noble” because they checked out everything Paul told them. They didn’t take his word for it. They wanted to know if what he was saying was true.
I want you to be a Berean. On Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. In your daily life. In your knowledge of the Bible and spiritual things. In what you pass along to friends and family. In what you teach your children. Check things out. Especially where it concerns the Scriptures. You need to build your faith and your life on “trustworthy sayings,” not “myths and old wives’ tales.” As Paul said, “Train yourself to be godly” through daily Bible study (not just a 5-minute devotional), meditation on God’s Word, and prayer. Fill your mind and your heart with truth.
What do you believe? Why do you believe it? Because it’s what you’ve always heard? Or because you’ve checked it out for yourself and found it to be trustworthy and true? Be a Berean Beloved.

Not Your Warm and Fuzzy Devotional

See the source image

There is a lot of hero-worship in the church. There are “rock-star” pastors with thousands of followers and Bible teachers who sell out auditoriums around the country. Jesus had quite a crowd that followed Him and hung on His every word. Take the fellow in Luke 9: “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you where you go.’” (v. 57). He wanted to be part of Jesus’ entourage. But Jesus didn’t encourage this would-be fan. His response: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head” (v. 58). I believe Jesus was saying, “This is not going to be the high-life you’re expecting. I don’t have a multi-million dollar mansion to put you up in. I walk hot, dusty roads and sleep where I can.”

What did you expect from Jesus when you chose to follow Him? A solution to all your problems? A good reputation in the community? A full life with heaven thrown in after it’s all over?

Just a few verses before this scene, He told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (v. 23) Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and the cross. He might have also told the man, “Don’t hook your wagon to me unless you’re prepared to die.” There is a war going on between good and evil, between light and darkness. Evil and darkness have the upper hand at the moment. God’s people are the enemy of the present ruling authorities who are bent on destruction. If you choose Jesus, you need to know that you are also choosing self-denial, persecution, rejection, and suffering. That is what Jesus endured. Why should we expect any less?

But then, I look at the modern church, so comfortable in our air-conditioned sanctuaries. Where is the suffering? Where is the persecution? Where are self-denial and the cross? Maybe the enemy’s strategy against the church today is not a full-on battle, but just to make us relaxed and contented. Just before he hits us with an all-out assault.

Here’s a thought: If Christianity is comfortable, maybe we’re in more danger than we know.

Jesus is . . .

Image may contain: text

Studying in Matthew 13 today and something struck me. Check out Matthew 13:53-58. Jesus is teaching in His hometown – His messages are full of divine wisdom and His miracles display divine power. The people, verse 54 says, “were amazed.” I’m sure I would be too. I love to listen to a good Bible teacher. I love preachers who bring the Word with passion. I think the best Bible communicators are the ones who believe with all their hearts the truth of what they are saying. No wonder the people were amazed at Jesus – He taught with the intimacy of the author. He knew and believe what He was saying because He was the originator of the message. But I digress.

Look back at the passage. The people began to consider who Jesus was – as far as they knew. Mary’s son. James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas’ big brother. Just one of the many kids that grew up in that town. Nobody more special than any of the rest. Just who did he think he was to speak so high-and-mighty? Now, these same people “took offense at Him” (v. 57). From amazement to offense. Why? Because they lost sight of who He was. It reminds me of another time when the people shouted that He was “the King of Isreal who comes in the name of the Lord!” (John 12:13) then rejected Him and shouted, “We have no king but Caesar, crucify him!” (John 19:15).

Humans are fickle. And we’re forgetful. When we forget who Jesus is we miss Him entirely. When we reduce Him to a good teacher and humanitarian, we disregard His message and His saving work. If we do not see Him as the Son of God, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Savior of the World – we do not see Jesus at all. Oh, Beloved – with all my heart I plead with you – know Jesus in all His divine and saving glory. Know Him and you will know hope. You will know peace. You will know Joy. And You will know eternal life.

Kingdom first

See the source image

Painting by Eric Enstrom

“I’ve got my priorities in order: God first, my family second, church third, work fourth, and everything else after that. That’s what the Good Book says!” “That’s great,” the teacher replied, “I am sure God will honor you for honoring Him.”

We had been discussing Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:33 – “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” The teacher, following the printed material, presented this verse as the man interpreted it: prioritize God above everything else in your life. I felt like this was falling short. As so often happens when we lift one verse out of a passage, we lose the context and when we lose the context we lose the meaning and the application.

This verse is not about priorities – when you put it back in its place, this verse is about the futility and faithlessness of worry. It would be helpful right now if you grabbed your Bible and read verses 25-34, then zero in on verses 31-32. Jesus said that “Pagans run after all these things” meaning food and clothing and the basic necessities of life. Is He saying “these things” are worldly and don’t matter to God? No. Notice the end of verse 32: “Your heavenly Father knows that you need [all these things].” They are legitimate needs. And God acknowledges that. What Jesus said that worry is out of place in the life of God’s children. He said that people who don’t have a heavenly Father have to seek the things they need. God’s children are to seek their Father, who sets a bountiful table.

Here’s something else that stuck out at me as I meditated on this passage. Jesus said “seek first His Kingdom” but He never says what to seek second or third. The truth is, there’s no other priority.  When you seek the kingdom first, you will find everything you need.

Do Not Worry

See the source image

As I prepared the lesson for our Ladies Bible study group this week, I knew there was a lot of fear in a lot of hearts and minds because of this virus. So I asked God what message He wanted to bring to the group. He led me to Luke 12 and the Parable of the Rich Fool. A parable about greed. Thanks God, that’s gonna be real helpful.

But one key of studying the Bible is to look at the surrounding passages and as I did I began to see what God was up to. Let me set the stage. Jesus tells the story of a rich man who, after a bountiful harvest, decided to hoard up all he had, even though he had more than he needed. Sound familiar? The man would not enjoy his harvest though, for that night he would die. That’s pretty straight forward. Don’t be greedy. But look at the bigger picture. Before and after this parable, Jesus says over and over: “do not be afraid,” and “do not worry.” (Check out John 12:7, 11, 22, 25, 26, 29, 32.) He followed the parable with the famous discourse of the Father providing for the birds and the flowers – “how much more valuable are you than they?” (v. 24).

Worry and fear cause us to “run after” the things the world chases (v. 29-30) or to hoard up what we have in fear of not having enough (v. 16-19). Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been living out the illustration of this message as stores are stripped of basic necessities and people are stockpiling toilet paper. Jesus told us not to worry. Why? Because “your Father knows that you need [these things].” And because it delights the Father to provide for His children.

God knows all about this pandemic and the ripples it’s causing. He knows that these are scary times. He knows what you need. And He says, “Child, do not be afraid.” Beloved, your Father is the King of Heaven and Earth – what could you possibly have to worry about?

Don’t Drift Away from God

See the source image

Words fascinate me. The Holy Spirit knows this about me and so often when I am reading my Bible, He will draw my attention to a word and ask me, “What does that mean?” – and I am off on one of my favorite digs. Yesterday I was reading in Hebrews 2 and He did it again in the very first verse: “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” The phrase “drift away” became my holy grail. This is one word in the Greek: pararreo – and it means to glide by, to be carried away, and you would use it to say something “slipped my mind.”. We’ve all missed appointments because they slipped our minds. That’s why we jot them down on our calendars or put a reminder in our phone. Likewise, the writer was saying, don’t let the message of the gospel slip from your mind. That’s easy to do when life is hard, when tragedy strikes, when you’re weary, when the whole world is caught in a pandemic. It’s easy to forget about the hope we have in Christ. But this dig continues.

This morning the Spirit highlighted another phrase for me: “careful attention.” These two words perissoteros and prosecho mean in great abundance, above all else and to hold or possess. Simply put, this means above every voice and every worldview, take hold of this gospel and let everything else go. That’s the key to not drifting away.

The message of the first chapter was that Jesus is the Son of God – He is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Heb. 1:3). In a world that says there is no God, or that God is whatever you want him to be, we need to get a firm and secure grip on the truth. In a world that is full of evil and darkness, where death runs rampant and people are scared out of their wits, we need to wave the banner of the gospel and the hope of salvation and eternal life.

Beloved, what are you paying careful attention to? The news? Facebook? The opinions of others? These will cause fear, confusion, and doubt. They will cause you to drift away. Let them go. Pay attention to the truth: Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died to save you and give you eternal life and hope for today. Hold on to that and never let go.

 

Why?

Reading in Acts 16 this morning where Paul and Silas are in prison for preaching the Gospel. There are a lot of why’s in this story. At the beginning of Acts 16, Paul wants to go to Asia, but God wouldn’t let them. Why? They were stripped, beaten, severely flogged, thrown in prison, and fastened in the stocks (vv. 22-24). Why? Despite it all, in the middle of the night, our boys “were praying and singing hymns to God. Why? But wait, it gets better. A violent earthquake shook the prison and “all the prison doors flew open and everyone’s chain came loose. But they all stayed. Everyone. Why?

Why did all this happen? So the jailer would see and believe in the power of God and so that he and his family would hear the gospel and be saved. I suspect a few prisoners also believed that night.

I take tremendous hope in this story because it tells me if God would go to such lengths to bring the man and his family to salvation, He will move mountains to save my loved one too. I have no doubt that when these new believers came up out of the baptismal waters, Paul and Silas realized all their suffering was worth it. God had directed every single thing to save this family.

Beloved, I know that you are suffering. I know that you are asking “Why?” I know it’s hard and painful. Believe me, I know, because I am there too. But I’m going to pray and praise God in the suffering because I believe He will use it to show His power. And He will break the chains that bind my loved one and throw open the prison door and set them free. It’s going to be worth it all one day. Suffering in God’s hands always – always – brings Joy. Just ask Paul and Silas. And Jesus.