Don’t Let the World Change Your Song

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“He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God” (Psalm 40:3).

For many years I sang in church choirs.  I am not a great singer, but I always tried to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord” (Psalm 98:4).  I am an alto – I sing on the low female range.  I remember one church choir I was in, I was seated with a soprano to my left, a tenor directly behind me on my left and a bass directly behind me on my right.  Everyone was going in different vocal directions and I had the hardest time staying on my alto notes. Because the soprano was a strong singer, I was constantly being pulled in her direction.  I spoke to our choir director, and he told me he didn’t want to move me, but he did give me some good advice.  He told me to concentrate more on my note – and to lean just a little towards the alto to my right.  He said that he could hear me singing the correct notes, but at the same time, he could tell that I was listening to all the other singers around me and losing confidence in myself.  I will always remember what he told me, “You’re on the right notes, but you have to stay focused and not back off.”

I think about that often when the world is loud and I’m struggling to stay on the right way.  Many different voices are saying many different things, and they are apt to draw me away from what I know is true.  The culture wants me to embrace things that God’s Word has clearly forbidden.  The scholar wants me to trade truth for worldly philosophies that have no regard for God.  The unsaved world wants me to stop singing God’s praises altogether.  My choir director’s advice rings loud and clear: stay focused. Concentrate on what you know is right and true; lean in to godly wisdom and don’t back off.  This world is becoming more evil and more vocal every day. If we are not intentionally listening to God, you and I will be pulled away from what is right and true.  I love this word from Paul to his protégé Timothy, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of” (2 Timothy 3:14).  Stay the course.  Focus on the truth.  Let God’s Word drown out the voices of the world. The way of righteousness has not changed just because the music around you has. Beloved, don’t let the world change your song.

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All Things for Good

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“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

It is one of the most quoted verses to encourage others in difficulty. You’ve probably heard some variations of it:

“God works all things to good.”

“God makes all things good.”

“It’s all good.”

I know that might seem helpful in hard times – but if we’re going to quote the Bible, we need to quote it correctly.  For at least two reasons: because it is God’s holy, living Word and because it has a far greater and more encouraging word than we are offering.  Well, three reasons: when we misquote it, we misunderstand it and we misapply it.

When Paul says that “God works for the good” he isn’t saying God’s going to make all bad things good.  He is saying God is working for the good, even in the bad things. He may not change the bad thing to a good thing, but He will ultimately bring something good from it.  Just a side note: that almost always takes time. Sometimes a long time.  And sometimes when the good comes, so much time has passed that we don’t make the connection – and we don’t see that God was faithful all along. That why the Bible says “remember” so frequently.

Back to our verse.  Don’t miss the qualifier: “God works for . . . those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  God works on behalf of His beloved.  Does that seem unfair?  Hold that thought for just a minute – I’m coming back to it.  It’s important to know that when Paul wrote this letter, he did not divide it into chapters and verses, so when we isolate this one verse, we lose his point.  Let’s read a little farther: “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers” (v. 29).  Now I’m not about to get into predestination – that’s way too deep for Facebook, but I will draw your attention to three words in these two verses: purpose, conformed, and likeness.  God works all things for one good purpose: that His beloved child would be conformed to the likeness of His Son. That explains the qualifier – God cannot fulfill His purpose in someone that does not love Him.  Surrender is the mark of love – and God can only work in those who have Surrendered to His Son. That’s what it means to be a child of God.

Do you see the greater picture and how it applies to your life?  God is working in and through those bad things to bring about His one good purpose for you as His child – that you might look just like Jesus.  Like a master sculptor, He looks at His Son and applies the hard blows of the chisel to shape and mold you into the image before Him. God is not just working to make all your bad things into good things, He is working to make a you into a beautiful reflection of perfection.  That’s the bigger purpose He has for you Beloved.  Now that’s an encouraging word!

Martha, Martha or How to be a Joyful Servant


 

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42)

Where are all my Marthas?  Raise your hands.  You can’t, you’re in the kitchen up to your elbows in flour.    Let me say that I don’t think being a Martha is a bad thing – I am also a Martha, to a certain extent.  I mean somebody’s gotta make sure people are fed, right?  There is a lot packed into this account, and we can draw many applications from it.  I just want to offer one observation today.
I want to look at two words in this story.  First is “distracted” from verse 40: “But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.”  The word distracted comes from a root word combination meaning to worry and to draw (as in drawing a sword).  Hold that thought.
The other word we want to examine is “upset” in verse 41.  This word doubles back to “distracted,” but has a very interesting root: meaning an uproar, riot, commotion, disturbance.  Recognize that feeling of being frustrated with a smile on your face?  You’re doing the good things and all the while your spirit is in an uproar and there is a riot going on in your head.  You are screaming at the top of your lungs on the inside, all the while portraying a calm servant disposition on the outside.  I see you nodding your head.
For Martha, this commotion in her heart and head caused her to “draw a sword” against her sister – and if we’re being honest, against Jesus too.  Check it out: “She came to Him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!” She went on the defensive and the Lord called her out on it.
I believe there are two things in particular we can take away from this:
1. Don’t fret about the work that needs to be done – just come for a bit and sit with Jesus.  Yes, people need to be fed, so let ’em make sandwiches.  Don’t let serving the Lord become a burden or a cause for resentment.
2. If you do chose to serve, don’t get resentful toward those who chose otherwise.  Humble servants are happy servants.  If you’re serving for a pat on the back, go sit down.  If you’re serving out of love and the joy of blessing others – you can stay in the kitchen, but stand near the doorway so you can still listen.

There is work to be done in the Kingdom, but we want to glorify Jesus in it.  Resentment leads to internal warfare and  stomping our feet and eventually drawing swords.  Let’s be humble and gracious in all we do.

 

Leviticus: More than Just a Bunch of Rules

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Most of us start our Bible reading adventure on January 1 with great promise – until we get to the book of Leviticus. The rules and laws and regulations make no sense to us and frankly, offend our modern sensibilities. Here’s what you need to keep in mind about Leviticus: Through all these rules, God was showing both His absolute holiness and man’s absolute sinfulness. In addition, as New Testament believers, we must read Leviticus with Jesus always in the forefront of our mind, for He fulfills every jot and tittle of the Law that Moses delivered.

For example: consider Leviticus 1:1-2 – The Lord is giving instruction to Moses to give to the people: “When any of you brings an offering to the LORD, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock.” The first thing I see is the word “when.” Not “if” you bring an offering, but “when” you bring an offering. An offering is expected of God’s people. I’m not just talking about a check in an envelope to throw in the plate. I’m talking about our whole selves. Everything we have and everything we are. And the next part of verse 2 brings that home: “an animal from either the herd or the flock.” Herds and flocks were the Israelite’s livelihood, his means of support and the dinner on his table. The offeror was not to bring any animal he could chase down in the wild. It had to be an animal in which he had invested personally, financially, and often emotionally. An offering that would mean a loss to the giver.
And this is where we see Jesus. God offered up on our behalf a personal offering, an offering that was valuable to Him. An offering that would be a intimate loss to Him. His Son. This offering magnifies the holiness of God, for it required the highest sacrifice – not on our part, but on His. You and I have nothing of that great value, so God provided the offering on our behalf. Jesus.
The book of Leviticus is rich with symbolism that points us to Jesus and to the cross. We must read this book with an eye to the greater Fulfillment of the Law. Don’t miss Him as you force yourself to wade through this difficult book. He is on every page.

Immanuel – God with Us

 

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“They will call Him Immanuel, which means, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23).

One of the most beautiful hymns of Christmas is Emmanuel, Emmanuel:

Emmanuel, Emmanuel,
His name is called Emmanuel.
God with us, revealed in us,
His name is called Emmanuel.[1]

In our modern, New Testament mind the idea of “Immanuel – God with us” is a great comfort as we endure the struggles of life in this fallen world.  To know that God is with us means we are assured of His presence and help.  I am so grateful that God was with us through this difficult year that we experienced.  His presence gave me strength day-by-day and bolstered my faith.

But to truly understand the name and its significance, we have to go back to the Bible.  But don’t stop in Matthew, go back even farther to the book of Exodus, to the most incredible statement by God: “Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Exodus 25:9).  In the ancient near east, the pagan gods of the time did not dwell with human beings.  No, the “gods” were far too important to be bothered with mortals and their petty lives.  But the God who created and sustained and ruled over all things wanted to dwell with His people.  So He gave them instructions to build Him a sanctuary where He could be present with them.  When the structure was built, the Lord came and took up residence in the place.  The same was true of the temple Solomon built for the Lord in Jerusalem to replace the tabernacle.  When the temple was completed, and the ark of the covenant was put in place in the Holy of Holies, “the cloud [of the Lord’s presence] filled the temple of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:11).  And the Lord dwelled among His people there.

Until.  Until their idolatry and sin became unbearable.  Until God said, “Enough.”  Approximately four hundred years after He filled the temple, the Lord withdrew His presence.  The prophet Ezekiel records the terrible sight of the cloud drawing up and away from the Holy of Holies and from the temple and from Jerusalem and the nation of Judah.  God was no longer with His people.  Shortly afterward the people were taken into exile and the temple was destroyed.  And though it was rebuilt when the exiles returned to Jerusalem, the Lord’s presence did not return to the second temple.

Until. Until the angel visited a carpenter, betrothed to a young woman and proclaimed the return of Immanuel.  Joseph would instinctively know what this name meant – God with us.     God came to once again dwell among men – this time in the humblest way – as a human baby born to peasant parents and laid in a feeding trough for animals.  The name “Immanuel” recalls the glorious presence of God in the midst of His people.  But not only in the temple.  No, this time Immanuel would walk among them, eat with them, touch them with human hands – and die for them.  God had been absent and silent for hundreds of years, but now He had returned to His people.

Immanuel was the promise of God’s presence.  And He is still present with His people today.  He is present in the Holy Spirit that dwells in every believer.  He is present in our worship.  He is present when we pray.  He is present when we rustle the pages of the Bible.  He is present when we reach out to touch a suffering soul with His love.  He is present in holy, divine moments and in the everyday events of our lives.  Because He is Immanuel, He is always present. Because He is God with us, we are never alone.

[1] Emmanuel, Emmanuel was written by Bob McGee in 1976 and published by C.A. Music.

A Snowflake in an Avalanche

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“O LORD, we and our kings, our princes and our fathers are covered with shame because we have sinned against you” (Daniel 9:8).

I quote a lot of people, but I never thought I would quote Voltaire, the French Enlightenment philosopher who was an outspoken critic of Christianity, but I ran across one of his quotes and thought it was very powerful. “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.” Stop and think about that for a moment. An avalanche can be traced back to millions of harmless, individual snowflakes that come together to create a massive wall of white with destructive power. But who would lay the blame on a single, lacy snowflake?
That thought brings two things to mind. As Christians we look around in shock at the world that has turned from acceptance to hatred for the church. We shake our heads at the lack of morals of this country and the laws that declare wrong as right and right as wrong. And we look in disbelief at “churches” who have embraced and celebrate sin, putting a religious stamp of approval on what God has declared unnatural and ungodly. I’ve witnessed an incredible amount of moral deterioration in just my lifetime. And we sit, like frogs in a steaming stewpot wondering, “What happened? How did we get to this point?” We got here by ignoring the snowflakes. The church turned a blind eye to the first signs of compromise. We didn’t want to raise a fuss. It’s such a little thing, we shouldn’t make a big deal over it. We need to pick our battles. We have to be culturally relevant. We don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. One wink at sin, one shrug of our religious shoulders – then another and another and another. And here we are in a sin-saturated nation with no voice to say otherwise.
The truth is, we are each individually responsible for the state of the nation. We overlooked the snowflakes of compromise in our own lives long before they started swirling in the culture. We turned the disciplines of holy living – Bible study, prayer, service, faithfulness to the church– into suggestions for living your best life. We made the church one option among many in our busy, over-scheduled lives. We decided purity wasn’t as important as entertainment and freedom in Christ meant no restrictions. The snowflakes eventually caused an avalanche that pushed us over the edge and away from God.
But the same principle can turn it all around. What if you and I decided, as individuals to turn our hearts back to God, to return to the disciplines of holy living and the priority of righteousness? What if we spent time in Bible study and prayer every day? What if we determined to make purity and faithfulness the rule rather than the exception? What if we followed the Spirit without compromise? What if we purged the sin from our homes and our lives? What if the church turned back to God in repentance and godly sorrow? What if we taught the Scriptures rather than cultural, feel-good-about-myself messages? What if we decided that our kids needed the church more than they needed sports? What if we recognized that we’re supposed to be different than the culture around us? What if we accepted the responsibility for the state of our nation? What if we cried out to God for revival? What if every person who claims the name of Christ told just one lost person about Jesus? What if – one believer at a time, one church at a time – we created an avalanche of godliness and holiness that could push us back to God?
If one snowflake can be part of a wall of destruction, then one believer can be part of a wall of restoration. I believe it’s possible. I also I believe it is necessary. I believe our nation is in a precarious position, so near the edge of a very steep cliff. We are in danger of falling into a dark abyss from which we might never recover. The time for personal godliness is now. The time for the church to repent is now. We must walk back the compromises we’ve made – in our lives and in the church – while there is still time. A single snowflake is not the problem, but it is part of the problem. A single committed believer is not the whole solution, but you and I can be part of the solution. On our own we have little influence or power, but together with God, we can change this nation. We must – before it’s too late.

The Burden-Bearer

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When my son was little and we went somewhere that required a lot of walking, his little legs would tire very quickly.  He would slow down and stumble and cry.  That’s when his Daddy would pick him up and set him on top of his shoulders and carry him home.  The burden of his weight rested on his Dad’s shoulders.  Thankfully he didn’t weigh much then, but the idea of carrying another’s burden has its roots in Israel’s ancient worship traditions.

When God gave Moses instructions for the priests, He said, “Take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel . . . Aaron is to bear the names on his shoulders before the Lord” (Exodus 28:9,12).  Aaron, the high priest, would enter the holy of holies at the appointed time to make atonement for the sins of the children of Israel.  He would come before God with the names of each of the twelve sons of Jacob, the family tribes of the nation, engraved on the stones that made up part of his ritual garb.  He would literally bear the weight of the names of the sons of Israel while symbolically bearing the weight of their sin on his shoulders.

At Calvary Jesus bore the weight of every sin you and I have ever committed.  But it wasn’t a symbolic act like the priest bearing the names of the sons of Israel, and it wasn’t a gentle weight like my son perched on his Daddy’s shoulders.  The weight of all the sins of humanity – including your sin and mine – was a real, crushing burden heaped on the Son of God.

My husband bore the weight of our son because he loved him.  Jesus bore the weight of your sin because he loves you.  There came a point, though, when our little boy became too big of a burden for his Daddy to carry.  Here’s the good news: you will never be too big of a burden for Jesus.  Your sins will never out-weigh His love for you.  You can rest on this promise Beloved, Jesus will carry you – all the way home.

Guard Your Heart

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“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

I grew up a military kid, and I remember well the guards posted at the base entrance.  Their sole job was to keep the base secure from people and things entering that posed a threat.  We had a sticker on our car that allowed us to pass right on through – we though it was so cool that the guard would salute my mom and a car full of kids when he saw that sticker.  But if a car approached without that authorization the guard stopped them to determine who they were and why they wanted to enter the base.  If the guard had any inclination that the person was up to no good, access was denied, and on occasion an arrest was made.  That is the same idea we see in this verse.  We have to post a guard and deny access to anything that poses a threat to our heart – to our spiritual and emotional wellspring.  But here’s what sticks out in my mind: the bases we lived on had multiple entrances, and every entrance had a guard.  Every possible route onto the base was secured.  Now let’s go back to our Proverbs passage.  Read a little further (vs. 24-27) and you will see that Solomon gives us four posts we need to secure: Guard your mouth, guard your eyes, guard your steps, and guard your direction.

Guard your mouth:Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips” – Jesus warned, “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’ (Matthew 15:11).  Our words – and our actions – spring from our heart. When our words are perverse and corrupt, it means our hearts are perverse and corrupt.  But our words also feed our heart.  It’s a cyclical effect – what comes out of my mouth comes from my heart and goes back into my heart again.   David said it this way, “He wore cursing as his garment; it entered his body like water, into his bones like oil” (Psalm 109:18).

Guard your eyes: “Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you” – watch what you’re looking at, listening to and absorbing into your heart.   And I don’t just mean avoid looking at inappropriate stuff like pornography – which should go without saying.  I’m also talking about looking at things that just dull our spirits.  Here’s my confession:  some days I come home physically and mentally wiped out.  All I want to do is veg out in front of the TV or scroll the internet on my phone for funny memes.  Now I’m not looking at anything bad, but I’m also not looking at anything godly.  I’m not feeding my heart – I’m dulling it. Computer programmers call it GIGO: Garbage In – Garbage Out.  I call it The Sponge Principle.

Guard your steps: “Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm” – watch your step.  One of the worst ankle injuries I ever incurred happened when I wasn’t watching where I was planting my foot and I stepped awkwardly off a curb and nearly broke my ankle.  The world is full of curbs and potholes and ditches that can easily trip us up and Satan is always planting landmines in our path.  We need to pay careful attention to where we set our feet – make sure the way is firm and free of danger.

Guard your direction: “Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil” – keep going in the right direction.  How do we know for sure what is the right way?  God has given us a road map – the Bible and a personal Guide – the Holy Spirit.   By storing up God’s Word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11), meditating on the Scriptures (Psalm 19:14), continually, intentionally seeking God with all our heart (Jeremiah 29:13), keeping in step with the Spirit (Romans 8:5), and staying in community with fellow believers (Hebrews 10:25), we can stay on the good way.

Base security is a vital part of our military operations and the well-being of our nation.  Heart security is no less important to our lives; our faith, witness and ministry are at stake.  You and I need to post our guards and secure every access to our hearts and protect the “wellspring of our lives.”  Guard your heart well Beloved.

Christians and Depression

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“Elijah was a man just like us” (James 5:17).

I’ve been studying Elijah lately for one reason: I wanted to understand why, after all God has done for me in recent months, I could tumble into depression. Elijah was a prophet of God – a very outspoken prophet – and most of his outspokenness was directed at King Ahab and His queen, Jezebel who were evil personified.  Elijah predicted a season of drought because of the evil and idolatry in Israel. During that drought, God miraculously provided for the prophet – he never lacked for his daily needs.  Elijah defeated and put to death the 450 prophets of Baal, Jezebel’s god, and showed the Israelites the power of Jehovah. Because of him the people’s hearts were turned back to the Lord. What a victory! Yet when Jezebel got wind of it all, she threatened Elijah. And the prophet ran. Depressed and overwhelmed he begged God to take his life.  Despite all that God had done for him and through him, Elijah wound up in the pit – or cave as it were – of despair.

I can identify with old Elijah.  God has been so good to us through a very difficult year of health problems, unemployment, family strain, and financial hardship.  So why this downward spiral into depression?  It isn’t the first time I’ve battled this – I am prone to the grip of depression, and it often comes on the heels of blessings and fruitfulness.  I suspect, based on conversations and comments, that I’m not the only one.

I see some similarities between Elijah and me.  The old prophet was physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted.  The long-standing conflict with Ahab, three years of drought in the land, coupled with the intensity of the showdown with prophets of Baal drained Elijah.  Likewise, we struggled for over a year with my husband’s work-related injury, surgery, rehab and battles with worker’s comp and his company.  I had made a disastrous job change and was miserable. We were caught up in a great deal of relational tension with a family member.   Then the heat intensified.  My husband could not go back to work, so now we faced settlements, disability, and the loss of his income.  When my employer found out I was looking for another job, they hired my replacement before I had a job to go to.  Faced with double unemployment and a minimal settlement, we realized all we could do was move back home near family.  Two days before we loaded the truck I was hit with a severe leg infection and excruciating pain. That meant medical bills with no insurance and no income and nearly a month of being flat of my back.  God had graciously led us to a great house to rent, but before we could move in, the house flooded from an open tap and we juggled furniture around while the floors were replaced and I tried to recuperate with the daily noise of saws and hammers.  There was the added anxiety of being separated from our adult son for the first time in his life as he decided not to move with us.  As soon as I was back on my feet I began searching for a job with disappointing results. 

But God had been good to Elijah by miraculously providing for His prophet, and He did the same for us.  Despite all our struggles, God poured out blessings on us and provided generously and unexpectedly.  And He eventually opened the door to a wonderful job for me at a small Christian college nearby.  You would think, with all this, I would be on the highest of highs.  But I soon found myself crashing physically, emotionally and spiritually. Like Elijah, the long drawn out struggles and intensity of the recent months had drained me.  Elijah fled to the desert, a fitting place for a dry and weary soul.  There he begged God to let him die, “I have had enough, Lord” (1 Kings 19:4).  And the overwhelmed and exhausted prophet lay down and slept the sleep of the depressed.  While I haven’t physically run anywhere, I have retreated into an emotional desert of discouragement and weariness.  That is why, you may have noticed, I have been silent on my blog and social media the past month or so.  I just haven’t had the energy or the heart.

So how did Elijah come out of the darkness of despair?  The same way I will.  Through God’s tender care and hearing the voice of the Lord.  As Elijah slept in the desert, God sent an angel with food and strengthened him so that he had just enough energy to get to the mountains where he hid in a cave.  But it was there, in a dark and lonely cave, that the God of mercy and grace spoke to him in a gentle whisper.  I am seeking the help of a physician to deal with the physiological aspects of depression, and I am digging into the Word to glean the whispers of God for my soul and spirit.

Why am I sharing this less-than-encouraging message with you?  Because I don’t want you to think I am some super-Christian through the words I write.  I am just as prone to the struggles and hardships of life as anyone.  The have the same discouraging effect on me as they do on you.  In all honesty, I write to encourage myself as much as to encourage you.  And I am just as prone to failure in my walk as anyone – but that’s a post for another day.  I’m also sharing this because someone else is struggling with depression – someone who loves Jesus and is doing their best to be a good, faithful Christian.  You’re questioning your faith because of this season of darkness.  You may even be questioning God’s love for you.  And the enemy is using that to his advantage.  I hear the accusations too: “If you were really a Christian you wouldn’t be depressed.  God is so disappointed in you.  Why don’t you quit pretending to be something you’re not?”  I hear the reminders that Christians are supposed to be full of joy, joy, joy!  So why aren’t you?  There may be many reasons; everyone’s situation is unique.  And there is no shame in reaching out for help.  Doctors, counselors and others have the God-given wisdom and expertise to treat depression.  Please get the help you need. Today.  I am writing this so that you, my weary and hurting friend, will know that there is no shame in depression – even for Christians.  The Bible shows that we are in very good company in this cave – Moses, Elijah, David, Jeremiah, and Paul all expressed similar emotions and seasons.  Many of the great men and women throughout Christian history struggled with depression.

I am also writing this to let you know that God really does love you – even in the pit or desert or cave of depression.  He is not angry or disappointed in you.  He has not written you off.  In fact, He has drawn near to you, like a loving parent does when their child is hurting.  He speaks gentle whispers of love and encouragement, and He tenderly wipes away the tears on your face.  Let Him love you.  Let Him minister grace to you.  Beloved, there is hope for you and for me in the face of depression.  I’m going to get better and so will you.  God is too good to leave His child in pain. He will turn the darkness into light.  We have His Word on it.

A Foundation of Faith

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“We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world” (John 4:43).

A sinful woman encountered Jesus one day and an entire village was changed.  The Samaritan woman found Jesus at a well.  He told her who she was, and then He told her who He was.  The Messiah.  She ran to her village and called her neighbors to meet the man who changed her life.  And they came.  And they believed.  Not because of what the woman said about Jesus, but because of what He said about Himself.  “Because of His words many more became believers” (v. 41).  They believed because they heard Him with their own ears and saw Him with their own eyes.  Second-hand faith is not a sustaining faith.  We must hear and know Jesus for ourselves.

I am so grateful for my time as a seminary student.  That experience stretched my mind and my faith in ways I never imagined.  In seminary I learned how to study the Bible for life, how to search out its treasures and discern God’s truth.  I learned how to think critically, how to compare and contrast the many messages I receive every day.  Most of all, I was challenged to consider what I believe.  I looked at everything I claimed to hold as true and examined it carefully, scripturally, practically – and truly made it my own profession of faith.  I took out everything I learned from childhood on and held it up to the light of the Word of God and the wisdom of the Church under the leading of the Holy Spirit.  I found some things needed to be challenged and changed, and some things needed to be nailed down as the foundation of my faith. I no longer stand on what others told me about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, the Church and my faith, I stand on what I know is true and right.  I know what I believe and I believe what I know.

You don’t need to go to seminary to build a strong foundation of faith.  All you need is the Bible and the courage to examine your beliefs through the lens of God’s Word and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.  We’re going to do that together over the next few weeks.  We’re going to ask some critical questions, and dig for the answers.  We’re going to become Bereans. Acts 17 tells about a church that took what Paul taught and lay it along side of Scripture, “to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).  We’re going to find out if what we believe is really true.  That’s the kind of faith that stands firm against the winds of the culture, against the “wisdom” of the world, against the threat of suffering, persecution, and death.  Do you really think the martyrs of old would have died for something they weren’t convinced was true?  You and I need to be sure of our faith and our convictions too. We need to be certain that we have a faith that’s worth living – and dying for.