Who does Paul think he is? He sounds a bit arrogant, writing this to people he has never met:
I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong – (Romans 1:11)
But then, perhaps because he realized how uppity that last sentence sounded, he continued:
…that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. (Romans 1:12)
Nice catch, Paul. But, taken together, his thoughts reveal an important principle: Bible study and prayer are sometimes best done first by yourself. But if you really want to go deep, discuss what you have heard and learned with a good friend. Getting together with another brother or sister in Christ to dig into the Word, can be a surprisingly wonderful experience.
A friend of mine stops by once in awhile, just to say “Howdy.” We might head off for lunch or watch a game on TV. But, sooner or later, one or the other of us will say something like, “You know, I saw something in the book of James I’d never seen before…” And off we go. Get out the snorkels boys; we’re going deep. An hour or two will flash by as we are mutually enriched by the insights that come as we discuss together. It’s not that either one of us is unusually astute but the combination of our different perspectives becomes way more than their sum.
Give it a go. Next time you are chatting with another believing friend, bring up something that surprised you or puzzled you in Scripture. Bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised…
If you are lost and pull out a map, do you ignore the parts of the map that don’t fit with where you think you are? Of course not. If you did, you’d still be lost. If you are typing in an internet address, do you decide for yourself which letters are really necessary, skipping the others? Doesn’t work so well, right?
Which parts of the Bible are trustworthy and which parts are not? The Jesus Seminar presumed to decide that question, as it pertained to the sayings of Jesus. They black-balled a good portion of the Gospel accounts. For example, in their lofty wisdom, they declared Jesus never said, “I am the way and the truth and the life…” On what basis? They began with the assumption that Jesus would never have referred to Himself. In other words, they crossed out everything from the Gospels that did not conform to their own ideas. It is no surprise that the portion of the New Testament they found to be authentic closely resembled their own thinking. And was very short.
If you come to the Bible unprepared to let it challenge you and change you, it won’t. If you ignore everything you disagree with, what’s left will simply look a lot like you. God spoke about that kind of audacity through His prophet, Jeremiah:
“‘How can you say, “We are wise, for we have the law of the Lord,” when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely? The wise will be put to shame; they will be dismayed and trapped. Since they have rejected the word of the Lord, what kind of wisdom do they have? (Jeremiah 8:8-9)
Here’s a special treat. In the last several posts we have chewed on Ecclesiastes, but how can we scoop its message all together? It seems so full of contradictions – just like you! Scholars have tried for centuries to make sense of it. But, Ecclesiastes is about real life, real life that throws curve balls. Recently, my son sent me a wonderful You Tube about Ecclesiastes. These guys really get it. I couldn’t summarize the book any better. Check it out. But do yourself a favor and wait for a moment when you can really watch and listen. It begins with a short Hebrew song and then goes way deep. Click HERE.
But wait, there’s more! No, not steak knives… This same group produced a beautiful song based on the teachings of Ecclesiastes. You’ll find it HERE.
And, If you missed this short series, the first one is found HERE.
There’s a lot of weird churches out there. Unhealthy, conflicted and sometimes dangerously wrong in what they teach. Trouble is, these problems often lie hidden. You can’t tell the condition of a church by how nice it looks, how upbeat the music is or by the size of the congregation. Good churches come in many shapes, flavors and sizes. So, how can you know if you’ve found a good one? What do you look for? Here’s a description of the first church, the initial gathering of people who knew Jesus. I think it describes some of the most important things to look for in a church:
Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened.Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers. (Acts 9:31)
Good churches will surely have a peaceful vibe and will seem to be growing stronger and adding people. But not necessarily always. For example, what seems like a lack of peace may actually be a manifestation of honest willingness to address a tough problem. And what seems to be peacefulness may be an unhealthy passivity of a congregation that is under someone’s thumb. Same thing with temporary swings in attendance.
But central to the health of a church are the two phrases highlighted above. A good church is very aware of the awesome and somewhat frightening presence of Almighty God. They understand His amazing power and perfect understanding and are reverently responsive to Him in a natural way. And a good church is mostly made up of people who, by having put their faith in Jesus, are alive with the Holy Spirit. Instead of going through religious motions, they are engaged in an exhilarating relationship with the Spirit, being encouraged, strengthened and instructed by Him. A church where these two are present will likely be one where you will be blessed and changed.
Tucked in among all the junk mail in the box is an actual letter. It’s rare enough these days that it warrants special treatment: another cup of tea, some jazz on the stereo and a yank on the recliner lever. My old friend writes, “Here’s something that made me think of you…” His words reawaken memories of our friendship. Some people stimulate the best of who you are and he was one of those. I reread…
Jesus said God isn’t interested in regligious ritual. He doesn’t care for mumbo jumbo. What He wants is people who worship Him in “spirit and truth” (John 4:23). Think of His Spirit, given to you personally, as a living letter. When you read it, so to speak, when you pause to pay close attention to what He says to you, it reawakens your appreciation of His amazing character and personality. And makes you really wish you could be closer. It nudges the best of who you are.
When your car battery has died, which do you prefer, a tow or a jump-start? A tow doesn’t fix anything; it just moves you to a new place. A jump-start, on the other hand, brings your car back to life. Most people treat God like a tow truck operator, calling on HIm when they are stuck, hoping He will get them to where they want to go. But what He has in mind is a jump. Not a temporary jump-start but a permanent new, living flow of energy to keep you powered up and moving forever.
Back in Bible times, jump-starts were not common, but most folks had experienced what happens to a desert after a good soaking rain. Miraculously, the glaring, hot sand is transformed into a lush bed of flowers. That’s why God told Isaiah to say it like this:
3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. 4 They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams. (Isaiah 44:3-4)
We humans were designed to have the Spirit of God living within our souls. Without that Spirit we are as dead as cell phones with no signal. God’s jump-start connects us to His Spirit, a gift that comes to all who put their trust in Jesus. It’s not a temporary tow. It’s eternal life.
Geoffrey Wilkinson, George Henderson and Mark Frankel. Do you know thesse names or what they have in common? Geoffrey was a world renowned chemist. George, a priest and politician. Mark was an actor who played “Leon the Pig Farmer.” They all died 20 years ago today, September 26, 1996. How did you do? Me neither. Twenty years after you die, maybe your family will remember who you were but the chances of much more of a lingering impact are slim.
6 A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. (Isaiah 40:6-7)
But he wrote those words 2700 years ago in a country about the size of Rhode Island that was on the verge of being conquered and exiled! And you know his name and can almost certainly quote or paraphrase some of what he wrote. Try it; fill in the blank: “The people walking in darkness have _____________.” Or, “For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given and the government will be on __________.” See what I mean? What are the odds?
Of course, the reason Isaiah’s work has been preserved and is widely known is because it is in the Bible. That’s because, over the centuries, it has stood the test. He accurately prophesied the rise and fall of kingdoms in the Middle East (try that today!) and the exile and eventual release of the Jewish people, well over 100 years before it happened. Most significantly, he foretold the coming of Jesus with amazing accuracy and clarity. The only explanation is that Isaiah was writing God’s words.
Including these next lines from the quote above:
8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)