November 19, 2013
“In the beginning God created…” (Genesis 1:1)
Most people have heard about the missing link that turns up when we compare the theory of evolution with the Genesis creation account, but there are actually three missing links. The first missing link is the issue: How did it all begin? The Bible’s answer is recorded above in just two words: “God created.” It all began with a first act of creation that accounted for the universe, the earth, and all plant life.
The author uses an interesting Hebrew word for “created.” It is the word “barah” which means “to create something out of nothing.” Since there are no samples that are half plant and half animal there is a second missing link. The Genesis account again reads “barah” as animal life is created in the water.
There is also no sample that is half animal and half human. So, for a third time the author of Genesis uses “barah” when God creates man. What is usually considered the missing link is actually this third missing link. In all three of these places where the secular scholar struggles for answers the author of Genesis writes: “barah,” God created.
God began the Bible with the creation account because He knew that one day we would realize we need an act of creation in our hearts. We would then also know where to go with that need to join David in the prayer: “Create (barah) in me a clean heart, O God and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10 NLT)
We can also go to Jesus Who taught the new birth and the apostles, who agreeing with David, referred to the new birth as a new creation! (John 3:3-5; 2 Corinthians 5:17)
September 14, 2013
“but, speaking the truth in love …” (Ephesians 4:15)
It is possible to devastate people with the truth. One difference between Jesus and the Pharisees was that before Jesus applied the law of God to the people of God He passed the law of God through the prism of the love of God. The Pharisees just threw the book at people. Paul called that “the letter of the law” and he wrote that the letter of the law kills but the spirit of the law gives life.
When I first discovered this in my private study of the Gospels a counseling appointment that same day was with a woman who had great respect for me as a pastor. After she shared her complicated life problems I passed the law of God through the prism of the love of God before I applied the law of God to her life. Just before she left she told me, “Pastor, if you had thrown the book at me today I was going to go home and kill myself!”
I have been told by those who mentor pastors that we should counsel with our head and not with our heart. As a veteran pastor I totally and emphatically disagree! Taking Jesus as our supreme Example and Mentor I believe we should preach, teach and counsel in the spirit of the law and not the letter of the law.
The bottom line is often that we should follow the example of Jesus and not of the Pharisees. All the law of God was born in the heart of God’s love. God gave us His law because He loved us so very much He did not want us to suffer the consequences of lawless living. Never forget what Jesus always remembered.
September 3, 2013
“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42)
In the first chapter of Paul’s letter to his favorite church we hear him express his definition of a church. According to Paul, the church is “a fellowship of the gospel.” (Philippians 1:5; 27) He agrees with Luke who describes the church the same way in his history of the church as quoted above.
According to Luke the fingerprints of the church are as follows: the thumbprint is evangelism. The people he is describing would not be there if they had not been reached by the evangelistic sermon of Peter on the Day of Pentecost. The index fingerprint is teaching. The middle fingerprint is fellowship. The ring fingerprint is worship and the little fingerprint is prayer.
Just as your thumb naturally touches your four fingers, the teaching, fellowship, worship and prayer of the church are meant to lead to evangelism. These four functions of the church equip, edify, inspire and empower the church to reach out and bring lost people to salvation in Christ.
Our churches can often be described as a group of people sitting in a circle with their chairs facing in. According to Paul and Luke we should turn our chairs back to back and face out in a fellowship of the gospel. I have visited the Dead Sea which without an outlet is stagnant and dead and earns it its name. Also the Sea of Galilee which is filled with life because it has an outlet.
So it is with our churches. When we face out and reach out we have an outlet that fills our church with the young life of new believers. Is your church a fellowship in the gospel?
August 21, 2013
“But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel… ” (Philippians 1:12)
Paul is in prison as he writes to his favorite church. While he was free he preached the gospel with passion and great zeal, but when he was put in prison and could not preach other men in the Church at Philippi began preaching. That rejoiced the heart of the apostle.
In the New Testament when you study the letters of Paul and others you find that the early churches had pastors. Anytime the word pastor is found it is in the plural unless it is referring to Jesus Christ. He is the great Shepherd of the sheep; otherwise, churches have pastors. Strictly speaking you will not find a precedent for “Dr. Pete Bunny the pastor of the First Community Church of Chicago” in the New Testament.
I am convinced that the first churches also had a plurality of preachers. That’s why the fact that many men in the Church at Philippi were preaching rejoiced the heart of the apostle. Church is a team sport. Based on their cluster of spiritual gifts some are called and equipped to preach. They should preach. Some should heal, some should teach and some should evangelize. All of this should result in the furtherance of the gospel.
Our churches would be more effective in furthering the gospel and we would solve so very many problems if we took our blueprints from the New Testament. We would not need as many retreat centers for burned out pastors if we did.
When will we ever learn that when all else fails we should follow the directions?
August 9, 2013
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
The applications of our Lord’s metaphors are almost endless. One application to the metaphor above is that for our candle to give light it must be consumed. Unlighted candles are not consumed, but the candles that shine are the candles that burn. There is no shining without burning.
In another great metaphor Jesus told us there is no such thing as a fruitless disciple of His. We are like branches and He is the Vine. As branches, if we are properly intersected with Him, we can draw from Him the life force to be fruitful. He promised if we are plugged into Him and are fruitful we will be cut back and pruned to be made more fruitful. Cutbacks and pruning can really hurt. They can come in the form of suffering but they improve the quality and the quantity of our fruit.
In light of these very clear teachings we should not be surprised when we find ourselves burning through suffering that our brightest light for Christ yields the best fruit.
Like many others I thought my most fruitful years were when I was able bodied and active. But I have been joyfully surprised to discover that my most fruitful service for Christ has been as a bed fast quadriplegic. Using voice activated computer software from my bed, 782 Bible studies have been produced and are being heard in 31 languages in 60 countries. Worldwide more than 45,000 small groups are listening to our studies on solar powered digital audio players I call “God pods.”
Have you discovered there is no shining without burning?
May 23, 2013
“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)
When the disciple’s asked Jesus this request they were not just asking Him the ‘how to’ of prayer. They were amazed at the large amounts of time Jesus prioritized for prayer. They were asking something like ‘teach us what you know about prayer that we obviously do not know that causes You to spend so very much time in prayer.’
STEP NUMBER THREE: Spend much time in prayer.
When you must know the will of another human being, what is the first step you take? Our first thought is usually that we must meet with that person and have a conversation with them. When a man is in love and decides he wants to marry a woman, his first thought is that he must meet with her and have a conversation with her.
When we seek to know the will of God, our first thought should be that we must meet with God and have a conversation with Him. Prayer is a conversation with God. If you do not know how to pray, think of prayer as simply meeting with and having a personal conversation with God.
Jesus responded to the apostles with a prayer that was not as much a prayer as it was an instruction about how to pray. When you are alone, use that prayer as an outline for your conversation with God. You will find yourself applying the second and third steps I have shared with you for knowing the will of God when Jesus instructs you to pray:
“Your kingdom come; Your will be done.”
May 14, 2013
“Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?” (Galatians 4:16)
We can be a philosopher and love truth. We can be a sincere seeker after truth and never find the truth we seek. According to Jesus when we come to know the truth by relationship, He himself will make us free (John 8: 30-36).
Jesus said in a prayer to His Father: “Thy Word is truth.” (John 17: 17) This means we should read the Bible as a lover and seeker of truth. Jesus made the claim that His teaching is the truth of God (John 7: 17). He even told us how we can prove that claim. The doing leads to the knowing. If we will personally do what He teaches we will know that His teaching cannot be the teaching of a man. It has to be the teaching of God.
There are times when we can devastate people with the truth. There are also times when the truth can cut through the denial of people and set them free from problems that are isolating them from reality and destroying them. It is then that we must speak the truth in love and ask if we have become their enemy for doing so.
When we are facing those kinds of challenges we must pray that: “God will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves” (2 Timothy 2: 25). To repent means to think again and have a change of mind will and direction.
May your search for truth not only end but begin with the One who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life and no one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6).
April 23, 2013
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7: 1-5)
According to Jesus relationships are a two way street. If you look at others under a microscope they will put you under a microscope and you will not like that. If you look at others through a telescope they will look at you through a telescope and you will be far more comfortable with that arrangement.
When you give to people whatever standard of measurement you use they will use when they give to you. It is your call. Will you give with a thimble or by the truckload?
This passage shows that Jesus had a sense of humor. Imagine a person with a one by six plank sticking out of their eye while they believe they are called to find specks of sawdust in the eyes of others.
Since this passage begins with the two words judge not many believe we’re never to judge others. Consider this passage carefully and you will understand it is not teaching that at all.
This teaching of Jesus is telling us to judge. It is telling us to judge ourselves first and as we relate to others decide if it is going to be a microscope or a telescope?
April 19, 2013
“But woe to him who is alone when he falls.” (Ecclesiastes 4:10)
Have you observed how much Jesus valued community? He taught: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20 NIV) He also gave a great teaching regarding prayer community: “When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action.” (Matthew 18:19, The Message)
When He made that observation about being present when two or three gather in His name he was not giving us a consolation for a poor attendance at a meeting. He was being descriptive and prescriptive about the reality that His risen presence is among us in a special way when just two or three of us come together in His name.
The man who was thought to be the wisest man on earth in his day also wrote about the value of community. Before he wrote the words quoted above he told us that two are better than one for when one falls the other will help him up and “a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” This could mean that when two or three are in community the presence of God among them forms that threefold cord that cannot be quickly broken.
Are you in community? If you are not then follow the teaching of our Lord and the wise counsel of Solomon and seek the spiritual community you need. I’m not telling you to go to church. I am writing about that special relationship with two or three people where you have accountability and deep sharing of life and faith. If you cannot find one, start one. It only takes you and one other person.
April 14, 2013
“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results.” (James 5:16 NLT)
When Alcoholics Anonymous started it was called “The Saint James Fellowship” because it was founded on this verse. The founders later changed the name to include people of all faiths and those with no faith. While millions of secular people apply the truths of this Scripture and experience healing, it is a shame that many believers never make these healing applications.
When you meet with another believer do you keep your sins in the closet? Do you give the impression that you don’t have a problem in the world? Do they do the same? That does not burden you to pray for each other. But if you trust them and share some of your sins with them they would be burdened to pray for you. They would also more than likely have what I call “reality contact” with you by sharing their sins and that would burden you to pray for them. The result of these mutual prayers would be mutual healing.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrote extensively about spiritual community, put it this way: “Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So they remain alone with their sins, living in lies and hypocrisy… He who is alone with his sins is utterly alone.”
A paraphrase of James 5:16 is that honest prayers explode with power! It is a strategy of the evil one to isolate us into self imposed solitary confinement. Never let him isolate you into being a closet sinner; instead, find healing in confessing your sins and praying for one another.