Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Look on the Bright Side

It seems to me that optimists are not quite real, and pessimists not quite human. Somewhere in the middle of the two extremes of the pendulum swing has to be an even tempered outlook. Optimism and pessimism seem to focus on who we are, our person and our personality. A bright outlook, however, touches upon how we choose to see life. It is the silver lining perspective. Not all of life is lollipops and rainbows, but even in the worst of times it is that person who shares a smile with you that you remember. The Apostle Paul talked about our outlook. He said, "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." Philippians 4:8

Make looking at the upside of life a habit. You will naturally gravitate to those who have your view of the world. If your's is negative, you will fall in with those who are negative. One once said, "Small minds...cannot see far, or things magnanimous, but behold things small and mean."

Now discouragement is a fact of life, and no one will blame you for having a bad day, or month for that matter. Getting down; that's life. Staying down; that's defeat. If you have a downtrodden view of the world because of discouragement or depression, get some help. See your doctor and get some counselling. To even pick up the phone sparks hope, and hope is the seed of a bright future.

Do you really think God is at this moment bemoaning the future of your life or of the planet for that matter? I think not. If things were really that impossible than we would be in a very desperate spot. 

The problem is that in our day, truth has become so repeated and routine that people pay no more attention to it than they do a saying from a fortune cookie. That being said, the abundance of truth cannot diminish the gravity of it. So, without breaking open the cookie let me say. Look for the good. Choose to see the best in people, the hope in each situation, and the working of God in you. Humanity and planet earth aren't perfect, but if you look close enough you can see the golden glimmer that we call "hope". 

"Think on these things..."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Studying the Bible

Ok, you you haven't been a follower of Jesus for ten minutes before someone has told you to "read the Bible every day", right? They gave you a Daily Bread and sent you on your voyage of Biblical understanding. But we both know there is a little more to really getting to know (studying) the Bible than a few minutes spent on a verse and a story from a periodical. (Although tools like the Daily Bread can be helpful to some people.)

Acts 17:11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

An old preacher named H.T. Crossley published this acrostic for stuying the Scriptures:

S - Systematically - Luke 24:27
C - Carefully - Psalm 1:2
R - Reverently - Psalm 19:7,11
I - Intently - 2 Peter 1:19-21
P - Prayerfully - Psalm 119:33-36
T - Trustingly - Acts 24:14
U - Understandingly - Hebrews 5:12
R - Retentively - Jeremiah 20:9
E - Every Day - Acts 17:11-12
S - Savingly - 2 Timothy 3:15-17

Here are some thoughts concerning studying the Bible.
  • Realize that the Bible is a library. It doesn't make sense to jump madly around in your reading. Doing so, causes confusion. A systematic approach of a book to two at a time works best. If you are just starting out, try John's gospel and Proverbs.
  • It is not so important how many verses you read, as it is how many verses (truths) you digest and understand.
  • Don't come to the Scriptures to prove your opinions. Instead come to the Scriptures for your opinions. 
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you. That's what the Psalmist asks in Psalm 119.
  • Trust what you read. George Mueller, a great Brethren preacher and orphanage director, said, "I have read the Bible through more than a hundred times, and I find no stumbling-block at all. This is because I am satisfied with God."
  • It is helpful at times to read the Bible in conjunction with a commentary on that particular book. Be careful, however, not so think that a commentary is always right. The Bible is the final authority.
  • You will never understand all of the Bible. God is smarter than you, and He wrote a book that is smarter than you are.
  • Take time to memorize verses relating to: prayers, promises, principles, and praises. Having these in your mind will benefit you greatly.
  • The Scriptures talk about "milk" and "meat". If you are just getting started with Bible Study, start in the shallow end of the pool. (Study the life of Christ and Genesis to start) Too many make the mistake of jumping directly into books like Revelation and the prophets of the Old Testament without a foundation of the basics first. This causes confusion and stunts the young believer's growth.
  • All this being said. Read the Bible. Love the Bible. Fall in love with the God of the Bible.

Monday, February 20, 2012

What Life is Worth Living?

It seems the older I get the more I think about having a life of significance. But what does that look like? What is the life worth living?

I look at those in high positions living only for the honor and applause of society. And, no doubt, it is easy to envy them. However if fame and notoriety are the only benchmarks achieved, this is not the life worth living. Then come the monied people. Now, don't get me wrong, I like money. However, there are a thousand things that bless the soul that cannot be bought with money. So I conclude that a life lived only for money is not the life worth living. These I think are the two most common pursuits of those trying to make their mark upon the world.

What about the negative person, he who lives only to be the cynic? Skeptics of all types from the polite agnostic to the blatant infidel and atheist walk upon this earth. Is that any way to live? Recently I heard one of the leading skeptics of our time on the radio. I didn't listen so much to what he had to say as much as I listened to his words and tone. I came away thinking, that is a very angry and mean man. If he is not mean, he certainly has to work on his public relation skills... Anyway, the life of skepticism is not the life worth living.

I thought, "What if I just lived the life of the good man, the moral man?" After all, that's what everybody says at funerals. "He was a good man." (Whether he was or not!) Is it enough, however, just to be considered "good"? There are thousands of good, moral, honest, hardworking people. But if that is all there is to life, it is not the life worth living.

"Eat, drink, and be merry." Says one crowd. "Wine, women, and song." Says the other. If the search for pleasure and fun was the life worth living then why do so many thousands of party people shipwreck their own lives? King Solomon said, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." Empty...that about sums it up. No, the pursuit of pleasure is not the life worth living.

Despite these obvious dead ends, I still believe there is a life worth living. It may be on a road less travelled, and may have more potholes and speed bumps along the way, but it has to be the life which gives meaning and significance to our tiny existence in this moment of time. In the teachings of Jesus He says, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."  Matthew 22:37-39
So what do I know? I am certain that the life worth living is a life of active love. If we truly love God and love others we will actively seek the best for them. For God, that means obeying His commands and giving Him glory when things turn out well for us. In regard to man, that means that I actively seek the good of those in my sphere of influence. Today, why don't we determine together to be active in our love and live the life worth living!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Building an Inner Relationship With God - Part 2

Let's continue with exploring facets of our devotional life suggested by the Temple's construction and the activity surrounding it's operation.

  1. The Role of Sanctification - At its most basic, the word "sanctification" means to be set apart from all else and dedicated wholly to God. That level of dedication is missing in our Christianity today. We have many fickle Christians that bounce from church to church, book to book, and teacher to teacher with no real sense that they are supposed to be building line upon line and precept upon precept. Commitment is key. The Temple was set apart for God, the Levites were dedicated to the service of God. If you are going to be successful in your inner relationship with God, you are going to have to be committed to God.
  2. The Role of Centrality - The Tabernacle was set in the middle of the Jewish encampment. It was central to their lives. The question then is whether or not your relationship is central to your life or a convenient addition. Is your relationship only that fifteen minutes in the morning, or do you have an ongoing conversation with Him throughout the day? Is He central?
  3. The Role of the Supremacy of the Cross of Jesus - The tabernacle and the temple were completely soaked through with symbols Jesus and His work on the Cross. Be careful in your devotional life that you don't become the focus. With quiet time it is easy to become introspective instead of "looking unto Jesus" as the Scriptures command.
  4. The Role of Repetition - Now here is where we have to hit a balance. The activity of the Temple was very much an activity of repetition. We like repetition, especially as we get older. However, don't get so ingrained with your repetition that it becomes empty tradition. We must follow the Holy Spirit in our quiet time. Sometimes He will allow us to be comfortable in repetition, at other times His quiet voice urges us to change up our routine.
  5. The Role of Beauty - This is a lesser detail, but it's truth cannot be denied. The tabernacle and temple had aspects of great beauty. Let's make two applications. First, sometimes it is helpful and healthy to talk with God in places of beauty like a summer field or a park bench along the seashore. Second, we must view our relationship with God as a thing of beauty that both we and God are working on together.
  6. The Role of Death - When we view the Tabernacle, we cannot get away from the fact of death. Of course the death of bulls and goats pictured the coming death of Jesus, our final sacrifice. Let us not forget, however, that the Bible says that when Jesus died, we died with Him and rose as new creatures in Christ. If we accept as fact our death to sin, and our resurrection to love and serve God it will put us in the right frame of mind for our walk with God.
  7. The Role of Praise - David talked about entering "his courts with praise". Let's not be selfish worshippers, coming to God with our list like He is some kind of cosmic genie. We need to praise the King of the Universe, not because we get anything, but because He is, who He is.
I'm sure there are other parallels that we could draw to the Tabernacle and Temple, but that will suffice for now. Below are some random thoughts in regard to building our inner relationship.
  • Be faithful during the dry spells. The inner life is not always exhilarating. God does not allow us to stay permanently on the top of the mountain. Dry spells, teach us determination and surrender.
  • Guard your time with God.
  • Seek to understand the depth of God's love for you and rest in it.
  • Seek God...not the gifts that He gives.
  • Reject thoughts that distract or undermine your faith.
  • Paul said...'that I may know Him'
  • Renounce whatever does not lead you closer to God.
  • Understand that we come to God upon the basis of the merits of Christ. It has nothing to do with our own goodness or works. We can only do good because of Christ in us.
  • Prayer consists totally and simply of God's presence; of a soul resting in God.
  • Our motivation needs to come from the love of God for us and the will of God for us. We cannot be motivated by gaining comfort for our own problems from God.
  • God won't allow a searching soul to be comforted anywhere but with Him.
  • To be with Him we must cultivate the habit of thinking of Him often. - God is there. It is rude to leave a visiting friend alone.
  • Give God control of your 'stuff'. Scripture says, "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
  • Accept His forgiveness, cleansing, and unqualified love for you.
  • See yourself as God sees you...not as a criminal to be judged, but as a son to be loved, trained, and corrected.
  • God never leaves us, but sometimes He hides His face from us. It is at this time that He shows us our need of Him and tests our commitment to Him.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Building an Inner Relationship With God

I make the assumption that if you are reading my posts that you are already a follower of Jesus. That decision to be born again into God's family by faith is the obvious first step in this process. Having said this, we dive into our topic for today.

The Bible says that our body is the temple of the Holy Ghost. God no longer lives in the Tabernacle of Moses or the Temple of Solomon, but instead He chooses to reside in the hearts of believers themselves. Because of this, there are some parallels that we can draw from those old places of worship concerning our devotional life and extending to a lifestyle of worship.

Let's talk first about what we often call the believer's "devotions" or "quiet time". In short, there needs to be a time set aside each day for you to get alone with God and talk with Him just as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. How that all looks depends greatly upon your personality and emotional makeup. Some have been known to lock themselves in a room, others sit on a log in the woods reading the Scriptures, while others in our modern day shut out the world with their headphones, and read the words of God on their Ipad while sitting in Starbucks. There is no formula; no set way of doing things. God is the God of the individual, and because of this we each approach Him in our own individual way. Here are some thoughts, however concerning the Temple and our private time with God.

  1. The Role of Silence - There wasn't anything inside the Holy Place or Holy of Holies designed to make noise and distract. If we are going to spend quality time with God we have to make the decision that we are going to shut off electronic devices and shut out other distractions. For couples with children, that means some negotiation as to who is going to referee fights and repair skinned knees at what times, but make sure your spouse has quiet time alone with God.
  2. The Role of Solitude - Now, you can be alone in a crowded room, I'll give you that. But as for me a quiet corner of the house or sitting near a country stream is a whole lot better than trying to ignore everyone else. God is a jealous God. He wants time with just you, because He wants you to know Him on a deep level. We wouldn't treat our relationship with our spouse the way we treat God and our quiet time sometimes. Undivided attention...it's what He deserves.
  3. The Role of Music - Now I know that I have just broken my own rule about silence. But if we look at the temple, they had musicians. Whether you sing to God in praise or turn on worshipful music and meditate on the words sung by others, music has the ability to move our emotions in the direction of our Creator. Don't neglect music. It is a very useful tool.
  4. The Role of Food - Remember the table of Shewbread? Let's make two applications here: First, we know that the Bible refers to itself as the "milk" and the "meat". We cannot properly build that inner relationship without reading (or listening) to the scriptures as part of our devotions. To neglect the Bible is to have a one way conversation with God. Second, there is an application concerning our physical food. If our body is the temple of God, we should be more careful concerning our diet. Many times we do not have the energy to get up early or stay up later to talk to God because we have fed our bodies junk throughout the day.
  5. The Role of Light - It is interesting to note that the only light in the Holy Place came from the lampstand. Now, God could have lit up the whole place as bright as noon in the Sahara, but He didn't. I'm not much of a candle person myself, but I do know that there is a certain mood set with candles and quieter lighting features (reading lamp) that set a mood more conducive to reflection and contemplation.
  6. The Role of Sacrifice - Let's be real here. Building an inner relationship with God takes sacrifice. There are some things that you will have to give up to achieve what you want to in this area. Whether it is sin that has to be confessed and forsaken, or time that has to be reallocated, sacrifices must be made.
  7. The Role of Washing - The laver set outside the Tabernacle door. It was there the priests washed the daily grime off their hands and feet. As we walk through this world we have the dirt of our lives that has to be confessed and forsaken. Don't go through your time with God feeling dirty, get washed first. I John 1:9
  8. The Role of Prayer - I'm not going to try to replicate great writing that has already been done on this topic. Get a copy of any of E.M. Bounds books on prayer and a book called "The Intercessor." These are great resources in teaching and inspiring us to pray. As for me, to start with I generally work my way through the parts of the Lord's Prayer and make each statement my own. Then I try to ask the Holy Spirit what He wants me to pray for that day. I just figure that He will urge me to pray for those things that are on His heart.
  9. The Role of Fasting - The Jews had several national fasts in the year. I'll not take time to deal with fasting now, but we will in a future post. Just take note that showing God you are serious by giving up something that is important to you is no small thing in His eyes.
  10. The Role of Time - May I urge you to think about doing life slower? What are you trying to accomplish at breakneck speed anyway? Do you see Jesus acting like that? He was here to save the world, but never looked like he was in a rush. Oh, we have responsibilities and cannot spend the same quantity of time every day. But averaged out we ought to be able to say that we have spent significant time with God. Maybe we should set a goal of a tithe -- giving ten percent of our waking hours back to God in quiet worship and conversation.
Ok, so that's the first ten. We have at least that much more ground to cover. The reading is easy, the application will take a lifetime. Hope these few thoughts have been a help. 
To be continued...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Agreement or Clarity?

One man said that clarifying one's opinion was of greater moral value than unanimous agreement. I think this is probably the case.

From a practical point of view, unanimity is impossible. Everyone has an opinion, and you aren't going to convince everyone else to  your way of thinking.

It is only when we are able to listen that we begin to understand from where the other is coming. The issues of life are not simple. The complex questions of life deserve a more reflective approach than is found in sound bytes, statistics, and quotations. Although many of these devices are useful to back up a point, they in an of themselves cannot be the point.

And so, as we move along together you will sometimes agree with me, and sometimes not. Agreement is not necessary, but it is vital that I clearly articulate my thoughts. We must take the quiet moments that are necessary to fully think through opinions and positions.

If clarity is our goal, then we will be less fixated upon being right. We can't all be right, but we can all be clear. And in striving for clarity, we raise the level of discourse while humbly admitting that maybe we don't have everything all figured out.

So if in the coming days you disagree, well that's ok. I'll let you be wrong.... (kidding)

And so we begin our walk together considering the big and little issues of life and God.