The Friend Who Really Knows Me

February 5, 2016

God searches the hearts and minds of everyone. That thought can bring a certain fear to our lives, especially if we have been living carelessly with excuses we know will not stand the test. But, the same thought — God searches the hearts and minds of everyone — can also bring comfort.

We sometimes hide who we really are from others. We put our best foot forward in public as the saying goes. This best self may be like buildings on a movie set — an impressive façade that hides what is really there. But there is a yearning that competes with our attempts to mask ourselves. The desire is for a friend who really knows me — a friend who knows, understands, and helps. Some of the passages that depict God’s intimate knowledge of us, indicate that God can be that sort of friend.

… whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or by all your people Israel, each knowing the affliction of his own heart and stretching out his hands toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place and forgive and act and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways (for you, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind)… (1 Kings 8:38–39, ESV)

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalms 139:23–24, ESV)

And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:27, ESV)

I realize that there is a tension. Abraham is called “friend of God” (James 2:23), and God is called “the Fear of Isaac” (Genesis 31:42). Yet, God’s intimate knowledge of my heart and mind does not necessarily lead to terror. In the Christian life, where forgiveness is available, and growth in Christian maturity is ongoing, God’s knowledge of me can be a comfort. God is the friend who really knows me.

Do the Book of Revelation

February 1, 2016

People like to speculate about the Book of Revelation. It has suffered much at the hands of its readers. If you are interested in the symbols of Revelation, I recommend Stafford North’s Unlocking Revelation: Seven Simple Keys. But there are a number of ways to get a handle on Revelation’s message. I think if you grasp the seven letters to the churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2-3, you have a pretty good idea what the book is about. Revelation contains seven beatitudes (1:3, 14:13, 16:15, 19:9, 20:6, 22:7, and 22:14). If you understand these beatitudes, I think you have a pretty good idea of the message of the book. But there is even another way.

The sixth beatitude in Revelation reads: “Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book” (Revelation 22:7, ESV). This beatitude says the book is about doing. Revelation contains 96 commands, but most of those have to do with the dramatic action of the visions. If we narrow the list down to those commands that have application to all Christians, the list is shorter.

  • Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. 2:5
  • Do not fear what you are about to suffer. 2:10
  • Be faithful unto death…. 2:10
    Therefore, repent. 2:16
  • Only hold fast what you have until I come. 2:25
  • Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die… 3:2
  • Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. 3:3
  • Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 3:11
  • … so be zealous and repent. 3:19
  • And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” 14:7
  • Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!” 18:20
  • And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” 19:5
  • Worship God. 19:10, 22:9 (with the implication worship God only)
  • Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy. 22:11

Read Revelation and pay particular attention to the commands. If you practice these commands, I think you understand the message of Revelation. Jesus and John want us to do the Book of Revelation.

Do All Speak in Tongues?

January 21, 2016

Is it necessary to speak in tongues to be saved or to be spiritual? Is speaking in tongues the expected universal experience of all Christians? Is there a way to answer these questions? The answer is found in 1 Corinthians 12:29-30, although it may be difficult to see for the English reader because it involves a question of Greek grammar.

The NASB actually addresses the Greek grammar issue in its preface: “In the rendering of negative questions introduced by the particle mē (which always expects the answer “No”) the wording has been altered from a mere, “Will he not do this?” to a more accurate, “He will not do this, will he?” Greek has two negatives and ou, which mean no or not. When a question begins with , the author or speaker expects a negative answer. When a question begins with ou, the author or speaker expects a positive answer.1 The NASB handles the question in 1 Corinthians 12:30 this way: “All do not speak with tongues, do they?” The NASB translators are expecting the English reader to connect this construction with their statement in the preface and realize that the question expects the answer of no.

The NET handles these verses in a similar way:

Not all are apostles, are they? Not all are prophets, are they? Not all are teachers, are they? Not all perform miracles, do they? Not all have gifts of healing, do they? Not all speak in tongues, do they? Not all interpret, do they? (1 Corinthians 12:29–30, NET)

However, NET places a footnote at the end of verse 30, which reads: “The questions in vv. 29–30 all expect a negative response.” I think the footnote makes this clearer for the English reader, and I’m glad that it is there. The NET often has helpful translation information in its footnotes.

Several functional equivalent translations attempt to make the passage clear using other methods. The NLT renders the questions in a simple form: “Are we all apostles? … Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages?” However, the NLT concludes the series of questions with the answer: “Of course not!” (1 Corinthians 12:30). The New Century Version and the Common English Version restructure the questions into statements: “Not all speak in different languages” (NCV) and “Not everyone can speak different kinds of languages” (CEV). All of these are attempts to make explicit to the English reader what the Greek reader would have clearly seen.

Is it necessary to speak in tongues to be saved or to be spiritual? Paul’s answer is no.

1A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, §427(2).

The Accumulative Effect

January 12, 2016

Have you ever tried to catch a snow flake? How small and ephemeral they are! They touch your hand and quickly melt away. But before they do, we glimpse their intricate and wondrous crystalline patterns. How small is a single snow flake! Yet put them all together in a snowstorm—there’s an accumulative effect. Such small things can bring the hustle and bustle of daily life to a grinding (or should I say sliding) halt.

Does the impact of small things sound familiar? The kingdom of heaven is compared to a mustard seed that is planted and grows larger than the garden plants (Matthew 13:31-32). Jesus compares our little faith to a grain of mustard seed (Matthew 17:20, Luke 17:6). But Jesus goes on to say that faith can move mountains. God takes note of small deeds—the giving of a cup of cold water because of Jesus (Matthew 10:42). There is reward for even giving cups of cold water.

Sometimes great things happen because of one person’s faith, one person’s prayer (see Nehemiah 1:4-2:8). Nehemiah’s prayer and God’s providence in answering his prayer led to the walls of Jerusalem being built. Nehemiah didn’t do it by himself. Nehemiah chapter 3 names 43 work groups. Each individual in each group did a small part of the wall, but the accumulative effect was the wall was built. Each individual’s part was seemly insignificant, but the accumulative effect was transformative.

The world with all of its needs and problems is overwhelming. Yet, God has given to His people the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Have you ever thought, “What can I do?” Yet, I suspect that part of the answer is found in each of us doing our part and working together as a church. Like individual snowflakes our part may seem small, but the accumulative effect may change the world around us.

Don’t underestimate your participation in the life of the church. Don’t underestimate your presence in the assembly. Don’t underestimate your gift in the collection. Don’t underestimate your deeds of kindness. Don’t underestimate your attempts to share your faith. Don’t underestimate your prayers. Like individual snowflakes we are part of a larger whole. The point is simple: God can do wonderful things through the accumulative effect of all of us working together by faith.

The Danger of Distractions

January 1, 2016

A man walked off a cliff while distracted by his cell phone plummeting to his death. Automobile fatalities have occurred with drivers texting instead of noticing the on-coming tree or vehicle. We cannot but conclude there is danger is distraction. Yet, distraction is a big part of our world.

I suspect that the default setting for our world is noise. I can remember my family’s first television set when I was a child. It was a big wooden cabinet RCA, but the black and white screen wasn’t that big by today’s standards, and we received one channel maybe two if the conditions were just right. The broadcast day would end around midnight with the playing of The Star Spangled Banner. Now our large, high definition screens have more channels than I have ever viewed. Television is on demand at any moment of the day. I can even watch it on my phone and tablet wherever I am.

I remember my first transistor radio as a boy. I could stick it in my pocket and have AM radio wherever I went. It was a marvel of miniaturization with the new transistors replacing the old, large vacuum tubes. Now I carry the Internet in my pocket, and with it a world of distractions.

I’m not wanting to give up my modern conveniences. I regularly use a smartphone, a tablet computer, a laptop, and a TV that streams content on demand. But I’m also aware of their dangers. I don’t want my attention span shrunk to a 140-character tweet or the rapidly changing images of a video. A library of books that we call the Bible sustains the life of the church and the life of a Christian. We must fight against the distractions that would keep us from our heritage and great spiritual treasure.

Distractions, however, can do more damage than just shortening our attention spans. Distractions can keep us from thinking important thoughts: why am I here? Is there any meaning to life? Does God exist? Has He spoken in the Bible? Have I listened to him as I should? The distractions of life can keep us from contemplating the spiritual and eternal. The distractions are not bad in themselves, but they are the temporary and are not meant to fill the spiritual void in our lives that only God can satisfy. But sometimes we must be still to realize the void is there. One of the best things we can do for some of our friends is to get them to slow down and experience quietness, so that the distractions are silenced for a time, and they can begin to feel their own spiritual hunger.

I recognize the danger of distraction. What I’m suggesting that each us needs to carve out some quiet time: a time to read the Bible, a time to pray, time to worship, and a time to contemplate our lives and what is most important.

A man walked off a cliff looking at his cell phone. I wonder how many plummet into eternity only thinking about the distractions of life.

How Do You View Your Time on Earth?

December 28, 2015

Eastern religions believe in a cycle of birth, death, and reincarnation. This cycle is called samsara. In such a view, karma (which is a word which means deeds) determines the next reincarnation. Good (deeds) karma result in a better reincarnation; bad (deeds) karma result in a worse reincarnation. One does not necessarily come back as a human being in this view, but the cycle continues.

The goal of eastern religions is liberation from the cycle of samara. In some forms of Hinduism, the escape is to merge with Brahman, ultimate reality. In Buddhism, nirvana is the escape from samsara, and it is achieved when one loses all desires. Suffering and desire are the ultimate problems for Buddhism. Individuals who believe in samsara may not expect to merge with Brahman or reach nirvana from this life. In their view, it may take many lifetimes.

Materialists believe that nature is all that there is. Eventually the universe will run down, but the universe may oscillate and start again. (I would point out to the materialist that it takes a great deal of faith to believe that.) Human beings, however, end at death. We may retain the memory of someone, but this view rejects life after death. For the materialist, history is linear, but there is no overarching purpose to it. In the end, everything dies.

The Christian also views history as linear. God is the Intelligent Designer of our universe. God is also the Lord of History. God’s purpose will ultimately be fulfilled, because we live in a meaningful world filled with purpose. Human beings begin at conception, but death is not the final word. The spiritual or immaterial part of us exists beyond death. We will face the judgment of God. Our life of faith or lack of faith will determine our eternal destiny.

How we view history and human life is a spiritual matter. Our worldview will determine many of our decisions in this life. For Eastern religions, life is like playing a video where the player has an infinite number of times to reach the final level. For the materialist, there is no final level, and only one chance at life. Life is to be lived, but there are preparations for the next life.

For the Christian, God has created a beautiful and wondrous world. The brokenness that is in it is due to the sin’s entrance into the world. We go about life earning a living and raising a family just like many Hindus, Buddhists, and materialists. But we believe that this life is a place of decision for the life to come. (Romans 2:8-10) The life of faith prepares us for the presence of God for eternity. The lack of faith prepares us for the absence of God for eternity.

How do you view your time on earth?

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” — C.S. Lewis

Our God Is Real!

October 30, 2015

What if you were given a school assignment on critical thinking? Your assignment is to review a list of statements and mark them as factual claim, common assertion, or opinion. Statements include things like George Washington was the first president and people who wear glasses are smart. But one statement arrests your attention: There is a God. How would you mark it?

According to a recent news report, a Texas middle-schooler was faced with this choice. She marked “There is a God” as fact. According to allegations, she was told that she would fail the assignment unless she changed her answer, because God is not real. What would you do?

Since the news story broke, the school district has released a statement saying that the assignment was intended to spur critical thinking and was not intended to question religious beliefs of students. They further admitted, “… still this does not excuse the fact that this ungraded activity was ill-conceived and because of that, its intent had been misconstrued.”

What do we make of this news story? I’m well aware that not everyone believes in God. Yet, I believe there is sufficient evidence to prove the existence of God. So is God a fact or not? A lot depends on our working definition for fact. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines it as “a thing that is indisputably the case.” Obviously, a dispute does exist, and some people deny the existence of God. However, the Merriam-Webster 3rd Unabridged Dictionary states a fact is “something that has actual existence … the reality of events or things the actual occurrence or existence of which is to be determined by evidence.” Clearly English usage allows us to say that the existence of God is a fact even if it is a disputed fact.

What lessons do we learn from this news story? First, I’m reminded of Peter’s instruction in 1 Peter 3:14-16:

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:14–16, ESV)

We need to be prepared to make a defense of our faith.

Second, we need to be willing to take a stand for our faith. Jesus warns us: “

So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32–33, ESV)

Taking a stand for our faith is not optional. These two lessons are imperative because our God is real!


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