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Thursday, May 31, 2018

It's Alive!

Did you ever have one of those duh moments when something you’ve known all your life finally takes hold and you begin to understand it?

Some months ago, I was doing some research for something. I came across the familiar verse: For the word of God is quick (alive), and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).

I’ve nodded my head in agreement. God’s Word is alive, powerful, sharp, piercing, and discerning. Yes, yes. But what this verse actually says is that the Bible is alive. It is living. It is not only used by the Holy Spirit—which it is—but it’s also able to act. The Bible is the only truly living Book in the world. You can read Shakespeare, Cervantes, Goethe, or Hugo, and while you might be inspired, your soul won’t be transformed by their words. You can’t get eternal life through their words. Only God’s Word has that power. Only God’s Word is alive. Isn’t it interesting that the only attacking part of the armor of God is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17b)?

Jesus Himself is referred to as the Word. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth (John 1:1, 14). In Revelation, we read of Jesus, And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God (Revelation 19:13).

Let’s look at some of the characteristics of God’s Word. I believe they’ll motivate you.
  • Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him (Proverbs 30:5).
  • Jesus prayed for believers, Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth (John 17:17).
  • Jesus healed by His Word: When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick (Matthew 8:16). And they were all amazed, and spake among themselves, saying, What a word is this! for with authority and power he commandeth the unclean spirits, and they come out (Luke 4:36).
  • But the word of God grew and multiplied (Acts 12:24).
  • So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17).
  • The context here is about the food we eat—why we ask God’s blessing on our food: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:5). 
  • Paul said, Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound (2 Timothy 2:9).
  • Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever (1 Peter 1:23).

Another aspect of God’s Word is that it actively works in the believer’s life. It is changing us—transforming us. The Bible calls this process sanctification. It’s becoming more and more like Christ. Of course, we won’t be fully like Him until we’re in heaven, but it’s that teaching and molding process.

The Bible says the Word is our food and drink. As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby (1 Peter 2:2). And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God (Luke 4:4).

It’s only by the Word of God that people can be saved. It continues to work in Christians.
In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise (Ephesians 1:13)
For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

Here are a few more things that the Word can do for believers:
  • It is completely trustworthy. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips. It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven. Selah (Psalm 89:34, 37).
  • It washes the church. That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word (Ephesians 5:26).
  • It indwells the Christian. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord (Colossians 3:16).
  • It’s great preaching material and challenges us with its truth. Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine (2 Timothy 4:2).
  • It is eternal—and always there for us. Forever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven (Psalm 119:89). But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you (1 Peter 1:25).
  • It strengthens believers so they can overcome the devil. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one (1 John 2:14b).

If you really want to be inspired, read these verses from Psalm 119:
  • Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word (verse 9).
  • Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee (11).
  • I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word (16).
  • Deal bountifully with thy servant, that I may live, and keep thy word (17).
  • My soul cleaveth unto the dust: quicken thou me according to thy word (25).
  • My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen thou me according unto thy word (28).
  • Stablish thy word unto thy servant, who is devoted to thy fear (38).
  • Let thy mercies come also unto me, O LORD, even thy salvation, according to thy word (41).
  • So shall I have wherewith to answer him that reproacheth me: for I trust in thy word (42).
  • This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me (50).
  • I intreated thy favour with my whole heart: be merciful unto me according to thy word (58).
  • Thou hast dealt well with thy servant, O LORD, according unto thy word (65).
  • Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word (67).
  • They that fear thee will be glad when they see me; because I have hoped in thy word (74).
  • Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant (76).
  • My soul fainteth for thy salvation: but I hope in thy word (81).
  • Mine eyes fail for thy word, saying, When wilt thou comfort me? (82)
  • I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word (101).
  • Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path (105).
  • Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy word (114).
  • Uphold me according unto thy word, that I may live: and let me not be ashamed of my hope (116).
  • Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me (133).
  • Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it (140).
  • I prevented the dawning of the morning, and cried: I hoped in thy word (147).
  • Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth forever (160).
  • Princes have persecuted me without a cause: but my heart standeth in awe of thy word (161).
  • I rejoice at thy word, as one that findeth great spoil (162).
  • Let my cry come near before thee, O LORD: give me understanding according to thy word (169).
  • Let my supplication come before thee: deliver me according to thy word (170).
  • My tongue shall speak of thy word: for all thy commandments are righteousness (172).

Have you ever read the Bible? A great place to begin is the Gospel of John. It’s only twenty-one chapters, so you can easily read it within a month, a chapter a day. John is all about Jesus’ ministry years. You’ll enjoy reading the living Book. 

It can change your life.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Fiction Review: The Bargain

The Bargain, by Aaron D. Gansky gives me a new favorite author.  When deciding to get this book, I read the reviews. One said Gansky’s writing was “so tight you could bounce a dime on it.” The reviewer was right. His style is spare and brilliant.

The story begins with Nadine’s cancer, her visit with her sister, and her husband Connor’s feelings of helplessness along with his “why” questions. Their marriage has been wonderful, yet she is suffering. Connor Reedly, an accomplished journalist, meets Mason, who tells him he has a message from God for him. (This was hard for me to swallow, since I don’t believe in extra-biblical revelation, but it is fiction, so I decided to continue reading. I’m glad I did.) The Bargain is a challenge. If Connor will interview and write about ten “good” people in the desert town, his wife will get better. Mason will pay him $25,000.

Connor isn’t a believer, but he loves Nadine, and he’ll do anything for her. He begins the project with a chip on his shoulder, resenting that to complete the challenge, he’s not spending time with her—in her last days. Mason introduces him to the most unlikely “good” people and tells his own story. Connor is threatened, shot, and what little faith he has is rattled to the core. This is a tale of humanity and growth and especially, of salvation.

Each chapter tells one of the stories. They are raw and unadorned. They will touch your heart and cause you to think differently about those around you. The desert setting and the town itself couldn’t be better for what you learn about the harsh lives of its people.

As Connor interviews people and writes their stories, he notices his wife improving in health. He is tired and miserable as he completes his part of the bargain, but when he meets someone who preaches Truth to his soul, he begins to understand.

I enjoyed this book immensely. It isn’t a “happy” read, but it’s real and satisfying. Gansky’s writing is amazing.

There are a couple of crude words used sparingly and no profanity at all. There is some violence. A few of the stories involve prostitutes, sexual sins, and extremely sad situations. There is no explicit content. Because of many of the themes, it’s a book for adults only.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Sowing and Reaping: Five Practical Applications

We’ve probably all heard the adage: “you reap what you sow.” It’s an adaptation of the verse: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap (Galatians 6:7b). The context reads like this: Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting (Galatians 6:7-8). It’s a warning and a key biblical principle. What you invest in will reap dividends—for good or bad. This doesn’t mean, of course, that people are doomed because of a few sinful decisions. Anyone can overcome with the Lord’s help, but it does mean that there are consequences for actions.

This principle is taught all through Scripture with references to planting different crops and enjoying the fruits of labor and parallel spiritual lessons. Here are a few of the many applications in the Bible:
  • Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same (Job 4:8).
  • They that sow in tears shall reap in joy (Psalm 126:5).
  • Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you (Hosea 10:12).
  • Jesus said, Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? (Matthew 6:26; similar in Luke 12:24).
  • Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin (Romans 6:4-6).
  • The Apostle Paul said, I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour (1 Corinthians 3:6-8).
  • The wicked worketh a deceitful work: but to him that soweth righteousness shall be a sure reward (Proverbs 11:18).
  • A froward man soweth strife: and a whisperer separateth chief friends (Proverbs 16:28).
  • He that soweth iniquity shall reap vanity: and the rod of his anger shall fail (Proverbs 22:8).
  • And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth (John 4:36-37).
  • But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully (2 Corinthians 9:6).

Jesus told two similar parables about sowing and reaping: The Sower and the Seed, and The Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:3-9; 24-30). In the Sower and the Seed, the seed is the Word of God and the ground represents hearts. In the Wheat and the Tares, the wheat stands for genuine believers, and the tares are not true believers. They grow up together until Judgment Day, which is the day of harvest.

How can we apply biblical sowing and reaping to our lives?
  1. Accept Jesus Christ and be “planted” after our salvation in believer’s baptism, identifying ourselves with the Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:4-6, above).
  2. Avoid sowing evil, discord, and investing in the flesh. We will only reap the same.
  3. Sow in righteousness. Our life should have one goal—to please God. Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
  4. Share the Word of God with others. When we sow in hearts—think of throwing out handfuls of seeds—God gives the increase. Recognize that many times one person will sow, another will water, but the Holy Spirit of God is the One who convicts of sin and gives fruit for our labor. And often, someone else reaps what we have planted.
  5. Sow generously—and we’ll reap bountifully (2 Corinthians 9:6, above).

Whatever we sow, we’ll reap.

Let’s sow good—and lots of it!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

How Far is Okay?

It sounds like a legitimate question, but “How far can I go?” actually says two things:
  1. I want boundaries.
  2. I want to push those boundaries.

They can be all kinds of boundaries:
  • House rules
  • Dating boundaries
  • Modesty
  • How much: alcohol, gambling, drugs …
  • Business behavior
You may have already thought of another one.

I believe that “How far can I go?” is actually the wrong question. Yes, we want to set and keep personal standards, but we need to ask a totally different question:

“Does this please God?”

It puts all your rules, dress, dating, pleasures, vices, and behaviors in a completely different light. When your only desire is to please God, you will behave in a way that is His standard—and His standard is always higher than yours. Let’s look at what our heart attitude would be and then examine a few of these areas in that light.

The First Commandment says, Thou shalt have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:3). It’s repeated in Deuteronomy 6:5: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

Out of that love for God comes a desire to obey Him. Jesus said, If ye love me, keep my commandments (John 14:15). It’s a joyful, willing obedience. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous (1 John 5:3).

So, let’s apply this to our five categories:
  1. Home rules—A child or teen, living under his parents’ roof, should do his best to honor and obey his parents. Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth (Ephesians 6:1-3).
  2. Dating boundaries—A dating couple will understand that purity is God’s standard, and they will avoid putting themselves in situations that will cause temptation. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord. There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. (1 Corinthians 7:32b, 34a). Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:22).
  3. Modesty—Instead of asking questions like, “Can I wear this?” or “What’s too low, short, or tight?” a Christian girl or woman will ask herself, “Does this honor God?” She looks in the mirror, analyzes the fit, and prays about whether or not the Lord is pleased with it—before buying. If she needs pointers, she can ask an older Christian lady who always dresses modestly. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works (1 Timothy 2:9-10).
  4. How much: alcohol, gambling, drugs, etc.—A person who wants to please God should investigate what the Scriptures teach about each of these areas. Let me suggest a few passages. Alcohol: And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). Gambling: Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathereth by labour shall increase (Proverbs 13:11). For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows (1 Timothy 6:10).
  5. Drugs--Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). If you really want to please God in these areas, you will prayerfully consider what the Bible has to say and will get help if you need it. I can wholeheartedly recommend RU Recovery Ministries.
  6. Business behavior—Pleasing God at work means honesty, integrity, and purity. Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men (2 Corinthians 8:21). But as for me, I will walk in mine integrity (Proverbs 26:11a). Be not thou one of them that strike hands, or of them that are sureties for debts (Proverbs 22:26). It also means not forming close business alliances with partners who aren’t Christians. Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)

God has a special standard for Christian conduct. But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation (lifestyle); Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy (1 Peter 1:15-16.

Instead of “How far can I go?” we should ask ourselves,
“Is God happy with me?”

Whether therefore ye eat, or drink,
or whatsoever ye do,
do all to the glory of God.
(1 Corinthians 10:31)