Wednesday, November 30, 2022

"Hinder Not the Little Children" -- What Kind of Faith Must Adults Have Towards Jesus?

Denny Hartford briefly "unpacks" the well known passage of Luke 18 about Jesus' desire that the little children be allowed full access to Him. But far from being a passage simply about Jesus' attitude towards kids, we will see some very grown-up applications. Check it out.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

A Record-Setting Christmas Card Party!

My, oh my; last night's Christmas party was not only a wonderful time of encouragement and stimulation for us, but the messages that were put inside our cards and letters will, I'm quite sure, prove to bless many others. And when I say "many," I really mean it for we set new records last night -- both for letter-writers and for productivity. Indeed, we managed to squeeze in 22 people around tables upstairs and down (with 2 others writing from their homes). And the total? 277 cards and letters! Wow.

Included in that wonderful number were 39 colorful Christmas cards (3 apiece) sent to 13 Christian brothers imprisoned for their faith in China, Eritrea, and Iran -- cards that bore a brief message and Scriptures in their respective languages! And 84 Christmas cards and kid-created art works were directed to residents of senior care facilities which Claire and I will distribute to key people in our Aksarben Village church service and our December "When Swing Was King" shows. How lovely is that!

And the rest of that gorgeous pile of Christmas cards? Let me cite just a few examples. 9 are going to our incoming Governor Jim Pillen. 13 were sent to Franklin Graham and his teams at Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. 5 went to local police and fire stations. 12 Christmas cards will be heading to Supreme Court Justices. Assure Women's Services will receive 7 Christmas cards from last night's effort. And 6 activity directors from senior care facilities where we do "When Swing Was King."

And others? President Biden; former President Donald Trump; College of the Ozarks; Project Veritas; Congressman Don Bacon; Joni & Friends; EPS; Julie Arant with Global Friends; Senator Deb Fischer; Tim Tebow; Tucker Carlson; Mayor Jean Stothert; Amir Tsarfati; Good News Jail and Prison Ministries; outgoing Governor Pete Ricketts; and several others.

What a terrific evening. Our profound thanks to Larry & Deb; Jim & Jean; John; Keith & Carol; Perly & Sandy; Don; Pastor Hauge; Allen & Cindy; Rob & Hope; Deb; Lori; Patrick; Chester; and 4 members of the Troutman family, Matt, Isaiah, Anna, and Lydia. You guys did a super job! Now may our Lord protect each Christmas card en route and may He grant each recipient gratitude, grace, and inspiration.


Friday, November 25, 2022

"Stir Up" Sunday

Here is the first in a new series of Bible studies we will be uploading on our YouTube channel and cross-posting on Vital Signs Blog and elsewhere. Each presentation will be a recap (or, in some cases, a preview) of one of the brief sermons I give at our Sunday afternoon church service at Aksarben Village Senior Living. But, yes, we're posting them because we think they will prove of value to others. Check 'em out. 

This first recording/summary is all about "Stir Up" Sunday which we celebrated last week. You say you never heard of it? Good; you're just the person to give this lesson a listen!

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

Want a few Thanksgiving reflections to ponder? Or maybe to share in a social media post or around the Thanksgiving table? Well, you're sure to find inspiring options in this long list of quotations about thanksgiving.

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name.” (Psalm 100:4)

“No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.” (Ambrose of Milan)

“By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.” (Hebrews 13:15)

“The lack of gratitude is the foundation of all sin.” (G.K. Chesterton)

“True thanksgiving means that we need to thank God for what He has done for us, and not to tell Him what we have done for Him.” (George R. Hendrick)

“I will give thanks to the LORD because of His righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High.” (Psalm 7:17)

“How wonderful it would be if we could help our children and grandchildren to learn thanksgiving at an early age. Thanksgiving opens the doors.  It changes a child’s personality. Thankful children want to give; they radiate happiness; they draw people.” (Sir John Templeton)

“Gratitude is born in hearts that take time to count past mercies.” (Charles E. Jefferson)

“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” (John Milton)

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

“Some people complain because God put thorns on roses, while others praise Him for putting roses among thorns.” (Anonymous)

“A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues.” (Cicero)

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever. Let Israel say: ‘His love endures forever.’ Let the house of Aaron say: ‘His love endures forever.’ Let those who fear the Lord say: ‘His love endures forever.’…Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter. I will give You thanks, for You answered me; You have become my salvation.” (Psalm 118: 1-4, 19-21)

“We would worry less if we praised more. Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction.”  (Harry A. Ironside)

“You say, ‘If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.’ You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled.” (Charles Haddon Spurgeon)

“In that day you will say: ‘Give thanks to the LORD, call on His name; make known among the nations what He has done, and proclaim that His name is exalted.’” (Isaiah 12:4)

“In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

“Thou hast given so much to me, give one thing more, a grateful heart; not thankful when it pleaseth me, as if Thy blessings had spare days, but such a heart whose pulse may be Thy praise.” (George Herbert)

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” (G.K. Chesterton)

“From David, learn to give thanks for everything. Every furrow in the Book of Psalms is sown with the seeds of thanksgiving.” (Jeremy Taylor)

“Hem your blessings with thankfulness so they don’t unravel.”  (Unknown)

“Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.  For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all.” (Psalm 95:2-3)

“Giving thanks to God for both His temporal and spiritual blessings in our lives is not just a nice thing to do; it is the moral will of God. Failure to give Him the thanks due Him is sin.” (Jerry Bridges)

“The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.” (H. U. Westermayer)

“The Christian who walks with the Lord and keeps constant communion with Him will see many reasons for rejoicing and thanksgiving all day long.” (Warren Wiersbe)

Speaking of Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul writes, “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.” (2 Corinthians 9:15)

“How slow we are to thank and swift to grumble." (Martyn Lloyd-Jones)

“When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” (G.K. Chesterton)

“The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to Him in song.” (Psalm 28:7)

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

A British Isles Christmas?

Christmas time is, as I fondly remember Andy Williams singing, “the most wonderful time of the year.”  And, among the many ways that Claire and I celebrate the season, one of the most delightful is having friends over to our home for lunches, brunches, desserts, teas, and dinner parties.  

Well, this year we have decided to take a decidedly British direction in our at-home events which means that traditional Christmas items from England, Scotland, and Wales will be "the staples of our table." No, we're not abandoning our Paleo lifestyle (even for Christmas) but our guests will be enjoying such tasty (and decidedly non-Paleo) fare as roast beef, Yorkshire Puddings, turkey, Bubble and Squeak, Cawl Cennin, cranberry dressing, various vegetables, and so on.  For the mid-day meals, we will be serving such flavorful offerings as Ploughman’s Lunch, roast chicken, Cullen Skink, the cheeseboard, Kilted Soldiers, Tattie Drottle, morning rolls, and more.  

And for the brunches, teas, and desserts it will be Figgy Pudding, cyflaith, Yule Log, scones & clotted cream, nut roast, mince pies, Clootie Dumpling, trifle, Eton Mess, cranberry muffins, etc.  An interesting and fun approach to Christmas entertaining?  Certainly.  But of still greater interest and fun will be the fellowship we will enjoy with good friends, trusted and true.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Our Kind of Church!


Our church service yesterday afternoon was an especially moving time and we are once again moved to thank God for the immense honor and blessing it is for us to bring this ministry to our friends at Aksarben Village Senior Living.  

Our “congregation” numbered 12 residents yesterday and they enjoyed 3 wonderful music videos: 1) the choirs and orchestra of First Baptist Church of Dallas singing “There Is Power in the Blood,” 2) the Town Hall Gospel Choir out of London singing “And Can It Be?” and 3) an exquisite presentation of “Your Grace Still Amazes Me” by a trio of young Christians in Romania.  The brief sermon I gave was “Receiving the Kingdom as a Little Child” covering Acts 18:15-17, an even shorter version of which will be on the Vital Signs Ministries YouTube page later this week.  

And after the music, sermon, and prayers, it was a time of very interactive fellowship as Claire and I, Dick Loneman, Patrick Osborne, and Don Kohls distributed the cookies, coffee, lemonade, and engaged the residents in conversation for about 45 minutes.  

Wonderful music selections.  A brief but serious exegesis of the Bible.  And the opportunity to personally encourage and enlighten and otherwise serve one another.  It’s our kind of church!  If you are interested in investing an occasional Sunday afternoon in this important and inspirational ministry, please let us know.  

Friday, November 11, 2022

4 Post-Election Observations

After the latest in what is always a sober, encouraging, and stimulating Thursday morning conversation with John, Patrick, and me (sober because we face realistically the darkened culture in which we live, encouraging because we are born-again Christians who know God is at work in us and that we will one day enjoy the fruits of His forever victory, and stimulating because a priority purpose of our fellowship is to make us more effective ambassadors for Christ in the midst of that darkened culture), I have four brief responses to this week’s American elections.

1) The Democrats’ devotion to decadence is deliberate and deep.  Cases to prove the point are hardly necessary but, if you require them, simply note how the Democrat position on abortion has changed. In one generation (and despite the advances in our knowledge of the humanity of the preborn), the Dems’ line of “safe, legal, and rare” has now become a demand that the savage, lethal act of abortion is actually “a sacred right” that should have no limits whatsoever. In fact, it must be supported and paid for by the corporate citizenry. And, while they’re at it, today’s Democrat leaders are also committed to eliminating whatever freedoms of conscience and speech might oppose the nefarious deed. My, my.  I won’t belabor the many other points of the godlessness which marks the Democrat Party: the denial of biological realities, censoring truths which contradict the party lines, severe limitations on parental rights, severe limitations of religious freedom, and so on.

2) There is certainly a spirit of delusion abroad and the father of lies has been very busy through the establishment media, the millions spent by folks like George Soros and Mark Zuckerberg, “broken” voting machines, radical obscurantism practiced by media and the Deep State, and more.  But the trouble isn’t all from misinformation but also from willful blindness; that is, people knowing the truth but choosing to ignore it or even silence it.  Romans 1:18 describes it as “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness” while I John 2:11 speaks of how sin’s darkness blinds one’s eyes to the truth even when it is shining all around him.

3) Today’s church leadership (with a few exceptions) is irresponsible to the max when it comes to enlightening their congregations about the crucial spiritual issues of the day, let alone failing to equip and mobilize them to effectively confront, by the light of Christ’s justice and holiness, the pressing immorality. Look around, preacher. The abortion businesses are thriving with hardly a whimper from the pulpits. The monopolistic government schools are featuring drag queens, inter-sex bathrooms, and lesson plans that are rabidly anti-Christian, anti-family, and anti-American. The establishment media and the social networks are ever more oppressive in denying the promotion of biblical truths.  And what do our church leaders do in response to these increasing attacks? Well, they’re not doing much. And one wonders when things would ever get bad enough that they would start. Sigh.

4) But here’s the 4th observation. There are a few who haven’t yet bowed to the darkness.  There are still heroes and heralds.  There are still men and women of conservative character, convictions, and courage.  And even though such warriors battle, as it were, from the last ramparts of the Alamo, we want very much to make our principled, happy stand alongside them.

“And I looked, and arose and said to the nobles, to the leaders, and to the rest of the people, ‘Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.’” (Nehemiah 4:14)

“Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.” (Hebrews 10:35-6)

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

Sunday, November 06, 2022

Corporate Disciplines: A Review of Session 7 of the Spiritual Disciplines Class

A simple definition of the corporate spiritual disciplines are “those shared by or including the members of the body.” In fact, one could use “body life disciplines” as an appropriate alternative or perhaps “koinonia disciplines” in reference to the Greek word (used 19 times in the New Testament) which means “having in common,” “joint participation,” or simply “sharing.” They are all useful, pointing to the important fact that the effectiveness of the Church is in the working out of each member’s personal spiritual disciplines. 

Every Christian has an intensely unique relationship with God. He is saved by God’s grace through his personal belief in the finished work of Jesus with the subsequent fruits of that believer’s life being judged on his personal responses to God. However, this same Christian has also been baptized into a body and has become part of God’s forever family. He is both an individual and a part of the whole Body of Christ. So naturally, his personal spiritual disciplines will be connected to his interaction and cooperation with others. And, like all the personal disciplines we have discussed in this course, the body life disciplines find their foundation and methodology in the Scriptures, their empowerment in the Holy Spirit, and their purpose being our godliness to God’s glory.

Here is a more specific breakdown of how it works. The koinonia disciplines are personal spiritual disciplines that 1) serve other believers and/or 2) are shared by other believers and/or 3) that are seen by others, including nonbelievers.  That third category creates the Church’s common witness to the world regarding the truths of God, the wonder and beauty of transformed lives, and the Lord’s graciousness expressed most importantly in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Remember also that these koinonia disciplines are not exclusive to the programs of the church building in your neighborhood. Yes, they will be exercised in the church, but also in small groups, in combined church fellowship (i.e., a denomination, a community outreach like the Life Chain or an evangelistic campaign), a missionary organization supported by individual Christians all over the country, the aggregate testimony of the universal Church to a watching world, and so on.

One of the most common springboards for conversations about corporate spiritual disciplines is Acts 2:42. For in that verse, four activities are mentioned as being common to the church assembly.  Those four things are listening to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers (plural).  These make a good start to the subject. However, many Bible students (myself among them) believe that Acts 2 should be understood as a “narrative” section rather than a “normative” section.  In other words, this is a description of what happened at that time and not a mandate of what Christians must always, everywhere, and forever require in their church assemblies.

Two important reasons for this conclusion are that the word “fellowship” does not, in itself, tell us exactly what activity the immediately post-Pentecost church in Jerusalem engaged in.  Since the Greek word is used in many different “sharing” actions, we cannot assume to know what “sharing” action we should do to follow their lead.  And second, there are several other details the passage describes that very few Christian congregations have deemed obligatory: miraculous signs and wonders, an unusually intense reverence for God occurring in every soul,  holding all wealth and possessions in common, going from house to house, worshipping daily in the Temple, and liberally giving to the needy. So, again, looking at Acts 2 (including verse 42) can give us ideas and inspiration for how corporate disciplines can work, but it shouldn’t be interpreted as mandatory or comprehensive.

But let’s look at another, more directly relevant Scripture for the practicing of body life disciplines -- Hebrews 10:25.  Now this verse is frequently used by preachers to remind their congregations to make it a priority to do just that; namely, congregate.  But here too, the context is critical to answering the question of purpose. Why assemble together? The text makes it clear. The assembling together must be marked by personal (and corporate) purity, by steadfast faith even in trial and temptation, by a heart moved to encourage the body, and a powerful, ongoing consideration of how to stimulate the brethren thus assembled to love and good deeds.

This text certainly presents church life as being a great deal more intentional and interactive than it normally is.  Furthermore, the passage emphasizes that the real value of the assembling together is what happens afterward; that is, in the lives and ministries of Christians as they go from the meeting place back into the world. So, how do we decide what should make up the koinonia disciplines for our day and respective cultures?  The starting point is to remember the threefold definition given earlier. The corporate disciplines are personal disciplines that serve other believers, that are shared by other believers, and/or that are seen by others as a witness of the body’s shared commitment to God.

The teaching of the Word is a given. It’s emphasized in Acts 2:42, of course, but that’s just one of numerous examples from the New Testament showing the priority of teaching God’s Word as a corporate discipline. Indeed, it is foundational to all of the other body life disciplines, a priority that fits with the whole Bible’s insistence on growth, encouragement, correction, and training in righteousness coming from the Word.  God’s giving the Church the gifts of preachers and teachers also underscores that priority. And yet teaching isn’t supposed to be relegated to the Sunday morning pulpit. For God also blesses local assemblies through the teaching of elders, the mature saints who instruct the younger ones, and all of the mutual admonition and encouragement that believers owe each other. 

No; the Sunday morning sermon is just a beginning – not an end. And even in the Sunday assembly the ministries of teaching and “stimulating one another to love and good deeds” can include testimonies, drama, missionary reports, and (as I have observed in churches in Belarus, Russia, and Poland) poetry and additional, shorter sermons presented by the elders and other laity, etc. Furthermore, other koinonia disciplines exercised in the assembly can be the reading of the Scriptures and creeds, corporate confession, news of ministry opportunities, and many more. Sunday church need not (and should not) be a one-man show. The principled, guided involvement of church members enhances the educational impact of the Sunday service.  

Of course, in most churches of the West the Sunday service are not usually a one-man show anymore. No, if there is a star in the spectator-oriented show that is the modern church service, it is the lead musician, the person we wrongfully label as the “worship leader.”  Why is that term incorrect? Because genuinely biblical worship is a whole way of life and not merely a brief involvement in singing and/or the singing of a small group.  Worship is abiding in Christ and devoting one’s time, treasure, and talents to the service of the Savior.  And though corporate spiritual disciplines can certainly include the assembly engaging in music of various sorts, the amount of time, attention, and passionate devotion that is regularly invested in “worship music” is way out of whack with New Testament models.  

Remember, those four items from Acts 2:42? Well, music wasn’t one of them. Nor was music mentioned in any of the Acts 2 description of the Jerusalem church. Other narratives from the New Testament (and the centuries of church history following) do mention singing but when they do, it is to usually say that the assembly sang a hymn.  One hymn without instruments and without hoopla. It’s quite a contrast to the elaborate, expensive, performance-driven “worship music” that now takes center stage (and a lot of time) of so many of our church services today.  And our preoccupation with music has exacted a lot of damage, not only in the divisions caused by the “worship wars” within our assemblies, but because it has helped convince modern believers that worshipping God is merely (or, at least, primarily) the brief, emotional experience that comes from listening to a performance of the church “worship team.”  But again, the Bible presents worship as the well-invested pilgrimage of obedience, service, and stewardship over all of the Christian’s life. 

Let me emphasize once more that for worship to be authentic, it must go beyond the music, beyond the Sunday service, and on to a life fully spent pursuing the Lord’s purposes. And when applying the corporate disciplines, worship must pursue the goal of stimulating “love and good deeds” among the brethren. They would thus include prayers together, small groups, public witness and outreach, mission activity, elders praying for the sick, older women teaching younger women, inter-church cooperative actions, visitation, ministry to widows, teaching the young, public baptisms, and anything else involving “two or more believers gathered in Jesus’ Name.” So love one another.  Honor and serve one another.  Pray for one another.  Bear one another’s burdens.  Lead exemplary lives before the brethren.  Present a unified witness of holiness and grace before the watching world.

Yes, your personal disciplines need to be real and consistent before your involvement in corporate disciplines will be of any value to God.  But if you’re growing and worshipping (in spirit, in truth, and with the whole of your life), you will be a powerful help to your forever family of fellow Christians.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Self-Denial? You Gotta' Be Kidding.

The following is the latest review of the adult Sunday School class I've been teaching on Spiritual Disciplines. 

Session #6 -- Self-Denial & Self-Control

“Then Jesus said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)

The sixth class in our series covered a difficult subject – not difficult to understand, just difficult to consistently apply.  Indeed, the spiritual disciplines involving self-denial are often the reasons why Christians avoid the matter altogether.  Yes, some have twisted the Scriptures and have also thrown their own errors of pride, legalism, even asceticism into the mix.  But the false teaching of some cannot be allowed to discredit the clear teaching of the Scriptures regarding the profound and ongoing need of Christians to practice disciplines of self-control.

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:11-13)

Please note, however, that the biblical teaching of self-denial is never mere negation. The spiritual disciplines for the Christian are not a matter of “Just Say No” but rather the joyful embrace which “Just Says Yes” to the glorious life God offers us. It is never an end in itself but always the pathway to the positive, the pure, and the enduring.  The Christian never exists in neutral; he or she is either living “in the flesh” (their own power and their own desires) or living “in the Spirit” and making choices based on God’s Word.  The sanctified life is a constant choosing to walk in the light rather than darkness; to act in love rather than self-interest; to show mercy rather than meanness; to exercise faith in God rather than wallow in unbelief, worry, or fear.

The life of the genuine disciple of Jesus Christ is founded upon the same exchange of faith that brought us our salvation.  We repented of our sin and the ownership of our life and, in turn, we received redemption, adoption, and the power of the Holy Spirit.  And in the sanctified life, we continue to live for the Lord in the same way, wisely exchanging our ways for God’s.  To use the Scriptures above – we deny ourselves (the negative) but then take up His cross (the positive).  We deny ungodliness and worldly desires (the negatives which are a curse to us) and choose instead to live sensibly righteously, and godly (the positives which yield peace, power, and heavenly reward). And the plainest proof of all? Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:23) So, as we abide in Christ, His power enables us to make the right choices and to follow through.

Viewed in this perspective, all spiritual disciplines are practices of self-denial.  They are all practices in which we walk in God’s way, rather than our own, trusting in Him to always give us the best and brightest of His blessings.  And as we noted last week, we can never outgive God.  So, the life of self-control should never be seen as a binding, bothering thing.  It is for our good – now and forever.

So why do we not see this?  Well, a basic reason is that our sin nature is a stubborn, stupid beast and it requires a constant check.  And living in America where the advertisement-driven culture works alongside our sin nature is another strong motive for selfishness.  We become insistent on comfort, pleasure, status, having our own way.  We want what we want it now.  In fact, we are constantly told by advertisers that we deserve it!  And so, like Felix who became so frightened by the apostle Paul’s comments about righteousness and self-control (Acts 24:25) that he rejected the opportunity, we too prefer the scanty perks of this life over the bountiful and beautiful blessings offered us by God. 

And about those blessings that flow from a believer’s exercise of self-control? I count three broad categories. 1) A more godly character as noted, for instance in these Scriptures: 

“Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” (I Timothy 4:7)

“Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)

“But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses
 trained to discern good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:14)

2) The heightened value of our service to Jesus.  Being a holy vessel.  Righteousness increasing the efficiency of our prayers.  More consistent consecration to the Lord’s purposes.  And all the other ministry benefits which come from maturity.  

And 3) Heavenly rewards as emphasized in such Bible passages as these:  

Moses was “considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt for he was looking to the reward.” (Hebrews 11:26)

“And men will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous. Surely there is a God who judges on earth.’” (Psalm 58:11)

“Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward.” (2 John 8)

Another way of looking at self-denial, self-control, and God’s “exchange program” is to consider the many Scripture passages relating to the avoidance of traps and snares; rejecting the appeals of temptation; “growing up” in our knowledge so that we’re not pushed around by the devil or the world or our flesh.  There’s also the momentous exhortations using the phrase “lay aside” that we see in Romans 13:12 and Hebrews 12:1. In the former, the things we are to “lay aside” (self-denial) are the deeds of darkness which include falsehood, wickedness, and other preoccupations of the “old self”.  But, in the second passage, we are commanded to “lay aside” anything that might encumber us (weigh us down or obstruct our purposes).  Those sins that “easily entangle” us are specifically stressed in that verse. A simple way to picture it?  If it’s not a wing, it's a weight!  So drop it and fly free.  Again, we see that the Bible’s view of self-denial is actually a very positive, proactive perspective.  It’s freedom and confidence and joy…with a whole host of rewards tossed in.

Finally, the class concluded with a brief look at the self-denial discipline of fasting with several important points underscored. For example, there is no biblical commands for the disciples of Jesus to engage in such “extreme fasts” as that practiced by the Lord in his desert temptation.  Instead fasting is presented to us as a discipline that is to be of brief duration, designed for specific purposes, and conducted with humility in contrast to the Pharisees’ tendency to boast of their bold religiosity by making their fasts well known to others.

There are quite practical benefits to the discipline of fasting. These include an increase in the Christian’s ability to delay gratification, thus becoming a more patient, persevering, and focused servant.  It helps redefine the word “need” (which is important in this oh-so-demanding culture) and it helps one orient one’s mind to heavenly realities rather than the incessant, unhealthy pressures surrounding us.

It should be observed also that, though we are not to “show off” our devotion to God by our fasting, it doesn’t mean that our fasts need to be completely private.  Indeed, many of the fasts spoken of in the Scriptures are of a corporate nature.  Esther called on others to fast prior to her risking her life to intercede for the lives of the endangered Jews.  The prophet Joel urged the faithful to fast to accompany their prayers that a plaque of locusts be removed.  The elders at Antioch fasted (apparently as a group) before conferring their blessing on Paul’s missionary activity. And so on.

Consider too that the principle of fasting doesn’t exclude things other than food.  Paul describes married couples, for instance, as abstaining from sexual relations for a short time as a special prayer project.  And Daniel’s 3-week fast wasn’t from all food but instead only the rich menus of the court (“the bread of desirability.” Note this too, it was also a fast from the use of ointment. And, especially in keeping with our previous observations about laying aside every spiritual obstruction, I would suggest that Christians strongly consider fasts of other types.  What about the hours spent in front of the TV?  Can you imagine how family life could be revolutionized if husbands fasted from televised sports and instead spent time in the Word, in service for Christ, and in fellowship with their family?

And one last point about fasting, something that is in keeping with the rest of the case we’ve made here about Christian self-denial being a positive exchange of our lusts and burdensome luggage for God’s rewards. 

“Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? 
Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house -- when you see the naked, to cover him and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light will break out like the dawn and your recovery will speedily spring forth and your righteousness will go before you. The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer.  You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’” (Isaiah 58:6-9)


Friday, October 14, 2022

Managing God’s Assets (Review of Session 5 in the Spiritual Discipline Class)

Remember these lines from the Barry Gordy song Money, popularized by the 1963 Beatles version?  

The best things in life are free but you can give them to the birds and bees.
I need money. (That's what I want.)
That's what I want. (That's what I want.)

Your love gives me such a thrill but your love don't pay my bills.
Money don't get everything, it's true. But what it don't get, I can't use.
Now give me money! (That's what I want.)
That's what I want.

Well, as you might suppose, we took a bit different tack in last week's Sunday School class that I've been teaching on spiritual disciplines. Following is a review of that class. I hope you find it of value.

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The spiritual disciplines related to stewardship must find their start in an “attitude of gratitude” or, to put it another way, note that even with the word itself “giving” will always be a part of “thanksgiving”.  Indeed, a recognition that God’s blessings on His children are bountiful, constant, and forever provides not only a foundation for praise and appreciation, but also a motivation for us to follow His commands to be generous, purposeful, and happy in our giving to others.

G.K. Chesterton observed that a lack of gratitude is the root of all sin.  An exaggeration? Not if you consider that Romans 1:21-32 underscores the same profound reality. Living a life of thanksgiving then is of paramount importance.  We recognize God as the source of all that we have and we express our thankfulness to Him in both word and deed.  

“I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart; I will tell of all Your wonders. I will be glad and exult in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.” (Psalm 9:1,2)

“I shall wash my hands in innocence and I will go about Your altar, O Lord, that I may proclaim with the voice of thanksgiving and declare all Your wonders.” (Psalm 26:6,7)

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, 

bless His name. For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100:4,5)

“But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the Lord.” (Jonah 2: 9)

Note in the Scriptures above (and so many others) how thanksgiving is linked to a devotion to testify to God’s wonders, to the loving kindness and faithfulness of God, and to our willingness to live a sanctified life.  Thanksgiving is certainly a foundation for our effective discipleship.  In fact, as our awareness of God’s character grows and our appreciation of His innumerable blessings to us increases, we become closer to those faithful stewards that Jesus describes in His parables.  

Randy Alcorn describes a steward as “someone an owner entrusts with the management of his assets.”  And the first thing to understand in this excellent definition is God’s ownership of absolutely everything – all of nature, all in the angelic realms, and even everyone of us.

“The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world and those who dwell in it.” (Psalm 24:1)

“Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it.” (Deuteronomy 10:14)

“So David blessed the Lord in the sight of all the assembly; and David said, ‘Blessed are You, O Lord God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O Lord, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone. Now therefore, our God, we thank You, and praise Your glorious name. But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You. For we are sojourners before You, and tenants, as all our fathers were; our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope. O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided to build You a house for Your holy name, it is from Your hand, and all is Yours.’” (1 Chronicles 29: 10-16)

“Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.” (Job 41:11)

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19,20)

God owns it all. He created it all. He sustains it all. Furthermore, God’s graciousness and generosity is so abounding that we could never “out-give” Him.  

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (James 1:17,18)

“He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

No, God blesses us with more than we can count, more than we can imagine, much more that we could ever give back to Him.  And yet this Almighty God invites you and me to participate in His holy service to the world as His honored stewards.  He gives us the responsibility of managing His assets and, as those parables Jesus teaches so clearly emphasize, God wants us to exercise these elements of the good steward: humility; understanding always that the assets are God’s, not ours; wisdom; generosity; industriousness; vision; skill; and gratitude.  Furthermore, we are to never forget our accountability to the Master. And to anticipate that He is returning to evaluate (and, when it is called for, reward) our performance.

Obviously, our stewardship responsibilities involve what we do with God’s money.  But we must wisely manage and invest all else He has given us as His disciples. Time. Talents and spiritual gifts. Opportunities. Relationships. Passions and priorities. And yes, money too. 

Did you know that the Bible actually talks more about money (especially, our attitudes towards it) than about the topics of heaven or hell or the gospel? It’s true. But, although that’s an important study, with the short space we have in this class, let me point you to three Scriptures I think are especially relevant. In Acts 20:35 the apostle Paul quotes Jesus as saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  That simple statement, buttressed by His many other teachings on giving, greed, simplicity of life, the snare of wealth, and so on reminds us of how important it is to be generous in our giving.  And to give with ongoing trust in Christ’s care for us and the rewards He is storing up for us in heaven for the generosity we show now.  It’s also noteworthy that the context of Paul’s remarks includes the priority of helping the needy and the need for industriousness and sacrifice so that the giver can do so more abundantly.

Luke 11:42 has important warnings about our giving too as Jesus sharply rebukes the Pharisees for alms-giving out of all the wrong motives.  “But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”  These hypocritical false teachers were giving to impress God, to earn His favor, and to show off to others. But Jesus shows here (and in many other instances) that He demanded giving that was pure of heart, generous, relevant to the greatest needs, and directed ultimately to Him. Only such gifts would find heavenly rewards. 

And then there is the wonderfully revealing Chapter 9 of 2 Corinthians. Read it carefully and you’ll note that there are several things to learn and follow. For instance, generosity should be carefully planned. Our giving should be bountiful even as we can rely on God to be bountiful in His giving to us. The target of giving in this case was Christians who were experiencing severe needs; we should observe that same priority in our giving. Giving must always beware of the lurking temptations of covetousness and pride. And only that giving which comes from a pure heart will glorify God. 

And one more item. Included in that chapter (verse 7) is one of the most helpful exhortations in this matter.  The Greek word translated “cheerful” here is “hilaros” and while it doesn’t mean rip-roaring hilarity, it does signify a joyful, readiness of mind.  Thus, God loves the giver who is careful but prompt, who isn’t stingy, who isn’t boastful. Rather, the Lord loves the giver who understands that, when all is said and done, he is but a faithful steward of God’s assets, investing them for the Father’s use and in view of heavenly rewards.

The class concluded with a few additional guidelines about giving. 

* Never forget that the steward’s giving is to be wholistic.  Everything we have been given is to be managed, protected, kept pure, and invested in God’s kingdom. Money.  Time. Spiritual gifts.  Opportunities.  Relationships.  Attitudes.

* As with all spiritual disciplines, careful planning is necessary.  Don’t waste your money on foolish things.  Avoid spending your money in ways that would enrich evildoers.  Be circumspect in giving to organizations and individuals, making sure they are themselves acting according to righteous standards.

* Note biblical examples which would suggest that priorities of our giving be made to missionary support (The Lord’s servants committed to the Great Commission) and to the needs of the poor, sick, and persecuted, especially those in the household of faith.

* Beware an “automatic withdrawal” attitude towards giving. Rather, be purposefully involved with those who you give money and time to.  Check on them.  Pray fervently for them. Support them in other ways than money when you can.  Enlist others in their support.

One last item. Living in this era, we are constantly inundated by advertisements and the “passion for fashion.” Both breed dissatisfaction, envy, greed, and an overarching lack of gratitude.  We must fight this enemy all the time. Otherwise we will be distracted, dispirited, and worthless stewards. Let us instead carefully cultivate that “attitude of gratitude” that will fill us with thanksgiving, contentment, confidence, generosity, and an enthusiastic anticipation of the rewards to come our Master will bring with Him when He returns!

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Review of Session 4 of the Spiritual Disciplines Class: Prayer

The spiritual discipline which is prayer should be a given to anyone with even a cursory understanding of the Bible. After all, the heroes of the Bible constantly demonstrate lives of prayer throughout both Testaments.  From the patriarchs to the prophets, from the kings to the military champions, from Jesus Himself and His apostles, we see prayer as an indispensable practice.  Furthermore, in the Scriptures, we are specifically (and frequently) commanded to pray.  We are even given specific prayer targets: the Lord’s will, one another, our daily needs, thanksgiving, our enemies (even those who persecute us), the peace of Israel, laborers for the kingdom’s harvest fields, and so many more.  Prayer, we see again and again, is the antidote to anxiety, to losing heart, to selfishness, and worldliness. It is a key path by which the believer finds God’s guidance, protection, and intimacy.  

Yet even with this matter established in our minds, we must confess that prayer is too often a matter of weakness, frustration, and guilt for modern Christians. Why is this?  Well, one reason is that we don’t really understand prayer very well.  We haven’t been “schooled” in the basics and so when we’ve tried to put our ideas into practice, they fall flat.  We end up either accepting an inconsistent mediocrity or we forgo prayer altogether – except in emergencies or when company is present and we feel the need to “say grace” at the dinner table!

There are other reasons for an ineffective life of prayer.  We live divorced from an awareness of the supernatural.  Yes, even Christians get used to thinking that life is a matter of self-sufficiency. Heartfelt prayers for daily needs, guidance, and strength are therefore foreign to us.  Some also deal with a lack faith, or of ongoing sin in their lives which keep them embarrassed from coming to the Lord for a conversation. They may feel a definite unwillingness to hear what God may have to say or a fear that God will not “answer” their prayers the way they want.  

The answers to these obstacles are actually quite simple but we have to seriously desire things to change in order for success in prayer to begin.  Those answers are 1) become properly informed about prayer, and 2) start praying! Yes, get started. Even when it seems awkward or irregular, you must realize that you will never become confident and comfortable in prayer unless you start exercising what you are learning.

As you can guess, one of the most elementary lessons in the “school of prayer” is also the most necessary. You must become better acquainted with the God you’re praying to. Focus in on the wonderful truths that the God of the Holy Scriptures is a God of overwhelming and enduring mercy.  He is always eager to listen to those who have by faith received Jesus as their Savior.  Indeed, through the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf, our sins are completely and forever forgiven. Thus we are guaranteed complete and immediate access to the Father.  No penance is required before we pray.  No workup of emotions.  No religious bribery to persuade Him to give us a few minutes.  No mediator is needed nor is any special sentiment or atmosphere.  Our all-powerful, all-gracious Father is always there and eager to spend time with us.

Psalms 145:17-19 – “The Lord is righteous in all His ways, gracious in all His works. The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them.”

1 John 5:13-15 – “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.”

Job 22:25-28  – “Yes, the Almighty will be your gold and your precious silver.  For then you will have your delight in the Almighty and lift up your face to God. You will make your prayer to Him; He will hear you and you will pay your vows. You will also declare a thing and it will be established for you; so light will shine on your ways.”

Of course, another critical element to learn about prayer is that that our purposes of prayer are often quite different than those of God.  We tend to focus on “presents;” that is, what God can give us or do for us.  However, His priority is “presence.” He wants us to find comfort and strength simply by sharing in His presence, experiencing a fellowship with the One Who saved us from the penalty of our sins and Who through “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue.” (2 Peter 1:3) Spending time with God.  Honestly laying your concerns and needs and ideas before Him even as you put your humble, confident trust in Him to achieve His glorious will in your behalf. That is the most significant and far-reaching of the blessings coming from prayer. Being occupied with God rather than being occupied by our questions and requests.  This is how to be successful in folding prayer into day-to-day life.

As you diligently pursue the pilgrimage of prayer (as instructed in the Bible), your prayers will become more characterized by a love of truth, a willingness to obey His Word, heavy doses of thanksgiving and praise, intercession for others, deeper humility and trust, and an ever-growing intimacy with the Lord Jesus that sees you placing all areas of your life into His hands.  Your prayers will be conversational – not ritualistic repetitions or stilted religious rhetoric.  You will become comfortable with short prayers as well as longer conversations.  You will find yourself looking for prayer opportunities – in the car, on the patio, in groups of Christian friends, in planned “devotional” exercises, and in spontaneous appeals for help or praise. Like in any relationship, your conversation becomes easier and more fruitful as you become familiar with the other person. And as the comfortability and significance of your prayer experience grows, so will your desire to live godly – in all areas of your life.

Now there are many, many more things to be explored about prayer – confession, vows to God, public prayers with one’s spouse and children (extremely important), and so on.  But of highest value are those two things we underscored earlier – becoming better informed about prayer and starting in to build a stronger, more natural prayer experience.  In both, cherish the fact that God is on your side and that He wants you to succeed in becoming more “conversant” with Him.  Furthermore, He is a God of great grace Who offers forgiveness and fresh starts over and over again.

“Dear Lord, please help me to become better in my prayer life.  Motivate me to ‘go to school’ on the subject through Bible study, help from Christian friends, and a renewed devotion to the adventure.  And help me to embrace the grace that you give for my weak prayers of previous days and for the new, fresh power You offer me to start again and to become better in this key area of the sanctified life.  In Jesus Name, Amen.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

There The Democrats Go Again

In one of the many political ads paid for by the Nebraska Democratic Party, the claim is made about Congressman Don Bacon that his "extreme anti-choice bill will endanger women’s lives.”  Well, any thinking person recognizes that this is a gross lie.  

But then, the modern Democratic Party isn’t going to back down from telling lies.  It’s all they’ve got.  Lies about preborn babies.  Lies about inescapable biological realities.  Lies about socialism.  Lies about crime and the police.  Lies about the Constitution.  Lies about viruses and lockdowns.  Lies about illegal immigration.  Lies about election integrity.  Lies about what’s happening (and what’s not happening) in government schools.  Lies about their political opponents and lies about themselves.

So, yes; they will continue to lie even as they hope that there are enough unthinking sheep out there to believe them.

Let’s take this pro-abortion ad from Nebraska Democrats as an example.  First of all, the bill they are referring to is a simple, compassionate, common sense, fully Constitutional, and scientifically impeccable bill that would not endanger anyone or anything unless, that is, you’re talking about it limiting the profits of such racist, sneaky, and violent abortion profiteers as Planned Parenthood.

For again, any thinking person knows that pro-life bills do not in any way actually endanger women’s lives. Hardly. They do, in fact, seek to save untold numbers of women’s lives that, if the Democrats were to keep having their way, would be cruelly ended by the abortionist’s suction machines and curettes and chemical poisons.  Women's lives and needs matter – most certainly.  But so do the lives of preborn girls and, while we're at it, preborn boys as well.  And, make no mistake, the pro-life bills like those supported by Congressman Don Bacon will compassionately serve the needs of them all.

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

An Apostolic Argument (Acts 15: 36-41)

"An Apostolic Argument" is a brief sermon that Denny presented dealing with a fascinating New Testament passage, Acts 15: 36-41. How could it happen that two heroic leaders of the early Church experience such a dramatic difference in opinion? And how could these men who had worked so bravely and effectively together in the immediate past actually torpedo a proposed mission together and head off in their own directions? And what does this historical incident mean for we Christians today?

Denny has some important answers, some wise counsel, and a few terrific surprises in this presentation. Check it out.

Saturday, October 01, 2022

Bible Interaction: A Review of Session 3 of the Spiritual Disciplines Class

Authentic spiritual disciplines begin with the Bible.  Indeed, for the Christian, the Word of God is not only the source for all spiritual disciplines, but those disciplines are explicitly directed and thoroughly empowered by experiential knowledge of the Bible.  Yes, there are many in our day who choose instead the mystical disciplines of Eastern religion – seeking to empty themselves and become one with the universe.  And there are even those who wear the title of Christian who utilize rites, rituals, readings, prayers, atmosphere, and other religious exercises which are not, in fact, organic to the Bible. But both of those routes lead nowhere. No, the definition of and the directions for Christian discipleship are revealed only in God’s Word.  

Matthew 7:24, 25 -- “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts on them, will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.

John 8:31,32 -- “So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you continue in My word, then you are truly My disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”

1 Timothy 4:6 -- “In pointing out these things to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the good doctrine which you have been following.”

Those are just a few of the myriad Scriptures which testify to the foundational nature of the Bible for day to day Christian living. 

Let’s keep things straight. Conversion transforms the repentant sinner from the kingdom of darkness to God’s glorious, liberating kingdom of light.  But sanctification (that is, the Christian life wherein the disciple submits himself daily to the Lord’s will) produces a transformation that is evidenced by growth in character and consistency in godliness.

Bible learning is, therefore, a must.  And while that is normally understood to involve Bible reading, it should be noted that even the illiterate, the severe dyslexic, the young child, the blind, and those that do not have a Bible translated in their language can still receive Bible teaching if they have, as the need requires, an audio source, a reader, a preacher, or a translator.  

I make this point for 3 reasons.  1) To encourage the use of audio versions of the Bible for those who cannot read, or who have great difficulty in reading, or who are engaged in normal activities where they cannot turn pages, as in walking or driving or ironing or working on the car.  2) To emphasize the tremendous, life-changing value of being a Bible reader to the young, to the aged, and others whose management of the written word is limited.  And 3) To suggest that reading the Scripture aloud is not only a very helpful service for others, but it can be of great effect in one’s own understanding and appreciation of the Bible, not to mention the help it can be to memorization.

But never forget that the goal of learning the Bible is that of any other authentic spiritual discipline; namely, a life more conformed to the life of Jesus Christ.  One must not allow Bible reading to be an end in itself. What does matter is getting into the Bible so that the Bible gets into you!  It’s quality of life change, not the quantity of verses read.

Learning the Bible changes your view of the world, your view of self, your view of God.  As your mind is renewed (Romans 12:2), you will discover all those blessings promised in the verses of Psalm 119: delight, joy, protection, godliness, escape from temptations, victory, divine counsel, discernment, single-mindedness, deliverance from enemies, avoidance of traps, heavenly rewards, and more.  Becoming familiar with the Holy Scriptures will thus make you a better ambassador for Christ, a stronger warrior, a more humble servant, a more loyal and joyful son or daughter, a more trustworthy and more valuable steward, and a more confident and adventurous pilgrim. So get into the Word!

Now, there are many approaches to Bible reading.  There are a large variety of reading plans, devotional booklets, study guides, and read-through-the-Bible programs.  The important thing is to use something!  Get into the Word consistently.  Build your skills and perseverance.  Be disciplined as a disciple must be.  And even though there will be failures along the way, the Lord is a loving, merciful God Who abounds in forgiveness and fresh starts.  Therefore, the authentic disciple of Jesus embraces God’s grace and continues to try. To help you stay with it, go with practical, do-able approaches.  Stretch your spiritual muscles and get better over time.  Use the encouragement, assistance, and accountability of others to stay the course.  And keep asking God to move you forward and to have His Word do a great work in your mind and heart.

What about Bible study, doing more than just reading? I’m all for it because Bible study is certainly for all believers.  It’s not only for the pros, or the mature, or for Christians with certain gifts or backgrounds or personality types. Serious Bible study is a mark of all successful disciples.

2 Timothy 2:15 -- “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a worker who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”

Acts 17:11 -- “Now these people [the believers of Berea] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”

The motivations for a more careful, investigative study of Scriptures may come from many sources but whatever gets one started, consider these 4 keys to hermeneutics (the science of Bible interpretation). 1) Patient study.  Briefly put, this means go slow; don’t jump to conclusions; don’t allow one source to cement your interpretations too quickly; be careful of your prejudices and presuppositions.  Take your time and be honest, humble, and thorough enough to let the scriptures explain themselves.

2) Context.  One of the primary reasons to go slow is to let you better appreciate the context of any given word or verse or passage before you start making interpretative conclusions and applications.  The Bible is literature, written in different genres, and yet designed by God to interconnect in overarching themes and conclusions.  If you go too fast or are too lazy to read what surrounds that particular word or verse or passage, you’ll likely miss the point.  Oh, how much theological error could be avoided if students simply paid attention to the context.

3) Assemble the team.  To accurately interpret the Bible, you need the Church.  For instance, you must start with the linguists who were well-versed enough in the Bible’s original languages to give you an accurate translation. You also need scholars of history, archeology, geography, science, and many other academic disciplines in order to get the full story of God’s revelation.  You also need mature Christians who have been studying (and applying) the Bible for many years, people who are willing to enlighten and encourage you.  

Take my “study team” as an example. I begin with the scholars who translated my NASB and NKJV Bibles. I also like to read Kenneth Wuest’s translation of the New Testament. But there are also on my team many other scholars who have written word studies, Bible commentaries, devotionals, history, books on practical Christian living. and many, many other important contributions. And there are also the teachers and preachers I’ve listened to on the radio and tapes, and those I’ve enjoyed in person through sermons and classes.  And, not at all to be forgotten, are my team members who are simply “good friends and true” whose love for God’s Word makes them excellent counselors and coaches and encouragers.

And finally, though you may think I’m repeating myself too often on this point, 4) the purpose of Bible study is a changed life.  The true disciple pursues the spiritual discipline of Bible reading and study not to master the Word, but so the Word’s mastery of him becomes more consistent, profound, and rewarding.

Now finally, a quick note about Bible memorization.  Let me say up front that I believe memorization to be of great value, but only if the application of those verses is showing up in one’s daily life.  Ongoing involvement with the texts of Scripture is always of greater value than merely remembering them.  So, rather than concentrating on mere memory, get involved with the Bible texts.  Write them down where you have frequent access to them.  Study them.  Think about them.  Think about their content and applications.  Use them in your prayers.  Talk to others about them.  All of these things are more valuable than simply being able to recite the verses. And yet, with that said, it’s also true that the greater your familiarity and appreciation is of those texts, the easier it will be to go ahead and make memory verses out of them!

Hebrews 4:12 -- “For the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, even penetrating as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Thursday, September 29, 2022

A Relevant Rundown: Some of the Best of Recent Reporting (Part 3)

* "Biden nears 100 executive orders estimated to cost taxpayers almost $1.5 trillion" ( Joe Schoffstall & Houston Keene, Fox News)

* "Joe Biden's 'beyond tone-deaf' inflation party" (Byron York, Washington Examiner)

* "Brace Yourself: Food Shortages Will Be a Reality in the West This Winter" (Stacey Lennox, PJ Media)

* "This Is Why Conservatives Can't Stand Paying for PBS" (Tim Graham, NewsBusters)

* "America Delira: We went mad because we easily could. And we could, not because we were poor and oppressed, but because we were rich and bored." (Victor Davis Hanson, American Greatness)

* "Why doctors aren't speaking out: Written by a doctor. Everyone should read this. We are headed for a perfect storm with escalating health needs and a shortage of doctors because of how we treat them." (Steve Kirsch)

* "Disney-owned cartoon features Antichrist daughter, mother who slept with Satan" (Kevin Haggerty, BPR)


A Relevant Rundown: Some of the Best of Recent Reporting (Part 2)

* "From Jussie Smollett to BYU, the media's history of peddling race hoaxes" (Joseph A. Wulfsohn, Fox News)

* "Unholy Alliance: In Chicago, the city’s largest children’s hospital has partnered with local school districts to promote radical gender theory." (Christopher F. Rufo, City Journal)

* "The World Wants No Part of Woke, but It’s Glad We Do" (Victor Davis Hanson, Daily Signal)

* "Stacey Abrams says 'no such thing' as 6-week fetal heartbeat: 'Manufactured sound'" (Timothy H.J. Nerozzi, Fox News)

* "The Bidenomics Sham Is Collapsing" (Editorial Board, Issues & Insights)

* "Germany is committing national suicide: An eco-obsessed elite has sacrificed energy and food security to the climate agenda." (Ralph Schoellhammer, spiked!)

* "Lawmakers blast Army soldier food stamp suggestion amid Biden’s student loan handout: 'Outrageous'" (Houston Keene, Fox News)

A Relevant Rundown: Some of the Best of Recent Reporting

* "FBI Agents Raid Home, Arrest Pro-Life Advocate in Front of Wife and Children" (Gillian Richards, Daily Signal)

* "Biden’s $420B student loan boondoggle is blatantly illegal — but progressives don’t care" (Andrew C. McCarthy, Fox News)

* "14 Things We Know About the Mysterious “Explosions” That Severely Damaged the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 Pipelines" (Michael Snyder, America First Report)

* "Dallas doctor dubbed 'medical terrorist' after caught tampering with IV bags" (Rebecca Rosenberg, Fox News)

* "Democrats need to stop urging political violence" (Karol Markowicz, New York Post)

* "Who Gets Hurt From High Gas and Diesel Prices? There’s More Harm Than You Think." (Daren Bakst & Rachael Wolpert, Daily Signal)

Monday, September 26, 2022

On Spiritual Disciplines (Session Two) -- "Purposeful Planning Produces"

Before the Christian disciple starts firing at the targets of spiritual discipline, he must be ready, and he must take careful aim.  Indeed, he needs to know just what his targets are!  And thus enters the indispensable matters of intentionality and planning. As the apostle Paul describes it in I Corinthians 9:26, he doesn’t run aimlessly; he doesn’t box as if he were beating mere air.  No, his passionate desire to pursue godliness moves him to organize his priorities and strategies to reach that goal. 

Taking the responsibility to plan is underscored in several of the proverbs.  “The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage” (Proverbs 21:5a); “Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established” (Proverbs 16:3); and “Without consultation, plans are frustrated but with many counselors they will succeed” (Proverbs 15:22).  Of course, those plans are always to be made with wisdom, in keeping with God’s overall will, and with earnest dependence on the Lord to work His purposes in (and beyond) our plans.  Such proverbs as 19:21, 16:6, and several others remind us of God’s overreaching control of our lives.  Nevertheless, we are also to make careful plans to pursue godliness.

The biblical metaphors are quite clear.  The athlete plans, the farmer plans, and so too do the king and commander.  And so must the disciple plan with a commitment to then follow through as God directs and empowers.

Let me share a personal illustration of how planning works. Every Christmas season Claire and I mix into the myriad of our Yuletide activities the making of New Year’s Resolutions.  Those resolutions are prayerful plans within several categories of our life and ministry: Bible reading, prayer, purposefulness in friendship, diet and exercise, correspondence, thanksgiving, reading, family, home projects, Vital Signs Ministries projects, church involvement, giving, and a few more.  But we’re not done with simply making resolutions; we also do quarterly evaluations of each one in order to grade our progress, to make adjustments, and to re-dedicate ourselves to the vows we’ve made to God and to each other.

Why try to be so organized?  Why be so thorough?  Well, it’s because we have learned the profound truth of the old adage, “If you aim at nothing, you’re sure to hit it!” But if one is more purposeful, more thorough, and more invested in making his whole life a faithful stewardship for his King, there will be greater success, consistency, and joy in one’s spiritual disciplines.  

Planning produces.

Of course, before one can take effective aim at spiritual disciplines, he must be ready to diligently pursue them. The believer in Christ must truly want to become a disciple. He or she must have an authentic desire to grow, to be better equipped, to be more effective in their spiritual pilgrimage.  There’s no use in planning disciplines if you’re not ready to live “all out” for God, if you’re not willing to be trained to win the race.

Are you going to hang on to encumbrances and entangling sins (Hebrews 12:1)?  Then you’ll not be a true disciple. Are you hoping to just do enough to “get by”?  Then you’re sure to drift backward rather than move forward.  Are you insistent on bearing the name of “disciple” while refusing to bear the responsibility to sacrifice, to on the armor of God and serve as Christ’s warrior, to bravely serve the cause of the Spirit rather than the desires of your flesh?  Then you will certainly remain as you are – a disciple in name only.  You’ll not be a loyal ambassador whose future includes the gracious (and glorious) rewards the King desires to bestow on His faithful servants.

So, how does one get ready?  Where does the inspiration come from to go deeper and further in one’s adventure with the Lord?  The answer, of course, is the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives as He enlightens, convicts, corrects, and draws us into the Word of God. That’s where our hearts will be quickened and our minds instructed regarding the “stuff” of spiritual disciplines.  And the Spirit will do that drawing through many means -- in our Bible reading and study, the hearing of a sermon, the reading of a book, the testimony of another brother and sister, a heady success, a terrible failure, and so on.  He is our Teacher Who opens to us the possibilities of growing in Christ.  But inspiration might also come from the example of a mentor, or the godly counsel we receive in answer to a problem, or “how to” instruction to what we know is a need in our lives.  

Oftentimes, it is a crisis that reveals our need for correction, for greater depth of purpose, for more intense effort.  For instance, there’s nothing like a doctor’s x-ray showing a spot on one’s lung to create a motivation for the discipline to stop smoking! But, of course, it’s always best to be motivated to change our attitudes, priorities, and habits towards holy standards before a crisis requires it.  So, let’s pay careful attention to being ready right now!

And being ready, let’s now take aim at spiritual disciplines.  And aiming necessitates choosing your targets and zeroing in your scope.  In other words, it’s time to make plans. The word translated as “plan” appears over 200 hundred times in Holy Scripture.  God was a planner.  Joseph and Moses and Joshua and Nehemiah and David and Daniel and Luke and Paul were planners.  And Jesus’ disciples, including you and me, are instructed throughout the New Testament and Old to plan.  Don’t beat the air.  Don’t be double-minded.  Count the cost.  Invest in heaven’s treasures.  Be wise as serpents. Don’t run aimlessly. And more.

So as you consider the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading, giving, prayer, service, Bible study, thanksgiving, fasting and feasting, memorization, meditation, and so on, take careful aim by considering your options, talking to mentors and fellow pilgrims, bringing your needs before God in prayer, and then begin with a view to evaluate and adapt as you go. In all areas, planning produces.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

On Spiritual Disciplines: The First Session

Are spiritual disciplines really that important to a successful Christian life? Whatever your opinions might be on that question, I encourage you to check out the series I start here on Vital Signs Blog today. It will be the first of 8 in which I give a summary view of the adult Sunday School class I'm presenting on this topic. Of course, I'd love to have you in the class...but this is the next best thing.


Spiritual Disciplines – Session One: “The Why of Spiritual Disciplines”

 

1) Spiritual disciplines are not particularly popular with modern Christians.  Some fear they represent a Pharisee-like attitude; that is, going through certain rules and rituals in order to earn God’s favor and perhaps also to show off their “holier than thou” status.  Yet other Christians are uncomfortable with the topic because they fear the influence of Eastern mysticism, believing that talk of spiritual disciplines smacks too much of an esoteric, ascetic, even extrasensory path to encounter God.


However, both of these fears are a far cry from the biblical case for spiritual disciplines.  Indeed, it’s the devil who wins (and we who lose) when we allow Satan’s lying propaganda to mislead us regarding those disciplines God clearly commands to believers. Indeed, as Baptist theologian Don Whitney puts it, “The spiritual disciplines are those practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth among believers…they are habits of devotion, habits of experimental Christianity.”  He continues, “Although God will grant Christlikeness to us when Jesus returns, until then He intends us to grow towards it.  We aren’t merely to wait for holiness, we’re to pursue it.”

 

2) Discipline according to my old dictionary is a) training that develops self-control, character, or orderliness b) treatment that corrects or tames.  And words from the thesaurus connected to discipline include training, cultivation, self-control, prepare, instruct, and correct.


But what’s the real deal about spiritual disciplines?  Well, as is apparent from the words themselves, discipline is simply the “stuff” of the true disciple.  It is the convictions, attitudes and lifestyle of the faithful disciple of Jesus.  Therefore, I sometimes describe spiritual disciplines as “Obedience: Purposefully and Consistently Applied.”  They are the ongoing practices of one who is seriously pursuing the Christian adventure, the one who takes “the longer view” and is investing his time, talents, and treasure in the life to come.

 

3) And therein lies the most common resistance of all regarding spiritual disciplines – not fear of being a Pharisee or a vegan yoga sitting in the lotus position in a far-off cave, but simply resistance to the effort, sacrifice, patience, humility, and perseverance necessary to purposefully pursue godliness.  Let’s face it, way too many Christians don’t want discipline.


We prefer an easy, instant, spontaneous, self-congratulatory approach to the Christian life.  Furthermore, many others avoid the matter of discipline because we have tried and failed too many times and so we live a life of timidity, compromise, and mediocrity instead of appealing to God’s grace for yet another start. But the Holy Spirit will stay ever with us, convicting us and calling us to the adventure of being a genuine disciple of Christ.  That call is for all of us.  And that call is for today.

 

4) There has, throughout the history of the Church, been an unfortunate confusion between the relationship between being and doing.  Some mistake the believer’s position in Christ (the gracious once-for-all forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ’s atoning death) with the demands of discipleship which the Lord presents to His adopted sons and daughters.  These are not contradictions.  They are complementary truths, both clearly biblical.  The repentant sinner who trusts in Christ is saved by grace through faith.  He is thus “born again,” an adopted child of the King of Kings who is guaranteed a forever home with Jesus in heaven.  


Nevertheless, that Christian is then enrolled in the adventurous pilgrimage which is discipleship – trained to live “all out” as an ambassador of the kingdom of God until he is called home.  That discipleship is also entered and conducted by grace through faith.  But the pilgrim is called to exercise his free will and exert genuine effort and sacrifice in order to grow in Christ and become a more complete, consistent representative of Jesus in this world.  “Being” a Christian thus necessarily incorporates “doing” one’s new life in Christ.

 

5) This basic truth can be most strikingly underscored by just a cursory review of the “doing” verbs which the Bible commands for the disciple.  Here are just a few – all of which assume the disciple’s free will and his responsibility to actively pursue godliness.  Practice, grow, obey, go, change, stand, occupy, train, set apart, build, invest, hold, abide, persevere, follow, avoid, fight, serve, lay up, love, give, pray, study, etc. Reading through these verbs – and there are many more – prove that every believer is responsible to perform the duties of discipleship.  


Spiritual growth is God’s work.  If one is a follower of Jesus, it’s an act of grace that transforms him.  But the fact that it’s the Holy Spirit Who is at work in the believer’s life doesn’t mean the Christian doesn’t play a part.  Certainly not. There are things the Bible requires he do in response to the Spirit’s leading to experience healthy growth.  This is what spiritual disciplines are all about.

 

6) To best illustrate these matters, take note of the following Bible passages which have inspired and assisted spiritual disciplines throughout Church history.  In these verses, you will see certain crucial themes repeated: effort, sacrifice, planning, goals, excellence, self-control, rewards, godliness, perseverance, and a focus on Jesus: 

I Timothy 4:6-11, I Corinthians 9:24-27, Hebrews 12:1-3. I Timothy 4:6-11

 

1 Timothy 4:6-11 

(6) “In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. (7) But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; (8) for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (9) It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. (10) For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. (11) Prescribe and teach these things.”

 

 

I Corinthians 9:24-27

(24) “ Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. (25) Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. (26) Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; (27) but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” 

 

Hebrews 12: 1-3

(1) “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (2) fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (3) For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

 

7) The curriculum?

In these next seven weeks we will be exploring the following spiritual disciplines:

Session 2: Purpose and Planning

Session 3: Bible Intake and Response

Session 4: Prayer

Session 5: Giving and Thanksgiving (and more)

Session 6: Self Denial, Perseverance, Patience

Session 7: Corporate Disciplines

Session 8: Review and Applications