belief

Mercy and Faithfulness

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It use to be that you could easily tell the good guys from the bad ones. In older western movies, the good guys wore white hats.

But the public image is not always the private reality. Nowadays, image and branding have become an important industry. Much emphasis is put on projecting the right public persona.

No matter how a person appears on the outside, the heart of a person reveals their true self. God is far more concerned with the heart of a person than their image. If we're wise, we ought to be as well.

Scripture

For the choir director; by David, the Lord’s servant.

There is an inspired truth about the wicked person who has rebellion in the depths of his heart: He is not terrified of God.

He flatters himself and does not hate or ⌊even⌋ recognize his guilt. The words from his mouth are ⌊nothing but⌋ trouble and deception.

He has stopped doing what is wise and good. He invents trouble while lying on his bed and chooses to go the wrong direction. He does not reject evil. [vss 1-4]

O Lord, your mercy reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God, your judgments like the deep ocean. You save people and animals, O Lord.

Your mercy is so precious, O God, that Adam’s descendants take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They are refreshed with the rich foods in your house, and you make them drink from the river of your pleasure. 

Indeed, the fountain of life is with you. In your light we see light. [vss 5-9]

Continue to show your mercy to those who know you and your righteousness to those whose motives are decent.

Do not let the feet of arrogant people step on me or the hands of wicked people push me away.  Look at the troublemakers who have fallen. They have been pushed down and are unable to stand up again. [vss 10-12]

(Psalm 36:1-12 GW) [Context– Psalm 36]

Key phrase— O Lord, your mercy reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies

[bctt tweet="O Lord, your mercy reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies" username="tkbeyond"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

How is the "wicked person" characterized? What does this person do and not do?

How do all these descriptions reveal the core problem of someone who is wicked?

How is the Lord described in contrast to the wicked? How do the images used make these descriptions more vivid and memorable?

What are the benefits for those who are not in rebellion, but trust in the Lord?

Reflection...

Most people have difficulty with faith in God, because He's not readily visible. We want to see Him to believe in Him. One of Jesus' followers, Thomas, was of the same mindset (John 20:25).

Yet, many things are accepted and believed in that aren't visible, such as thoughts or gravity. Thoughts are made known through words, and we all experience the effects and impact of the earth's gravity.

Faith in God is similar. We know about God through the words and experiences of others, but also the intelligent design of the natural world (creation).

In a similar way, a person's heart is revealed by their words and actions. This is true for each of us and in relation to one another.

When we find ourselves filled with pride and deception without a sense of guilt, it's time to change the direction of our life. This often requires God helping us change our heart to make wiser choices.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

What is your typical response to flattery (of any kind), deception, and wrong-doing?

How do you handle guilt? Do you learn from it or ignore it?

Are you aware of and appreciate God's great mercy and faithfulness?

Do you have a healthy respect for God's power and righteousness?


Here's a link to a favorite song of ours taken from Psalm 36– Your Love Oh Lord (but skip the ad ;-)


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

Nothing Harmful

Photo credit: lightstock.com Pay your debts as they come due. However, one debt you can never finish paying is the debt of love that you owe each other. The one who loves another person has fulfilled Moses’ Teachings.

The commandments, “Never commit adultery; never murder; never steal; never have wrong desires,” and every other commandment are summed up in this statement: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

Love never does anything that is harmful to a neighbor. Therefore, love fulfills Moses’ Teachings.

You know the times ⌊in which we are living⌋. It’s time for you to wake up. Our salvation is nearer now than when we first became believers. The night is almost over, and the day is near. So we should get rid of the things that belong to the dark and take up the weapons that belong to the light.

We should live decently, as people who live in the light of day. Wild parties, drunkenness, sexual immorality, promiscuity, rivalry, and jealousy cannot be part of our lives.

Instead, live like the Lord Jesus Christ did, and forget about satisfying the desires of your corrupt nature. (‭Romans‬ ‭13:8-14‬ (GW)


Many people hold the idea of doing no harm to others as a guiding principle. It's a good principle to live by. Along with this principle, many believe each person needs to define their own belief in God.

But a self-made, self-serving belief is exactly that—based on self, not God, the Creator of all humanity.

The true test of doing no harm is measuring our life against the summation of God's Law—love your neighbor as yourself. As it says—Love never does anything that is harmful to a neighbor.

The selfish nature is wired to one over-riding drive—to please itself and satisfy its desires.

When we give in to this drive, and we all do, we send out a ripple effect that touches others. The idea that "I'm only harming myself," just isn't true.

It is wishful thinking that we can live unto ourselves and do no harm. This is only possible when we trust in the Lord Jesus alone to do a transforming work within us. ©Word-Strong_2016

[bctt tweet="Love never does anything that is harmful to a neighbor" username="tkbeyond"]

Receiving God's Approval

Photo credit: lightstock.com Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God on behalf of the Jewish people is that they would be saved. I can assure you that they are deeply devoted to God, but they are misguided.

They don’t understand ⌊how to receive⌋ God’s approval. So they try to set up their own way to get it, and they have not accepted God’s way for receiving his approval.

Christ is the fulfillment of Moses’ Teachings so that everyone who has faith may receive God’s approval.

Moses writes about receiving God’s approval by following his laws. He says, “The person who obeys these laws will live because he obeys them.” However, Scripture says about God’s approval which is based on faith, “Don’t ask yourself who will go up to heaven,” (that is, to bring Christ down). “Don’t ask who will go down into the depths,” (that is, to bring Christ back from the dead).

However, what else does it say? “This message is near you. It’s in your mouth and in your heart.” This is the message of faith that we spread. If you declare that Jesus is Lord, and believe that God brought him back to life, you will be saved. 

By believing you receive God’s approval, and by declaring your faith you are saved. Scripture says, “Whoever believes in him will not be ashamed.” (‭Romans‬ ‭10:1-11‬ (GW)


God's purpose and plan for Israel was for them to be a people who would represent God on earth to other nations. They were to be a light to the gentiles [nations] (Isaiah 49:6; Acts 13:47). As a nation, they failed to fulfill this purpose.

When Jesus came—the long-awaited Messiah—He fulfilled the Law of Moses and established a new covenant—a new relationship with God. This relationship is based on faith—a trust in God and His loving kindness.

Acceptance and approval with God is not gained by attempting to lead a good moral life, but by trusting in God's gift of forgiveness and restoration, referred to as redemption or salvation. It is not just a belief held in the mind, but a confession of trust within the heart and declared by our life and speech.

When a person believes in the Lord Jesus' redemptive sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection from the dead, his or her life will be transformed. Then, each of us who trusts in the Lord by faith can fulfill God's original purpose and plan for Israel.

As we experience God's acceptance and approval, we become a reflection of His light for others. ©Word-Strong_2016

A Rock in Zion

Photo credit: lightstock.com As God says in Hosea: “Those who are not my people I will call my people. Those who are not loved I will call my loved ones. Wherever they were told, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called children of the living God.”

Isaiah also says about Israel: “Although the descendants of Israel are as numerous as the grains of sand on the seashore, only a few will be saved. The Lord will carry out his sentence on the land, completely and decisively.”

This is what Isaiah predicted: “If the Lord of Armies hadn’t left us some descendants, we would have been like Sodom and Gomorrah.” So what can we say?

We can say that non-Jewish people who were not trying to gain God’s approval won his approval, an approval based on faith. The people of Israel tried to gain God’s approval by obeying the laws in Moses’ Teachings, but they did not reach their goal. Why? They didn’t rely on faith to gain God’s approval, but they relied on their own efforts. They stumbled over the rock that trips people.

As Scripture says, “I am placing a rock in Zion that people trip over, a large rock that people find offensive. Whoever believes in him will not be ashamed.” (‭Romans‬ ‭9:25-33‬ (GW)


Belief in God is a hurdle for many people. One they can't get over because it involves faith. How do you trust in a God who can't be seen, or touched, or heard? But God's inherent, yet invisible qualities are not the real problem. It's pride.

The people of Israel waited century after century for a promised Messiah. When He came—divine and human in nature—they would not accept Him. Why? Pride. They could not accept the humble Jesus as their Messiah. They rejected Him because He did not fit their expectations.

God's plan was not to choose one nation of people to be exclusive and superior to all other nations, but for them to be a light—a reflection of His glory to other nations. When God's chosen people rejected God's Son—the Messiah—God made Himself known to other people. People who would believe in Him.

Approval and acceptance by God is only gained by faith. It requires enough humility to see God's humble extension of love through sending His Son Jesus. Then He accepts us as His children, His people. A people unashamed of the Rock that causes the proud to stumble, and who reflect God's light to others. ©Word-Strong_2016

A Man and His Faith

Ayele_teaching_Omo Last week, I took a quick look at theology—our beliefs about God. We've all got theology, but we all don't believe the same things. By "we," I mean humanity.

Why don't we believe the same things? Because we're all different, with different backgrounds, and different life stories.

This week, I want to look at the intriguing life story of a friend of mine.

My Ethiopian friend

I first met Benjamin (pronounced Beny-a-min) at a church service and liked him immediately. He was the first Ethiopian I met, but not the last. His life story intrigued me, yet it stirred some controversy. He has a common name, but his life story is far from common.

He was born in rural Ethiopia into a muslim family. When he came home from school and saw smoke rising from his home, he was happy. He knew his mother was cooking a special meal for his father, who had other wives than his mother.

He came to faith in Jesus through dreams, as I've heard take place for many of Islamic faith. Because of his choice to follow Jesus, he was ostracized by his family, which sent him on a search.

Benjamin set out to find help to learn about his new faith and was directed to missionaries in Kenya. Along the way, he was captured by Communist soldiers who tortured him for his faith in brutal ways. Eventually, he found the guidance he needed, and came to America for education.

A passion for his people

I met Benjamin as he raised support to work with a mission in Kenya. He became a missionary to Ethiopian refugees gathered in neighboring Somalia. These were his people and he wanted them to know the Lord Jesus.

I had him preach at our church a couple of times in the mid-eighties, so I heard much of his story. We also spent time talking about his mission and passion for reaching his people with the gospel.

I found Benjamin to be a man of great faith and integrity. He was childlike in the ways of American culture and social norms, but well-read and intelligent. I trusted him.

An interrupted testimony

He told me of a time when he shared his testimony at another church. The pastor invited him on the recommendation of someone in his congregation. As he told the story of his conversion from Islam to Christ, the pastor interrupted him and had him sit down.

The pastor told him he didn't believe in such things (the supernatural experiences), and discounted his life story. This stunned my friend Benjamin. It saddened me as he told me of it. Needless to say, this pastor was not one of his supporters.

Here was a man of integrity and without deceit who shared his personal encounter with Jesus, but he was not believed. Why? Because the pastor couldn't get past his own theological filters.

I'm glad for my encounter with Benjamin. His life added more depth and fullness to mine. He was one more encouragement for my own missionary experience. Years later I would visit his homeland (see photo above).

When we moved to the Philippines and he moved to Kenya, we lost contact with each other. But I will never forget Benjamin and his faith.

We're not all the same

Our experiences and encounters in pursuit of the truth shape and impact our faith and understanding of God. Identical experiences don't produce the same results. A simple reading of the gospels reveals this.

All of the apostles were afraid of Jesus as He walked on the water. Only Peter got out of the boat to walk towards Him (Matt 14:22-33). The Roman centurion who witnessed the death of Jesus realized He was innocent, unlike his fellow soldiers (Luke 23:47). After Jesus healed ten lepers, only one came back to thank Him (Luke 17:11-19).

Each of us view things differently. We often draw different conclusions with different perspectives from similar experiences. So, how can we possibly have any unity in the Christian faith? Benjamin and I shared the same faith in Jesus, but our life stories were very different.

The Christian faith is a personal faith because it's centered on the person of Jesus. The closer we grow in our relationship with Jesus, the more unified we become as a group. This can be seen during a worship service, as the Lord intends (1 Cor 12:12-14, 25).

A question and a challenge

Last week, I mentioned two things I hoped to get more response on, so here it goes again.

Would any of you reading this post be interested in learning more about inductive Bible study? If that sounds interesting, let me know.

Here are 3 things I want to challenge you to do—

  1. Review your own life as a believer in Jesus—What stands out as most important to your spiritual growth and why?
  2. Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life, so far? Why?
  3. What’s been most helpful to you in your pursuit to know God?

I'd love to hear your responses to any of the above. You can post it in the comments for this post, or post it on the Word-Strong Facebook page.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share this post!

Got Theology?

Photo credit: unsplash.com_ABurden Theology, gotta have it! Even atheists and agnostics have a form of theology—one doesn't believe God exists and the other is unsure or indifferent. It's still a belief about God.

Many different types of theology exist. Some theology is complex, it requires a PhD to know authoritatively. But most people have a much simpler theology based on their personal experience with spiritual truth.

We all believe something about God, no matter how we define or describe it. 

A (very) basic understanding

Christian theology is categorized in various ways. The most common one is systematic theology. It's a system of beliefs, but often with an embedded view-point.

Systematic theology sets out to be objective, but the starting point can be subjective based on certain beliefs, such as—Evangelical, Reformed, Pentecostal, or Roman Catholic perspectives.

Another major area of Christian theology is Biblical theology. It's based on what is revealed from the written Scriptures, and is, I believe, more likely to bear the original intent of the Holy Spirit's inspiration (2 Tim 3:16).

Of course, Biblical theology can be both objective or subjective depending on how it's approached. If an objective approach to exegesis is applied, even an inductive study, the theology gained should be more objective, systematic and trustworthy.

[bctt tweet=" It's easy to be swayed by the opinions and biases of others" username="tkbeyond"]

A cultural theology is also common for many believers. This tends to be highly subjective and personal. In other words, it's distinctively un-objective. One example of an American version of this became known as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

Gaining a good theology

Unless you're a seminary grad or highly motivated Bible student, most Christians believe what they're told or taught by influential leaders in their lives. These would include pastors, evangelists, and popular speakers and authors.

It's easy to be swayed by the opinions and biases of others, unless you develop an objective and systematic approach for studying the Bible.

Paul the apostle's exhortation to the young leader Timothy reflects this—

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)

This is the value of an approach like Inductive Bible Study, or IBS. A very basic description of how it's done is expressed in the three primary steps to the IBS approach—observation, interpretation, and application.

Perhaps in the next week or so, I'll talk about this in more detail. If that sounds interesting, let me know!

Belief-based or relationship-based theology

One question I think we all need to answer is this—How does our theology define us, or do we define our theology? A follow-up question is—How have we developed our personal theology?

We've all developed our own theology, whether we're aware of it or not. It develops over time as we learn and internalize truth as we understand it. That's the key thing. How do we understand it?

[bctt tweet="How does our theology define us, or do we define our theology?" username="tkbeyond"]

It comes down to whether we have a belief-based or relationship-based theology. What's the difference? One is grounded in certain beliefs, but often leads to dogmatism. The other is grounded in relationship, but based on the truth revealed by God's Spirit (see John 14:26 and 2 Tim 3:16-17).

When dogmatism becomes the basis of a person's spiritual assurance, a person's faith can be shattered if something undermines their belief. When our theology is relationship-based, it grows out of an abiding, continuing relationship with Jesus and His word abiding in us (John 15:5, 7-8).

A few more thoughts and a caveat

Understanding spiritual truth requires spiritual discernment (1 Cor 2:10-14). I know this from experience. As mentioned in my book, I read the Bible every day for about two years before I began to understand it.

My openness to God was the key, not the time I spent reading. When I opened my heart to the Lord, He opened my eyes to understand the truth in His word (the Bible).

But God has shown it to us through his Spirit... Some people don't have the Holy Spirit. They don't accept the things that come from the Spirit of God. Things like that are foolish to them. They can't understand them. In fact, such things can't be understood without the Spirit's help. 1 Cor 2:10, 14 (NIVR)

[bctt tweet="Understanding spiritual truth requires spiritual discernment" username="tkbeyond"]

So, how can we develop a sound theology and a true understanding of God? A rule of thumb that's helped me is found in John's gospel where Jesus rebukes some Jewish religious leaders—

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me.... (John 5:39 NIV)

Studying the Bible ought to deepen our relationship with Jesus. If we only gain more biblical knowledge, then we become more like the Pharisees than Jesus' disciples.

[bctt tweet="Studying the Bible ought to deepen our relationship with Jesus" username="tkbeyond"]

Finally, everyone needs to be careful about how they interpret the Bible. It isn't just how it suits one person or another, nor how it should be understood from a certain religious viewpoint.

It needs to be consistent and congruent with what the author of the Scriptures intended. The author is God via the Holy Spirit, as the apostle Peter reminds us—

No prophecy in Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation. No prophecy ever originated from humans. Instead, it was given by the Holy Spirit as humans spoke under God’s direction. 2 Peter 1:20-21 (GW)

A personal challenge

Here are 3 things I want to challenge you to do—

  1. Review your own life as a believer in Jesus—What stands out as most important and why?
  2. Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life, so far? Why?
  3. What's been most helpful to you in your pursuit to know God?

You can respond to this post directly or on the social media where you see this post.

Would you like to know my answers to these questions? Then, let me know!


BTW, the photo for this post was downloaded from unsplash.com and the photographer is Aaron Burden, check out his photos... he's a fellow believer!

There Is No God

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"If God is love, why is there so much hate in the world?" Have you heard people ask this? Have you wondered this yourself? You're not alone.

The book of Job is a textbook case for the question, "Why God?" Many of the psalms echo this, and even Jesus on the cross cried out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"

This is when genuine, relational faith is most valuable.

Scripture

Why are you so distant, Lord? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

The wicked person arrogantly pursues oppressed people. He will be caught in the schemes that he planned. The wicked person boasts about his selfish desires. He blesses robbers, but he curses the Lord. He turns up his nose ⌊and says⌋, “God doesn’t care.” His every thought ⌊concludes⌋, “There is no God.” [vss 1-4]

He always seems to succeed. Your judgments are beyond his understanding. He spits at all his opponents. He says to himself, “Nothing can shake me. I’ll never face any trouble.” His mouth is full of cursing, deception, and oppression. Trouble and wrongdoing are on the tip of his tongue. 

He waits in ambush in the villages. From his hiding places he kills innocent people. His eyes are on the lookout for victims. He lies in his hiding place like a lion in his den. He hides there to catch oppressed people. He catches oppressed people when he draws them into his net. ⌊His⌋ victims are crushed. They collapse, and they fall under ⌊the weight of⌋ his power.

He says to himself, “God has forgotten. He has hidden his face. He will never see it!” [vss 5-11]

Arise, O Lord! Lift your hand, O God. Do not forget oppressed people! Why does the wicked person despise God? Why does he say to himself, “God doesn’t care”? You have seen ⌊it⌋; yes, you have taken note of trouble and grief and placed them under your control. The victim entrusts himself to you. You alone have been the helper of orphans.

Break the arm of the wicked and evil person. Punish his wickedness until you find no more.

The Lord is king forever and ever. The nations have vanished from his land. You have heard the desire of oppressed people, O Lord. You encourage them. You pay close attention to them in order to provide justice for orphans and oppressed people so that no mere mortal will terrify them again.  [vss 12-18]

(Psalm 10:1-18 GW) [Context– Psalm 10]

Key phrase— Arise, O Lord! Lift your hand, O God. Do not forget oppressed people!

[bctt tweet="Arise, O Lord! Lift your hand, O God. Do not forget oppressed people!"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

What is the first complaint expressed in this psalm?

How are wicked people characterized? What is their attitude towards God?

Where does this psalm begin to change direction? What is pointed out?

How does the psalmist resolve the initial questions and dilemma?

Reflection...

Relational faith—trust in a living God—isn't hemmed in by short-sightedness. It looks to God beyond what's obvious. Faith sees God for who He is.

Have you ever looked through a telescope or pair of binoculars? Looking through the small end (eyepiece) it makes things look near that are far away. I've looked at the moon through a telescope and marveled at the detail I can see of its craters. It's an amazing view.

If you were to flip the telescope around to look through the wide end, everything looks much smaller and far away. It's a distorted view. Evil gets noticed more than good. Consider, after all, what gets airtime on the media?

It's a matter of perspective. Authentic faith brings us closer to God and enables us to see things from His perspective. But God's arm is longer than wickedness and evil, and He cares far more about it all than we ever can.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

Are there times when God seems distant and removed? How often do you feel this way?

Does it seem to you that too many people get away with cheating, lying, oppression, and other wicked things?

How often do you take note of people doing good? When you see it do you appreciate and encourage them?

What is your faith grounded on? Does your trust in God enable you to see beyond immediate circumstances?


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms? Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

True Life and Belonging

Photo credit: lightstock.com But you are not ruled by your sinful selves. You are ruled by the Spirit, if that Spirit of God really lives in you. But whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Christ.

Your body will always be dead because of sin. But if Christ is in you, then the Spirit gives you life, because Christ made you right with God.

God raised Jesus from death. And if God’s Spirit lives in you, he will also give life to your bodies that die. Yes, God is the one who raised Christ from death, and he will raise you to life through his Spirit living in you.

So, my brothers and sisters, we must not be ruled by our sinful selves. We must not live the way our sinful selves want.

If you use your lives to do what your sinful selves want, you will die spiritually. But if you use the Spirit’s help to stop doing the wrong things you do with your body, you will have true life.

 (‭Romans‬ ‭8:‭9-13‬ ERV)


We can believe something with our mind or heart. When belief is anchored in our heart, it impacts our thinking and choices. Belief in the mind doesn't always transfer to the heart and will of a person.

Belief in God needs to go beyond conceptual understanding and become relational trust. Then it becomes genuine faith. True faith is not a matter of correct doctrine or theological beliefs, it's based on a personal relationship with God.

Unless our faith is grounded in relationship, our belief will lack power to bring transformation. Spiritual transformation, real life change, must take place internally and spiritually, not just mentally.

This will only take place when we have a right relationship with God through His Son Jesus. Then we will have God's Spirit—the Holy Spirit—and God's power living in us, in our heart, our inner being.

Transformation doesn't come through correct beliefs and will power, but through the work of God's Spirit within us. The indwelling presence and power of God's Spirit in us shows we truly belong to Christ. ©Word-Strong_2016

At Peace and Safe

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Does God answer prayer? Is there any real value in praying to a God you can't see? Does prayer really work? These are common questions for many people, even though they hold a belief in God.

We may believe God answered our prayers in the past, but still have doubts. This is the nature of prayer and faith. Both require trust in a living God.

The secret to understanding prayer is found in relationship with God, rather than having right beliefs about God.

Scripture

Answer me when I pray, O God, my defender! When I was in trouble, you helped me. Be kind to me now and hear my prayer.

How long will you people insult me? How long will you love what is worthless and go after what is false? Remember that the Lord has chosen the righteous for his own, and he hears me when I call to him. [vss 1-3]

Tremble with fear and stop sinning; think deeply about this, when you lie in silence on your beds. Offer the right sacrifices to the Lord, and put your trust in him.

There are many who pray: “Give us more blessings, O Lord. Look on us with kindness!” But the joy that you have given me is more than they will ever have with all their grain and wine.

When I lie down, I go to sleep in peace; you alone, O Lord, keep me perfectly safe. [vss 4-8]

(Psalm 4:1-8 GNT) [Context– Psalm 4]

Key phrase— When I was in trouble, you helped me

[bctt tweet="When I was in trouble, you helped me"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

What do you see in the opening lines of this psalm? Do you see how the appeal to God includes a confidence in God?

Who else seems to be addressed in this prayerful psalm? What is King David reminding them about?

What advice is given? What does the psalmist encourage people to do?

What else is said about prayer? What assurance does the psalmist have? Why does he have this assurance?

Reflection...

Many people struggle with how to approach God in prayer. They may wonder things like—How much faith do I need? Does my life need to be free from sin before God hears my prayer?

King David, the author of many psalms, did not live a perfect, sin-free life. In fact, the book of 2 Samuel reveals his struggles with moral failure. And yet, God said that David was a man after His own heart (Acts 13:22). Why? David had a genuine, personal and confident trust in God.

Even in dire circumstances, even when he had doubts and fear, King David had a confidence and trust in God. He prayed with authentic faith.

He understood that the "right" sacrifice was offering himself to God in complete and utter trust (Psalm 51:17; Rom 12:1).

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

Do you struggle with doubts about prayer? Do still trust God in spite of your doubts?

When you have a conflict or unresolved problem with others, do you bring these to God in prayer?

What is more important to you in prayer—answers, or knowing the presence of God?

Have you come to trust the Lord enough to know His peace in your heart?


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

Here's the Reason Discipleship Can Be Difficult

Photo credit: unsplash.com_GRakozy We Americans live in a culture focused on self. More and more, the concept of team or community is just that—more of a concept than reality.

Self-identity is an industry, not just a psychological term. More attention is given to individuals than groups. We fawn over star-power, whether it's American Idol, fantasy sports leagues, or CEO's pulling down outrageous salaries and bonuses.

Yet, focus on self isn't just an American cultural phenomenon, it's a human issue. Self-interest has been with us since the first humans on earth.

Just follow Jesus

When most everyone around you is focused on doing what's best for them, following Jesus can feel a lot like swimming against the tide. It can wear you out fast. Unless you learn how to do it from the Master Himself.

Believers and followers of Jesus need help, His help. Jesus is the core of the Gospel, and the core of the Christian faith. By Christian faith, I mean all the theology, doctrine, and practice known as Christianity. Jesus is the core of the Gospel and He calls each believer to follow Him.

[bctt tweet="Jesus is the core of the gospel and core of the Christian faith"]

His call is a personal one. It's a call to surrender our free will to Jesus, and put Him first in our lives. Jesus calls us to set aside selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-fulfillment. But this involves no striving, only abandonment and surrender to Jesus and His will.

This is difficult, no, impossible without God’s help and His power at work in us internally, but it becomes an amazing testimony to the power of God. It captures the attention of people, and brings lasting change to the world.

[bctt tweet="Jesus calls us to set aside selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-fulfillment"]

Real change in the world only comes when people are changed within their hearts. Only Jesus can bring this about. But He chooses to do this through true self-denial—choosing to trust in Jesus implicitly and dying to a life fixated on this world.

Are you confused?

Why does the world have so many different ideas and misunderstandings about Jesus and Christianity? Perhaps it comes from the body of believers who profess to be Christians.

What message does the world receive about Jesus, the Gospel, and the Christian Faith through the followers of Christ? What is the church’s living example?

If there is confusion about who Jesus is among Christian believers, it's communicated by speech and example to others, and confuses those who seek to know Him.

[bctt tweet="If we're confused about who Jesus, it's communicated by speech and example to others"]

Jesus, the core of the Gospel and Christian faith, is the core call and purpose of a believer’s life. By core, I don’t mean the center, but the central strength and nature of life in Him.

This could be likened to the nucleus of an atom, defined as “the central point of the atom.” An atom’s particles, protons and neutrons, are bound and held together around the nucleus by a nuclear or residual strong force.

[bctt tweet="Jesus is the core of the Gospel and Christian faith, and core of a believer’s life"]

These properties of a nucleus and atom always remind me of this description of Christ in Colossians—

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Col 1:17 NIV)

Jesus at the core

Perhaps what Jesus expressed about His own self-denial in going to the cross helps make this clear—

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. (John 12:24-26 NIV)

Looking at a kernel of wheat, or the seed within a fruit like a peach, the importance of the core is easy to see. The very life of a peach tree is in the core of the fruit itself. The flesh of the fruit surrounding the seed is eaten, and the seed is thrown away.

[bctt tweet="Jesus is not just what we focus our lives on, He is our source of life"]

When the seed is planted it grows into a tree, but the seed has to die before it can germinate into what becomes a tree. This is God’s design. It’s God’s continuing illustration within nature of the importance of the core.

This illustrates the simplicity and necessity of keeping Jesus as the core of the Gospel. He is not just what we focus our lives on, He is the source of our life.

More than a belief

Our daily life example needs to match what we tell others. God’s Story is more than a belief to hold onto, or something to be done—it's a personal relationship with Jesus who transforms our life.

When we can express the simple truths of the gospel and others see Jesus at work in our life, it is an easy and natural thing to share our faith with other people.

[bctt tweet="God’s Story is more than a belief, or something to be done—it's a relationship with Jesus"]

Jesus is the core of the Gospel. He is the Savior of all people and the Son of God. He, God the Son, came into the world, died upon the cross for all humanity, and rose from the grave victorious over death.

He calls every person to follow Him, whoever is willing.

Each follower will need to give up his or her own selfish ways, the natural lifestyle of this world, and trust only in Him for all things, in every way, every day.

[bctt tweet="Jesus calls every person to follow Him, whoever is willing"]

Jesus honors this commitment with life beyond anything the world has to offer, and a life beyond this world. He alone is worthy of a person’s unreserved trust.


This is the last in a series of posts taken from my book on the Essential Gospel. Here are links to the previous posts—

Who Is Jesus…Really?

Who Jesus Is

A Culture Conflict

To learn more about Jesus and the gospel, get a copy of my book– The Mystery of the Gospel

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share these posts!

Who Is Jesus...Really?

Photo credit: Unsplash.com_mhull Surveys. Opinion polls. Americans seem to have an insatiable appetite to know what other people think about... fill in the bank.

For all the mining of opinions and the flood of information available, what do we really know? Are we truly the most informed generation in history?

We know a lot of minutiae about a lot of things. This helps us in trivia games, but doesn't answer life's big questions.

A valuable question

At the beginning of this story (Matthew 16:13-20), Jesus asks His disciples a question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” He wanted to know what the disciples heard among the people.

Yet, He was far more concerned with what the disciples thought, as seen by His second question to them.

In sharing the gospel with others, we need to be mindful of what people are thinking and saying about who Jesus is. It is valid to ask people what their perception of Jesus is before launching into a presentation of the gospel.

Knowing how other people perceive Jesus should be a factor in how the gospel is told or related.

[bctt tweet="Knowing how other people perceive Jesus should factor into how we share the gospel"]

The wrong approach

When zealous believers approached me during my spiritual search, I would hear, “you can become a Christian and still have fun!” One time I was approached while in an altered state of mind and told I could still “own a sports car and become a Christian.”

Having a sports car was the farthest thing from my mind at the time! It did not attract me to Christianity.

Although well-intentioned, this approach to share the gospel was off target. My biggest need was getting my eyes off what I wanted, or what I thought could bring fulfillment in my life.

A frame of reference

Genuine questions can reveal where people stand on spiritual matters, and their opinion about Jesus.

Asking about a person’s life can open them up to hear God’s Story. If a person’s life story is full of difficulties, or reveals a searching for spiritual truth and significance in life, it opens an opportunity for connecting them with God.

Presently in America, more and more people, especially young adults, have a limited understanding of Jesus. They may know more about Buddha or Mohammed than Jesus. Everyone needs some frame of reference, a touchstone, to understand spiritual truth.

[bctt tweet="Everyone needs some frame of reference, a touchstone, to understand spiritual truth"]

Spiritual truth is conceptual, abstract, and intangible, yet we live in a material world. If we don’t perceive what their perception is about Jesus, the Bible, or other spiritual truth, we give them information they can’t process.

We need to know

In contrast, we may pay more attention to what others have to say than we should. Many people are intimidated to share their faith story, fearing rejection. Others are unsure of what to say or how to say it.

Every believer needs to know what he or she believes about Jesus, and why it’s believed—an understanding rooted in a genuine personal relationship with God.

[bctt tweet="Every believer needs to know what he or she believes about Jesus, and why it’s believed"]

When the gospel is shared with sincerity of heart and in simple words, it is more apt to be heard.

Who do You say Jesus is?

Then Jesus asks His second far more pointed and important question, “Who do you say that I am?”

It was a question of progress for the apostles. Were they grappling with the same question, or were they sure in their hearts? Ultimately, everyone must answer this question. One day, all people will answer this question in God’s presence.

What is your belief?

Other opinions aside, what is your belief? What others say may be of interest, but what is your own belief? How would you answer the question of who Jesus is?

If you are a Christian believer—that is, you have a personal relationship with the Lord, and you’ve experienced a spiritual rebirth—you should be able to answer this question. But, how would you answer? How would you describe who Jesus is to someone else?

Truth is revealed by God

Spiritual truth can only be conveyed if a person understands it in his or her own spirit. As the apostle Paul says, “ . . . not in words taught us by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words” (1 Cor 2:13).

It is not knowledge of words, written or spoken. God through the Holy Spirit must reveal spiritual truth. It is expressed in words, but understanding and acceptance is God’s work in a person’s heart and mind.

What are your thoughts about Jesus? Do you know who He is?

Do you know Him personally and tell others about your relationship with Him?


Next week I'll continue to look at who Jesus really is. This post is an excerpt from my book on the Essential Gospel. Here's another related post– The Core of the Gospel

To learn more about Jesus and the gospel, get a copy of my book– The Mystery of the Gospel

 

Confidence in God

Photo credit: Anthony Easton-cc I’ve heard the sentiment, “religious faith is just a crutch,” expressed many times over the years, but never understood or accepted it. Perhaps it’s a variation of Karl Marx’s famous quote, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.”

The idea is that those interested in religion or spirituality are somehow less than those who aren’t. The assumption is that when people exercise faith, they toss reason aside. I don't believe this.

Religion isn't a cure

Why don’t I believe this? For one thing, when there’s pain or injury, it’s both wise and reasonable to provide care. Sin causes pain, and it injures everyone in some way. But the cure for sin isn’t religion, it’s faith in Jesus who conquered sin by His death and resurrection.

Have you seen someone spin a basketball on one finger? Have you ever tried spinning a ball on the tip of your finger? I have and didn’t do it well. But I’ve watched people who are good at it.

It seems like they could keep spinning the ball forever. When it begins to wobble and starts to fall off the tip of their finger, one confident and deft tap of their hand keeps it spinning.

The difference between unbelief and faith

“He [Abraham] did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God.”—Roman 4:20 (NKJV)

What I notice in this verse is the contrast between unbelief and faith. It’s the opposite of what some people might think. Faith isn’t anti-reason, it’s greater than reason. Unbelief causes a person to waver. It creates a resistance to trust.

Faith is strength, not weakness. Real faith, genuine trust in God, sees beyond what others focus on. It doesn’t see the ball wobbling, it sees the ball spinning strong.

Abraham’s confidence was in God, not himself. He believed God’s promise of a son, though he and Sarah were past the age of bearing children. Faith, true faith, sees beyond the doubts of others, even discouraging circumstances.

Abraham's confident faith

Abraham didn’t waver with unbelief, he trusted God with confidence.

He honored God and God honored him because of his faith. Abraham is our example—an example of strength, not weakness. Abraham didn’t have the benefit of the written Scriptures and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as believers do today.

Yes, he had very personal encounters with God that most of us may not experience, but he still lived by faith. The majority of his century-long trust in God was lived in simple faith, which is the same life of faith each follower of Jesus is called to live.

What challenges your faith? In what areas of life do you struggle with unbelief?


Click here to see the original post, as it appeared on Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale's Daily Devo blog.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share this post with others!

 

How to Not Lose Heart

  Photo credit: lightstock.com

What do you believe? How would you describe belief? It really depends on the context, doesn’t it? For instance, I can say I believe in gravity, but gravity is something that can be proved scientifically. Some beliefs have nothing to do with faith, yet express trust.

If I believe someone is telling me the truth, I can say I believe them. I’m expressing a level of trust, but not trust in the same way I trust God. I can say I believe the sun will rise tomorrow morning, but that reason is based on empirical science and experience.

What do you believe, and why do you believe it?

“I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”—Psalm 27:13 (NKJV)

King David said, “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed.” David’s faith went deeper than thought or emotion. It resided in the core of his being—his heart. It was an absolute trust in God.

King David’s faith permeated his whole life—his thoughts, his emotions, his actions—and overflowed into worship. All the highs, the lows, and everything in between are recorded for us in the Psalms and in other Scriptures.

A man after God's own heart

I believe this is why King David was considered a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). It wasn’t because of a perfectly obedient life; Scripture makes that clear. It was because David loved God and trusted in Him with all his heart, mind, and soul.

King David’s life is a great encouragement to me, as it should be for all who trust in God. Why? Because he didn’t lead a perfect life.

He struggled with opposition throughout his life and reign as king of Israel. He struggled with moral failure. He was father to a dysfunctional family, which disrupted his kingdom and cost the nation of Israel dearly. Though loyal to a fault, he was unjustly accused and pursued by leaders (Saul, then Absalom) who wanted him dead.

David had plenty of reasons to lose heart on many occasions, but he didn’t. He always trusted in God, no matter how dire the circumstances. He believed in the goodness of God “in the land of the living.” His trust in God also gave him hope beyond this life. He is an example of true faith and genuine belief.

Some questions to think through—

  • Have you experienced a time when you almost lost heart? How did you handle it?
  • When you have struggled in life, how have you learned to trust God in a deeper way?

How can you learn to trust God in a deeper way?

Take some time to read the account of David’s life in 1 and 2 Samuel to see how King David learned to overcome his struggles through genuine faith.

For example– In 1st Samuel, David's men were angry at him and wanted to stone him because their families were taken captive, but it says that "David encouraged himself in the Lord." (1 Samuel 30:6). He remembered how the Lord was faithful in his life before this.


This was originally a guest post at Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale's blog– Daily Devo. Click here to read it on their site– Believers

If this encourages you, please share it with others!

Misdirected Faith

WS-devo_PMSThe day after the Sabbath day, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought some sweet-smelling spices to put on Jesus’ body. Very early on that day, the first day of the week, soon after sunrise, the women were on their way to the tomb. They said to each other, “Who will roll away for us the stone that covers the entrance of the tomb?”

Then the women looked and saw that the stone had already been rolled away, even though it was very large. The women entered the tomb and saw a young man wearing a white robe and sitting on the right side, and they were afraid.

But the man said, “Don’t be afraid. You are looking for Jesus from Nazareth, who has been crucified. He has risen from the dead; he is not here. Look, here is the place they laid him. (‭Mark‬ ‭16‬:‭1-6‬ NCV)


These women demonstrate what could be called misdirected faith. They were loyal to Jesus and showed great respect for Him by going to His tomb. Because they loved Him and wanted to honor His memory, they planned to anoint His body with spices.

They knew a great stone sealed the entrance, and yet they proceeded, while wondering how they would get in to the tomb. It shows a certain level of faith since they went in spite of this problem. And yet, neither they nor the other followers of Jesus believed His words that He would rise from the dead. They help us see ourselves and our own misdirected faith.

We often cling to certain beliefs and persevere in some type of vague faith. But is our faith well-grounded in the truth? Is our trust in God established upon the Scriptures, the very Word of God? ©Word-Strong_2015

Give Us Barabbas!

WS-devo_PMSEvery year at ...Passover the governor would free one prisoner whom the people chose. A man named Barabbas [was in] prison... a rebel [who] committed murder. The crowd came to Pilate ...to ask him to free a prisoner. So Pilate asked, “Do you want me to free the king of the Jews?” Pilate knew the leading priests turned Jesus in because they were jealous.

But the leading priests persuaded the people to ask Pilate to free Barabbas, not Jesus. Pilate asked the crowd again, “So what should I do with this man you call the king of the Jews?” They shouted, “Crucify him!” Pilate asked, “Why? What wrong has he done?” But they shouted even louder, “Crucify him!”

Pilate wanted to please the crowd, so he freed Barabbas for them. After having Jesus beaten with whips, he handed Jesus over to the soldiers to be crucified. (‭Mark‬ ‭15‬:‭6-15‬ NCV)


Most people wonder how the crowd could be persuaded to ask for a convicted murderer rather than the innocent Jesus. But is it really so hard to believe?

In America, interest in Jesus, and especially church, has dropped dramatically since the days of the Jesus People Movement of the 70's.

Why? What's become more popular? All we need to do is look at what fills our windows to the world—our tv's, movies, digital gear and computers. What is seen? Violent gaming, pornography, vampires and zombies, politics, sports, money and materialism, and other things that feed our self-indulgence.

Before you react in self-defense, consider what moves and motivates you. What are you most emotional and passionate about? What's true and spiritual in nature is often no match for emotion, passion, and desire. But what's the end result?

[bctt tweet="What moves and motivates you. What are you most emotional and passionate about?"]

So who do you think you would choose—Barabbas or Jesus? Who you would choose is most likely seen by what you choose each day. Look at the choices you make day in day out. Think about it, before you react as the crowd did. ©Word-Strong_2015

I Do Not Judge

DSC_0237Then Jesus said loudly, “Whoever believes in me believes not only in me but also in the one who sent me. Whoever sees me sees the one who sent me. I am the light that has come into the world so that everyone who believes in me will not live in the dark. If anyone hears my words and doesn’t follow them, I don’t condemn them. I didn’t come to condemn the world but to save the world. Those who reject me by not accepting what I say have a judge appointed for them. The words that I have spoken will judge them on the last day. (John 12:44-48 GWT) Unbelief is its own reward. Rejection of the truth is what condemns a person. ©Word-Strong_2013

The Core of the Gospel

MJ_sharing
MJ_sharing

Culture has an amazing impact upon people. It subtly shapes their worldview of everything in life, from birth through adulthood.

This impact is strong and resistant to change, but it will change given sufficient cause. The change can be either good or bad depending on one’s worldview, values, or beliefs.

For example, the enslavement of Africans, abducted and traded as if they were cattle, was culturally acceptable in European countries and America. Now, it is illegal and immoral. But that change did not come easily.

A major culture change

A British Member of Parliament named William Wilberforce challenged his prevailing culture in the late eighteenth century. He proposed legislative measures at great cost to his reputation, wealth, and health for more than forty years.

But change came in 1833 when slavery was made illegal in England. It had a ripple effect felt across the oceans of the world, which included the newly established United States of America, the former colonial territory of Great Britain. [1]

Religion and culture

In many countries around the world, religious conviction is tied to the intrinsic culture.

The Philippines is predominantly Roman Catholic, with a strong contingent of Evangelical (Protestant) Christianity, a significant Muslim minority, and ancient folk traditions. Many Filipinos struggle with becoming born again, [2] because of the strong influence of Roman Catholicism—it’s rituals, traditions, and longevity.

Thailand is primarily Buddhist. Many Thais find it difficult to distinguish their national identity from their religion. Likewise in Indonesia and Malaysia, where the world’s largest population of Muslims reside. In many countries, it is illegal to proselytize someone of Islamic faith towards another faith.

The impact of culture

In the early 2000's, our Bible school in the Philippines sent out two young Filipinas as missionaries to Thailand.

MJ and Ruchell learned the Thai language quickly, and made friendships with ease. They lived out their Christianity with genuineness and simplicity, and were well received by their neighbors, including the landlord of the simple apartment they rented in Chiang Mai.

As they built relationships, they offered prayer for their new friends. Prayer was accepted with gratefulness. But when it came to accepting the Gospel and Jesus, who was unknown to them, there was resistance.

They were Thai. They were Buddhists. They were afraid of changing their religion and no longer being true Thais.

American culture and Christianity

America’s culture  is known for its respect for individual rights. As a result, Christianity in America is often self-focused and personalized.

Based on versions of the gospel, as given by popular preachers, many people regard Jesus as their best friend, someone personally interested in them, but not as their sovereign Lord. It is such a prevalent view it’s been categorized as a religious belief of its own—Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. [3]

A popular worship song about the Lord’s death on the cross goes,

“You took the fall and thought of me, above all....” [4]

The Father’s purpose for Jesus going to the Cross was, indeed, to bring redemption for all people. But a self-focused bias is not reflected in the biblical version of the gospel, but is in a plethora of popular songs, teachings, and various Christian self-help books.

Culture bias

This cultural bias is exported around the world, reflecting an American, self-absorbed view of Jesus and the Gospel, which adulterates the gospel message. This has a crippling, often tragic effect.

The Gospel can be minimized and reduced into brief terms. When this happens, its importance and significance is overlooked. Biblical truth may be talked about and discussed without being passed on to those who need to hear it.

Ministries in America can focus more on getting people into the church than caring for the physical and spiritual needs of the people. Worship services can be more focused on presentation and performance than the Lord Himself, whom it is all intended to exalt.

A distorted focus

Are believers in churches being discipled unto the Lord Himself, or trained for doing certain tasks? The need to accomplish a list of spiritual activities can take the place of spending personal and intimate time with the Lord.

Things like spending time in prayer, devotions, reading the Scripture, serving in various ministries, and so on, are good things, but not an end in themselves.

The Lord desires His people to give themselves to Him.

These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:8-9 NKJV)

I want you to be merciful; I don't want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that's more important than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6 NLT)

It's all about Him, not us

Christian activity can look past what is most important—the personal element. The Christian life is far more than the sum of all Christian activities to be done.

What the Lord considers most important is revealed in the story of Matthew 16:13–28. It’s not complicated or theoretical, but simple and essential.

It is the core of the Essential Gospel and the Christian life. It runs counter to the culture of the day—the culture then and now.

Whether the culture is primitive or sophisticated, the Gospel and the call to follow Jesus is not “...all about me,” nor any individual. It’s all about Jesus.

Do you see your own culture's influence in how you view Christianity?

This is an excerpt from my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, Unraveling the Mystery

Footnotes for this excerpt are below

[1] Reference for William Wilberforce— http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wilberforce

[2] Born again is a term Jesus used in John 3:3-8 when talking to Nicodemus, a Jewish Pharisee. It has become synonymous with a personal faith conversion to orthodox Christianity, especially within evangelical circles.

[3] Here are a couple links to articles about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD)—

http://goo.gl/RvllH | https://goo.gl/fxIwRm

[4] The lyrics are from the song, “Above All,” by Lenny LeBlanc