August 8, 2017 – Iron Sharpens Iron- Acts 18:24-28, Proverbs 27:17

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Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately. And when he wished to cross over to Achaia, the believers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. On his arrival he greatly helped those who through grace had become believers, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus. Acts 18:24-28 (NRSV)

It is refreshing to meet people who have first come to faith in Jesus. Even though they may (or may not) be armed with a few Bible verses, their enthusiasm is infectious.  Sometimes their theology is iffy, but their vivaciousness almost makes up for that lack.

As a person who tends to be rational versus emotional, I envy those who can look up at the sky with a blissful smile and say, “Just give me Jesus!,” and don’t give a whole lot of thought to theology or to necessarily nit picking on all the “right” things. Unfortunately for me and other fellow rational types, nothing gets close to my heart without going through my brain first.  Some people, like me, challenge what we are taught and have to do the research and study to back up what we are taught, and even then we still struggle with belief.  We have to learn all of the “right things” and even then we have to see faith in action, and almost get hit by lightning to even have a chance at getting it.  This is why I always insist we give poor “doubting Thomas” a break!

Apollos was said to be an eloquent man and well versed in the Scriptures, but even he needed other people’s input for his knowledge to be more complete and for his teaching to be more effective.

Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another. Proverbs 27:17 (NRSV)

Priscilla and Aquila provided Apollos with the knowledge he needed to be a more effective witness. The Berean believers searched the Scriptures to back up what the apostle Paul was teaching.  To be strong and valid, our faith must be an informed faith, built upon the Foundation, who is Jesus.

Some of us have that beautiful quality of “falling into” faith. Others of us have to “work out our own salvation in fear and trembling” as the apostle Paul speaks of in Philippians 2:12.  Either way, we need each other’s input. We need each other’s enthusiasm and encouragement.  God created us to live out our faith in community.

We are all stronger when we share our gifts and encourage each other.

How can we share our faith and encourage each other today?

July 28, 2017 – The Gift of Wisdom, (Ask, Search and Knock) – 1 Kings 3:5-12, Luke 11:9-10

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At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.”  And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.  And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted.  Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this, your great people?”

It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. 1 Kings 3:5-12 (NRSV)

(Jesus said): “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Luke 11:9-10 (NRSV)

King Solomon was considered to be the wisest human being who ever lived. Yet his greatest act of wisdom was in his request to God when he became king of Israel.  He asked for understanding and discernment. He did not ask for the things that human nature normally craves.

If God told us He would give us anything we asked for, most of us would automatically think of a few things. Wealth, the heads of our enemies, prestige, an attractive appearance, power, longevity, etc. come to mind almost as knee jerk reactions. The more altruistic and gentle of us might ask for family harmony or world peace, or even for knowledge, but how many of us would go straight to asking for understanding and discernment?

Knowledge is not the same thing as wisdom. Knowledge is a component of wisdom, but knowledge without understanding and discernment is simply a set of memorized facts.

God hears and answers our prayers- especially those that underscore His will for us. When we admit our inadequacy and ignorance (as Solomon did) and ask for God to supply us with understanding and discernment, He gives those things to us, generously.

The most difficult petition in the Lord’s Prayer is, “Thy will be done.”  It is human nature to think that what we believe and know is best, but many times we do not have the wisdom to step back and consider every side of a situation.  It is more difficult, albeit much more wise, to put our pride and illusions of superiority aside and ask, search and knock on God’s door.  He will answer our questions and supply our needs far more abundantly and completely than we can dream of doing on our own.

 

April 17, 2017 – Maundy Thursday- How Deep is Our Love? Matthew 16:15-16

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“He (Jesus) said to them, ‘But who do you [yourselves] say I am?  Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.'” Matthew 16:15-16 (AMP)

Early in Jesus’ ministry, the apostle Peter got it.  At this time, at least on an intellectual level, the apostle Peter understood Who Jesus is.

If we fast forward to the night of the Last Supper, after Jesus had shared His Body and Blood with the disciples, the apostle Peter still maintained what he knew about Jesus:

“Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd,  and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 

But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”  Peter said to him, ‘Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And so said all the disciples. Matthew 16:15-16 (NRSV)

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The spirit is willing, and Peter knew in his rational mind that Jesus is Who He claims to be.  Head knowledge, in this instance, wasn’t Peter’s problem.  Unfortunately, the things we humans do when our hides are on the line sometimes defy rationality.  Our flesh is weak, especially when that primal self-preservation instinct kicks in.

Head knowledge is something to be sought after, but not simply for the sake of knowing facts and figures.  Knowledge without practical application is at best, superficial, and at worst, pointless.  Knowledge that rests on the surface, but that really hasn’t sunk in and become part of one’s deepest heart of hearts is not of much value.

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There’s a reason why the Israelites were commanded in the Shema, which is the primary prayer in Judaism, (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) to keep on repeating and meditating on Scripture at all times:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.  Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.  Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead,and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NRSV)

It is a good thing to internalize the Scriptures, and the act of reading, reciting, teaching and memorizing them does serve to write them not only on our minds but also on our hearts.

Even considering that the apostle Peter would have been taught the Shema from his earliest days, and he spent three years with Jesus, it’s still one thing for us weak humans to know Who Jesus is, but it’s quite another for us to act accordingly.

Jesus knew the disciples’ weaknesses, including Peter, who shared with us the human flaw of having a crocodile mouth but a canary patoot.  It’s one thing to pledge to follow Jesus to His death, but the irony is that it’s impossible to do that apart from the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ statement directed toward the disciples on the night of the Last Supper is telling: “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd,  and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’”(Matthew 16:15)

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Apart from the Shepherd, no matter how much they might know, the sheep don’t have a chance.

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” John 14:6 (NRSV)

There are deep spiritual benefits of studying and meditating upon Scripture, but the point of any spiritual discipline, and the point of our faith is always to remain connected with Jesus.  Knowledge is meaningless if there is no practical application of that knowledge, and faith is pointless if we believe in the wrong things.  The scattering of the disciples after the Last Supper simply proves that we humans (even disciples who walked and ate and took part of the Body of Christ in an intensely tangible way) cannot stay faithful to God apart from Jesus.  It’s impossible to stand strong, no matter what you know, no matter what kinds of high spiritual experiences you can claim to have experienced, if you are apart from Jesus.

Jesus said that if a person loves his/her life, he/she will lose it. “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” John 12:25 (NRSV)

This statement speaks to our self-preservation instinct.  Most of the time it’s wise and prudent to heed that instinct, but if and when our choices come down to this life and this physical body versus things of God’s Kingdom, we should choose the things of eternal life over ease and expediency in this life.  It’s easy to say, but infinitely hard to do.

The good news is that Jesus came to live in this world to show us how to do that, and to give us the strength we need to do what He calls us to do.

I pray that we will find strength in sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ with other believers, and that Jesus will hold us up to stand for Him when our weak flesh cannot.

January 23, 2017- The Pursuit of Wisdom, James 3:17

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But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. James 3:17 (NRSV)

The interesting thing about the pursuit of knowledge (opposed to the pursuit of wisdom) is that pursuit of knowledge often places an undue emphasis on being correct.  Pursuing the correct technique or procedure or even the correct theology can become so paramount that the heart and purpose of the endeavor is lost.

Life becomes a hollow endeavor when our dealings with ourselves and others are cold, calculating, unforgiving and lacking mercy and love.  When we are more worried about appearing squeaky clean at all times, or whether or not we are in all the right activities with all the right people at all the right times, than we are about whether or not we know and spread the joy of the love of God, then maybe we are doing it wrong.

Is it more wise to put emphasis on being correct, or to seek gentleness, forgiveness and peace?

There is a subtle difference between knowledge- as in knowing facts, and wisdom, which is the art of applying knowledge to live life more fully.

God grants wisdom to all who ask for it.  (James 1:15)  It is always a good time to ask.