Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Do you understand?

Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
    and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.

    Who can speak of his descendants?
    For his life was taken from the earth.”
34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.   Acts 8:30-35

Do you understand everything you read in the Bible?  Not many do, and I am one of the multitude that doesn't. I rely on many reference materials such as commentaries, religious reference, books, and countless online sources, all of which help me to understand. 

This story of the eunuch from Ethiopia introduces us to the man who was reading from the words of Isaiah. He was apparently interested in broadening his understanding and knowledge of spiritual things, but those words from Isaiah caused him to be perplexed. "Who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?"  His question opened the door for Philip to start with those very verses of prophecy from Isaiah, and teach the eunuch about Jesus. 

In those verses which were being read, there is tremendous insight into the nature of God, perhaps an insight that we often overlook. There is the mention of suffering and humiliation, deprivation of justice, and ultimately the loss of life.  Remembering these are words of prophecy about Jesus, helps us to bring the great truth to light. If we believe Jesus was God in the flesh, then this is a picture of the one who suffers for us. He can understand our suffering because he has also suffered. So here is the great truth about the nature of God.....The one who suffers with us, also suffers for us.

Philip, in teaching the eunuch, could use these very verses to show the cross of Christ touched the very heartbeat of God. And through the suffering savior, the heart of God was made known as never before. That's why we can view the cross of Jesus through our tears, and yet find release and freedom through the cleansing his shed blood brings. He who was the power by which all things were created, now brings us life when we deserve death. He brings restoration when we deserve destruction. "Yes, Jesus loves me; the Bible tells me so."


Monday, April 29, 2013

Kick him while he's down!

It was an inadvertent collision of two players on opposing teams on the basketball court. Both were trying to get in position to make a planned play, but they ran into each other. No fouls were called, the referees didn't blow their whistles and send anyone to make free throws, it was just one of those things that happens and these two athletes collided. One went to the floor, agonizing in pain. The other hovered over him as if to see if he was ok. The one on the floor was on the visiting team while the other was on the home team.  The arena was packed, not a vacant seat in the house. 

As the player from the visiting team was writhing in pain, laying on the floor, the team doctors and trainers ran to him. He needed help. Fortunately there were no major injuries and the injured player was helped to his feet. He shook off his pain and readied himself to go back in the game. 

We have all seen those times in sporting events when someone gets hurt. Play stops, the people in the stands are quiet, and when the injured player rises to his feet to make his way off the field or court, good sportsmanship is exhibited by the fans of both teams and cheers and applause can be heard.

Good sportsmanship was not exhibited in the event I am describing. In what must have been an embarrassment to the home team, their fans were actually cheering because one of their opponents was hurting.  I watched in amazement as the those in the crowd actually were showing their happiness when a competitor was injured. Even the TV commentators mentioned the lack of sportsmanship being shown by the home team's fans. 

It was making my blood boil...........until I thought about it a bit and realized I have been guilty of the same thing. We know of instances in life when an individual is having a low time. Maybe some gossip gets started about something someone "heard" about him. That's when we rush to conclusions and make sure that everyone we know is informed of this person's weakness or sin, and it seems the more times the story is told, the embellishments grow. Before long we find ourselves like the fans in the stand, actually happy about the misfortune of this person, but especially exhibiting a spirit of pride that we are glad we were not so weak to make a mistake like that. 

The sad truth is the same thing happens in the church. We forget who we are and what we are called to do when the sins of another are made known. Churches are well known for bringing about the "kick him while he's down" syndrome.  We serve a God who loves us enough to forgive us, and he also loves and forgives everyone, even our opponents. We should love them, too.  Please read and pray about these verses of Scripture:

Luke 18: 9-14 -- this is the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector. 

1 John 4:20 -- Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.

John 13:35 -- By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."


Friday, April 26, 2013

They are Hypocrites!

Matthew 23:1-7
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

Needless to say, these scribes and Pharisees were not fond of Jesus. After all, he is painting a picture of them being religious fakes.  They may be teaching the law of Moses, but be careful to notice they do not practice what they preach!

The Pharisees were, in their own eyes, the example of religious teachings and practice. If you want to know how to be religious in the right ways, just follow the actions of the Pharisees. But Jesus called them hypocrites! 

I see the Pharisees being likened to the actors in an elementary school play. Line up where we tell you to line up. Speak only what we tell you to speak and when we tell you to speak. Do everything we say and question nothing we do. In reality, the Pharisees wanted to be the "performers" so everyone could see how religious they were. 

Jesus accused them of placing cumbersome burdens on their followers, but the Pharisees were not willing to do anything for the people to help ease the burden. They were to be recognized with seats of honor and demanded respect in public places. In their own eyes they were the picture of greatness. 

A little later in this teaching on hypocrisy, Jesus summed up the issue by telling us the truth about humility and greatness. Look at verses 11 and 12, "The greatest among you will be your servant.  For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

How sad when we miss this vital and important teaching of Jesus. If you want to be great, really great, you must learn to be a servant. If we bring ourselves to the spotlight, Jesus says we will be brought down. And if we practice humility, we will be built up. 

May we continue to serve the Lord and others in our words and actions, and may we always have the servant's attitude. That is exactly what Jesus did for us. Read Philippians 2:5-11. When Jesus humbled himself, God exalted him. That's the way it works for us, too.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

According to His Will

1 John 5:13-15
13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

I like the boldness of John's declaration in these verses. It is addressed to YOU if you are among those who believe in the name of the Son of God.  That belief is constantly leading us to know that we have eternal life. 

If you knew you had eternal life, do you suppose that would give you the confidence to approach God? I used the word "boldness" in describing John's declaration, now he comes using the word "confidence," describing our assurance that we can approach God. No one can speak with that boldness nor posses that confidence without a strong faith in Jesus Christ. 

John then continues to proclaim if we have the confidence to approach God, we may ask anything according to his will, and he hears us. We may also know since he hears us, whatever we ask, we will have.  The world is going to be quick to inform us that isn't true. Those who are not believers will name instances where we prayed and did not receive what we asked. 

Our previous studies on prayer have taught us prayer is a vital part of the Christian life. As those who have loved, trusted, and obeyed the Lord, it should be natural for us to talk to our Heavenly Father. The one thing John points out in his declaration is the key. "If we ask anything according to his will."  

Sometimes even we Christians start thinking these verses can be the "gimmie, gimmie" kind of conversation where we give God a list of everything we want, and he supplies it.  That attitude toward prayer is not according to the will of God. The "name it and claim it" prayers become centered around our wishes, our wants, and even our will instead of God's. 

If it is so important to pray according to the will of God, then our primary objective in approaching God to ask for anything, must not be like our birthday wish list. How do we know what the will of God is?  One way is for us to stay close to the word of God. Regular Bible study and the application of biblical truth to our lives will lead us to better know God's will. 

Another way, and perhaps a way which will make his will more meaningful to us, is in the quiet silence of dwelling on who God is. Think of his infinite presence, his unending love, his willingness to forgive, his desire for us to be in relationship with him. In our silent meditations, God will make his will known to us.