Archive | June 2014

Not Just Washed

Focus Verse of the Week

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7) 

Classic Commentary

The apostle gives a grievous summary of the characteristics of man after the flesh—which we once were. Sin was foolishness, was disobedience; the sinner was deceived, was the slave of lusts, filled with malice and envy, hateful, and hating others. Such is man characterized by sin. But the kindness of God, of a Savior-God, His good-will and charity towards men (sweet and precious character of God!) has appeared.

That which has made us different from others is not some merit in ourselves, some personal superiority: we were sometime even as they. It is the tender love and grace of the God of mercy. He has been kind and merciful to us: we have known what it is, and are so to others. It is true that in cleansing and renewing us this mercy has wrought by a principle, and in a sphere of a life, that are entirely new, so that we cannot walk with the world as we did before.

Now when the kindness of a Savior-God appeared, it was not something vague and uncertain; He has saved us, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy by washing and renewing us. … He is washed from his former habits, thoughts, desires, in the practical sense. We wash a thing that exists. The man was morally bad and defiled in his inward and outward life. God has saved us by purifying us; He could not do it otherwise. To be in relationship with Himself there must be practical purity.

(Adapted from John Darby’s Synopsis of the New Testament, Titus 3.)

A Thought to Keep

God demands practical purity in our lives, but we can’t accomplish this without the Holy Spirit. Are you living the reality of a sinner saved by grace, relying on the Holy Spirit’s help?

Interested in starting a Bible reading plan in 2012? It’s not too late – check out our BibleStudyTools.com’s Bible Reading Plans, decide what pattern you like, and pick your start date. Just sign up to get started!

[Source: Beyond Sunday, Tropical Bible Study .] 

 

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How Jesus Emptied Himself

by Dr. James MacDonald

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. — Philippians 2:5-8

This passage is so rich; we only have space to examine one jewel. It’s the phrase, He “made himself nothing” (v.7a). Notice, Jesus “made Himself.” He didn’t get a memo. He wasn’t pushed out of heaven. He was fully engaged in God’s whole plan!

That phrase there, “made himself nothing,” is actually the basis for a lot of false teaching. Some translations rightly put it, “He emptied Himself.” Then the question becomes, emptied Himself of what? Some falsely suggest that Jesus emptied Himself of Deity and that He literally became a first-century Jewish man; that there was no God, just Jesus, the man. But the Bible teaches the Incarnation of Jesus, 100 percent God; 100 percent man, undiminished Deity dwelling in humanity.

You ask, “Well, what did He empty Himself of then?”

Answer, at least five things:

He emptied Himself of glory. In John 17:5, Jesus prayed, “Glorify me… with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” He gave up the adoration of the saints and angels when He came into this world.

He emptied Himself of independent authority. In John 5:30, Jesus said, “I can do nothing on My own.” He brought Himself into a different relationship with the Father, where ALL of His activities and actions had to be cleared in that unusual way. Though equal with the Father, now uniquely submissive to Him.

He released the voluntary exercise of His divine attributes. Compare John 1:43-51 with Matthew 24:36 to see how Jesus sometimes was omniscient and sometimes not.

He gave up eternal riches. I just want you to try to imagine for a moment the treatment that the Son of God, the King of the universe, gets in heaven. Yet 2 Corinthians 8:9 says, “…though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

He gave up His intimate relationship with the Father. Who can describe the fellowship that exists between the first and second Person of the Trinity? And to hear Jesus on the cross in Matthew 27:46 shouting, “My God, why have You forsaken Me?” He made Himself nothing—for you and me

 

Praying Without Asking

by The Good Book Blog

By Michelle Lee-Barnewall

One of the exercises I have my spiritual formation students do is a prayer exercise in which they are to spend 30 minutes in prayer however they wish, but with one specific instruction – they are not supposed to ask for anything, for themselves or anyone else.

I tell them that the reason for the exercise is that while we are certainly told to bring our requests to God (e.g., Matthew 7:7-11; Luke 11:9-13; Philippians 4:6; 1 John 5:15; etc.), prayer is much more than requesting things. However, sometimes we get so accustomed to filling our times of prayer with requests that we forget to leave room to wait on God and listen to His voice.

In many ways we already know how to ask God for things. What we are less adept at doing is spending time with God just being in communion with him. Therefore, the purpose of the exercise is to help the students see just how much requests can dominate their prayer time and to help them discipline their prayer time so that they are able to come before God in other ways.

By refraining from asking for a period of time, they are compelled to pray in a different way. Some of them are puzzled over what to do, and so I give examples. They can give praise, give adoration, or engage in thanksgiving. They can sing hymns, or they can journal. Or they can simply be silent and wait in God’s presence.

There are also various helps that others have discovered. One is the ACTS method of praying, which is an acrostic that stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. This helps guide their prayer time so that supplication, or requesting, comes only after a period of adoration, confession, and thanksgiving.

Richard Foster, in his book Prayer, describes three categories of prayer designated as Inward, Upward, and Outward. Inward prayer is geared towards personal transformation, upward for intimacy with God, and outward for ministry. An example of inward prayer would be what he describes as “Simple Prayer,” or prayer in which we “bring ourselves before God just as we are, warts and all,” as Moses did in Numbers 11:11-12 when he complained to God about bearing the burdens of the stiff-necked Israelites (p.9). Upward prayer could include adoration, while petitions and intercessions are considered outward prayers. Thus, our petitions are but one of multiple forms of prayers, and our prayer life would be greatly enriched by these other dimensions.

I ask my students to pay attention to their responses to their exercise. Was it refreshing? Challenging? Boring? Peaceful? Exhilarating? Usually I get a wide range of answers. Some of the answers are relatively common, though: “I didn’t realize how much time I spent in prayer just making requests!” “It was really difficult not to ask for anything” “After I got used to it, it was great just to spend time with God.”

We talk about prayer as a time of building our relationship with the Lord. After all, what kind of relationship would we have with our friends and family if we only asked them for things? Learning about someone requires spending time in their presence during which we listen as much as we talk. As a wise friend of mine has said, “Prayer is open, honest, and forthright conversation with God, Who has more to say to His people than His people have to say to Him.”

 

Are You Concerned About Your Future?

by Kay Arthur

O Beloved, do you know that what concerns you is of the utmost concern to God? If you belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, every need, every trial, every temptation that touches you, touches God, because you are part of His Son. You are bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh. You belong to Jesus. He is your Savior, your Lord, your Head, your Elder Brother—a joint-heir with you.

As His child, this is why God tells you to humble yourself by casting every single care, everything that makes you anxious, worried, or upset upon Him. You are His sheep. He is your Shepherd.

Cast your cares on Him! Do not walk in pride, thinking you must bear it alone, figure it out, and somehow “make it” on your own. Humility admits need and says, “I cannot, but, God, You can!”

First Peter 5:6 and 7 says: “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”

Did you notice that I underlined the word “because” in that verse? I want you to see and know just how precious you are to Him. You have worth, value, purpose! Whether you believe it or not, it is true.

If there’s a little voice inside you saying anything to the contrary, just know it is the voice of the serpent of old, Satan, who is the personification of doubt. He is the father of lies. He wants to convince you that whatever happens, you are on your own. Everything depends on you. That’s a lie.

That is why the exhortation in 1 Peter 5:7, “casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you,” is followed by these words: “Be of sober spirit.” In other words, don’t let your mind take you where you shouldn’t go; keep your thoughts under control.

First Peter 5:8 says: “Be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

When you forget how precious you are to your Father God, when you think He doesn’t care, or that He won’t or can’t care because of something you have done, or because of who you are, then, dear one, you are being devoured by the devil, and believe me, he is not toothless! He can chew you up and spit you out emotionally if you don’t do what God says.

If you are afraid to commit yourself to God, to roll your burden onto His shoulders and leave it there (that is the metaphor behind “casting all your anxiety on Him”), then I can tell you this with utmost certainty, you don’t have a proper understanding of God’s character nor of His sovereignty.

The movie Braveheart was based on a true story of a Scottish hero who captured the hearts of millions. One of the main characters from the original story was Robert Bruce. The story is not in the movie, but Robert Bruce, like the movie character, Braveheart, endured persecution.

At one point when Robert Bruce was fleeing from those who would take his life, he ducked into a small cave. His persecutors searched the countryside for him, inspecting every possible hiding place. When they came to the cave where Bruce was actually hiding, one of the men ducked to go in and check out the cave, and noticing a spider’s web, called to the others, telling them there was no need to go into the cave. They were convinced he couldn’t have entered the cave without breaking the spider’s web.

Overhearing them, and with a sigh of relief and trembling lips, Robert Bruce breathed this prayer: “O God, I thank Thee that in the tiny bowels of a spider you can place me a shelter.”

Yes, God is able to care for you right down to sending spiders to hide you. And He will, because you are precious to Him and what concerns you is of the utmost concern to Him.

My friend, every single detail of your life is important to God. Continue to know God by studying His Word for yourself. Keep seeking Him daily, for He cares for you! Give Him this day, this month, this year, and give Him your future.

 

Hold Firm

Open BibleI pulled out of my driveway heading for my mom’s house and noticed a katydid on my windshield.

This is rare for the area I live in since it is more city than farm or wooded area. For those of you who do not know what a katydid is, it is similar to a grasshopper. It is green but has a flat body whereas the grasshopper has a round body and is more brown colored.

As I accelerated, I noticed the wind was making his body flutter, but the legs were securely attached to the windshield. I was sure he would lose his battle to the wind, but he kept hanging on, body fluttering in the wind. He did this for a couple of miles.

As I slowed down one time, he tried to re-adjust his footing. He released his grip on the windshield with just one leg and it was all over; he was gone.

The wind is our trials.

The windshield is like the word of God.

When we hold on to our “windshield” securely, we are secure.

When things start to settle down, we often loosen our grip on God’s word. We start to rely on our strength and understanding rather than staying in God’s word. That’s when the trials come back and catch us unprepared and the trials drag us away.

If we hold firm to God’s word, we will be ready for the trials as they come.

by Mike Stull

Five Steps to Peace in a Really Bad Situation

by Paul Dean

How do you get peace in a really bad situation? You may be in the fight of your life financially and about to lose your home. It may be that you’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer as my father-in-law was. It may be that your marriage is falling apart. You fill in the blank. We’re either headed into a crisis, in the midst of one, or coming out of one. Now, coming out of one is great. We can see what God was up to in part, and we get a measure of peace from that. But how can we get peace if we’re headed into or in the midst of a crisis? God tells us how to do just that in Philippians 4:4-9.

The first thing you have to do is focus on God instead of your situation. That’s easier said than done, but that’s what Paul means when he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). He’s not saying that we’re happy about what we’re going through; he’s not even saying to rejoice in our difficulties. He’s saying rejoice in the Lord, and that’s something altogether different.

Biblical joy is the knowledge that God is in control of your circumstances and allows only that which is good for you into your life (Romans 8:28). That’s why James says to consider it joy when a trial comes your way (James 1:2). It’s not that the trial brings joy; it’s what God is doing for us through the trial; His good work is coming into our lives. Because we know that, we consider the trial joy; we rest in the Lord. In essence, we worship Him. That’s what Job did when he lost his possessions and his family; he said, “Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

The morning my father died was sad; not only were we very close, but it pained me to see my mother suffer as well. At the same time, we knew that God was involved in every detail and was doing a good thing in our lives through our hurt. As we focused on that, we were able to worship, find joy, and tell others about the goodness of God and the good times we had with my dad. A couple of deacons from the church arrived within an hour of his passing. As they came into the room, we were laughing about some story as we’d been reminiscing, and one of them made the comment, “Somehow I knew there would be joy in this house today.” Again, it’s not that we were happy about my father’s death. But we forced ourselves to focus on God and in so doing we found joy.

But that’s only the beginning; we can’t stop there because Satan and the flesh have a way of coming back to bite us. From our focus on God, we have to literally engage in serving others. Paul says, “Let your gentleness be known to all men; the Lord is at hand” (Philippians 4:5). As you rejoice in God, that should move you to then focus on others. Let your gentleness, kindness, patience, and heart be known to others. How can you do that? Paul says the Lord is at hand; God is near and will help you.

And it’s not just that God wants you to serve others in the midst of your trouble. It’s that He knows our weakness. Our tendency will be to focus on ourselves and spiral down into despair. But if we focus on others, we’ll be distracted and not have time to spiral down. More than that, we’ll derive a certain joy in serving others before the Lord.

The morning my father died, a man’s car broke down in front of our house. He was taking his daughter to school, and the car just quit on him. I saw him, went out to help, and gave them a lift to school so the little girl wouldn’t be late. The man and I came back to check on the car. While we were doing that, I remember looking over as the funeral home folks were carrying my father out of the house and thinking, “That’s just like the Lord to be kind enough to get my focus on someone else. Thank you Lord.”

Now, that’s well and good. But what happens when we’re alone or when it’s time to go to bed? We have to give our trouble to God through prayer. I remember tossing and turning one night as my mom was to have open heart surgery the next day. I couldn’t get any peace. I did remember God’s Word though: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Well, that’s what I was doing; I was praying over and over again but I still couldn’t get any peace or sleep! And then I realized; I was praying like the pagans do (Matthew 6:7-8). I was worried if I didn’t say just the right thing, mention every possible problem, or pray with just the right attitude, that God wouldn’t hear my prayers. When I realized what I was doing, I simply gave it to the Lord. That’s why He says to pray; He means for us to tell Him what’s burdening our hearts and give it to Him so we can rest. He gives us permission (and commands us even) to stop thinking about our problems and let Him deal with them. When we do that, He gives us the peace. When I did that, I went right to sleep. If we pray and leave our burden with God, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard [our] hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). God’s peace, like a Roman soldier, will guard our hearts and minds so that no troubling thing plagues us.

It doesn’t work! That’s what we say when we’re filled with worry, fear, or despair. The truth is we can’t take any one of these things without the other. Each of the things we’re talking about forms a whole. God is telling us what to do in the midst of a troubling state of affairs. He’s telling us to focus on Him and others; to think about Him, to pray to Him, and to think about Him again. It’s not enough to pray. Once we pray, Paul says we’re to force ourselves to think about the things of God and not what’s bothering us. It’s not easy; that’s why it’s called a battle. But the way we fight is to change what we’re thinking about.

You might say certain thoughts plague you because you’re in a longterm dilemma that seems never ending. Yes, but you don’t have to dwell on the difficulties. Reorient the focus of your thoughts. Paul says, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

Take it one step further. The more you meditate on the things of God, as Paul says, the more you’ll know God and His ways. You’ll know that He is indeed working these things for good in your life. You know that “the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalms 84:11).

But there’s one more thing. You’ve moved your focus from your troubles to God and others. Paul says now to make sure you keep doing that. Keep doing the things God has told you to do. “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). If you do what God is teaching you to do, you’ll have peace. And don’t overlook the nuance of what Paul says here. Earlier, he said that the peace of God will guard your heart. That’s true; that’s what we want. But here he says the God of peace will be with you. That’s even better! You get peace because you have the God of peace walking with you through the fire.

Jesus was with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, and He’ll be with you in your fiery furnace as well (Daniel 3:25). They were at peace even though they didn’t know whether God would actually keep them alive or not (Daniel 3:17-18). All they knew was that God was with them and would see them through one way or the other. And that’s what you need to realize; God is with you and will see you through one way or the other. And that’s not resignation or defeatist. That’s confidence. God has a plan for you and it’s good. You walk with Him because He’s walking with you. That’s how you get peace in a really bad situation.

Dr. Paul Dean invites you to discover more about yourself, God, and others . . . and develop a Christian worldview. Dr. Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author.

 

Created for His Pleasure

liddell

Eric Liddell was an Olympic runner from Britain who won a gold medal in the 1924 Paris Olympics.

He was a man who had a deep commitment to the Lord and had future plans of being a missionary. In the meantime, he knew God had given him a special gift to run, and he often said, “I feel God’s pleasure when I run.”

He spent years training for the Olympics. He passed each hurdle and qualified for the Olympics.

Finally, the day came for him to run in the games that were held in Paris. There was only one problem. One of his running events was held on Sunday.

Liddell refused to run on Sunday, believing it dishonored the Lord’s Sabbath. He held to his convictions and brought great persecution on himself. He made a decision that even if it meant losing his opportunity to compete, he would not run. God’s laws were greater than man’s applause.

Just when the circumstances seemed hopeless, another situation arose that allowed Liddell to run on a different day.

So often this is the case in the spiritual realm. God tests our hearts to see if we will remain faithful to Him at the cost of something important to us. Once He knows where our loyalty lies, He opens a new door that meets the desires of our hearts.

God takes pleasure in seeing His creation used for His glory.

Liddell understood why he was made to run; he used his gift of running to bring pleasure to his Creator.

Later, Eric Liddell went on to serve God on the mission field.

Does your life work bring pleasure to the Lord? Do you understand that God instilled certain gifts and talents in you so that He might find pleasure in His creation of you?

Take pleasure in the gifts God has given to you this day. And let His glory shine through you.

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

by Os Hillman