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30
Dec

What Does “Father in Heaven” Imply?

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I WILL SPEAK for me.

I probably need to spend more time thinking about what I’m actually saying in my private prayers.

“Father in heaven…”

If I am not very careful, the phrase may constitute little more than a thoughtless, repetitive expression.

Strangely enough, I don’t talk to my earthly father that way, but I tend to do so with my heavenly Father.

Does He ever get weary of my redundancy?

What am I really saying when I articulate the words, “Father in heaven…”?

First, “Father” means I am a member of God’s family.

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).

Just as a suit which I put on envelops me and identifies my appearance, my immersion in water (Romans 6:3-4; cf. 1 Peter 3:20-21) was the culminating act of faith by which God added me to His spiritual household (1 Timothy 3:15) and identified me as His kin.

Second, “Father” means I am a recipient of God’s special provision.

“Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him” (Matthew 7:9-11)?

If I, as an earthly father, endeavor to meet the dietary needs and requests of my child, how much more (cf. Ephesians 3:20) will my heavenly Father accommodate the requirements (cf. Philippians 4:19James 1:17) of my life (cf. Psalm 37:25)?

Third, “Father” means I am the beneficiary of God’s loving discipline.

And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:

“My son, do not despise the [a]chastening of the Lord,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.” (Hebrews 12:5-6; cf. Proverbs 3:11-12).

Because God is my Father in heaven, He, on occasion disciplines me for my long term good (cf. Hebrews 12:9-11). He wields the rod (Psalm 89:32Proverbs 22:15) of pain and corrects me as an expression of His special relationship (Hebrews 12:8) with me.

“Father in heaven…”

The phrase ought to be more than some rote recital of words. It should be an indelible imprint on my heart–that I have a Father who…

  • takes me in as his own
  • gives me all that I need
  • chastens me to help me mature.

“God loves you and I love you and that’s the way it’s gonna be!”  –Mike

23
Dec

What About Nicodemus?

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I HAVE A not-so-private confession.

I don’t know that I’ve ever said a good thing about the Pharisees.

Pharisees have always been easy prey. From my rather one-sided perspective, they–in totality–were the religious bottom-feeders of ancient Jewish sects. They were constantly peering over Jesus’ shoulder trying to find fault with His teachings and practices.

They claimed Jesus ate with the wrong people (Matthew 9:11); that His power could be attributed to demonic forces (9:34;12:24); that His disciples, and He by extension, were guilty of breaking sacred tradition (15:2); that He endorsed withholding income taxes from the Roman IRS (Luke 23:2); that He violated the Sabbath (John 9:16); and that, perhaps worst of all, He was not from God.

Jesus, the most loving man who ever walked the earth, called them “hypocrites,” “blind guides,” “white-washed tombs,” and “serpents” (cf. Matthew 23).

If He could denounce them with such bold and unpalatable metaphors, then surely I could do the same in my sermons and Bible classes. And so I admit it, Pharisees have always been my first choice as go-to verbal punching bags.

The problem is–not all Pharisee’s were the wicked men I’ve always portrayed them to be.

Despite my enthusiastic willingness to stereotype all Pharisees as religious charlatans, not all of them could or should be so characterized.

Take the curious example of Nicodemus:

  • John 3 records a very respectful home Bible study between our Lord and a notable Pharisee (John 3:1ff). There was no acidic rancor, no deceptive or misleading questions, and no obvious condescension–in fact, quite the opposite. Nicodemus began his lesson with the Lord in a very respectful, honorable fashion. He said, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). Don’t miss that–Nicodemus admitted, at the very least, that Jesus’ power came from above. Granted, he didn’t fully recognize the Lord’s identity, nor did he initially catch on to what was being said about the new birth, but his questions (John 3:4, 9) didn’t bear the obvious marks of Pharisaic hostility.
  • John 7 chronicles how the Pharisees at large sought to arrest Jesus because of His Messianic claims and the fact that many had believed on him (John 7:10ff). On this occasion, Nicodemus not only intervened on the Lord’s behalf, but he pointed out that his peers were about to break the very Law which they claimed to uphold. John writes in John 7:50, “Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, ‘Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?’” While Nicodemus may have displayed a certain caution on this occasion, the fact remains that he did defend Jesus.
  • John 19 recounts how two men were involved in preparing Jesus’ dead body for burial (John 19:38ff; cf. Acts 9:37Mark 15:46John 20:7). One of those men, not surprisingly, was Nicodemus. Unlike the twelve who ran for their lives when the events of the crucifixion began to unfold (Matthew 26:56), this once seemingly discreet Pharisee came right out into the open and took part in this benevolent endeavor.

It’s a safe interpretation to say that many, perhaps even the majority of Pharisees, were closed-minded about the Lord. But it is not accurate to say that all Pharisees were so inclined. Nicodemus was a precious exception.

19
Dec

Is Help on the Way?

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LONG AGO, IN the days of sailing ships, a terrible storm arose and a ship was lost in a very deserted area.

Only one crewman survived, washed up on a small, uninhabited island.

In his desperation, the castaway daily prayed to God for help and deliverance from his lonely existence.

Each day, he looked for a passing ship and saw nothing.

Eventually, he managed to build a very crude hut in which he stored the few things he had recovered from the wreck, and those things he was able to make to help him.

One day, as the sailor was returning from his daily search for food, he saw a column of smoke.

As he ran to it, he say that it was arising from his hut, which was in flames.

All was lost.

Now, not only was he alone, but he had nothing to help him in his struggle for survival.

He was stunned and overcome with grief and despair.

He fell into a deep depression and spent many a sleepless night wondering what was to become of him and questioning whether life itself was even worth the effort.

Then one morning, he arose early and went down to the sea.

There, to his amazement, he saw a ship lying offshore, and a small rowboat coming toward him.

When this once-marooned man met the ship’s captain, he asked him, “How did you know to send help?  How did you know I was here?”

The captain replied, “Why, we saw your smoke signal last week.  But, by the time we could turn our ship around and sail against the wind, it had taken us several days to get to you.  But here we are.”

Calamity may strike, but we must remember that God can use that calamity as a means to bring greater blessing to our lives.

Right now, you may feel as if your life has gone up in smoke.  You may feel as if your heart is going through fiery trials.

I want you to know that your trial may be used by God as the very instrument that will bring you closer to Him and bring blessing from His hand.

That reality would eventually become true in Job’s life.

God drew Job closer to Himself than ever before.

God will use our times of testing and trials to bring us even closer to Himself.  Steven J. Lawson, “I Just Want to Lie Down and Die,” When All Hell Breaks Loose, 69-70

“Then Job answered the LORD and said, ‘I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You” (Job 42:1-2).

18
Dec

Philippians 4:6-7

Anxious

13
Dec

Leadership 2

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ALTHOUGH SAUL WAS not a good king, he was a necessary king.

He was necessary because he became the ultimate picture of how kings should not be and how they should rule.

Saul was…superficial.

But how is superficiality to be defined?

Superficial comes from two Latin words, super and facia, which means “upon the face” or “face value.”

We are superficial when what we appear to be is all there is to us.

When what others see in us is all  they get in us, we are not so much transparent as superficial…

Great leadership is that which, when touched, quickly tells us it is too deep to be touched.

Below the apparent surface of great leadership are deep souls whose understanding threatens to swallow us.

Yet the more we probe great leaders, the more we become aware that their insights are bottomless–their wisdom is too vast to outline or format.

David was such a leader.

He was much more than he appeared to be.

Saul, by contrast, was only what he appeared to be–no more, no less.  Calvin Miller, “Fostering an Honest Servant Image,” The Empowered Leader, 9-10.

SCRIPTURE STUDY:  1 Samuel 17:13-50

31 Now when the words which David spoke were heard, they reported them to Saul; and he sent for him. 32 Then David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.”

33 And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are a youth, and he a man of war from his youth.”

34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep his father’s sheep, and when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, 35 I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard, and struck and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37 Moreover David said, “The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”

And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!”

38 So Saul clothed David with his armor, and he put a bronze helmet on his head; he also clothed him with a coat of mail. 39 David fastened his sword to his armor and tried to walk, for he had not tested them. And David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these, for I have not tested them.” So David took them off.

40 Then he took his staff in his hand; and he chose for himself five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag, in a pouch which he had, and his sling was in his hand. And he drew near to the Philistine. 41 So the Philistine came, and began drawing near to David, and the man who bore the shield went before him. 42 And when the Philistine looked about and saw David, he disdained[d] him; for he was only a youth, ruddy and good-looking. 43 So the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 And the Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!”

45 Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. 47 Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands.”

48 So it was, when the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, that David hurried and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine. 49 Then David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone; and he slung it and struck the Philistine in his forehead, so that the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the earth. 50 So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him.

12
Dec

Leadership 1

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LEADERSHIP IS FIBROUS and tough, not easily torn by discouragement.

It is very fluid, filtering through the lifestyles of the led.

In short, leadership possesses leaders; leaders do not possess leadership.

….This ability to make courageous decisions in relationships is one of the key elements of leadership.

“Followers expect a leader to face up to tough decisions.  When conflict must be resolved, when justice must be defined and carried out, when promises need to be kept, when the organization needs to hear who counts–these are the times when leaders act with ruthless honesty and live up to their covenant with the people they lead.”1

Calvin Miller, Fostering an Honest Servant Image,” The Empowered Leader, 8-9.

1 Max DePree, Leadership Jazz, 222.

SCRIPTURE STUDY:

Now the Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite. For I have provided Myself a king among his sons.”

And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.”

But the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Then invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; you shall anoint for Me the one I name to you.”

So Samuel did what the Lord said, and went to Bethlehem. And the elders of the town trembled at his coming, and said, “Do you come peaceably?”

And he said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Sanctify[b] yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons, and invited them to the sacrifice.

So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!”

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have [c]refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

So Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Thus Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 And Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all the young men here?” Then he said, “There remains yet the youngest, and there he is, keeping the sheep.”

And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him. For we will not sit down till he comes here.” 12 So he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, with bright eyes, and good-looking. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is the one!” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel arose and went to Ramah.  1 Sam. 16:1-3

11
Dec

What’s the Best Way to Communicate Vision?

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Too much emphasis upon a slogan can be detrimental.

A slogan is one means of effectively communicating the essence of the vision so that people have a shorthand way of recalling it.

However, it is important not to confuse a slogan that encapsulates the heart of the vision with the actual vision itself.

In many cases, slogans prove to be more harmful than useful because they trivialize the vision.

Rather than capture the totality of the vision–in all its fullness, with all its nuances–some people focus solely upon the content communicated through the slogan and thus limit the potential of the ministry.  George Barna, “Myths that Mar Vision,” The Power of VISION, 52-53.

“Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach” (Neh. 2:17).

10
Dec

Are You Done?

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TRY TO IMAGINE the scene in your mind’s eye.

She’s a young, attractive lady in her mid-twenties.  She approaches you and others in the foyer of the church building Wednesday night just before Bible study.  She immediately thrusts out her left hand, spreads her fingers, and displays the sparkling silver band on her third finger.  With obvious enthusiasm she announces, “I got married today!”

While the group is still reeling from her initial announcement, she drops a second explosive.  “Yes!  We’re married, and of course, we’re done…”

“You’re done?” you gingerly inquire.

She smiles back.  “You know, silly, we’re married now so we don’t have to work so hard at our relationship, because we love each other.”

Every reader understands this is fiction, but it hopefully illustrates a point.

No right-thinking, mature individual would dare say that just because a young lady has gotten married that she’s done working on her marriage.  The ceremony, including the exchange of rings and vows, is only the beginning of her relationship; it is the start of her marriage—not the totality of wedlock.

I can’t help but wonder how many Christians essentially take this very position when it comes to their union with Christ?

So many brethren live under the impression that baptism is the ENTIRETY of the Christian walk and that all an individual has to do is be immersed (e.g., “get married”).  Like the girl’s wedding ceremony, it’s as if water is the only thing that matters, and once that rite is accomplished, there’s nothing left to do—no effort is required, no growth is expected, no devotion is to be displayed, and no fruit is to be borne.

Beloved, baptism is essentially the wedding ceremony; it is the time we take Christ’s name (Acts 26:281 Peter 4:16).  And as important as that is (Mark 16:15-16Acts 2:38; 22:16Romans 6:4; 11-121 Corinthians 12:13Galatians 3:26-27), the real work (1 Corinthians 15:58Philippians 2:12) of spiritual commitment to Jesus only starts on that blessed occasion (2 Peter 3:18)!  Immersion doesn’t signal that we are finished; it says that we are just beginning to keep our vows to love, honor, and obey the Lord (Luke 14:26).

Are you still working since you got married, or are you done?  Was the day of your baptism the end—or the beginning?

 “Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God” (Romans 7:4).

9
Dec

Did Jesus Ever Condemn Homosexual Behavior?

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Question:  “Is there any place in the New Testament where Jesus actually condemned homosexual behavior? If so, I have not been able to find it. … It seems to me that if the Savior didn’t say it was wrong, then neither should we.”

Answer:  While it is true that there is no New Testament record of where Jesus explicitly stated that homosexuality is wrong, He did, in fact, condemn the behavior.

A careful study of the Bible will bear this out.  Please read the following Bible passages and then consider the questions which follow:

And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’” (Matthew 19:4).

  • What did Jesus say about God’s creative work?
  • Did He make Adam and Joseph?
  • Did He create male and male, or did He create male and female?
  • According to this passage, what has been God’s plan for sexual union (“one flesh”) since the beginning of time?
  • Was His plan for a male partner to be joined to another male partner, or was it for a husband to be united to his wife?
  • According to this passage, is a man to cleave to his male partner, or to his spouse?

Consider: Since Jesus approved of his Father’s plan (i.e., one man, one woman, one flesh,) could we correctly say that Jesus condemned homosexuality?

“For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:46,47).

  • What law was Jesus born under (cf. Gal. 4:4)?
  • What law did Jesus live under? Answer: The Law of Moses.   
  • Did Jesus endorse and follow the Law of Moses (Luke 22:44; John 5:46; Hebrews 4:15)?
  • What did the Law of Moses say about homosexual behavior? (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13Deuteronomy 23:17).

Consider: Since Jesus was born and lived under the Law of Moses, and since He endorsed the Law of Moses, and since the Law of Moses explicitly condemned homosexual behavior, then could we correctly say that Jesus also condemned it?

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for he will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you” (John 16:12-15).

  • What did Jesus say the Holy Spirit would do for the apostles? Answer: Guide them into all truth (v. 13.)
  • When/as the Holy Spirit guided the apostles into all truth; would He speak on His own authority? Answer: No, He would speak on the authority of Christ (v. 14).
  • What did Jesus say the Holy Spirit would do in verse 14? Answer: “He (i.e., the Holy Spirit) will take of what is Mine (i.e., Christ’s) and declare it to you” (i.e., the apostles).

Consider: Since 1) the apostles would be guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit, and since 2) the Holy Spirit would not speak on his own authority but instead would speak on the authority of Christ, and since 3) the Holy Spirit would take of what was Christ’s and declare it to the apostles, then by WHOSE AUTHORITY would the apostle’s speak/write/teach when the Holy Spirit guided them into all truth? Answer: Christ’s.
Question: What did the apostle Paul (by Christ’s authority) say about homosexual practice (Romans 1:24-281 Corinthians 6:9,10; 2 Pet. 2:6-10; Jude 7)?

Yes, Jesus did condemn homosexual behavior in His Word–in all three dispensations–Patriarchal, Mosaic and Christian, and He said through inspired writers that those who practice it will be lost (Gal. 5:19, 21).

The good news is, “There is hope for the homosexual; he has reason to believe there is hope for a brighter future. Paul states that some at Corinth had engaged in homosexual acts, but they had been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

The same can happen today. As anyone who repents of a sin, the homosexual can be forgiven. He can experience the same freedom and joy that any other sinner knows when he becomes a Christian. The Bible condemns homosexual sex but clearly states that non-practicing homosexuals can be saved” (Doug Sensing, “Christian Response To Homosexuality,” Gospel Advocate, April ’93, Vol. CXXXV, No. 4, 12).

6
Dec

What about Faith Without Works?

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It was January 1945.

Young Sergeant Russell Dunham found himself and his platoon in a desperate situation.  Pinned down by withering machine gun fire, trapped at the bottom of a steep hill, hindered by snow all around and a barrage of artillery fire behind, Dunham made a life-changing decision.

He charged the hill–alone.

A bullet slashed across his back, sending him tumbling.  He got back up and charged the first machine gun nest.  Kicking aside a grenade that landed at his feet, he shot the machine gunner and his assistant.

Then his rifle jammed!  Dunham never hesitated.  He jumped into the machine gun nest, grabbed the third gunner and hurled him down the hill.  “The captain said we needed prisoners,” he explained later.

The second machine gun nest, about fifty yards away, trained its fire on him.  Dunham responded by grabbing an M-1 rifle from a wounded soldier and advancing toward the nest.  When he was close enough, he lobbed two grenades into the enemy emplacement, wiping out the crew.  Then he started for the last enemy stronghold, sixty-five yards above him.  When Dunham had crawled to within fifteen yards of the machine gun, he stood up and lobbed his last two grenades, wiping out the crew.

All told, Dunham single-handedly destroyed three fortified positions, killed nine of the enemy, wounded seven more, and captured two.

Why did Dunham risk his life like that when others didn’t?  He loved his country.  And on that day, Russell Dunham proved it.  His acts of courage earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor–and the gratitude of millions of Americans.1

James tells us that faith without works is dead.

Even non-Christians say the same thing:  “If you’re gonna talk the talk, you’ve gotta walk the walk.”  “Practice what you preach.”  “Put your money where your mouth is.”  “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

Ask yourself:  What deeds am I doing that reveal my faith in God?  Do I follow through on my promises to others?  Am I taking an active role in the church?

If we claim to be believers, let’s act like believers!  Let’s let our actions be consistent with our faith in God.  Don M. Aycock & Mark Sutton, “Faith and Works,” Still God’s Man, 380-81.

1 Reader’s Digest, June 2001, 122-23.

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  James 2:14-17