Lessons learned from the other side of the world

Yesterday I woke up further from home than I had ever been before. God had graciously provided for me the opportunity to teach for a week at a Bible School in South Korea. Jeju island is located off the coast of South Korea. The highest point of the island  is mount Halla, an extinct volcano that sits precisely in the center of the island.

Here are a few lessons I am learning on the other side of the world.

God was and is at work here. While I know that theoretically, it was great to be reminded experientally. When I attended the local church on Sunday, people worshipped God passionately.  They were friendly and extended their fellowship to me, even though I was a stranger to them. When I taught the Word they listened attentively, and took notes, just like they do back home.

I heard miraculous stories about how God had worked on their behalf to provide the Bible school that is located here. Just like he had worked on our behalf to grow a church in New Jersey.

That’s because God is at work on the other side of the world.

God is at work long before I get up. I’m now 13 hours ahead of most of my friends who are residing on the east coast of the United States. While they sleep, I’m awake. While I sleep, they’re a wake. Not so with God. He never slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:3, 4).

In fact, in a most interesting ordering of words Genesis records that “there was evening and there was morning the first day (Gen. 1:5). I always thought the day started with the morning, but God has it starting with the evening. Maybe that is to remind us that when we get up in the morning, God has already pulled a night shift.

I shouldn’t assume that the day started with me. It started with God half way around the world from me. He graciously invites me to join him in his work.  He is not dependent upon me to get the work done; rather, I am dependent on him.

If only I  can keep that truth in mind when I return home. . .or when I finally wake up.

Lessons learned from the temptation of Jesus

When we face temptation, we would do well to examine the lessons Jesus practiced when he was tempted. Here are four:

(1) He was led by the Spirit of God (Matt. 4:1)

Matthew records that Jesus was led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness to be tempted. We know that God cannot be tempted, neither tempts he any man (Jam. 1:13), so the Spirit of God wasn’t doing the tempting, he was doing the leading. This is an important distinction, and a vital reminder of this truth: Jesus was not alone in his temptation. The Holy Spirit was with him.

Often we feel alone in our greatest temptation. We look to the left then to the right, and choose to sin because we think no one is watching (Heb. 4:13). We get discouraged because we think we have to battle the temptation by ourselves. The Scripture gives this great reminder: we’re not alone (Heb. 13:5).

(2) He was dependent on the Word of God (Matt. 4:4).

Three times Jesus would say, “It is written.” The first verse Jesus quoted was “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Are we that dependent upon the word of God when we face temptation? When was the last time we actively memorized verses that prepared us for the temptations with which we personally struggle? Jesus said, “We live by every word that comes from God.” That’s dependence.

(3) He was defensive for the character of God (Matt. 4:7)

Just like with Eve in the garden, Satan’s ploy was to draw into question the character of God.  “Throw yourself down from this temple and God will send angels” (Matt. 4:6). It’s as if Satan is saying, “That’s what God said, right?”

Jesus countered with, “You shall not test the Lord your God.” Jesus was saying, “I will not doubt, draw into question, or test God’s character.” The character of God is true and unchanging. When we are tempted we should not be surprised that the tempter attacks the character of God. Questions come into our imagination like:

  • Why would a loving God allow this to happen to you?
  • Is God really all-powerful? Why didn’t he stop the circumstances that brought such pain?
  • Is God really all-wise? Shouldn’t he have known your situation better?

 Temptation always places a question mark over the character of God. Jesus defends the character of God, and thus further prepares himself for his role of submission in the Garden of Gethsemane 3 years later.

(4) He waited for the provision of God (Matt. 4:11).

After 40 days of fasting Jesus needed ICU level care. God provided. He sent angels. They came and ministered to Jesus in his malnourished state. The angels appear to be the ones who break Jesus’ 40 day fast (Matt. 4:11). Jesus was willing to wait on God. Though hungry, weak, and hurting, Jesus waited on God’s provision, and God answered.

Here’s another window into the nature of temptation. We often sin when we are unwilling to patiently wait. We ought not to be in a hurry. There is always time to wait, pray, and trust God to provide—even if it takes 40 days.

3 Keys to getting the most out of your Bible reading

Most Christians would never do to their physical bodies what they do to their souls. Come to church for one square meal a week from the Word, and snack a little on Christian radio Monday through Friday. If we are to feed our soul regularly from the Word, it means that we will have to prepare our own meals. We will have to spend time studying the Word for ourselves. Here are three ways to get started.

 (1) Start by Consistently Reading the Bible

One of the important steps in reading the Bible is to do it daily. While not a large book (most Bibles are less than 1000 pages), reading it daily gives the opportunity for meditating and applying that particular portion of the Scripture on a regular basis.

There are numerous ways to read through the Bible. Here are a few:

  • Read through one book of the Bible for 30 days.  While it is true there are 66 books in the Bible investing your effort in one book for one month will reap rich dividends. Starting the first of the month, pick a book, read it and reread it until the end of the month,
  • Reading a key chapter of the Bible each day. While using this approach will not allow you to read every verse in the Bible in the course of the year, you will move  through the high points without getting lost in the “lists of names” or Old Testament prophecies that often require greater cultural study for understanding. You can find a key chapter reading schedule here. http://wp.me/p1ZvVJ-dd
  • Reading the Bible through chronologically will open up some insights you otherwise might miss. Typically when we read a book we expect the events to be communicated  in chronological order.  However, the Bible groups its various books by genre or style of writing (i.e. histories, poetry, prophecies, etc.). You can find a chronological reading schedule by visiting here. http://wp.me/p1ZvVJ-dd

(2) Don’t be Afraid to Mark Up Your Bible

As you read the Bible daily don’t be afraid to underline or circle key words, phrases or verses. To improve your comprehension of the Scriptures, Dr. Howard Hendricks recommends you look for the following things when reading. Look for: (1) Things that are emphasized, (2) Things that are repeated, (3) Things that are related, (4) Things that are alike, (5) Things that are unalike, (6) Things that are true to life.1

(3) Journal Along Side Your Bible

As you study jot down what you’re learning. Here are a few questions to get you started:
· What is the most obvious Bible truth I’ve learned?
· What have I learned about the character of God?
· Are there words or ideas that are repeated in the passage? If so, what are they?
· Are there words that I don’t understand? What do they mean?
· Are there other verses or passages in the Bible that help me understand this passage?

Years ago I memorized a brief poem that I often return to when seeking meaning from a Biblical text. I encourage you to answer the applicable question from the poem to improve your understanding of the Biblical passage.

I had six faithful friends, They taught me all I knew,
Their names were how, and what, and why,
when, and where, and who.

When people think of you…what do they remember?

Our world is consumed with one’s physical appearance. The YWCA reported that American women spend over 7 billion dollars a year on beauty products (that’s nearly twice the domestic production output of the entire country of Nigeria with its 155 million people).  

In the midst of our financial crisis of 2009, the reported spending in health clubs for both men and women still topped 19.1 billion dollars. While I recognize that some of this spending would have been for actual health reasons, we certainly acknowledge that much of what draws us to the gym is a glance in the mirror – particularly as we grow older.

The point of today’s blog is not to be critical of our spending habits on our physical appearance, but simply to ask the question: Is that what we wish to be known for?

Because most often our visual representation of Jesus is tied to a Hollywood actor’s presentation of him, we tend to think of Jesus as handsome in appearance.  But the New Testament makes no comment on the physical appearance of the incarnate Christ whatsoever.  I find that surprising. The Bible isn’t bashful in telling us that King David was handsome in appearance (1 Samuel 16:12), or that Abigail was both “discerning and beautiful” (1 Sam. 25:3). Yet, it makes no mention of the physical appearance of Jesus. Making it seem like he was average in appearance.

Isaiah prophesied 700 years before Jesus was born:

…He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces. He was despised, and we esteemed him not (Isa. 53:2-3).

While Isaiah’s context would appear that he was referencing the crucifixion, it is precisely this image that draws us to the Savior. Perhaps it is as my youngest daughter pointed out, “Dad, Jesus was just so beautiful on the inside.” Agreed.

Jesus showed us the character of God (John 1:18). Good, loving, right, gracious, and forgiving. It was precisely these internal qualities that drew those in need of a Savior (John 8:11).

Hence, the question: Why are people drawn to us?

Is it our internal qualities or our external appearance that make us attractive?

Do others find us good, loving, right, gracious, and forgiving—or simply beautiful in appearance, and popular by today’s standard?

Now that’s a question worth pondering.

…whoever says he abides in him (Jesus) ought to walk in the same way in which he walked (1 John 2:6).


Getting the most out of another’s criticism

Being judged by another is hard even if it may be justified. These five essentials will prove helpful in finding purpose in the criticism.

(1) Realize a sovereign God is in it (2 Sam. 16:10; 19:20).

Even when the criticism is unjustified a sovereign God can still use it for our good. King David reveals this truth when he comes under harsh critisicm from the relative of an earlier king. David is fleeing for his life from a rebellious son. As he leaves Jerusalem a man by the name of Shemei is calling down sladerous curses upon him. While these are unjustified, David’s response is remarkable: Perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wronged, and bless me because of these curses today (2 Sam. 16:12). On a difficult day David accepts unjustified criticism because of his trust in a God to make all things right.

(2) Realize there may be truth to the perception (Rom. 14:16).

Paul reminds us that even those things we intend for good can be spoken of as evil (Rom. 14:16). Rather than have a defensive spirit, we would do well to consider if there might be some truth to another’s perception. Don’t be afraid to make necessary changes to your actions or your words.

(3) Ask a trusted friend if it’s true (Pro. 27:6).

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but  deceitful are the kisses of an enemy (Pro. 27:6).

Do you have a good friend who isn’t afraid to tell you the hard truth? Then ask them if the criticism is justified. Bring a listen-to-learn attitude when they share. A good friend’s intentions shouldn’t be under fire even if wounds have to be given.

(4) See it as an opportunity to develop humility (Prov. 15:33-36).

Even when the criticism is unjustified it becomes a really good opportunity to grow in humility.

If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding. Fear of the Lord teaches wisdom; humility precedes honor (Prov. 15:33-36)

(5) Ask yourself, “Have I sinned or is this simply their preference?” (Jam. 4:11)

This question has been freeing for me as a growing christian. It gives me the opportunity to evaluate criticism through a Biblical grid. It’s so easy for any of us to elevate our preference to the level of the Scriptures. When it comes to evaluating another, I don’t want to hold them to the standard of my preferences. To do so is to actually down play the role of the Scriptures in my life.

This question is one that I first ask myself when I face conflict, but I have also learned its benefit in clarifying where wrong doing has taken place. Perhaps the individual bringing the criticism has brought sin-level-intensity to a preference-level-situation. Simply asking them where I sinned is a question that clarifies this difference.

5 key words applied to the Bible

Five words are essential to understand how the Word came into being, and how we are to study and apply it to our daily lives.
Revelation refers to the message (2 Pet. 1:4; John 1:18).
In The Moody Handbook of Theology Dr. Paul Enns writes, 
Revelation is…that act of God whereby he discloses himself or communicates truth to the mind. . . that could not be known in any other way.
Simply put, we weren’t going to figure it out on our own. We needed God to communicate the message, and he did through his Word and through his son.
Inspiration refers to the method (2 Pet. 1:20-21)
The apostle Peter captured it this way:
knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20-21)
God moved the writers of Scripture. Like a gentle breeze moves a sailboat, God took them where he wanted to take them to go. Benjamin Warfield described inspiration in this way,
. . . a supernatural influence exerted on the sacred writers by the Spirit of God, by virtue of which their writings are given Divine trustworthiness. 
Preservation refers to maintaining (Matt. 5:18)
God promised that no portion of the Word of God would slip away until it all had been fulfilled (Matt. 5:18). Such a promise was God’s committment to maintain the message through the years. While the Bible is a work of antiquity, the Spirit of God has maintained it with the highest level of integrity. Discoveries like the Dead Sea Scrolls verify for us that the message is indeed intact, and has been handed down with integrity. There was nothing lost in translation through the years.
Consider the following:
•Tacitus, the historian of Rome wrote Annals of Imperial Rome in 116 AD, there is 1 manuscript dated to 850 AD. A gap of 700 years.
•Josephus, the Jewish Historian wrote in the first century, there are 9 manuscripts dated to the 10th, 11th, and 12th centuries. A gap of 1000 years.
•Homer’s Iliad was written in 800 BC, there are 650 manuscripts that date to 2nd and 3rd century AD. A gap of 1000 years.
•The Bible’s New Testament was written in Greek in the 1st century, there are over 5000 manuscripts; several of them date to the second century. A gap of 50 to 70 years.
Up against such evidence Dr. Bruce Metzger comments,

The quantity of New Testament material is almost embarrassing in comparison to other works of antiquity.

 Interpretation refers to meaning (2 Tim. 2:15)

Paul challenged Timothy to divide it rightly (2 Tim. 2:15). Peter told his readers that if you weren’t careful you could misunderstand Paul’s writing (2 Pet. 3:15-16). Sometimes we get all excited about our discovery in the Word. We would do well to ask, “Is this what God meant by what he said?” We should be after God’s intended meaning, not our own.

My pastor for a number of years, John MacArthur, was fond of saying,

More important than what the Scriptures means to me, is what the Scripture means.

Application refers to making changes (Jam. 1:22; 2 Tim. 3:16)

James challenged us that we should be doers of the Word, not hearers only. If we claim to have learned a truth from the Word, but can’t live it out we are deceived. As we complete our study of God’s Word we ought to look for places in our own lives where application is appropriate.

D L Moody said,

The Scriptures were not given for our information but for our transformation.

In what ways is the Word of God transforming you today?

Why judging another’s motives is wrong

You’ve been waiting all year for this. Admit it. It’s the July 4th weekend, and you’re headed for your favorite chili cook-off. You can already feel your taste-buds tingling. You see all the familiar faces lined up at the tables. But as you near the sample locations you don’t smell anything. As you look into the crock pots you don’t see anything. As the spoon goes to your mouth you don’t taste anything.

You head to the judge’s table to report the problem you’re having. They inform you that this year things are being done a bit differently. They have planned an invisible chili cook-off. You will need to judge what you can’t see, taste or smell.  

“I can’t do that,” you say. “I can’t judge the invisible. I need some empirical evidence.”

The coordinator looks at you confused. “Every day you judge the invisible,” she says,  “You’re quite good at it. Just use your imagination like you usually do.”

Motivations. Unspoken intentions. Why a person does what they do. All of these elements are invisible to you and to me, but we don’t have any problem judging them in another’s life—even if we have to use our imagination to do so. We don’t really think about it that way; because we’re convinced that we know this person well. Our picture of the things we can see is so complete that we assume we are the best judge of the things we can’t see.

I think this is what Jesus meant when he said, “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged” (Matt. 7:1). You and I can’t judge the heart the person. Unless they tell you what they’re thinking, don’t assume you can tell them. Such judgment reveals one’s arrogance. Only God knows the heart (Jer. 17:9; 1 Sam. 16:7).

That is why the apostle Paul didn’t take it too personally when others were judgmental of him.  Hear the humility he offers in his defense. He admits he doesn’t really know his own motives that well, and this makes him pretty certain that no human evaluator does either.

As for me, it matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority. I don’t even trust my own judgment on this point. 4 My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide. 5 So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due (1 Corinthians 4:5 NLT).

So if you wouldn’t feel comfortable judging an invisible chili cook off, maybe you should be a bit more cautious rushing to judgment on another’s unspoken motives and invisible intentions.

Whose words have the power to change?

When it comes to our communication with others our words are to be gracious and forgiving.  Note Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4:29, 32

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. . . Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Eph 4:29, 32).

So why aren’t our words gracious and forgiving? Why do we feel the need to say more? Why do we feel we must shout the truth instead of whisper it? Why do our conversations go so quickly from gracious and forgiving to manipulative and harsh?

We might say we’re just trying to get our point across, but I’ve been wondering if the underlying cause is too much confidence in our words and too little confidence in God’s Word.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb 4:12).

If God’s Word is sufficient to discern the thoughts and intents of another’s heart, then my role is nothing more than to dispense the truth; depending on the Holy Spirit to use it to bring about change. Certainly I should communicate it in a way that is winsome and gracious with a readiness to forgive. The point is: I am not the instrument of change in another’s life. God is.

How might my speech be altered, if I really believed that a Bible passage had more power to bring change than my words, my argument, my logic, my passion, my sarcasm, my silence? Here are three acknowledgments of this truth:

I don’t need to bring harsh words.  Words are like scalpels. They can be beneficial in a surgical procedure, but they can also cut, and cut deep. As I have studied anger in the Scriptures and examined it in my own life I have found it to be manipulative. It isn’t a healing element. It is a manipulative one. Harsh words are used to convince another how they have hurt us, and how they need to change for our sake. Let’s see, we hurt them, so that they will stop hurting us…hmmm?

I don’t need to speak exaggerated words. Sometimes we stretch our words, or conveniently leave something out to make a stronger case. Do we really mean that a person does that ALL the time? While it might be true that they lied to us does that make them a LIAR? If I call them a name, am I not saying I believe they’re characterized by the action? Is there anything gracious about name calling? The power to change another is not in the exaggeration of my words, but in the clarity of God’s Word appropriately applied.

I don’t need to have the last word. I don’t need to send one last salvo as I walk away from the conversation. I can give the Holy Spirit time, and he will continue working on the heart even in my absence. Perhaps when I insist on the last word I’m only sending notice to the Holy Spirit that what I have to say is more important than what he has to say. Might it be better to close the conversation simply with “I’m praying for you”? And mean it. And do it.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but kind…correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to knowledge of the truth . . . (2 Tim. 2:24-25).

How do you evaluate yourself?

Jesus gives a strong admonition, that before we talk to another about how they sinned against us; we ought to first consider how we might have sinned against them. In Luke 17:3a he says, “Be concerned about yourselves…”

But how do you go about this process of evaluating yourself? The Psalmist wrestled with this question, and came up with four short prayers (2 words each) that prove to be an excellent starting point.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life (Psalm 139:23-24)

Here is an excellent evaluation process in 8 words or less: Search me, know me, test me, and lead me.

Search me. The Hebrew word haqr is rendered as search, probe, spy, examine. It was used to describe those who infiltrated enemy territory to find weaknesses in the enemy lines or cities. It’s like we should be saying, “Lord, find my weaknesses, my propensities to sin. Locate where I am easily tempted to sin, and eradicate them.”

Know me.  In Hebrew throught, the heart is defined as one’s thoughts, emotions, and most significantly, one’s will. On more than one occasion the Bible communicates that, although we think we know this part of us well, we do not.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it (Jer. 17:9).

So when the Psalmist says to God, know my heart there is a humble acknowledgement on his part, that he can’t know it himself. A spirit of defensiveness in our evaluation should be like a neon light warning us that something has gone radically wrong with the process.  We want God to know us, because we admit we don’t know ourselves very well.

Test me. The Life Application Bible adds this helpful note:

David asked God to search for sin and point it out, even to the level of testing his thoughts. This is exploratory surgery for sin. How are we to recognize sin unless God points it out? (LAB, p. 1262)

Ask yourself, “Am I thinking the way God thinks about this situation?” A trial or difficulty provides a great test to evaluate our thinking. If our thoughts are wrong, it is only a matter of time before our attitude, words, and actions will declare this.

Lead me. There is ongoing action to this word.  It provides opportunity to show a spirit of submission to the Lord through the heart of the evaluation process. Leading necessitates change. If I’m heading one direction, but God is taking me another I will need to submit my desires to his.

For just a moment, imagine this: What if I spent as much time in personal evaluation of my sin, as I spent thinking about how I would address other people in theirs?  How might that alter a potentially judgmental spirit?

Oh Lord, search me, know me, test me, lead me. . .

Taking off the judge’s robe…

The question “Has anyone ever felt judged by another?” resonates with nearly all of us. Perhaps that’s why most people are fond of quoting Jesus’ words: Judge not, that you be not judged (Matt. 7:1). We don’t want others to judge us, but we still want to maintain our own thoughts about others.

Jesus is not giving a blanketed statement that communicates we must tolerate theological error. Nor is he saying that we ought never to get involved in the life of another who is choosing sin.  Jesus’ statement about not judging has parameters. It is not all-inclusive. Consider, for instance, that we are told to judge the difference between truth and error (1 John 4:1), or that we are asked to judge a brother who is in rebellious, unrepentant sin in order that he may be restored to God (1 Cor. 6:5).

The verses that surround Jesus’ statement about judging help us understand what Jesus meant.

Judge not, that you be not judged . . . Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Matt. 7:1, 3-5).

Jesus wants us to understand this truth: We are forbidden to judge another without first evaluating our own sin.

In Luke 17 Jesus speaks about rebuking and restoring a brother, but he gives this advice with a strong warning: pay attention to yourself (Luke 17:3a)
Other translations capture it this way:

So watch yourselves! (New Living Translation).
Be on your guard! (New American Standard)
Take heed to yourselves (New King James Version)
Pay attention to yourselves! (English Standard Version)
Be concerned about yourselves! (Lexham English Bible)

No matter the translation, the message is clear. You better take a good look at your own heart before you begin to evaluate another person. Be on your guard. Make sure that repentance isn’t necessary on your part.

Perhaps such introspection would change how we address a conflict. What if, before you ever addressed another, you spent some time in personal reflection considering your part in the conflict? How might that change the outcome of the conversation?

What if we actually pulled the plank from our own eye, before we tried to help another with the speck of dirt they have in theirs?

Only when we’ve taken a good hard look at our own propensities to do wrong will we come to another with the humility necessary to move them along towards restoration. If we are unwilling to receive the Spirit’s correction, but we expect another to receive our correction, the Scripture calls us a hypocrite. A title that is well deserved (Matt. 7:5).