Jesus is Our Model

Jesus watched to see where the Father was at work and joined him in that work. The same is true for us, we must listen to what God says and how he works through the Scriptures. We must then make our decisions and evaluate our experiences based on biblical principles.

Our own experiences cannot be our guide; they are way too subjective. The Bible is our guide in life. Many Christians become disoriented to the Bible and turn to worldly programs and methods that appear to be the answer to spiritual problems.

When God called Moses into service (Exodus 3 and 4), he was not told any details. We often ask a question like, “What is God’s will for my life? when the proper question is to ask, “What is God’s will?” Then we must align our lives to that will. It is the difference between being self-centered and God-centered.

The example of looking for where God is moving and acting accordingly is found in John 5:17, 19, 20. In this passage we discover Jesus was not just going around doing his own work. The Father was at work, because the Son can do nothing on his own. The Son does what the Father is doing, and the reason the Father shows the Son what he is doing is out of love. This is one of the clearest statements on how Jesus knew what to do in life.

  1. The Father has been working up until now.
  2. Now God is working through Jesus.
  3. Jesus can do knowing on his own initiative.
  4. Jesus watched to see what the Father was doing.
  5. Jesus did what he saw the Father already doing.
  6. The Father loves the Son and shows Jesus shows him everything that he himself is doing.

The challenge is to watch and see where God is working and join him there.

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Jesus is Our Way

The church is going through the Blackaby classic study called Experiencing God and I intend to post my insights along the Journey.

When Jesus comes into your life, we are called to seek his will in all matters. We are not supposed to just live our lives as we have been before receiving Christ. We take this journey one step at a time, growing in the faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ and his ways (John 14:6).

Jesus does not tell us that he is A way to God but THE way to God; or that he will show us the way, or even give us a road map to find our destination. He guides us all along the journey.

There is also a difference between a headlight and a lamp. We desire to use a headlight to see down the path, when God provides a lamp, which allows us to take steps toward our destination. We walk by faith ant not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Abraham followed God one step at a time (Genesis 12:1-5). Notice that God told him to GO, but not really a destination… a place that God WILL SHOW him at a later point. The same is for us, to walk step by step without knowing all the details.

The priority in life is Matthew 6:33-34).

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Marks of a Disciple

A lot of people talk about being followers of Christ, and about being disciples. But what characterizes a disciple? What does a disciple look like? How can we give ourselves a “spiritual check-up” to ensure that we’re still on the path of discipleship, and not just giving lip service to the concept?

Lorne Sanny, former president of The Navigators, used to talk about three characteristics of those who are true followers of Christ. He called them the marks of a disciple. Here’s a brief summary of his thoughts that can help you as you seek to live as Jesus’ disciple today.

Identified with Christ: The first mark of a disciple is that he is someone who is identified with the person of Jesus Christ, someone who will openly admit that he belongs to Christ. On one occasion Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29). It seems that everything in His ministry led up to this. He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and in three days rise again (Mark 8:31). A disciple takes the opportunity to identify himself with Jesus Christ.

Obedient to the Word: A disciple is not only a believer who is identified with the person of Christ, he is also obedient to the Word of Christ, to the Scriptures. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19,20). A disciple does more than attend meetings. He does more than take notes. He finds out what the Bible says and does it. We need to make up our minds that, God helping us with the power of the Holy Spirit, we are going to be obedient to the Word of Christ.

Fruitful for Christ: So a disciple is one who is openly identified with the person of Christ. Second, he is obedient to the Word of Christ. And third, he is bearing fruit in the work of Christ. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples (John 15:8). Now it seems to me that there are two kinds of fruit here.

  1. First is the fruit of character, the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22,23).
  2. Second, there’s fruit by way of influencing the lives of others for Christ. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last (John 15:16).

Let’s ask ourselves: Am I a true disciple? Am I willing to be openly identified with the person of Jesus Christ? Am I seeking to be obedient to the Word of Christ in my everyday life? Am I bearing fruit in the work of Christ, by way of Christlike character and by influencing the lives of others?

I want to be a disciple. I want to have these marks and characteristics in my life. The only thing I’d like to do beyond that is to help make disciples and to get them to help make others. That’s what Jesus wants done.

I found this information from the Navigators.

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Loving Your Enemies

These are notes from my reading John R. W. Stott’s classic book, The Cross of Christ.

To live under the cross means that every aspect of our lives is shaped and colored by it. We are to be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1-2) and exercise relationships as Jesus did.

Conciliation and Discipline: we are called to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9) and to seek peace and pursue it (1 Peter 3:11). Peacemaking can never be a unilateral activity; live at peace with everyone is qualified by two conditions, “if it is possible” and “as far as it depends upon you” (Romans 12:18).

Jesus was determined to make peace with us, his enemies who had rebelled against him, he made peace through the blood of the cross (Colossians 1:20). If we are the offender, there is:

  1. Humiliation in apologizing.
  2. Deeper humiliation in making restitution where possible.
  3. Deepest humiliation in confessing the deep wounds we have caused will take time to heal and cannot be lightly forgotten.

The incentive in peacemaking is love, but it denigrates into appeasement whenever justice is ignored. The two powerful cries of a child are “nobody loves me” and “it’s not fair” since their sense of love and justice come from God. Here are the stages of reconciliation:

  1. Private: one-to-one confrontation with the offender, and if he listens, he will be won over.
  2. Take several others in a rebuke: if not the actual offense, perhaps the confrontation in stage one.
  3. To the church: if he will not listen, it goes to the community of faith; a third chance to repent.
  4. It is only here, if he does not repent, that excommunication is allowed.

Christian Attitudes Toward Evil: does the cross commit us to a non-violent acceptance of all violence? Does it invalidate the process of justice and the so-called “just war?” Does it prohibit the use of any kind of force so that it would be incompatible for a Christian to be a policeman, soldier or prison guard? How did we respond to divine mercy? (Note the resemblance to our September r12 emphasis).

  1. We are to present our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2).
  2. We are to think of ourselves with sober judgment (Romans 12:3).
  3. We are to love each other by employing gifts (Romans 12:4-13, 15-16).
  4. We are to bless our persecutors and do good to our enemies (Romans 12:14, 17-21).

How do we react to persecutors and enemies? The Romans 12-13 has several directions:

  1. Evil is to be hated: hate what is evil, cling to what is good (Romans 12:9).
  2. Evil is not to be repaid: don’t repay evil with evil, do what is right in the eyes of everyone (Romans 12:17, 19). Revenge and retaliation are forbidden. The sermon on the mount is pretty clear (don’t resist and evil person). Peter on Jesus (1 Peter 2:23), he did not retaliate while suffering.
  3. Evil is to be overcome: don’t be overcome by evil, overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). Heaping burning coals is not retaliation, but a figure of speech to cause him shame. When we retaliate with evil, evil increases in the world; our desire is to decrease the amount of evil in the world.
  4. Evil is to be punished: he (the government) is God’s servant to do good, an agent of wrath to punish evil doers (Romans 12:17, 19, 13:4). It is God prerogative to punish, not ours. Law enforcement is God’s servant to carry out justice.

Retaliation is not wrong, since evil deserves to be punished, should be punished, and in fact will be punished. Jesus said each person will be judged according to his deeds (Matthew 16:27). Peter tells us that Jesus entrusted himself to the one who will judge (1 Peter 2:23).

Authority of the State: the Christian attitude should be one of balance, avoiding extremes, embracing critical respect. In each stated point, the state is limited in its authority.

  1. The origin of its authority is God (Romans 13:1, 4, 6): three times Paul asserts the state’s authority. Despite the defects of the Roman government, Paul declares its authority and ministry of be God’s. The state must be respected as a divine institution, but to give it blind allegiance would be idolatry. The early believers would not say that “Caesar is lord.”
  2. The purpose God gives authority is to reward good and punish evil (Ephesians 1:21-22, Romans 13:3-4): Most governments tend to be better at the latter than the former; law enforcement is stronger than positive encouragement.
  3. The means by which the state’s authority is exercised must be as controlled as its purposes are discriminate (Romans 13:4): to protect the innocent and punish the guilty, coercion is often used. Authority implies power and we have to distinguish between violence and force. The state can exercise capital punishment and make war. The state has the power to stop evil-doers; punishing aggressors who threaten it from outside, and punish criminals who threaten it from the inside.
  4. The due recognition of the state’s authority is laid down (Romans 12:1, 2, 5, 6, 1 Peter 2:13, 1 Timothy 2:1-2). There are limits to our submission to the state (Revelation 12).
    1. Suppose the state misuses its God-given authority and promotes evil and suppresses good?
    2. Suppose the state ceases to protect people and begins to oppress them?

The apostle gives no room for totalitarian rule. Even Daniel practiced civil disobedience, as well as Peter and John. If the state commands what God forbids, or forbids what God commands, we disobey the state in order to obey God. We respect the state but we do not worship it.

Overcoming Evil with Good: evil is to be repaid but not repaid (depending on the agent). How can evil be overcome (Romans 12:21) and also punished (Romans 13:4)? The difference is between pacifists and war theorists.

  1. Just war theorists tend to concentrate on the need to resist and punish evil.
  2. Pacifists tend to concentrate on overcoming evil with good, and forget that evil must be punished.

Christians need to look beyond defeat and surrender of the national enemy to its repentance and rehabilitation; a politics of redemption and forgiveness.

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Self-Understanding & Self-Giving

These are notes from my reading John R. W. Stott’s classic book, The Cross of Christ.

What is the attitude we should adopt for ourselves? In society today, secular humanism teaches that we basically worship ourselves, literal self-deification. Jesus said to love God, then others as we love ourselves. Some counselors emphasize loving ourselves before we are able to love others. A song on K-love by Natalie Grant has a line very similar, “you can’t love, when you don’t love yourself.”

Jesus emphasized only one commandment, to love God, and the second is like it. It is a practical guide to loving others since no one ever hated his own body (Ephesians 5:29). This is similar to the golden rule (Matthew 7:12) but we cannot always know how others would like to be treated themselves, so perhaps I would not want to be treated that same way. The love mentioned is the agape love, unconditional, meaning sacrificial love. The problem is elevated by Paul that in the last days, men will become lovers of self (2 Timothy 3:1-5) instead of lovers of God.

Paul also challenges us to view ourselves in sober judgment (Romans 12:3). The cross supplies the answer because it calls us both to self-denial and self-affirmation.

Stott mentions that the cross must be called representative as well as substitutionary.

  1. A substitute is one who acts in place of another in a way as to render the other’s action unnecessary: a football player off the bench, a soldier in place of a civilian, one is now inactive, and replaced.
  2. A representative is one who acts on behalf of another, in a way as to involve the other in his action: an agent represents a player and can act on his behalf; he does not speak instead of the player, but for him.
  3. Jesus was our substitute because we could never do what he did for us. As our representative, he has done what we have also done, by being united with him, have died and risen with him.

Paul writes about the conflict in Romans 6, that we are dead to sin and can therefore no longer live in sin (Romans 6:2). Baptism dramatically expresses our participation in going from death into life. When we speak of Jesus dying to sin, we understand that he died and bore its penalty, since the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). It is a fact that we must constantly remember each day.

Self-denial (Mark 8:34): We each must be both Barabbas (he escaped the cross) and Simon of Cyrene (he carried the cross). To carry the cross is to be in a position of a condemned man, on his way to execution. To carry a cross is for no other purpose. A hard life or a handicap is never “a cross to bear.” Self-denial is never depriving ourselves of something we enjoy, but rather disowning ourselves, and renouncing our right to go our own way.

Three deaths and resurrections in Scripture:

  1. Death to sin and subsequent life to God: this is inherent in our conversion and baptism. This death is basically legal, death to sin by union with Christ in his death to sin.
  2. Death to self: called taking up our cross, or denying or crucifying ourselves: it is done daily and willfully. This death is moral, a death that puts down the old sinful nature and its desires, and the resurrection which follows leading us into a new life of righteousness.
  3. Carrying the dying of Jesus in our mortal bodies, so the life of Jesus may be displayed in our bodies (1 Corinthians 15:30-31, Romans 8:36, 2 Corinthians 4:16). This death is physical, death to safety, being given over to death for Jesus’ sake.

This teaching is that we are wholly bad and we need to be totally repudiated and crucified with Christ.

Self-affirmation: Alongside Jesus’ explicit call to self-denial is his implicit call to self-affirmation (which is not the same as self-love).

  1. Jesus’ teaching about people: he drew attention to the ugly things and evil inside of people (Matthew 7:21-23) but he spoke about the value of human beings in God’s side. Mankind is the crown of God’s creating activity and is made in God’s image. God don’t make no junk.
  2. Jesus’ attitude to people: he went out of his way to honor those who were dishonored by society; embraced little children, approached Samaritans and Gentiles.
  3. Jesus mission and death for people: he came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). “My worth is what I’m worth to God.”

Is it possible to value ourselves and deny ourselves at the same time? True self-denial is not the road to self-destruction but the road to self-discovery.

  1. The self we are to deny, disown and crucify is the fallen self (everything that is incompatible with Jesus Christ).
  2. The self we are to affirm and value is our created self (the teaching on losing self in order to find self).

We must affirm: our rationality, sense of moral obligation, our sexuality, family life, gifts and creativity, stewardship of the earth, hunger for love, experience of community, awareness of God’s majesty, the inbuilt urge to worship.

We must deny: our irrationality, moral perversion, blurring sexual distinctiveness, lack of sexual control, selfishness which spoils family life, fascination with the ugly, lazy refusal to develop God’s gifts, anti-social tendencies, proud autonomy, and idolatrous refusal to worship the living God.

The next level: we are not just created and then fallen, but rather created, fallen and redeemed: regeneration, resurrection, redemption and re-creation.

Self-sacrificial love: self-understanding should lead to self-giving. The community of the cross is a community of self-giving love, expressed in the worship of God (Mark 10:35-45):

  1. The choice between selfish ambition and sacrifice: the brothers express selfishness at its worst, which is incompatible with the way of the cross.
  2. The choice between power and service: asking to sit on either side of Jesus, essentially have their place on throne to rule over others. Zebedee has servants and the boys likely missed having them around. They would follow Jesus for a while as long as there was just compensation at the end of it all. Lust for power is incompatible with the way of the cross.
  3. The choice between comfort and suffering: they would become vagrants and vagabonds, missing the comforts of home. Insistence on security is incompatible with the way of the cross.

Spheres of service: home, church and the world. There is a paradox that suffering is the path to glory, death is the way to life, and weakness is the secret of power.

The cross lies at the heart of mission. The cross-cultural missionary pays costly family and individual sacrifices, renounces economic security, professional promotion, replaced with solidarity with the poor and needy, repenting of pride and prejudice, and modesty of living and serving under national leadership.

Only the incarnation can span these divides, because it means entering into the worlds of other people, their alienation, loneliness and pain. Incarnation led to the cross, where Jesus took our flesh and then bore our sin.

Love is self-giving (1 John 3:16-18): our most valuable possession is laid down for others. The essence of love is self-sacrifice. Murder is taking another’s life; self-sacrifice is laying down your own life.

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Attachment to Your Family

Jesus mentions in Luke 14:26 that a disciple of Christ will hate his family. Teenagers today don’t need any more incentive for breaking the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12), so last time I suggested that Jesus was using a literary form called hyperbole (the use of exaggeration). Jesus does not want us to literally hate our closest relatives, but he does want us to be shaken up so that we might see him in new ways and discover what it means to be his disciples. This can lead to new ways of relating to people, including our own family members.

One general barrier to Christian discipleship is sometimes we have too much attachment to family. I think of my own career development (and of my friends who heard the call of God) to serve in a pastoral ministry or when I answered the call to international missionary service. Family can often use whatever means possible to get their loved ones back on a more suitable or profitable career path (perhaps using intimidation, money, shame). Those called by God will find the courage to be faithful to Christ in spite of parents’ disapproval or lack of support. In a sense, we have to “hate” parents in order to be an obedient disciple of Jesus.

I have seen good church-going parents use the “priority of family time” rationale to get in the way of their teenagers’ spiritual growth. Family time would prevent regular involvement of their kids in Sunday School or youth group. Family vacations kept their teenagers from being part of life-changing mission trips. In some cases, the parents who prized family time so much were the same ones who later blamed the church when their children wandered away from Christ while in college. They graduated high school and graduated God at the same time.

I realize that there are times when parents rightly choose to have their children involved in family events rather than church events. But as a parent, I know how easy it is to choose what feels best for me without considering what’s best for my kids and their spiritual growth. I want to encourage parents to take a fresh look at family relationships in light of their primary commitment to Christ.

Parents can often help their children grow in their discipleship, rather than stand in the way of it. If we model sold out commitment to Christ in our lives, our children will be encouraged to imitate our example. No matter what we say, our actions will speak loudly and clearly of what authentic discipleship is all about.

Application: Can you think of adults whose example of faithfulness to Christ has influenced you? Are there people in your life who are being influenced by your discipleship? Do you ever find a tension between your personal discipleship and your family relationships? Recognize that there may be times when we feel torn. Other times, we know what discipleship requires, but we may not be sure we want to do it. Seek to set an example of faithfulness for your children. Live in such a way that they are encouraged to pursue Jesus above everything else in life.

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Why Hate Your Family?

There are a ton of commands that we find in the Bible; statements that tell us to do this and not do that. The Bible says to love one another (John 13:35, Romans 13:8, Galatians 5:13, 1 Thessalonians 3:12, 4:19, Hebrews 10:24, 1 John 2:7, 3:11, 3:23, 4:7, 2 John 1:5-6), and Jesus said we should even love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-44), so this line always caused me to take a second look at the words of Jesus.

“If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison, your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)

Let me begin with a couple of confessions. At first, I am tempted to avoid this verse altogether. I could have easily skipped Luke 14:26, but to do that would have been to dismiss the tugging of the Spirit in my heart.

My next thought is, perhaps I wish Jesus didn’t say what he did in Luke 14:26. Verses like this are so difficult to understand, much less explain. They’re the sort of thing that opponents of Christianity drag out to make Jesus look both contradictory and cruel. It gives teenagers a biblical excuse to hate their parents. The one who told us to love our neighbors and even our enemies now wants us to hate our closest relatives. What sense does this make? To follow Christ is a contradiction and the Bible cannot be trusted to be accurate or true.

How do we make sense of this teaching? If we’re going to be fair in our reading, then we have to be wise interpreters. This means that we recognize when Jesus is speaking hyperbolically. Hyperbole is what we informally call exaggeration. It’s a way of communicating that uses bold overstatement and embellishment.

Hyperbole, which was common among teachers in Jesus’ culture, is not meant to be taken literally. If I say to you that I’m so hungry I could eat a horse, I would be distressed if you actually slaughtered a horse and prepared it for my dinner. What I mean is that I am feeling very, very hungry. So, given everything else he said and did, we can be sure that he was speaking hyperbolically when he said that to be his disciple we have to hate our families and even our own lives.

Yet, there is a danger in identifying hyperbole in the teaching of Jesus. It’s the danger of dismissing both his point and his urgency. If we think to ourselves, “Oh, Jesus didn’t really mean that,” then we run the risk of missing what he wants us to hear. It’s no longer a question of interpretation, but rather an indictment of the state of our hearts. When we encounter a biblical text that is unsettling to us, are we open to hear what God is really saying? Are we willing to have our comfortable life disturbed by the Word of God? Will we let the hyperbole of Jesus shake us up so that we might be more truly and fully his disciples?

Application: Let me encourage you to consider the last three questions when you read Scripture:

  1. Are you open to understanding the deeper meaning of the words of Jesus?
  2. Are you willing to make adjustments once you understand them?
  3. Will you let the hyperbole of Jesus shake you up, and rouse you out of your comfort zone?

God wants not only to instruct me, but also to stir me up, to create within me a crisis of understanding. God wants to break through my defenses and self-serving assumptions. God help us to be wise interpreters of the bible. May we learn to read attentively. May our hearts be open to God and his Word, ready to receive even that which unsettles us.

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Disciple-Making Pastor, Part 2

The Need for Disciple Making Pastors:

Elton Trueblood stated that perhaps the single weakness of the contemporary Christian church is that millions of supposed members are not really involved at all and, what is worse, do not think it strange that they are not. Christ’s intention is to form a militant company to carry out the Great Commission. There is no real victory in a campaign if ninety percent of the soldiers are untrained and uninvolved, but that is exactly what we have now.

Most churches are growing by transfer, sort of a rotation of the saints. Relationships between clergy and laity have become professional performers and audience. Trueblood also stated that cheap Christianity can pull together a pretty good audience.

George Barna has stated that there is not too much difference between the beliefs of Christians and non-Christians. The fact is that the proportion of Christians who affirm these values is equivalent to the proportion of non-Christians who hold similar views indicates how meaningless Christianity has been in the lives of millions of professed believers.

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Following God’s Leadership

All of us at one time or another have probably asked the question of God, “What do you want from me?” It’s interesting that a few times in the Bible He gives a point blank answer:

  1. The Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
  2. For this is the will of God, your sanctification… (1 Thessalonians 4:3)
  3. Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

Acts 16 brings us to a passage where the Spirit of Jesus prevented our missionaries from going a certain direction. The immediate question would be, “Does God still operate this way?” Can we know for sure the direction we ought to go? No matter how close we are to God, life can bring on twists and turns; which are from the Lord and which are obstacles set up by the enemy?

The Christian life is not just about meeting the Lord and seeing Him one day; it ids about walking with Him every day on a winding road. One day Paul and his group intended to preach the gospel throughout the region of Galatia and beyond, but the Spirit kept them from going into Asia (Acts 16:6). Also in this chapter, we have an addition to the missionary team (Acts 16:10). Notice the writing moves from third person to first person (“they” to “we”). Since Luke is the writer of the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, it is likely here that he joins Paul, Timothy and Silas.

Paul describes Luke as a dear friend and a doctor (Colossians 4:14). There are verses in the Bible that indicate that Paul may have had a physical illness of some sort; perhaps poor eyesight (Galatians 6:11) or maybe a physical or spiritual “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7, 8, 9).

Sometimes the most noble plans of anointed servants differ from the plans of God. They wanted to spread the gospel in another area but the Spirit of Jesus prevented them from going in that direction (Acts 16:7). One reason may have been timing because God eventually opened a door of great opportunity in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:9). Another reason may have been that God wanted Peter to go to Bithynia, who had some level of access to that area (1 Peter 1:1).

How could they have misread the direction God had for them? As with Paul, it takes a lot of courage to admit that we have made a mistake in discerning God’s direction in our lives. Once the direction is more clear, we must make sure to pursue it just as passionately as before. How did Paul know? Perhaps it was an inner tugging of the Spirit, rather than just personal feelings or instincts (Jude 1:10). Since the Spirit resides in each believer (Romans 8:9) what can we do practically to better understand God’s will or direction?

  1. Study God’s Word: He will never lead us contrary to His revealed Word.
  2. Yield to the Spirit’s control: This will keep us flexible, pliable and available when there is a change of plans.
  3. Pray for clear leadership: David’s approach is a good example (Psalm 27:11). He asked God to teach him His ways and to lead him in a straight path.
  4. Pray for wisdom and discernment: God desires to give these to us (Ephesians 1:17).
  5. Make plans, but hold them loosely: They were not supposed to just wander around the countryside, but they made plans. Paul was a smart guy, he probably had an itinerary all charted out but God had a different idea.
  6. Learn to recognize God’s peace: This is a tricky one. We like to believe that peace is a good indicator of following God’s direction and being in His will, but not always. It is not always safe to be in God’s will (I interviewed and approved many missionaries going into places around the world that we not safe). Consider this: Jonah was totally at peace in the bottom of the boat, running from God, totally out of God’s will (Jonah 1:4, 5, 6); while Jesus was totally in God’s will yet in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:41, 42, 43-44).

Application: Let’s be willing to change our plans if we sense the Spirit leading in another direction. The key to missionary work overseas was always flexibility. Paul and the team did not have to wait long for redirection, but sometimes we feel like we are in a deep, dark hole waiting for God to show us His way. Paul received a vision, a dream, about where to go next, Macedonia (Acts 16:9, 10) and the first person he finds is Lydia whom the Lord had prepared to hear the message (Acts 16:14). She was the first convert in Europe.

So, how familiar are you with the Bible? How is your prayer life? In what ways do you seek guidance from God? How do you evaluate your walk with Christ? Do you have a set time each day to seek His direction, read His Word, or ask Him for opportunities where you can be a servant of Christ each day? How does your knowledge of Christ affect your marriage and relationships? One great thing about the church, the “church” is all of us; we are in this together. That is a strength that we can use in our favor.

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Where to Hear from God

Once again I hope to emphasize the importance of hearing God’s voice. I started a couple of days ago with this post on How to Hear from God. Let’s continue.

Paul and Barnabas were in Antioch, where the disciples of Christ were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). They are in the list of prophets and teachers in the church (Acts 13:1), men not so much in it for the title or position, but they had a passion for God and His mission. Notice where they were when they heard God’s voice (Acts 13:2). The Message puts it this way, “One day as they were worshiping God—they were also fasting as they waited for guidance—the Holy Spirit spoke:” I believe that these men heard from God because they were in a position to hear his voice; basically, when God spoke, they were listening. You’ve got to be near God to hear God.

What perfect timing. Paul tells us he was set apart from birth (Galatians 1:15) perhaps around AD 10. His salvation did not come until around AD 36, but he was not set for his primary ministry until around AD 46. No time was wasted, Paul used these years to prepare for this moment. When the time came, he was ready. So after the church fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off (Acts 13:3).

It’s important to note that if the Holy Spirit sends, He is also going to equip those He sends. God gave these men wisdom, experience and even a helper (John Mark – Acts 13:5 – who later would be the writer of the gospel of Mark). So off they went.

At the first stop they find an interesting man whose name was Bar-Jesus (or Elymas), an attendant to Serguis Paulus, the governor of Cyprus (Acts 13:6, 7). The governor wanted to hear God’s Word but this Bar-Jesus did all that he could to prevent it (Acts 13:8). Interestingly enough, it is here that Saul name officially transitions to Paul (Acts 13:9). Paul looks at him and calls him the son of the devil (Acts 13:10) which is a play on the man’s name (Bar-Jesus means the son of Jesus). Paul describes him this way:

  1. Full of deceit – bait, fraud, guile, deceit – the man was involved in magic, astrology and enchantment.
  2. Full of trickery – often a word used for thieves and con men involved in wicked schemes or plots.
  3. Perverted the right ways of the Lord – to turn or twist, distort, pervert, seduce, mislead, turn away.

It is also here that Paul performs his first miracle (Acts 13:11) and the man becomes blind. The result was that the governor came to faith (Acts 13:12). God wants to amaze us with His Word as well. If we will only seek Him and examine His truth, He can blow our minds with what He was for us. How did the governor come to faith? Because he wanted to hear the Word of the Lord (Acts 13:7). He was ready to receive and God honored that desire.

Application: Are you in a position to hear God’s Word? Do you have a desire to hear from Him? Are you actively involved in worship or does that not fit in your schedule? How about a small group of people who can help you understand the Bible better and be challenged to live it out in everyday life? As in this story, our enemy will do everything in his power to distract you from hearing God. Stay focused, do not get distracted from your goal (Romans 8:29, Galatians 2:20, Acts 20:24). Allow God to use you for his kingdom. Be available to serve Him and others by putting yourself into a position to hear from Him.

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