Always Learning?

Paul once wrote to Timothy about those who were always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7). Jesus said it this way, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). They were searching and studying and learning, but never arrived at truth. Why? Because they were unwilling to come to Jesus.

There are places that the road of truth will take us, and we at times will find ourselves very uncomfortable with the conclusions we have to make. On that pathway, the light of truth will expose us and show us the actions we must take in order to be consistent with the truth. So the choice is there, accept, believe and obey the truth before us, or another option is to keep learning. We can fill our brains with all kinds of Bible facts, and never get one bit closer to Jesus.

Another example comes from the book of Mark. The people in Jesus’ hometown were asking some great questions, which if they had the right heart they would have come to believe in Jesus. Read the following passage.

Mark 6:1-6
He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching.

If they would have really thought about these questions in sincerity they would have come to the right conclusion about Jesus. Nicodemus, a ruler among the Pharisees, knew that Jesus could not do these mighty works unless He came from God (John 3). Others like the woman with the blood issue (Mark 5) and the Roman centurion (Matthew 8) also came to the right conclusions about Jesus. They all had limited information, but it was enough to produce a strong conviction about the identity and authority of Jesus.

So, what about us? Are we filling ourselves full of Bible facts, but failing to reach the obvious conclusions or take the steps necessary to be pleasing with Him? What are we doing with all of the Bible information and teaching that passes through our eyes and ears?

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
(James 1:22)

 

people really did ask some great questions about Jesus.

In the World, But Not of the World

“I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.
(John 17:9-19)

Today, please take time to meditate upon this section of Jesus’ prayer for His disciples. Specifically note the word “world” in this prayer.

The word “world” is used around 80 times in the book of John. This is also a good study to look at how Jesus used this term and what we learn from His teaching about “the world.”

Jesus, the night before being slaughtered for our sins, prayed for His disciples that they would be kept from the world. In Jesus’ mind, He was “no longer” in the world, because His eyes were fixed on the hope of glory (Hebrews 12:2). But for His disciples, He knew they would be left “in the world.” This clearly was a huge concern for Jesus.

His prayer to the Father was that they would be in the world, but not of the world, which is really what it means to be “sanctified” or “set apart.” Jesus prayed for them to be set apart from the world while still living in it.

How was that to happen, according to Jesus? Truth. There is such a thing. In this “world” many claim there is no such thing as truth. Jesus said there is truth and it is only found in the Word of God. In order to be in the world, and yet not of the world, we have to commit our hearts to the truth found within the pages of Scripture. Men’s philosophy and our own feelings are not truth.

As we are in the world, we set ourselves apart from the world by our relationship to the Word. The fruit will bear itself out in our lives, in our words, in our behavior, and in our choices.

Be in the world, but don’t be of the world.

Trust the Line

Last Friday, Shane Blackmer wrote about our need to “Hold the Line.” Today I want to write just about about the “line” itself.

My son, Joseph, and a friend, Noah, were working last week to put gutters on our garage. This garage is older, it wasn’t built properly, and clearly has some foundation issues; because of this the roof sags.

When Joseph and Noah snapped a chalk line across the fascia board, an optical illusion occurred. If you looked straight at the garage, the line looked like a frown, it looked much higher in the middle and lower on the ends. But the line wasn’t the problem. If you went over to the edge of the roof and looked down the fascia board you could clearly see that the line was straight as an arrow.

The line wasn’t the problem, it was the building.

I believe there is a lesson in that! We may have built our lives on the wrong foundation, or we may not have taken the care to upkeep ourselves spiritually. As a result, lives become crooked and sag, just like that garage. In fact we may become so crooked that we begin to think the line (God’s word and standard of authority) is the problem.

Trust the line. There is nothing wrong with the line. God’s word is straight; we are the ones who need correcting.

I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways (Psalms 119:15, ESV).

“Fix your eyes” on the line. Use the line to help point out what needs to be corrected in your life. His commandments are true (Psalm 119:142,151), sure (Psalm 119:86) and they are right (Psalm 119:128,172).

Feeling safe to tell the truth

Feeling safe to tell the truth. We want our kids to tell the truth, but are we helping to create a safe environment for that to happen?

God expects honesty from us. We understand that relationships are built upon trust. As parents we really want to instill within our children the importance of telling the truth.

Sometimes, however, we can be so determined to get the truth out of them that they clam up, deny, lie, etc. Some kids are so scared of getting in trouble that they will do anything or say anything to avoid it. If our attempts to extract the truth from them sound like an FBI interrogation, then they are more likely to lie or clam up. We had this experience early on in parenting. As parents, we knew the child was lying, and we wanted that child to confess. However, we were too passionate about it, and there was no way the child was going to admit the wrong.

Feeling safe to tell the truth

We realized the error of this approach, and worked to create an environment where the child felt safer to come to us.

Dr. Kevin Leman in his book Have a New Kid by Friday words it this way:

If your child does break that vase and comes to you with the truth, she can know that you’re unhappy, but she should not be punished for telling you the truth. In those situations, you’ll need to think carefully before you open your mouth. How you respond to such a situation directly relates to how comfortable your child is in telling you the truth.

Kids can be as dumb as mud and will do stupid things in life (like hanging a camera out the window of a car and dropping it), but if they own up to them and say they’re sorry, they need to know that life will go on. You won’t beat them over the head for years for their mistake. The relationship between the two of you will still be okay.

Our response to our children will directly impact how willing they are to be open with us in the future.

There’s so much more to say on this subject, so let’s do a part two next week.

Lovingkindness and truth have met together

Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, that glory may dwell in our land. Lovingkindness and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other (Psalms 85:9-10).

Take some time to meditate upon Psalm 85 this morning. If God’s salvation is near to those who fear Him, then what qualities of God have to come together? If God only was a God of truth and righteousness, then we all would be hopelessly lost and condemned. Since we have all broken the laws of God, we have nothing to look forward to but punishment and justice.

It may go without saying, but His truth and His standards of righteousness are absolute. This is what defines sin, it is a breaking of the law (1 John 3:4), a violation of truth. The offer of salvation and mercy means nothing if there is no such thing as absolute truth. How could we be guilty of violating any law if there is no such thing as truth to establish laws? As C.S. Lewis said, “A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.” Because God’s truth is asbolute, mankind is absolutely lost because of our wholesale departure from His truth.

Lovingkindness and truth have met together

Thankfully, God’s mercy met together with His truth, and His peace “kissed” righteousness, as the Psalmist wrote. That is such a beautiful concept. Righteousness and peace kissing. God’s mercy walking together with His rules. Our Lord looks upon us all and seeks to offer kindness and compassion, even though we all have broken His laws and forsaken His truth. He reached out to us through Jesus and the cross to be reconciled to us.

Let us give glory to God first and foremost for this indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15)!

But then, we must turn to our fellow man and ask if we are behaving like that to others? Are we all about the rules, with no mercy or does mercy walk with the rules in my heart? Have God’s standards kissed God’s peace in my life? Am I eager to reconcile with others or I am eager to deal out condemnation and judgment? It shows in how we treat others, doesn’t it?

Maybe God’s mercy needs to take a walk with the truth in our hearts today. We might need to take God’s rules out on a date with God’s compassion. They need to get to know each other better.

Hard Questions

Now when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the LORD, she came to test him with hard questions. (1 Kings 10:1)

I want to focus for just a moment today on the encounter between the queen of Sheba and King Solomon, and make two simple applications.

The queen of Sheba “came to test him with hard questions.” She heard of his famous wisdom and she came to challenge it. I do not think that was a bad thing. She did not have the hypocritical heart of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They only wanted to test Jesus to find something wrong with Him in order to accuse Him (Luke 11:54). She had an honest heart, I believe. Jesus Himself told us to “Ask, seek, and knock,” which tells me God wants us to investigate and dig into the wisdom of God (Luke 11:9-13).

Solomon’s own advise was to “cry out for discernment, and lift up our voices for understanding” (Proverbs 2:3). That is the very spirit of the Bereans who did not even take the Apostle Paul’s word for it, but “they searched the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). That was the spirit of the queen of Sheba, she came with hard questions, and in Solomon she found God’s wisdom. I always tell my students that “the truth never suffers from investigation.”

Solomon allowed her to test him with hard questions, and he let God’s wisdom guide his answers. Men, as leaders in churches, homes and business, do we create an environment around us where others feel safe to ask us tough questions? Do we get defensive, tense and agitated when others challenge our positions? Solomon trusted in God’s wisdom and allowed this queen to ask anything. The queen of Sheba came with her best stuff; she really threw everything at Solomon including the kitchen sink, and he allowed it. With God’s grace and wisdom, he fielded all her toughest challenges.

God promised us that if we ask Him, He gives wisdom to us freely (James 1:5). Therefore, we should have no fear to allow others around us to ask any question on their minds. Again, the truth never suffers from investigation, so if someone challenges us, we should have the humility and transparency to direct our attention to God’s word. Have the confidence that with the right heart we will all find the truth.

Rejecting Truth

In I Kings 18 we have the incredible story of God and Elijah having a contest against Baal and his prophets.  This is a classic showdown to prove who is the one true God.  The prophets of Baal are jumping around, shouting, cutting themselves to no avail, while Elijah makes wise cracks.  Then Elijah steps up and has water poured all over the sacrifice and the altar, says a simple prayer, and God sends down fire consuming the sacrifice, the water, and even the rocks.  The people’s response says it all, “…they fell on their faces; and they said, ‘The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God.”  (I Kings 18:39)

What amazes me is Jezebel’s reaction in I Kings 19:1-2, “Now Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword.  Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.”

Verse one says that “Ahab told Jezebel ALL that Elijah had done…”.  I believe that ALL must include the useless efforts of Baal’s prophets and his lack of response.  ALL must include the immediate and overwhelming response from God.  ALL probably includes the people’s response as well but Jezebel only focuses on the death of her prophets.  She seems to ignore the purpose of the contest, the outcome of the contest, and what the outcome proves.  In fact, it is somewhat humorous that she invokes her already proven useless “gods” in her threat to Elijah.

I don’t know exactly why Jezebel couldn’t see the evidence and the truth that was right in front of her face.  Maybe it was her anger or hatred, maybe it was her pride or selfishness, maybe a combination of many things.  What I do know is that I can, and have, fallen into the same trap.  I have allowed my pride, anger, and selfishness to blind me to relatively simple truth.  I don’t know how many times God has tried to reveal sin in my life or in my motives and I’ve pushed it away and convinced myself that I was “justified” or I was “OK”.

My experience is that all truth comes from God but He will use various means to present that truth to me.  Sometimes it is my wife making an observation about my reaction to a situation.  Sometimes it is an innocent question from one of my children.  A brother or sister in Christ might send me a text or write me a note.  Most often truth is revealed in the quiet of the morning during my daily bible reading.  Regardless of the means by which God reveals His truth to me, am I listening?  Is my heart open and ready to receive the reality of my situation?  When God does His work on me it can be painful, embarrassing, and even downright shameful .  My first reaction is usually to justify myself, rationalize my behavior, or even attack the messenger.  In the end, however, all those reactions are simply a rejection of God and His truth.  I pray that I can get out of the way of His work in my life.  I pray that, however painful it might be, that I will embrace the changes I need to make so that I can be molded into the image of Jesus Christ and bring glory to my Father.