Archive for August, 2009

A God Who is Knowable — Psalm 19:1-14

Summary of Psalm 19:

Psalm 19 is a celebration of divine revelation and humble human response.  We should take from this Psalm comfort in the fact that we serve a God who is personal and cares enough to make Himself known.

Verses 1-6 poetically celebrate general revelation (the way nature makes God known to us).

Verses 7-10 highlight six components (law, testimony, precept, commandment, fear of the Lord, and rules) of God’s special revelation (the Bible) and their function in our lives (reviving the soul, making wise, rejoicing the heart, and enlightening the eyes).

Verses 11-14 meditate on the human condition if we were without God’s revelation and pray that God’s full revelation would have its intended redemptive impact in our lives.

Celebrating General Revelation:

David was moved by the sun as it passed through the sky over the Mediterranean Sea.  What aspect of God’s creation moves you?  David says that nature speaks and when nature speaks its voice is heard (v. 3).  David gives voice to the sun, sky, and sea through poetry.  How can you give voice to those aspects of nature that move you?

A key part to giving a voice to someone or something is listening.  If we are not paying attention, we will either be ignorant of the message or distort the message.  Over the next several weeks take a piece of nature (flower, rock, leaf, sand, etc…) and keep it in a place of frequent usage (pocket, table, car dash, etc…).  Use this as a reminder to look for God’s fingerprint in your world.  Too often God’s omnipresence becomes more academic than comforting because we only think of it as truth and not also reality.

God’s messages in creation are: I AM here, I AM with you, I AM creative, I AM beautiful, I AM practical, I AM large, I AM peaceful, I AM diverse, I AM for everyone, I AM sustaining you, I AM inescapable, I AM attentive to details, I AM capable, etc…  Look for I AM’s message in your yard, on your commute, and in your body.  As you take comfort in those messages share that comfort with others.

Using Special Revelation as God Intended

God’s Word (Jesus and the Bible) is meant to meet man’s greatest need.  Use the chart below to examine each aspect of God’s Word highlighted in Psalm 19, the purpose of God’s Word, and what this reveals about the human condition.  Then reflect on the changes you need to make in order to value God’s Word more fully.

Aspect of God’s Word                           Function of God’s Word                       Human Condition               Application

Law                                                                     Revives the Soul                               Dead in Our Sin
(Eph 2:1)

Testimony                                                    Makes Wise the Simple                                Foolish
(Prov 22:15)

Precepts                                                         Rejoices the Heart                                 Without Hope
(John 15:5)

Commandments                                         Enlightening the Eyes                                     Blind
(John 9:39)

Fear of the Lord                                              Endures Forever                                Temporal & Fickle
(Psalm 39:4-8)

Rules                                                            Most Desirable & Satisfying                      Too Easily Pleased
(Isaiah 55:2)

The Humble Human Response:

David did not respond to the majesty of natural revelation or the sufficiency of special revelation with pride (“I’ve got everything I need.  I don’t need anyone.  I will be able to do everything right now.”).  Rather he was humbled.  He recognized that neither nature nor Bible were sufficient to overcome the deceitfulness of sin in the heart of a proud man (v. 12).  David realized the grandeur and breadth of revelation revealed how prone he was to distort God’s truth, deny his sin, succumb to impure motives, and blame others.  He needed everything God had revealed to overcome sin.  David’s response to God’s revelation was questions of self-examination and prayers for assistance.  May our response be the same.

Confession & Revival — James 5:1-20

Chapter 5 Verse 1:

It is important to remember that James was writing to refugee Christians chased from their homes in Jerusalem.  Now they were starting over in new countries.  They had to take bottom of the totem pole jobs; jobs where they would be taken advantage of by rich people.  James is addressing the oppressors of his audience.  James is bringing comfort to his readers by offering God’s perspective on their oppressor.  In order to make appropriate application we need to hear not only the dangers of how wealth can corrupt morals, but also see how God used James to comfort the oppressed.  When you consider the passage in this light, how does it change the way you apply content?

Chapter 5 Verse 9:

It is challenging to realize that James gave this instruction regarding complaining to refugee Christians.  We wish he had given it to a growing church in the middle of building campaign that was ahead of budget.  The reality is suffering breeds dissatisfaction and dissatisfaction breeds grumbling.  The audience of James’ writing means that we can never say, “James, you just do not understand my situation.”

However, we should also note that James says not to complain about one another.  In the midst of their hardship these displaced believers were tempted to turn on one another.  This is also common to human nature.

Consider the following questions when you are in situations like this:

  • Who is with/for me in my suffering?  These are the people I must not turn on or I will only multiply my sense of isolation.
  • What are the real injustices?  Go back and read James 5:1-6 and place yourself in the place of the original audience of James.  How does this passage strike you in light of your situation?
  • Where has God been faithful?  You are not alone.  James’ letter was a ray of hope that these believers had not been forgotten.  James was encouraging the believers not to become divisive and lose God’s faithfulness in their fellowship.  What is the equivalent in your situation?
  • Where are avenues of ministry?  The dispersion of the church from Jerusalem was one of the great missionary movements of all time.  James was encouraging these displaced believers to remember their ultimate calling (to take the name of Jesus to the ends of the earth).  To whom, when, and how does your current season of suffering allow you to minister to others?

Chapter 5 Verse 16

“Confession and Powerful Prayer”

Note that the immediate context of powerful prayer is believers confessing their sin to one another.  This has proven to be true in church history.  One of the most consistent marks of major revivals has been an increased willingness amongst believers to confess their sin to one another (for an inspirational read on the history of revival consider Malcom McDow and Alvin Ried’s book Firefall: How God Shaped History Through Revivals).  I believe there are at least three reasons for this.

First, confession sparks powerful prayer and revival because it is a mark of humility and opens the door to God’s grace.  When we fail to confess our sin to one another it can inevitably be traced to some form of pride.  In our culture, we have accepted in the now “common sense” phrase “that’s none of their business” as if God intended us to use the concepts of personal business or privacy to conceal our sin and squelch His Spirit in our lives.

Second, confession sparks powerful prayer and revival because now we can pray about those things that are inhibiting the movement of God in our lives.  When we are not confessing our sin we pray about things that are not interfering with God’s will in our life.  If we are serious about God’s will, we will eagerly confess the sin that blocks it.

Third, confession sparks powerful prayer and revival because it unleashes the power of the Body of Christ in our lives.  When we are alone in our sin we are trying to find Satan on his home turf.  This is like wrestling an alligator in a swamp.  Confessing sin to our trusted Christian friends is like moving the battle with an alligator from the swamp to a tree.  His jaws are still fierce and nothing to be played with, but the terrain gives us a fighting chance.

Consider the words of Peter in Acts 3:19-20 as you meditate on these points, “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”

Becoming More Educational With Our Order of Service

What is the most common, most read, and sometimes most expensive publication of a local church?  Answer: the bulletin.  If this is the case, then it stands to reason we would want to get the most bang for our buck (and the most sanctification from our publication).

Attached is a sample bulletin structure that seeks to allow both worship leader and pastor to work together in discipling the congregation without adding significant work to their week.  The goal is to make clearer (visually and theologically) what is already being said and sung.

This sample is not intended to take sides in any “worship wars.”  It is style neutral.  Various service structures could utilize the key principles of the sample.

One guiding conviction behind the same is that when we gather to worship, we gather to interact with our Heavenly Father in an intimate, informative manner.  Therefore, God speaks and we respond throughout the service.

A Guided Tour:

Sample of a Proposed Bulletin

  • At the top service is the church’s mission statement.  This is to tie “what we do” to “who we are” as a church.
  • The left edge of the service contains the themes of the service and the sermon.  Many sets of key words could be used.  The ones given are merely an example.  Hopefully the flow of the service would mirror or accentuate the key points of the sermon.  As they worship, the congregation would be more overtly prepared to receive and understand the sermon.
  • The “dialogue” or relational nature of worship is emphasized by the identifying each aspect of the service as either “God Speaking” or “We Respond.”  This draws the congregation out from a spectator mindset to a participant’s mindset.
  • The service concludes with a call to response that is not merely for salvation (the minority population of most services), but also for lives of faith, obedience, and love.  Other calls for a living response that relate to a given service or sermon could be included here.
  • There is also a section entitled “How to Enrich Your Worship.”  The eight items listed are not exhaustive.  The goal of this section is to give the congregation practical tools to make God Kingdom and the ministry of the church more central to their weekly routine and planning process.

It is not being proposed that this sample is the ideal new bulletin model.  Rather, this is an attempt to enhance the overall discipleship impact of a worship service by creating a greater visual and theological cohesion to the elements of worship.

Christian Conflict — James 4:1-17

In your preparation for this lesson there is an excellent article by Ken Sande entitled “The Heart of Conflict” that walks through this passage.  It is an excellent, insightful, and practical article on conflict resolution.

You might also want to read my blog “Why Humility is Doubly Important in Marriage” for application of James 4:6.

Chapter 4 Verse 4:

Why does James change his focus so quickly from conflict in the church to spiritual adultery? Sorry, that is a trick question.  When we understand James correctly we see that he is not changing subjects at all.  James, like his big brother Jesus, understood that it was impossible for us to break the Second Great Commandment without breaking the First Great Commandment. When we fail to love our neighbor as ourselves it is because we have loved something (i.e., the driving desire from verse 2) more than God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Often we overlook this.  Then we not only fail to see our sin against God, but we leave the root of our sin in place.  This is one explanation of why we commit the same sin over and over again even when we sincerely regret having done it the first time.

Chapter 4 Verses 6-10

“God Gives Grace to the Humble”

James quotes Proverbs 3:34 to distinguish how God relates to the humble verses the proud.  After James lays out this principle, he provides six methods for maintaining a humble disposition that will keep his readers in the flow of God’s grace.

Submit to God: We call Christ “Lord” because we surrender control of our life to Him.  When we expect to have the final say in our lives, over God’s Word, we are proud and step outside God’s grace.

Resist the Devil: We are not called to fight Satan, but to resist, stand firm (Eph 6:14), and take every thought captive (II Cor 10:5).  Assaulting Satan is not our job (Jude 9).  In the chase, Satan would lure us into a trap.  Resisting Satan is the place of humility and God’s grace.

Draw Near to God: God does not just want to be our Lord, but also our Father.  God’s grace is found in the personal-ness of our relationship with Him.  Conversational prayer and study of God’s character are key to finding rest in God’s grace.

Cleanse Your Hands: We must repent of and take steps to remove all known sin from our lives.  The fact that everyone sins is no excuse for harboring known sin.  God’s grace does not enable a hardened heart.

Purify Your Hearts: Motives are as important as actions before God.  It is often easier to cleanse behavior than it is to purify motive.  But it is our goal to draw a connection between each of our daily activities, no matter how mundane, and our service/worship of God.

Change Laughter to Mourning: Crude entertainment or humor is a sign of a corrupt heart.  Laughter is a form of delight.  Once we accept Satan’s definition of fun and funny, then we increase of susceptibility to pride and decrease our reliance on God’s grace.

Chapter 4 Verse 17:

Which have a bigger impact on our daily life sins of commission or sins of omission? The purpose of this question is not to force us to get out the scales of relative impact, but to challenge our thinking.  We often think that sins of omission are less important.  Consider the following examples of sins of omission and the impact they have on your life.

  • Daily time of Bible study and prayer
  • Pursuing a deeper understanding of your spouse
  • Romancing your spouse
  • Talking with your children
  • Disciplining your children
  • Taking time to regularly rest and exercise
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Having an accountability partner
  • Examining your life priorities and time management
  • Keeping track of your budget monthly
  • Living within your income

The Words of the Wise — James 3:1-18

Chapter 3 Verses 1-12:

“The Power of the Tongue”

James places a large emphasis on sins of the tongue.  Both James and Jesus identify the connection between our words and our heart (Luke 6:45), that they say a clean tongue would produce a clean life.  Consider the following list of “sins of the tongue.”  As you study it, ask yourself the following questions: When am I tempted in this way?  With whom am I tempted this way?  What are my habits with this temptation?  To whom have I made myself accountable regarding this temptation?  Why do I not take this more seriously?

  • Uncontrolled speech (James 3:5-8)
  • Lying and deceit (Exodus 20:16)
  • Flattery (I Thessalonians 2:5)
  • Gossip (II Timothy 3:1-3)
  • Slander (Ephesians 4:31)
  • Boasting (James 4:13-17)
  • Cursing (James 3:9-12)
  • Complaining (Philippians 2:14)
  • Course or Vulgar Humor (Ephesians 5:3-4)
  • False Teaching (Galatians 3:1-4)
  • Unfulfilled Promises (Deuteronomy 23:23)
  • Manipulation (Genesis 29:15-30)
  • Harmful Omission (Acts 5:1-11)
  • Blame-Shifting (Genesis 3:12-13)

Chapter 3 Verse 9:

I would encourage teachers to make this point with a loving firmness.

We must take seriously the words we speak in our homes.  Too often we dismiss verse 9 in our homes.  If you are insulting, degrading, or attacking in your speech at home with your spouse or children you need to repent to God and to another believer before you go home today (James 5:16).  Sins of dominance are not broken when they remain private.  The same pride that keeps you silent, if you choose not to confess, will be the same pride that spills venom on your family.  Righteous anger is not insulting, degrading, or attacking.  If you call members of your family names, swear at them, barrage them with accusations, distort their words, or use other tactics of shame/intimidation, you need to confess to another mature believer as accountability to ensure that this life pattern does not continue.

If you struggle with anger, in addition to confessing to a mature believer, I would recommend reading one of the following books:

  • Peacemaking for Families by Ken Sande
  • Uprooting Anger by Robert Jones

If you live with someone who struggles with anger, I would recommend reading:

  • The Emotionally Destructive Relationship by Leslie Vernick

If your children are imitating the anger they see in the home, I would recommend reading:

  • The Heart of Anger by Lou Priolo

Chapter 3 Verse 13:

The final phrase of verse 13 is translated several different ways amongst the various Bible translations.  The big idea of the verse appears to be “wisdom uses no more force or intensity than is necessary.”  This seems to capture the idea of wisdom being humble, meek, or gentle (various translations).  Wisdom does not stop short of addressing problems that exist (denial), but it also does not condone unnecessary force or intensity.  When we catch ourselves defending our actions with the phrase, “Well, it worked didn’t it,” or, “They stopped didn’t they,” we should pause.  The implication of this verse is that when we use more force than is necessary we are behaving foolishly.  James is often called “the Proverbs of the New Testament.”  When we use effectiveness as a justification for an over-reaction we should read Proverbs to see how God evaluates our “success.”