A TENDER HEART

Who are your heroes? Have they changed through the years? I can easily remember the days when all my heroes were John Wayne types or sports stars of some kind. Whoever our heroes are determines a great deal about who we are and what kind of people we will be. If my heroes are all people that are demanding, difficult and determined to have their way in everything, I will tend to be the same type person. I’ve noticed even in preaching my way of preaching has changed many times based on who my preaching hero was at the time. When I was really admiring someone who was a great debater and could take apart their opponents arguments with ease and leave them wondering what happened, I became much more like that in my own preaching and teaching. When my heroes were people of kindness, who took the message of Christ and shared it with love, demonstrating a broken heart when people turned away, I became much more kind and caring in my own teaching. I suspect that is true of everyone of us no matter what our work may be.

When I picture the Apostle Paul, it is more often as the one looking Peter in the eye and telling him he was acting like a hypocrite when he separated from the Gentiles and ate only with the Jews. I can almost hear him telling Barnabas, “No way will I ever take Mark with me again. He turned back the last time and that’s enough for me.” I believe he could have debated anyone on just about any topic and done well in the discussion. I can hear him saying, “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.” So, my mental image of Paul is usually of a rather hard teacher who had gone through tons of trials and refused to allow them to get him down. But when I take such a view of him, I’m leaving out many parts of his life, writing and actions that paint an entirely different picture.

In the Book of Ephesians where he had taught so clearly what the church ought to be and how we are to glorify God in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end, he explained that one of the best ways of doing so was to have unity in the body. He told them to “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3). He moved through the entire chapter explaining different ways we need to be in unity if we are to follow the Lord and the lead of His Spirit. But it’s the final verse of the chapter that summed up so much of his point. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ sake has forgiven you.” Just before this he warned about bitterness, rage, anger and brawling, slander and every form of malice getting into our hearts and causing problems.

I don’t usually picture Paul as tenderhearted. Do you? But when I see him by the power of God healing those who had all kinds of sickness and disease it shows a tender heart. When I read in 2 Corinthians about how depressed he became over how the church in Corinth had turned from the things he taught them to go into a way of law rather than grace, I see a tender heart. You can certainly see his tenderness as he dealt with Timothy his young disciple whom he poured his heart and soul into to lead him into full commitment to Christ. Look at 2 Timothy 2:23-26: “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”

True, this is Paul’s final letter and written soon before his death. I’m certain he had changed as the years had gone by. But he wanted to be sure that Timothy caught the heart of compassion, tenderness and kindness. He wrote of him in Philippians 2 that he didn’t have anyone else like Timothy who would naturally care for your situation.

Think of Jesus saying in the great Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” Why do you suppose it was the peacemakers that, of all the characteristics he mentioned in this section that he declared they would be called God’s children? Obviously, we look at a young person or a child and say of them, “I know whose child that is. They look and act just like their dad or their mom.” We see marks in them that were always obvious in their parents. When God said, if we are peacemakers in the world, others will call us God’s children it is because we look like the God whom we worship and serve when we are peacemakers in the world. I’ve read through my Bible many times, but I’ve never found a single time when God ever said, “Blessed are the troublemakers.”

When we have that tender heart of compassion it means we can feel with others in the hurts and struggles they are going through in life. Instead of looking down on one who has failed, our hearts go out to them and we reach down to lift them up and offer them another chance to be all God calls them to be. No one ever demonstrated a tender heart of compassion like Jesus. If we are to follow him and become more and more like him all the time, one way we must grow is in the tender, compassionate, loving heart that feels with people in whatever they are going through. Remember his great invitation was, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened down and I wlll give you rest.” When God’s people have that kind of heart that breaks for the hurting and lonely in the world, people will see Jesus in us and be drawn to Him. But it must begin in our hearts with whom we make the heroes of our life.

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FEELING COMPELLED

When was the last time you felt spiritually compelled to do something that was not at all what you had wanted to do or planned to do? Surely you’ve had times when you just believed with all your heart that you were being led by God to do some particular work or job, so you set out to fulfill that plan. But then, out of nowhere, you see a totally different need that you feel you are being compelled by God to deal with that doesn’t fit at all what you had believed was His plan for you or your life.

Look closely at the little book of Jude in the New Testament. Jude begins the letter by calling himself a servant of Jesus Christ and bother of James. Obviously, if he is James’ brother and James was the brother of Jesus, then Jude was the brother of Jesus. Yet neither James nor Jude in writing their letters refer to themselves as being of the same physical family as Jesus but as his servants. He said he was writing to those who had been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ. I would trust that most who read this feel you are among that group that have been called of God, loved by Him and kept by Jesus, so it is a letter for us. Focus on verse 3 of the only chapter in the book. “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.”

I can picture Jude as he plans to write this book about the salvation we share and the excitement of proclaiming to all who would hear the wonder of how we are saved from sin through the love and grace of Almighty God and the sacrificial offering of Jesus on the cross so that he could pay the price for our sins and offer us his righteousness. It was going to be a good news volume that would paint a beautiful picture of what it means to be saved and live for Jesus in the world. Who wouldn’t want to write a book like that? I wonder if he ever got started on the manuscript for that book or if as he sat down to write, he felt the hand of God upon him compelling him to write a whole different kind of book than he had planned.

I suspect it was similar to those times when one has studied and prepared a sermon on some topic that you feel certain will uplift the church and bless the lives of those who are there, only to get ready to get up or even stand up to begin your message of good news only to get this strong feeling of being compelled by God to go in a whole different direction and preach on a topic that you hadn’t thought about or planned on before. There have been times like this when I preached that sermon I felt God was pushing me to preach only to have someone come out afterward to say, “How did you know what I was going through?” Every time I have had that to happen, I am totally puzzled by the person’s remark and have no idea what they are talking about. I’ve even had some to say you must have known. How could you have talked about the very thing I needed so desperately if you knew nothing about it?

God had a message for Jude to write that was not in his plan but was in God’s because of the desperate need at the time. God’s push was for him to urge the Christians to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” Why was it so important for him to write this at this very time? Why couldn’t God have allowed him to write volume one on the salvation we share and then do volume two on the challenge to contend for the faith? Because God saw an urgency due to what was going on in the world at the time. “For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.”

There can hardly be a greater danger in our spiritual life than perverted grace. The grace of God is amazing, wonderful, transforming and offers salvation to all people. It is because of grace that people who are dead in trespasses and sins can be made alive again and can reign with Christ in his kingdom. Out of that grace we become the workmanship of God created in Christ Jesus for good works that God before ordained that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). Grace brought Jews and Gentiles together in one body by the cross slaying the hatred and enmity that was between them to bring them together in one body by the cross.

So how did people pervert God’s wonderful grace? They turned it into a license to sin. It became their card to get them into all kinds of immorality and to even turn their backs on Jesus the real king and Lord of every Christian and deny his place as the head over his body the church. Perverted grace gives us the feeling that everything is okay. That such matters as obeying God and following his direction are old fashioned and out of date, so we can follow whoever we want or simply go our own way and be alright. One of the most overlooked Scriptures on grace is found in Titus 2:11-14. “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is right.”

Anytime the picture of grace is that it is a license to do our own thing and go our own way and still be right with God, it is a perversion that will lead us totally away from God, from salvation and from being the people God calls us to be. There have always been those who secretly slip into the body of Christ to pretend to be God’s chosen teachers who are more intent on getting followers for themselves or their notion than to follow Jesus.

How are we to be the people God wants us to be in such times? Contend, fight for the faith that was once for all time delivered to the people of God. God’s plan and God’s message to the world hasn’t changed. We may find better ways of delivering the message so more grasp it’s meaning and power. But if we change God’s will in the process we have set out on a course of our own. “The faith” isn’t our personal beliefs or individual faith. It is the standard of God’s word that produces personal faith in the Lord. Always knowing how to apply the teachings of the Bible isn’t easy and knowing when a teaching was intended to be temporary and when it was intended by God to be permanent isn’t easy. But if we use these challenges as an excuse to head out on our own ways or leave the standard of God’s word then we have left the faith and left the Lord in the process.

Sometimes the things we are compelled to do go against what we long to do, but in the end, fulfill the mission of God and meet the needs of people all around us. Often we are faced with choosing whether we will follow the things we are eager to do or the things we are compelled to do by God. It is seldom the case that what God compels us to do will be the things that are in our comfort zone or what will make us popular with the people around us. But it will please God and fulfill our mission.

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WRITE IT ON THE WALL

How many things have you said you would do or that you even declared, “Now that is something I will never forget” only to forget all about it? When God gave the Nation of Israel the Ten Commandments he first wrote them on stone tablets for them to remember. Later, when they were on the brink of entering the Promised Land and the death of Moses their great leader, God had Moses to remind them of the Law that he had given them. He even told them that it was vital that they learn to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul and strength. He challenged them to hold these things in their heart and to teach them diligently to their children. They were to talk about them when they got up in the morning, when they walked by the way, when they ate together or when they were sitting together. But he went further than that. He challenged them to write the law that he had given on the wall, on the doorpost of the house, on the gate and to have them in their possession all the time. Later as Moses neared the end of the Book of Deuteronomy God would add one more thing about how they were to remember the law. He said when they reached the other side in the Promised Land they were to write the Law down on pillars of stone so that they would see them every time they passed that way. They were to read the law to each other when they gathered on the three great holidays they shared as a people. Obviously God was afraid they would forget the very Law that He gave them to live by as his special people.

Amazingly, when Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3 on the difference between the Old Law that God had given the people and the New Covenant that we are under today, he said that law was written on stone, but the New Covenant was written on the fleshly tablets of the heart. They wouldn’t need some special temple to go to in Jerusalem anymore or even an Ark of the Covenant to contain the Tablets of Stone. Now the covenant would be on the hearts of every child of God. it was to be with us all the time and affect how we live in every circumstance. He said that when people read that Old Law there was a veil that covered their hearts so they couldn’t see to the goal or end of the Law. “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

Is it still important to have God’s word and teaching written down where we can see it? Certainly! Is it still valuable to write God’s will on the walls of our house or even our church buildings to remind us of things that God tells us? Absolutely! But it is even more important that we write the message of the New Covenant from the Lord on our hearts. These fleshly tablets of our heart when set upon the will of God are constantly before us, reminding us all the time what God wants us to be and do in life. When the Spirit of the Lord is in us we are given freedom from sin, from the Old Law, from all the things the separate us from God and from others who love God.

But the most significant point in this passage is this, When we get the veil off our eyes and heart and gaze longingly at the Lord’s glory, we are constantly being transformed or transfigured into the very image of Christ from one stage of glory to the next. We become more like Jesus all the time. Much of the work of the Spirit in our lives is this transformation that causes us to take on the heart and look of Jesus our Lord. One of the things this is teaching us is that when we read and study the word of God as intended the result is we ought to take on the heart and image of Jesus more and more all the time.

Let’s face it, we’ve all met lots of people who read their Bibles every day and know large chucks of Scripture that they will throw at you at any opportunity. But it has somehow failed totally in making them more like Jesus. Often it has turned them into judgmental, difficult, arrogant, sarcastic and just plain mean people that turn far more people away from God than they ever bring to him. I’m afraid the only part of the life of Jesus that many have gotten down well is him with a whip driving the money changers from the temple. Now that is certainly part of the heart of Jesus. He is totally frustrated with those who turn his worship into a money making scheme. But the heart of Jesus is most often pictured with the word “Compassion:” He looked at the poor, hurting, lonely and struggling people of the world and had compassion on them. He determined to walk in their shoes so he could fully understand what they were going through and then loved the hurting so much he took their sins on his own body and went to the cross to die on their behalf so they could have forgiveness and new life in him.

It should be one of those questions that haunt us regularly. Am I gazing at the glory of the Lord with such passion that I’m beginning to look and act more like him all the time in everything that I do? If it isn’t having that result, something is missing in my study, my worship and my gaze at Jesus.

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THE LION AND THE LAMB

It would be near impossible to think of two animals more unlike each other than a lion and a lamb. When we think of a lion we think of strength, conquering and the king of the jungle. When we think of a lamb we think of weakness, gentleness, and the constant need of someone to care for and protection. Can you even imagine trying to keep and lion and a lamb both in the same pasture? How long do you think the lamb would survive that set up?

Think about that combination for a moment in light of Revelation 5. In chapters four and five of Revelation John is caught up into heaven and first sees God the Father on the throne with the 24 elders surrounding him. His appearance was of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. In the center around the throne were four living creatures who constantly were saying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” The 24 elders fall down before him to worship him and lay their crowns before the throne and say: “you are worthy, our Lord and God to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will, they were created and have their being.”

In chapter five the scene changes. The one on the throne is holding a scroll written on both sides with seven seals. A mighty angel cries out “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll? But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside.” John wept and wept because no one could open it when one of the elders said to him, “Do not weep! See the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals. Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” When he took the scroll they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God and they will reign on the earth.”

So, both the Father and the Son were called worthy. But think of the picture that John paints for us of Jesus as he appears at the throne of the Father. If this is a picture of the ascension of Christ then it is certainly a picture of triumph. But focus on the fact the elder referred to Jesus as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David who had triumphed. This is the picture of power, majesty and conquering. Jesus had taken on the devil at his strongest point, death and had overcome in the resurrection. He is the Lion who reigns. But when John turned to see the mighty lion, he saw a Lamb. It wasn’t just a lamb but one that looked as if it had been slain, standing before the throne. The Lamb had the seven spirits which refers to the Holy Spirit. He isn’t just the strong, conquering Lion, He is the lamb slain from the foundation of the world. The elders and creatures fell down before the Lamb. “Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.”

The picture John gives us isn’t of the elders or creatures falling before the Lion, but of the Lamb. He was worthy because he had been slain, and his blood purchased for God people from everywhere of every background. He made those who he bought with his blood a kingdom and priests to serve God and reign on the earth. Jesus is certainly the conquering Lion but it was as the lamb he paid the price that changed everything. As the Lamb slain, he opened the door of salvation to everyone. No longer did it matter whose family you were in or what nation you came from or what language you spoke. It mattered instead that you had been washed in the blood of the Lamb. But his picture of the people saved by the blood is astounding. They are a kingdom and priests of God, who are bought with the blood so they can serve God. It isn’t a place of royalty so we can sit down and watch or expect to be served by others, it is so we can serve God.

But there is one more huge point in this that stands out. The reign as a kingdom and priests of God is on the earth, not after we get to heaven. We are part of the kingdom of Christ right now. Every Christian serves as a priest of God in the kingdom as they live on this earth. They are ones who are striving to bring God to the hearts of others and to carry others to God as they serve him on the earth. It is no wonder that the elders and creatures then sang out: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”

On this earth we go through tons of trials and challenges as we deal with life but it is vital we remember who we are as a kingdom and priests of God serving him on the earth all the time. What an amazing privilege to have been purchased by the blood of Jesus and be his priests on this earth, to serve in His kingdom with Jesus as our mighty king.

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WHO CAN YOU TRUST

This morning I was reading the paper, well, I don’t suppose it is really the paper any longer since it comes to us on an I-Pad and looks a little like the paper used to look. Anyway, as I looked at different articles and ideas that people shared, I kept reading stories that I had already heard about on the news or read on some news app on my phone or computer. The amazing thing is that if you check different news sources that tell about the exact same event or speech that someone made, you get all kinds of different things than you did from some other source. How in the world can you know what really went on or even what anyone said if you weren’t able to listen to the entire speech or attend the event when the reports on them all go from an angle that fits with what the person writing it thinks rather than just telling what happened.

What is crazy is that before I got to work this morning I had read or heard the report of an event that took place yesterday, from three different sources and if one accepted anyone of the reports as true they would have to believe the other two reports were either of some other event or were totally mistaken in what they had to say. It is almost to the stage that one must first decide what they wish to believe and then go to the source that will tell it from their point of view. Or if you go to multiple sources to get the different ideas on what is happening in the world, you will live in total confusion because none are the same.

But, it does make me wonder about something. I wonder if I do the same thing when I’m telling about something that I have seen or been a part of. Do I tell the story from an angle that fits my belief system or what I think of the people involved or do I simply tell what I saw happen and heard said without putting a spin on it that leads to the way I would interpret the event. When I am listening to or watching the news about an event, I don’t mind having some commentary on the event. But I also want a clear distinction between what is the news and what is commentary. If one mixes the news with commentary the truth is one may never know what has really happened but only what the prejudiced mind of the reporter happened to hear and tell. Too often it is a million miles from the truth.

What if some reporter goes on a news program and tells what they think a person said at a certain political rally but it isn’t even close to what was really said by the person speaking? No matter how often the original speaker denies ever saying it, the people who first heard the news report will tend to believe that the speaker said what they claimed they said. Very little that the person does can ever change the opinion of those who first heard the report.

I seldom watch political debates because I can’t stand hearing people make accusations against each other and often tell things that contradict things they have said earlier to a different crowd. But I happened to have tuned in to the debate last week for a few minutes when something happened that made me turn it off quickly and question my sanity forever tuning in. The reporter was asking Bernie Sanders about a comment he was accused of making that a woman could never become president. Supposedly he said it to Elizabeth Warren. Bernie totally denied ever saying anything like that and declared he never had believed such but had promoted the idea that a woman could be president. Immediately, the reporter turned to Elizabeth Warren and asked how she felt when Bernie said that a woman couldn’t be president. I didn’t wait for her answer. I just turned it off and thought how utterly ridiculous that a man could deny with such fervor ever saying a thing and immediately have the reporter act like he had admitted to saying it.

I wonder if Jesus were here in the flesh today and going about preaching the same kinds of messages he did 2,000 years ago, how the news would cover him? Imagine how they would handle such simple truths as the beatitudes of Jesus given in Matthew 5. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled.” “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God.” “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Now, these are pretty easy to follow. They set up much of the ultimate teaching of Jesus for the remainder of his ministry. But how do you think they would be covered by the media in our time? I’m certain there would be tons of commentary on the whole topic and probably every beatitude would be criticized and rejected by the world. Some might have explained in some detail what he was actually trying to say, but just didn’t get it across as it was meant to be.

One thing for certain should stand out. Truth is truth no matter who says it or whether anyone believes it. You don’t get to have your truth and me have mine. It is just the truth. When judged by the Lord it won’t get one anywhere to tell the Lord he just didn’t feel it. We will be judged by the deeds done in the body according to what we have done whether good or bad. It will be based on the word of God and Jesus Christ will be the judge. One can declare they don’t believe in a judgment or they don’t accept the idea that Jesus will be the judge or that the Scriptures will be the standard, but it doesn’t change a single thing. Judgment is real and it will come for everyone. If we think with any clarity at all we will go to the word of God to find out what to believe and then strive to live by what we read in his word since there isn’t a single chance in this world that God will change his mind about what is right or wrong.

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APPROVED BY GOD

How can you know when what you do is approved by God? Every time I read the Book of 2 Samuel and come to the story of David becoming king and wanting to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, I am puzzled again on this topic. It’s in chapter six of the book. David carried a group of able young men of Israel to Baalah to bring the Ark home. There were thirty thousand in all who went for the task. They set the Ark on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio were guiding the cart and David and all the others were celebrating with all kinds of musical instruments before the Lord. It must have been a sight to behold as they were taking the Ark of God to where it belonged. They certainly had no doubt that what they were doing was approved by God. “When they came to the threshing floor of Nakon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled.” Wouldn’t that seem like the right thing to do? You sure wouldn’t want the ark to fall off and be damaged. Probably if David had seen Uzzah reaching out he would have commended him for his saving the ark from falling at such a time. “The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died here beside the ark of God.” David was frustrated, angry and afraid. It had seemed like the right thing to do. But God had given very strict instructions on how to move the ark of God from the time it was constructed and it involved Levites carrying the ark with poles through rings that had been placed in the sides of the ark. Surely someone in the crowd remembered that God had given such instruction but in their zeal to get the ark and bring it home, they overlooked the means God had given and what they thought was the approved and godly thing to do turned out to bring tragedy.

The ark was left there in the House of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months and God blessed him and his entire household. So David decided to bring the ark down to Jerusalem again, but this time he made certain to do it as God had instructed and it was brought with celebration, blessing from God and tremendous joy from the people of the Nation.

If this story shouts any lesson for us it is that the fact something seems good and right to us and something that God would surely like or be thrilled with, doesn’t always mean it is true. I have no doubt that Uzzah was a good man and had the very best of intentions when he reached out to keep the ark from falling from the cart. But the truth was, it shouldn’t have been on the cart to begin with. They should have stepped back long enough to see what God had said about moving the ark and followed his instructions. The best of intentions, by the nicest, kindest and most caring people doesn’t necessarily mean that a thing is approved by God. Even if we take a vote and everyone there votes for a thing and everyone means well by the vote it doesn’t demonstrate God’s approval.

Look at a New Testament passage in which Paul was writing to his young mentee Timothy and see if this gives us some insight. “Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” The Holy Spirit led Paul to push his young friend to do his very best to be approved by God. This could literally be translated, “Make it your ambition in life to be approved by God.” Obviously, if God had Paul to make such a plea to Timothy it is possible for one to live in a way that does have God’s approval.

Look at some of the things in these two verses that Timothy was told were necessary if he was going to have God’s approval. First, he needed to keep reminding God’s people of some things. Do you ever get tired of telling those you love the same things they need to do over and over again? How often as parents have we said, “I just told you yesterday how to do that.” But when matters are vital and have to do with living for God we must not stop reminding people of the things that are right. Second, warn people against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. We seem to live in a time when a major part of life is carrying on a good quarrel. People can get into a quarrel about the least significant things imaginable and make it in their minds so important that everything in life seems to hang on it. Wouldn’t it be great if in every Christian family we could get across the lesson, STOP Quarreling about things that don’t matter anyway. You are just doing harm. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if in every church family you could have it a requirement of membership that you not quarrel about words or things that don’t really matter anyway. Realize that such quarrels are from the devil and are tearing apart the church.

Third, “Do your best to present YOURSELF to God as one approved.” What a major point! Too much time is spent in most of our minds on how we can get others approved by God. We certainly need to be sharing the good news of Jesus to help people come to the Lord, but if my efforts involve my judging the other person to push them in the direction I think will make the pleasing to God it is likely I’m really trying to make them pleasing to me rather than to God. I’ve learned that if I focus on correcting the things wrong in my life, I don’t have much time or energy left to focus on the things others are doing wrong.

Fourth, be a worker that doesn’t need to be ashamed. Do you know that God never gave anyone the spiritual gift of being a critic? Encouragers? Oh yes. One’s that build others up in the most holy faith? Yes! But he calls me to be a worker in his kingdom. Sitters, watchers, audiences all miss the point. The idea is for every person to be a worker for God so that they have nothing to be ashamed of in their life for the Lord.

Fifth, be one who correctly handles the word of truth. God’s word is “God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). How does a person handle the word correctly? Read it often. Take it personally. Apply it freely to your own life. Talk about what you see in the word with others. Be open to seeing things you have never noticed before and when you see you’ve been wrong, change immediately with no excuses. Read from different translations so you will notice things that you may have overlooked before. Make the word the authority not your interpretation of the word.

Being approved by God is to be a life ambition. Be sure to put it at the top of your bucket list.

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IS IT FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT

There is no question that one of the greatest blessings God gives us when we become Christians is the Holy Spirit to dwell in us with our bodies becoming the temple of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised the apostles he wouldn’t leave them as orphans but would send the Spirit to be with them and to guide them into all truth, to remind them of the things He had taught them. He even told them it was to their advantage that He go away so the Holy Spirit would come. When you read through the Book of Acts and the different letters of Paul, Peter, and John there are tons of references to the work of the Spirit in the lives of those who follow Christ. He strengthens us with His Spirit in the inner being, He leads us by the Spirit and helps us in our weaknesses. He even bears the fruit of the Spirit in our lives as we follow him. But how do you know when it is the Holy Spirit that is leading you in a given area and not some other spirit or just your own desires?

In Acts 16:6-10 Paul had just taken Timothy to become a companion and fellow preacher of the word of God and began their travels to strengthen people in the faith and the result was the numbers were growing daily. But look at what follows in these verses: “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. during the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us. After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

Does it not strike you as odd that even though Jesus had commanded them to make disciples among all the nations or every ethnic group and to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth, that the Holy Spirit would keep them from going into some places to preach the gospel of Jesus? Did God not want the people of Asia to hear the message of good news? Was the Spirit somehow prejudice against the people in Bithynia? The truth is we don’t know for certain why the Spirit didn’t allow them to go into either of the places. it could have been that the people just weren’t ready or there may have been other disciples that the Spirit was leading to go to those places. But what is most intriguing to me is that during the night Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia saying to him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” The next day they seemed to have had a meeting with the group and Paul told them about the vision that he had and they concluded that God had called them to preach the gospel to the people of Macedonia. Did some of the group question the decision or if this was really what the Spirit was calling them to do? I don’t know. I don’t know even how the Spirit communicated with the group that they weren’t allowed to go to Asia or Bithynia. But somehow the Spirit was guiding them and both closing doors and opening a door for them in the preaching of his word.

So, how do we know when the Spirit is guiding us in a particular way or to a particular person or place? We certainly need to spend time praying for God to guide us in our decisions and choices. We can’t decide if the call from the Spirit is real for us or not based on how we are treated by people when we get there. If you look at Paul and his companions and how they were treated in Philippi it wouldn’t seem like it was such an open door. Their first conversion was a lady named Lydia who was a traveling salesperson. Then they had a young lady who was demon-possessed. with the ability to tell fortunes and she followed them around shouting these men are the servants of the Most High God until her actions irritated Paul to the degree he cast the demon out. I would guess it led to her conversion even though Luke doesn’t tell us for sure. But it did lead to Paul and Silas arrest and being beaten horribly, then thrown into jail where they were placed in the inner prison and their feet in stocks. They may have been questioning by this point if that vision really did mean that God was calling them to Macedonia. But at midnight they were singing praise to God and the people in prison were all listening as they sang and prayed. God sent an earthquake that opened the prison doors, and broke loose the stocks and brought the jailer running with a sword ready to take his own life because the prisoners had been freed. When Paul told him not to harm himself they were all there, he wanted to know what to do to be saved and they were able to teach him and his whole family about Jesus and baptized them sometime during the night.

Let’s face it if you looked at the converts you might have thought that this wasn’t a very successful work. But as years went by that church in Philippi became one of the favorite churches of Paul and one that supported his work wherever he went.

How do you know it is the Spirit leading? You certainly need to take time to make certain that what you believe the Spirit is leading you to do harmonizes with what the Spirit wrote in the Scriptures. Since the word of God is God-breathed or inspired by the Holy Spirit, and he hasn’t learned anything new since that time if what I believe the Spirit is leading me to do contradicts the Scriptures then I am mistaken. That spirit may be from the devil or it may just be my allowing my own thoughts and motivation to affect my thinking.

The third thing that one should always ask when trying to decide if the Spirit is the one leading us, is will whatever is being considered result in us and other people involved bearing the fruit of the Spirit? Will it lead us to be spiritual people that are working to restore those who have been overtaken in a fault? Will it lead to sowing to the Spirit rather than to the flesh?

When the Spirit opens doors it may well be with many adversaries (I Corinthians 16:9). When we listen to the thinking of a group of people who are telling us that a thing is true, we had better be checking closely to see if this is the Spirit’s guidance or just people and usually our estimate of how many people are involved will be highly exaggerated. Through the years when people have come to me to say that a lot of people are complaining about something, my immediate thought is that it is them and two other people whom they are seldom willing to name.

The Spirit leads! But not everything that people think is from the Spirit is really from the Spirit of God. It is always worth taking the time to pray, to search the Scriptures and to question if it is really God leading or some other spirit.

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