Bible Study

Apr 2017
The Essence of Friendship

Listen carefully and you can hear the death rattle of true friendship. It is almost obsolete today. Social media’s increased influence upon our relationships strangles the essence of friendship. Even though one may be celebrated or their post is viral, they can feel alone in the next moment.

David and Jonathan are a refreshing reminder of what friendship should be. What was the essence of their friendship? As with many friendships, theirs was formed by a common interest. This is key in a world swirling with hobbies, fads, and other assorted interests. In many ways, their world was simpler, yet the common interest between them is not what you might think. They were not friends because of a common enemy—the Philistines. They were not friends because of a common location—the palace. They were not friends because of a common mauchoism—the passion. Their common interest was not weapons or the city life or sheep. Study the words they use. Their common interest was in the Lord. Both speak affectionately and reverently of the Lord. Their bond was their allegiance to the God of Israel first. This common interest intersected their lives from obscurity to devotion.

The bond between friends is only as strong as the common interest. A sports team may last a long time, but what happens when other responsibilities compete for your attention? Other interests may fade away and become outmoded. But the work and ways and wonder and worship of God never wear. The facets of His intrigue are brilliant. This is the compound which knits souls of friends together. Its rarity is akin to the pigeon blood red ruby and its value exceeds it. A friendship like this is God-like in that the language of this relationship is the sacrifice without reservation.

Do you have a friendship like David and Jonathan? Count yourself blessed. If not, ask God to help you be the friend you need to be and he will supply the companion. Those who delight in the Lord will not be desolate.

Apr 2017
Do You Work For God?

“Working for” and “working with” are two very different conditions. To work for your spouse could be a recipe for trouble, but to work with your spouse spells teamwork. Throughout our churches, pastors and parishioners, tumble into one of the two categories. Working for God often leads to cutting corners, preserving “me-time,” keeping back what’s mine, etc. As is often the tendency with employee/employer relationships, unfamiliarity or lack of trust exploits the other party and forces the response of self-defense. The employer must protect the bottom line at the expense of the employee. The employee must protect his dignity at the expense of the employer. It’s not a healthy relationship.

Sadly, these emotions simmer in the hearts of “work for God” Christians. God will never take advantage of his saints, but his requests can seem strenuous. “Working for” Christians allocate a service a week to God, attempt to invite someone to church when convenient, part with a little of their resources as long as it does not impinge their lifestyle. After all, they need to look out for themselves. Think logically for a moment. Do you want the responsibility of looking out for yourself, or do you want the omniscient, omnipresent God who never slumbers or sleeps to look out for you?

One statement about Jonathan in 1 Samuel 14 has always stood out to me. The people declare, “He wrought with God.” Jonathan worked with God to accomplish His perfect and powerful plan. He didn’t count his position as more important than God’s plan. He didn’t value his pride as more valuable than God’s plan. They weren’t collateral in the “let’s make a deal with God” game. He didn’t even value his own life as more important than working with God. He kept given to the work of God, and he let God take care of him.

What makes the difference? It’s all about your delight.

“Delight thyself also in the Lord; And he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; Trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass” (Psalm 37:4-5).

The word delight technically means “pliable” or “moldable.” What a powerful mental picture when you reflect on the Scripture which portrays your life as a vessel crafted by the Master Artisan. Your delight allows God to mold you into a masterpiece. Decide today to be like Jonathan and work with God instead of working for God. Find your delight in God and He will make your life fulfilling.

Apr 2017
From Ichabod to Ebenezer

Their names have been ensconced in literary tradition, however, their origin tells a different story. The arch nemesis of the Israelites, the Philistines, were still causing trouble for Israel. The people gathered for war, but they could not gain the upper-hand. Israel was slaughtered. More than likely the people had seen the reverential procession of the Philistine god, Dagon, and their comparative nature presumed they needed the same procession.  They brought in the ark of God. Not for worship, not for consolation, but as a charm of good fortune. They celebrated the arrival of the ark but never invoked the divine power of which the ark represented. They were not interested in the God of the ark. They only wanted His power at their point of inconvenience.

One heroic believer made the observation that when believers come into trials, many times, they treat God like the spare tire instead of the steering wheel. When we have a need or when the time is convenient for us, then we can call upon God. This trivialization of the Lord led to a fatal defeat for Israel and the loss of their trinket, the ark. Eli falls backward and breaks his neck at the news of losing the ark of God. Phineas’ wife gives birth to a son and names him Ichabod, the glory has departed. The country was war ravaged. Women had lost their husbands and sons. The economic system was off-kilter. It was an infamous day in Israel.

The Israelites worship became disjointed, even after the ark’s return seven months later. Finally, Samuel recognized the beginnings of a revival when the people “lamented after the Lord.” He knew this at a tender time in the nation’s heart. He gathers the people for a ceremonial dedication, but the horrid Philistines put together a strike force and attacked Israel. The Lord displayed His strength for Israel and fought for them. “Then Samuel took a stone…and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12). With this name, Samuel points to the history of Israel and highlights all the help the Lord has given. The people of the world bear an arm of flesh. Some trust in chariots and horses, but they were going to remember the name of the Lord who will fight their battles for them. Hitherto and evermore the Lord would help them.

What’s the difference between the Ichabod scene and the Ebenezer scene? Both involved the attack of the Philistines. The ark of God is present in both scenes. The difference was the people’s sincere devotion to God. Divine help only comes when we are complete devoted to God. Someone has said, “You know something is an idol when you are afraid of losing it.” The people used to be more afraid of losing the ark than drifting from the God of the ark. Once they lamented after the Lord, God intervened.

Lord, I praise you, Because of who you are,
Not for all the mighty things that you have done.
Lord, I worship you, because of who you are.
You’re all the reason that I need to voice my praise
Because of who you are

Apr 2017
Saying the Same Thing

“Your talk talks and your walk talks, but your walk talks louder than your talk talks.”

This quote has been around for quite some time, but the biblical foundation for it has been around much longer. The book of 1 Samuel highlights a key component in your character and the first statement appears in Hannah’s prayer of thanks to God. She said, “Talk no more…[for] actions are weighed” (1 Samuel 2:3). As someone else has said, “Actions always prove why words mean nothing.”

The key personalities within the beautiful story of 1 Samuel reinforce this golden standard of character. Eli was a judge over Israel for forty years. He had probably seen the comet-like brilliance of a young man named Samson. Eli raised his sons in a very difficult time in Israel’s history. In the last few chapters of the book of Judges, you have read of the moral failure of other Levites. By comparison, Eli was probably a standout Levitical leader. He taught Samuel how to respond to the Lord’s call, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.” Eli would more than likely be the kind of guy you would rate as a rising star in the religious leadership of Israel. The one blight upon his ministry was the character of his two sons. Eli confronts them, but his actions are either anemic or absent because there is no change. Eli lacks passion.

Later in the book, you will read of another man named Saul. If Eli was the rising star amongst the religious leadership, Saul was blazing his way to the top in politics. The people were raving about their handsome and capable king. He looked as “kingly” as they come. He knew the right words to say, but his actions repeatedly left him in a lurch. He found quickly that obedience “is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22).

Finally, Samuel finds a man whom God will designate as “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). Notice as the story unfolds in the following chapters, David is a man of action. While the armies are stationed, paralyzed by fear, David steps into the dusty valley ready to conquer the enemies of God. When he is challenged to kill 100 Philistines to win the hand of the king’s daughter, he slaughters 200. David also had some of the most beautiful words which many are recorded in the book of Psalms, but his words were enriched by the sincerity of his actions. “Talk no more for actions are weighted by the Lord!”

Evaluate your own tendencies. Are you a Christian who knows how to talk the talk? Or are your words enriched because your walk and your talk are saying the same thing?

Apr 2017
Who's Fault is it Anyway? A Challenge for the Church

The final appendices to the historical account in the book of Judges are meant to vividly portray the abhorrent practices of a people who no longer live by a moral compass. Both accounts, have one character in common. The immoral and aberrant decisions of the Israelites hinges upon the central figure—the Levite. The sons of Levi were the chosen representatives of God. Instead of representing a holy God and directing the affections of the people toward Him, they represented their own carnal lifestyles and left the people to flounder in their own imaginations. From the first story told in Judges 17-18, the downfall of the spiritual leadership was leading a man-devised worship instead of a God-desired worship.

In western culture, much clutters effective ministry. People debate worship style, ministry models, and marketing. Leaders wait for the latest poll or socio-economic study to help them pinpoint their target audience. Since when did God challenge His preachers to target an audience? These pursuits are not essential to a healthy ministry and a healthy ministry that begins to accumulate these practices will soon be effectively benign in the culture. A healthy ministry focuses all its energy on preaching God’s word and living by it.

I would challenge any church to consider shedding the gimmicks to attract a crowd of carnally-minded, pleasure-seeking, Christ-professing people. Drop the egg hunts, concerts, raffles, and blessing of the bikes which are only marketing ploys. Instead, follow Christ’s suggestion, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32). The church is sending a mixed message to the world. Because of our self-centered strategies we are saying, “Christ is not attractive alone. We will tantalize you with incentives and entertain you until your guard is down then we will spring Jesus on you.

I would challenge any church to put a stop to the worship style debate and replace the pursuit for the most awe-inspiring, emotionally-charged song service with a meaningful, heart-rending prayer service.

I would challenge any church to lay aside the marketing methods and rely on the meaningful methods of a sincerely compassionate life. Society’s broken moral compass is not their problem. Yes, they will stand accountable for their own individual actions. Yet, the way of the culture is permitted by the way of the church. It is our problem. It is the church’s problem. It is time to be the representatives we are called to be. Otherwise, stop complaining about the depravity of the culture you fail to influence.

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