Thursday, October 19, 2017

Spiritually Alive or Religiously Dead?

You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others. 
2 Timothy 2:2 NLT

The Dead Sea, Israel
A few years ago I had the great privilege of visiting Israel, the land of the Bible. The tour group I was with spent the first few days visiting sites around one of Israel's major bodies of water, the Sea of Galilee. Galilee is a beautiful region; the land around the lake is lush and green.  We spent one afternoon on a boat ride on the Sea and learned about the various fish species in the lake and the fishing industry. There are about 18 species of fish found in the lake. Life is abundant in and around the water. 

Lake Kinneret, as it is called by Israelis, is fed by springs as well tributaries from Mt. Hermon in the north. At the southern end of the lake, water flows out through the Jordan River, Israel's most famous stream. The word Jordan means "down-rusher" which described the descent from Galilee to Israel's other significant inland body of water, the Dead Sea. Between the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee and the entrance to the Dead Sea, a distance of about 65 miles in a straight line, the Jordan drops over 600 ft. The Dead Sea is over 1300 feet below sea level. 

The Dead Sea and surrounding area is the opposite of the Sea of Galilee; the landscape is dry desert, and the Dead Sea contains no fish. The mineral elements in the water are so thick that the lake cannot sustain life. The Dead Sea is "dead" because water flows in but there is no outlet for water to flow out. As the water evaporates in the desert heat, salt minerals are left behind and forbid the existence of life. While it is an interesting experience to float in the Dead Sea, the minerals in the water can be toxic even for humans. 

For a body of water to be healthy and sustain life, it must have tributaries or springs that feed it, and it must have outlets for water to flow from it. Without both, the water would dry up, become stagnant and toxic. 

There is a spiritual lesson in these two bodies of water. In order for a follower of Christ to be healthy spiritually, he or she needs tributaries, others who are feeding into them, helping to nourish them spiritually. But they also need outlets, people in whom they can invest what they have learned in following Christ. Without an outlet for our spiritual life, our faith begins to weaken and dry up. We end up becoming spiritually stagnant and even spiritually toxic. Some of the most miserable "Christians" I have known were those who have spent their lives in the church having someone (usually the pastor or Sunday School teacher) pour into them, but never finding other people to pour into themselves. Many times they become bitter, controlling, and even toxic to those around them. 

Paul teaches Timothy this truth about healthy spiritual life in the above Scripture. Paul poured into Timothy ("You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses") and then instructed Timothy to pour into others ("Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people ") who would then pass the instructions on to even more ("who will be able to pass them on to others.") This is the "secret" to a healthy spiritual life - having someone (or someones) to invest in your life, and having other people in whom you are investing. This is the difference between a living faith and dead religious life. 

 Who are you learning from and who are you pouring into? Who is discipling you, and who are you discipling? (And are you helping them disciple others?) Are you spiritually alive or religiously dead?

Monday, October 16, 2017

Worry and Words

Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, But a good word makes it glad  Prov 12:25 (NKJV)

I love the language of the Old Testament; Hebrew is very expressive. For example the word translated “anxiety” in the verse above literally means “heaviness”. It describes a burden or weight that is being carried around. Isn’t that what worry really is – an emotional weight or heaviness? And where does it lead? The Hebrew word translated “depression” means to “stoop” or to “be pressed down.” Worry or anxiety (fear) drags a person down – causes them to be depressed. We all know people who seem to have this constant weight on their shoulders because of the anxiety in their hearts. Writer Henry David Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation…”

But the writer of Proverbs also offers hope for those under the weight of worry – “A good word makes it glad.” The word translated “good” is used 559 times in the Old Testament and is translated in a variety of ways: precious, better, pleasant, prosperity, beautiful, favor, wealth… (you get the picture!). And the word translated “glad” means “to rejoice” or “be cheerful.”

When you put it all together, “Worry brings people down, but a good (pleasant, beautiful, etc…) word lifts them up.” You and I have the potential power to change another person’s day (or life) with a good words. What you say makes a difference.

Why not start looking for those opportunities to make a difference today? Start with those closest to you – family, co-workers, other students. The field is wide open, make the most of it today.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Mr. Encouragement

"Helping one person might not change the whole world, but it could change the world for one person." Paul Spear

Yesterday at Grace Point we studied the spiritual gift of exhortation/encouragement. In LIFE Group after the worship service we looked at the life of a disciple who was known as "Mr. Encouragement." His name was Joses, but the disciples called him "Barnabas" which means "Son of Encouragement." Barnabas is a pretty remarkable figure in the New Testament church, but unless you are looking for him, you might miss his contributions to the Kingdom.

We first meet Barnabas in Acts 4:37 where we are told that he sold some property and brought the proceeds to the disciples so they could use it to for ministry. Barnabas was a generous person and he encouraged the church with his sacrificial giving. People with the gift of encouragement often use their resources to bless others.

The next time we see Barnabas is Acts 9. Saul of Tarsus had been incredibly saved on the road to Damascus. He had been a notorious persecutor of Christians, but God dramatically changed his life and he began to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. After being run out of Damascus, Saul went to Jerusalem in the hopes of connecting with the apostles, who had been facing serious persecution. When they heard Saul was in town wanting the meet with them, they feared it was a trap and initially refused to meet with him. So, Mr. Encouragement comes to the rescue and stands with Saul, giving testimony of his salvation and transformation. The apostles had great faith in Barnabas and Saul is allowed to join them. He comes in and out among them until he leaves Jerusalem for a while.

A couple of chapters laters, Acts 11, Barnabas is sent to Antioch because word had come to Jerusalem that God was moving in the city and people were coming to faith in Christ. Barnabas saw the great things God was doing in Antioch and knew these new believers needed to be discipled, so he left Antioch and went Tarsus and found Saul and brought him to Antioch, and for a year he and Saul work among the new believers, discipling them in the Christian faith.

In Acts 13 Barnabas and Saul are chosen and sent out by the church on the first missionary journey. They travel around, sharing the gospel, making disciples and planting churches. They begin to encounter non-Jewish people who are coming to the Lord. When they return and tell of the wonderful things God is doing, a group of Jewish believers are concerned that non-Jewish believers are being saved, but aren't following the Jewish customs. The apostles take up the issue in Jerusalem and call on Saul (now being called "Paul") and Barnabas to give testimony to what the Lord had been doing. After hearing their words, the apostles declare that God can save anyone under any circumstance and following the Jewish customs is not required for salvation. Paul and Barnabas are sent out to share the news with all believers.

After spending more time in Antioch, Barnabas and Paul are ready to go back out on the mission field and revisit the believers and churches where they had gone before. Barnabas wants to take a young man named John Mark with them. Apparently John Mark had started out with them on their early journey, but somewhere along the way had left the group and returned home. Paul wasn't happy with John Mark because he had bailed out on them before, and he refused to let John Mark go with them. The Bible says that the contention between Barnabas and Paul became so great that two split up, and went their separate ways; Paul took Silas, and Barnabas took John Mark and headed out on a different route.

Barnabas is only mentioned a couple of other times in the writings of Paul, but we see from these episodes in the book of Acts what an impact he had on the movement of early Christianity.
1. Barnabas encouraged the church by his sacrificial giving when resources were needed to care for needy members of the church.
2. Barnabas stood by Saul/Paul before the apostles when they weren't willing to to trust him. He also went after Paul at Tarsus and brought him to Antioch to help disciple the new believers. Then he went with Paul on his first missionary journey to share the gospel and encourage believers. I can't help but wonder how Paul's life might have different (and how Christianity might have been different) had Barnabas not stood with him and encouraged him (Paul went on to write about 2/3 of the New Testament we have today).
3. Barnabas also took a stand at the Jerusalem Council for the non-Jews who were being saved. His words helped convince the apostles that Gentiles could be saved and receive the Holy Spirit without following the Jewish customs.
4. And Barnabas stood with John Mark, willing to give him a second chance, when Paul had given up on him. We don't really know what happened to Barnabas after he and John Mark left for Cyprus, but we know that John Mark went on to write the gospel that bears his name and give testimony to person of Jesus Christ.

Mr. Encouragement had a huge impact on early Christianity, even though he isn't often remembered for his contributions. I can't help but wonder how different things might be had Barnabas not stood with Paul and John Mark, and the non-Jewish believers. He may not get a lot of attention for his contributions, but he made a difference by his encouragement.

You may not feel like you have much to offer in service of the Lord; you may not have a lot of resources, or abilities, but you may be able to encourage another person who God uses to change the world. Never underestimate the power of encouragement.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

He Will Direct Your Path

"In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths." 
Proverbs 3:6 (NKJV)

    Last night at Grace Point we wrapped up our study on "What to Do When You Don't Know What to Do." We've been looking at Proverbs 3:5-6 for several weeks, and last night was v.6. I shared how the first part of the passage was a command for us to make sure we are knowing the Lord in every aspect of our lives: "in ALL our ways..." We are prone to compartmentalize our lives and fail to acknowledge God in every area. But as the missionary Hudson Taylor said, "Christ is either Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all."
    The last part of the verse is a promise that as we draw near to God through the circumstances of our lives, He will "direct our paths." Some will read that and think it means He will tell us ahead of time what His plan is and how He will work it out- He will show us "the map" so we know where He is taking us in life. But that isn't really what the passage means, and it isn't the model we see in Scripture. What He is telling us that as we draw near to Him, He will BE our guide, He will lead us as we follow Him. He is the way and He is our "directions." He is telling us we will have a deeper relationship with Him as we follow Him.
    In Matthew 4 when Jesus calls His disciples, He calls them to follow Him. He doesn’t go into detail about what that looks like. He says “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matt 3:19) He doesn't say, “Ok, here’s the plan - I’m going to disciple You, invest in your lives for three years. We’re going to this village and that village, and we’re going to feed the hungry, heal the sick, raise the dead. And then at the end of three years I’m going to be killed and you all are going to carry on the work until they kill you also.” Do you think they would have followed had they known all of that? Maybe, maybe not. But the thing is, when Jesus called them, the only thing they had was Him - they didn’t know the plan, they didn’t know the direction, they didn’t know the end result - all they had was Him... and He was enough. They left their nets and their tax tables and they followed Him. And He guided their lives and directed their paths, and they knew Him at a more intimate level with each new day.
     I closed with a portion of a poem I had read sometime back:

He does not lead me year by year, Nor even day by day;
But step-by-step my path unfolds, My Lord directs my way.
Tomorrow’s plans I do not know; I only know this minute.
But He will say, “This is the way, By faith now walk in it.”
And I am glad that it is so, Today’s enough to bear;
And when tomorrow comes, His grace shall far exceed its care.
What need to worry then, or fret? The God who gave His Son,
Holds all the moments in His hand And gives them one-by-one.

   A pastor friend was visiting last night. He is between ministries, having stepped down from his previous church in some difficult circumstances. He stepped down in faith, at the time not having another pastoral ministry to go to, and not certain where the Lord was leading them. It has been about 17 weeks, and God has used he and his family to help care for some other family members. On Sunday he will be preaching in view of a call to another church, but he had this Wednesday off and was in our area so he stopped by our Bible study last night.
   After I ended the Bible study with the above poem, my friend shared a testimony. Several years ago he was at a camp with kids from his church and he went for a walk in the woods just to pray and spend time with the Lord. While he was walking, he came across a crumpled piece of paper and he picked it up and looked at it, on the paper were the words of a poem. He began to read it and as he did the Lord gave him a melody to the poem, and he began to sing it. Over the years God had used the poem/song to encourage him and remind him that the Lord was guiding him. As he shared the story, he said that the words on that paper was the very poem I shared with our family last night. God again was encouraging him as he heard those words.
    And God was encouraging me also. I don't usually do poems in my Bible studies, but that one seemed to fit. And the Lord knew my friend, who needed encouragement, would be there last night. He also knew I needed encouragement, so He used that experience to remind me the He is Lord, and He is "guiding my path" and He will provide as needs arise.
   Writing about this experience doesn't seem as effective as telling it in person, but I hope you are encouraged to know that God is with You and as You seek to know Him through every experience of your life, He will guide your path and He will provide for all that you need.