The beauty of praise

The scene is set in Heaven right now.  It establishes a precedent for the promise of the new Heaven to come.  The example we find teaches us valuable praise.  I am referring to the fourth and fifth chapter of The Revelation of Jesus Christ that was given to John on the Isle of Patmos.  These two chapters and the last three are my personal favorite found in this book.   Chapters four and five teach us about the beauty of praise: the glory of God, the victorious atmosphere, and the spontaneous responses.

The Glory of God (Rev. 4:1-7)

In John’s vision of the throne set in Heaven, he see’s one who is arrayed in glory.  The beauty that is described is given to the Lord of all.  There is power demonstrated by the lightning, thunder, and voices in verse five.  Nothing compares to the splendor that we find in God.  What we learn about praise is that God is worthy of our praise.  God’s  very nature draws out our praises.  The Lord is our Creator, Sustainer, and Provider.  We find all we need in Him.

The Victorious Atmosphere (Rev. 5:1-7)

Many people shudder at the thought of the book of Revelation.  The challenging nature of its symbols and the fear of end-time prophecies add to this pull-back when dealing with Revelation.  However, in my readings, I have come to the understanding that God is never nervous about the outcome.  No matter what is happening in the realm of man and spiritual wickedness, God is never wringing His hands or having a knee-jerk reaction.  Revelation 5:1-7 shows this clearly.  We can praise God, for when we are worried about situations in life (vs. 4), Jesus shows up on time to bring victory (vs.5-7).  Thank you, Lord!

The Spontaneous Responses (Rev. 4:8-11; 5:8-13)

Our praise to God should not require us to work it up.  Instead, it should be an automatic and spontaneous response to God.  Beautiful praise is not forced or fake.  The pattern of praise we find in Heaven can be seen as the default activity of inhabitants before the throne (Rev. 4:8-11).  They are continuously centered around the Throne of God for worship.  It is their primary concern.  We also see praise as a response to the great things He has done (Rev. 5:8-13).  Thousands upon thousands freely join in the worship of the Lord when they see what He is able to do.

Why do we lack discernment?

When Jesus was asked to speak about the end times, one of the signs He gave was the deception of God’s people (Mt. 24:24).  Other passages warn us of false prophets (2 Thess. 2:3; 2 Tim. 4:1, 3-42 Pet. 2:2, 12-13), Satan (2 Thess. 2:9-12), and personal deception (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 6:6-8).  How does this deception take hold of believers?  My observation is that Biblical illiteracy, a culture of syncretism/pluralism, and a lack of accountability contribute to those who are easily deceived.

Biblical Illiteracy

Barna Research recently released a stat loving pastor’s dream, Barna Trends 2017.  There are 236 pages of research material.  Part of it is the recent trends in faith, which includes Biblical literacy.  Currently, 57% of the world’s population still do not have a completed translation (Barna, p. 126).  When it comes to Americans approaching the Bible, even though it is more accessible than at any other time (p. 143), almost 30% read it once a month, and another 30% read it one a year (p. 140).

There is plenty of passages that refers to our need to honor and know the Holy Scriptures.  However, we do not seem to care about reading the Bible.  It is easy to be tricked into believing false truths about the Scripture when we do not actually know what is in the Bible.  We listen to a two-minute video and post it to Facebook without thinking about the actual teachings and character of the person we just promoted.  Believers are being deceived by a fancy religious talk by so-called ministers, but yet they do not have the ability or take the time to be like the Bereans when they heard Paul preach.

Acts 17:10-12

And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.

Culture of Syncretism/Pluralism

Pluralism means a diversity of perspectives, values, beliefs, and practices.  Syncretism is the attempt to combine a plurality of these items into a single system.  The Old Testament contains several examples of Israel’s history where they tried to absorb pagan idols into their practices, only to be absorbed by paganism.  According to the research, 57% of Americans now believe that morality is self-defined (pp. 50-53).  People can adopt whatever beliefs they want from any system available and make their reality.  In research, we call this confirmation bias.  When personal interests get in the way of reason, we become biased to the truths we accept while refusing the facts that are inconvenient.

Our society teaches us from an early age to “be ourselves” and “do what makes us happy,” but this can be against God.  The modern morality in the culture we live says that all religions are valid, choose what you like, and just be a good person.  Christian Scripture does not allow for followers of Christ to agree on with this approach.  Jesus is not another way to God, but the only way.

John 14:6

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

Lack of Accountability

The mantra of our age sometimes feels like, “Don’t judge me.”  The stats are staggering that we lack a desire to be held accountable.  Barna reported that 89% of all U.S. adults and 76% of practicing Christians believe that “people should not criticize someone else’s life choices” (p. 53).  Also, 37% of Christians believe spiritual growth comes is only on your own (p. 135).  Proceeding from a culture of pluralism/syncretism, we have developed into a therapeutic culture.  We tend to gravitate towards those things that make us feel better about ourselves, even if there is no truth in them.

When someone offers teaching or rebuke that is contrary to our feelings, we take it as extremely negative criticism.  This is why the Word of Faith movement has such a large following (think of most televangelist).  They highlight the power of positive thinking, be positive and your situation will go away is a part of their approach.  The thought process becomes “anyone negative to you is against you.”  Again, Scripture is keen on believers holding each other accountable for what they believe and their actions.

Galatians 6:1-5

Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.  For every man shall bear his own burden.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not be deceived anymore.

 

References

Barna Group (2017) Barna Trends 2017. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI.

The need for learning pastors.

If one thing is clear from the pastoral epistles (I, II Timothy and Titus), the burden to be learners.  Perhaps the most straightforward command is found in II Timothy 2:15-16,

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth, but shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.”

The word study in the Greek is σπουδάζω (spoudázō) and is in the aorist, active, and imperative form.  Meaning that this word is a command to be performed at all times.  Why?  To be approved of God and notice, not by men.  God is our Master, and this makes a difference for “In ministry, the difference between the good and bad workman is that the former wants the approval of God upon his work, whereas the latter wants the approval of men” (Williams, 2007).

Don’t argue for arguing sake.

In verse 14, Paul encourages Timothy to remind the people, “charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.”  Apparently, these people like to argue and have discussions that robbed Christianity of truth and action.  One of my professors at Wesley Biblical Seminary, Dr. Matt Friedeman, often said something to the point that, “Christians that sit around talking will only make disciples who sit around and talk.”  This pointless chatter still takes place today as “There are also those in our churches, who may not be great talkers, but they are forever getting caught up in the latest fad or novelty on the Christian scene, instead of getting down to some solid Bible study that will inform their minds and deepen their understanding of those essential truths of which Paul reminds Timothy” (Willams, 2007).

Study God’s word.

If we come back to the word study, we understand that it doesn’t necessarily mean to sit under teachers or to be in a classroom.  Instead, it implies diligent focus, keen interest, and intense desire.  The focus of our study is the “word of truth” in verse 15.  Ministers are workmen and “The emphasis in this paragraph is that the workman needs to be diligent in his labors so that he will not be ashamed when his work is inspected” (Wiersbe, 1996).

Those who are called to preach God’s Word need the attitude of the early apostles in Acts 6:2, “It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables” and 6:4, “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.”  We are to give ourselves over to God’s Word so that we are approved workmen for God.

Share the Gospel truth.

Paul told Timothy that he needed to be constant in “rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Tim. 2:15).  In other words, he was to cut straight, “the metaphor being from a father or a steward cutting and distributing bread among his children” (Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, 1997).   To do anything other with God’s Word would corrupt the Scripture.  We are to share what God has put forward and not our own opinions.

References

Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Williams, P. (2007). Opening up 2 Timothy. Leominster: Day One Publications.

Our Lord

God has revealed Himself in nature and through special revelation. Some Scriptures that present this truth are: Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:20; Romans 10:17. Though the existence of God is clearly seen in nature we understand that salvation only comes through God’s revelation of Himself through Jesus Christ and faith in Him as brought by the Holy Scriptures (Rom. 10:17).  God is One but is in three distinct persons. We see this in Scripture: Genesis 1:26; Isaiah 45:18; Deuteronomy 6:4; Psalm 86:10; Matthew 28:19. Each person of the Godhead is fully God but does not exist by themselves.

There are many attributes to God’s that are revealed in Scripture.

  • Transcendence – God is above and different than creation (Isaiah57:15.
  • Immanence – God is involved with His creation (Isaiah 57:15; Ephesians 4:6).
  • Eternal – God is not bound by time (Psalm 90:2).
  • Infinite – There is no limit to any portion of God (1 Kings 8:27, Psalm 103:17, 139:7, 147;5; Isaiah 55:8-9).
  • Immutable – God does not change (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8).
  • Omniscient – God is all-knowing (Psalm 147:5; Romans 11:33-34; Hebrews 4:13).
  • Omnipresent – God is all-present. There is no place that is not present (Psalm 139:7-10; Jeremiah 23:23-24).
  • Omnipotent – God is all-powerful (Jeremiah 32:17; Revelation 19:6).
  • Holy – God is separate from creation (Exodus 15:11; Leviticus 17:44-45; 1 Samuel 2:2; Isaiah 57:15; 1 Pet. 1:16).
  • Just – God is impartial in his judgment (2 Tim. 4:8).
  • Righteous – God is faithful to Himself and His promises (Genesis 18:25).
  • Love – God fully gives Himself to His creation as self-sacrificial (John 3:16; John 15:13).
  • Mercy – God favors forgiveness above judgment (Micah 7:18).
  • Grace – God gives to us to favor (Ephesians 2:8).
  • Goodness – God gives gifts to bring us to Him (Psalm 145:9; Matthew 5:45; Romans 2:4).
  • Truth – God does not lie and is in Him is true reality (Numbers 23:19; 1 Kings 8:56).

What a mighty God we serve!

 

Trust in the Lord

Sometimes it is hard to trust.  Trust is defined as the reliance on something or someone. We struggle with trust because it means we are dependent on something other than us.  Scripture, time and time again, is clear that we need to believe in God.  Yet, how do we do that?

“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”  – Proverbs 3:5

T – Timing

God is always on time.  We may not like His timing, but His help is always on time.

“And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.” – Acts 1:7

“He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” – Isaiah 40:31

R – Rely on sound teaching

We need to align ourselves with sound doctrine and true teachers of God’s Word.  Many Christians lack any sense of discernment when it comes to those that they allow to influence them.  Sound doctrine has a way of calming our fears and strengthening our ability to trust.

“But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine:” – Titus 2:1

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;” – 2 Timothy 4:3

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” – 2Timothy 2:15

U – Unwavering

We need to make up our mind that we are going to follow God regardless of what happens.  Knowing that God is on our side should bring comfort and confidence.

“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” –  Hebrews 4:16

“And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us:” – 1 John 5:14

S – Scripture

We trust in the Word of God by faith and not by feeling.  Even when we feel low, God’s Word is still faithful.

“Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” – Psalm 119:11

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” – Psalm 119:105

“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” – Isaiah 40:8

“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12

T – Turn to God

We need to turn to God in prayer not as a last resort but at the very first.  There is nothing wrong with staying in a constant sense of prayer.  However, we do need to bow down in prayer and humbly seek the Lord.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD” Isaiah 55:8

“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” – Romans 8:26-27

“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” – James 4:10

Our Faithful Guide

I am very thankful for my GPS systems.  Understanding directions is not a difficult task but having a personal guide in the car sure makes things a lot easier and helps to take the stress out of travel.  The same is said for our spiritual life.  We know that we are not a tourist looking at the sights of this world.  Instead, we are pilgrims in a perilous land.  To make it out alive will take the help of a personal guide.  The Lord is mine, and He is faithful.

“For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will our guide even unto death.” – Psalm 48:14

“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” – Proverbs 3:6

“And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in the paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight.  These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.” – Isaiah 42:16

The Lord is an ever-abiding companion in our pilgrimage from this life to the next.  If we trust in Him through His Son, Jesus, His Holy Spirit will strengthen us and give us moment-by-moment direction.  We won’t understand why we are being led in certain directions at times.  However, we have faith that God sees down the road much farther ahead then what we can in our limited ability.

Do you trust your guide?