Friday, October 26, 2012

The Value of Work and Money

There is great value in work.  I have had times of little or no work and times when I have been overwhelmed with lots of work.  I am here to tell you lots of work is better.  I have discovered something else about work.  It doesn’t have to be work I enjoy.  I realize that not promoting the idea of “work I enjoy” is almost anti-American these days.  I agree that doing work you enjoy is truly satisfying, but just working brings its own satisfaction.  

God gave Moses some very important tips for living well on planet earth.  One of the top ten was to work six days then take a day for non-work.  Here is motivation to do a job, any job, well: …Don’t work only while being watched, in order to please men, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men Colossians 3:22-23 (HCSB).   

People were created by God for relationship with Him and for being creative forces in their own right.  Work was never a curse from God nor was it a design flaw it is a blessing for us all.
Money has a value of its own.  I know it is helpful for purchasing food and keeping a roof over our heads, but it also provides a measure of one’s own heart health.  It is my focus on money that will tell me if my heart is seeking God, trusting Him, caring about His kingdom, concerned about others. The Apostle Paul provides thoughts concerning this in one of his letters to Timothy:

17 Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. 18 Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others.  1 Timothy 6:17-18 (NLT)

Who are the rich in this world?  If you make $12,000.00 per year you are in the top 18% of the richest people in the world.  Paul says to Timothy to teach the rich not to be proud and not to trust in their money, but to use their money to do good.  If my hand is curled around my cash and my drive is to achieve the accumulation of wealth I have a serious heart problem.  I need to be like Paul says, “rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others.”  In this way I keep my hand open and uncurled allowing God to fill it and use whatever is there for His purposes.
The book of Proverbs offers wisdom on the pursuit of riches.  Check this out. 

4 Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit. 5 In the blink of an eye wealth disappears, for it will sprout wings and fly away like an eagle. Proverbs 23:4-5 (NLT)

Not long ago (pre-2008) people who had trusted in retirement accounts and investing in markets and even buying real estate were disappointed as the economic balloon burst.  In the blink of an eye wealth can disappear.  But there is a way to be more secure.  Let’s go back to Proverbs.

9 Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce. 10 Then he will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with good wine.   Proverbs 3:9-10 (NLT)

There is value in work and in money, but it comes from using them to honor the Lord.  He will reward our efforts not just in the short run, but forever.  And, for us, now we will find work and money wonderful extensions of God’s grace.  Provided to shape us into His incredible design.  Allowed to reveal how we are progressing along the way.
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways! Romans 11:33 (HCSB)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Peace is a concept of many colors.  It is sought by many.  Expected by some.  Practiced  at times.  Ignored or just trampled on.  Experienced?  Peace experienced?  Maybe.  Depends.  Could be.  Let’s see. 

There have been peace signs, peace pipes, peace movements, peace prizes.  I was curious about peace particularly as it applies to my relationship with God.  It seemed checking the Bible for ideas on this was a good place to start. 

I noticed that in Genesis 4 the sons of Adam lacked peace.  Cain killed Abel.  That is an ominous beginning for families and societies to follow.  Jumping through history a bit I find Abraham and Lot engaged in a dispute over lands for their flocks.  They go their separate ways and have peace. 

Are you familiar with the Mizpah?  It is often quoted on a medallion worn by two people which says: The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.  It appears to be a blessing between friends but was really a peace agreement between rivals.  Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, who had married Laban’s two daughters, Rachel and Leah, was leaving with the wives, kids and wealth he had.  Laban who had used Jacob pursued him.  They made an agreement to stay away from each other in order to have peace.  Here is another rendering of the Mizpah: “May the LORD keep watch between us to make sure that we keep this covenant when we are out of each other’s sight.” Genesis 31:49 (NLT)   It lacks the warm fuzzies the other idea of Mizpah enjoyed.  This has more to do with stopping the feud.  I just watched the series on the Hatfields and McCoys.  Their relationship was filled with intense and senseless bitterness and violence.  Stopping the feud is a good step in the right direction.  The families signed a peace agreement 138 years after it all began. 

The peace pictured is one of opposing forces agreeing to stop fighting and possibly separating from one another in order to just let the other be.  That may be what is needed at times.  But when I think of Romans 5:1 I imagine there is more.  It says this: Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Romans 5:1 (NLT)

If peace with God looks like the examples above then what I got because of Jesus is a God who isn’t fighting me and has separated from me for my own good.  Hmm.  Isaiah 59:2 says, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.” Iniquities make a separation between me and God not Jesus.  That can’t be the idea of peace Jesus has made possible.  There must be something else.
Peter greets the readers of his letter with these words: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 2 Peter 1:2 (ESV)   This isn’t a “cessation to hostilities” or a “separation” kind of peace.  Peace appears to be a positive thing that is related to my relationship with God the Father and Jesus our Lord. 

I am thinking peace is a force.  It is a forged friendship with the Triune God with powerful results.  In John 14 Jesus says this: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27 (ESV)  The peace Jesus is offering is a gift homemade and not available in any stores.  He said His peace is distinct from what is available in the world.  In the world peace is a cessation of hostilities or if personal stress causes a lack of peace, then peace is found in Prozac.   So Jesus’ peace is something else, something more.  Looking around in John 14 there are some clues to what Jesus’ peace might be. 

This is rather exciting. 

A deep loving relationship between Jesus and me gets things going.  As if that isn’t enough Jesus asks the Father for the Holy Spirit to come and never leave.  There is more relationship, a connection between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Connection rather than cessation and separation. 

15 “If you love me, obey my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. John 14:15-16 (NLT)

Jesus relates and there is closeness not abandonment.

18 No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you.  John 14:18 (NLT)

The divine and human relationship is mystical and real not just mythical and theory. 

20 When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.  John 14:20 (NLT)

God the Father and the Son joining in friendship with me is sufficient to crush the waves of uncertainty that come or the attacks of Satan that are certain and give me peace. 

23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.  John 14:23 (ESV)

Jesus’ peace comes in the relationship and in what He gives us.  The Holy Spirit comes in power to help, to comfort, to guide, to teach, to strengthen, to remind me of what Jesus has already said.  When I have all that I can certainly have peace. 

26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.  John 14:26-27 (ESV)

There is more in Romans 5 worth taking a look at regarding peace with God.

1 Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.

Remembering what was in John 14 I see the outworking of those things in Romans 5. 

2 Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

This new relationship, this dynamic connection with God because of Jesus opens up unparalleled possibilities for me.  The peace runs deep in me because of the relationship, the solid place to stand out of which comes confidence and joy and anticipation of sharing God’s glory.  That equips me for the ups and downs of life, the troubles around the next bend or on Thursday.  I see that in the following verses.

3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.

I see the positive aspects of peace.  It is more than calm, but a force for living.  It leads to more of what God intended in me. 

4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.  5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.  Romans 5:1-5 (NLT)

Peace with God includes His love.  He demonstrates how much He loves me by giving me the Holy Spirit who fills my heart with His love.  Jesus talked about those things in John 14 where He gives His disciples His peace that is like no other. 

The words of Isaiah serve to remind me that peace is from God and comes only to those who trust Him. 

3 You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! 
4 Trust in the LORD always, for the LORD GOD is the eternal Rock.  Isaiah 26:3-4 (NLT)

It appears Jesus was right again.  There is a peace the world gives and one from above.  I appreciate the need for the one the world gives, but I prefer the greater one from Him.  Peace, what a colorful word.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Who Are the Righteous Jesus Didn’t Come to Call to Repentance?

Remember Jesus’ words in Luke 5:32 (ESV): I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance”?  The righteous are not being called to repentance.  OK.  Then Jesus says in Luke 19:10 (ESV) For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” If there are “lost” then there must be “found,” right?  I thought an investigation into this mystery was needed. 

This is no big deal for those who already knew about the “righteous” and the “found,” but for me I was assuming it was like having a Fairy Godmother and didn’t really exist.  My take on Jesus saying He had not come to call the righteous but sinners was a jab at the self-righteous Pharisees.  Apparently, I am not alone in this because the NLT takes the verse in this direction:  I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.”  There is an assumption that no “righteous” existed, nor had ever, nor ever would, and only those who were somehow deceived would have considered themselves “righteous.”    That to me was acceptable except that Jesus seemed to be referring to the “righteous” without irony.  So, I wondered are there really “righteous” out there?  The investigation began. 

Abraham is a big name in the Bible.  He would be one to check out.  He lived some 1800 years before Jesus came, but according to the Scriptures how did God view him? 

In the same way, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” Galatians 3:6 (NLT)

Simeon is called righteous and devout which doesn’t seem to be a concept here plagued by self-deception or self-aggrandizement, but a statement of fact.  “Could it be?” I asked myself.  I was finding that there were real “righteous” ones on the earth.  “Could it be that Jesus did not, in fact, come for the righteous, but sinners?”  It seems so.

Abraham is considered righteous.  So there is the possibility of a person being righteous.  The Letter to the Galatians was written by the Apostle Paul following Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection.  Paul was familiar with Jesus’ meaning of righteousness.  Paul was referencing the account of Abraham recorded in the book of Genesis which Jesus was fully versed on.  And, yet, knowing Jesus’ meaning and usage of the term “righteous” Paul was confident to say Abraham, a human being of the line of Adam, was “righteous.”  “Well,” I thought, “that is huge.” 

Another personage of the Old Testament who seems to be “righteous” is Job.  From the first lines of the first chapter of Job there is this:  There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.

Job appears to be a man who has a right relationship with God and lives it.  He isn’t deceiving himself or pretending to be something he isn’t.  The text reveals this is God’s view of Job and even Satan recognizes it to be real.
I began to see that being “righteous” is possible, and was acknowledged by God, by heavenly beings and by others.  “But,” I considered, “that was a long time before Jesus’ time, and maybe the real “righteous” were gone by the time He shows up.”  The investigation continued because I needed to find out if there were “righteous” at the time of Jesus.
The opening paragraphs of Luke’s Gospel point to a righteous couple.  In fact, they were relatives of Jesus.  This is what I found:
In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.  Luke 1:5-6 (ESV)

“Whoa,” I thought, “what a couple they are both righteous before God.”  These are people who are “righteous” in Jesus’ time.  They are the parents of His cousin John.  John the Baptist is blessed and a blessing.  Jesus said John was the greatest of the prophets. Was John righteous?  Mary, Jesus’ mother, is called the favored one of God, and she visits Elizabeth who is moved that the mother of her Lord should visit.  Is Mary righteous?  Joseph is called a just man and wanted to do the right thing by Mary.  When he heard from the Lord about what God was doing he immediately joined in with God’s plan married Mary and became the earthly father of Jesus.  Is Joseph righteous?  I wondered what else I might find.
After Jesus was born he was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem.  While Mary and Joseph took their baby through the crowd they are approached by a man.  It is said of him in Luke 2:25: Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.

Going on, I had more questions.  About the “found” who were not the “lost.”For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”   To find the “found” I thought I would start with the “lost.” What about the “lost?”  Not the convoluted Lost TV show, but the “lost” Jesus came to find.  Jesus gave three snapshots of the lost in Luke 15.  One is a sheep, one is a coin and one is a son.  With the sheep and the coin a great search goes on and then great rejoicing upon having found the sheep and the coin.  The son is different.  He is allowed to wander far and through self-discovery come to his senses and return, but, as in the other snapshots, there is great rejoicing.
“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it?” Luke 15:4 (NLT)

The context given is that Jesus is spending time with sinners and the Pharisees don’t like it.  So Jesus tells these stories.  And He sums them up similarly.  Here is His statement on the finding of the sheep. “In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!”  Luke 15:7 (NLT)

I had to think about my take on that.  In my mind the lost sinner was glorious and the righteous who hadn’t strayed were somehow disgusting.  Weird, I know.  That isn’t what Jesus is saying, but I had determined the “righteous” were the evil-hypocritical-self-deceived-holier-than-thou-Pharisees.  So in my thinking a broken sewer line smelled better than the “righteous.”  Wrong.  I was wrong.  And I hate when that happens.  Jesus is saying something different than what I had thought.  Here are some of my observations.
There are more righteous than those lost.  99 and 1. 9 and 1.  Family and 1.  I had in my mind the issue was all were lost and Jesus had come to fix that.  But that isn’t what He says.
There is joy over the righteous and a party (more joy) for the returning one. I pictured joy for the returned one and disgust for the righteous-never-strayed bunch, but that isn’t what Jesus said at all.
The “found” ones are the “righteous” ones, and my investigation comes together.  They exist.  God acknowledges them.  Jesus has come for the ones who strayed away not because He thinks less of the righteous, but because they are already His.
The investigation has led me on a path that uncovered some beautiful new areas of who God is and what Jesus did.  The puzzling pieces of Scripture fit together better.  And, even so, I have to wrestle with thoughts of other views that come up inside.  It is agonizing letting go of long held opinions even when Scripture leads another direction.  The investigation is worth it.  There is more to investigate on the theme of the “righteous,” but this is enough for now. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Getting More Out of The Bible

The Bible is filled with treasures.  Often quoted and given a positive place of respect.   Plaques are made of verses.  A single verse of Scripture may become the foundation of a mission or movement.  Enlightening and transforming truths are found in the Bible.  But we all run into a bump when it comes to the Bible.  It is what the Apostle Peter said about Paul’s writings like other Scripture there are some things “hard to understand.” Indeed.  So, how do we handle understanding the Bible?  A variety of approaches have been offered through the ages and among various groups.  I would like to offer something as well:  A key to Biblical interpretation.  I appreciate the design and discipline of Bible study methods.  But this key is vital to getting more out of the Bible. 

My daughter recently went shopping with my wife.  (Months before Christmas) They were discussing Christmas and gifts and an item caught my daughter’s eye.  My wife thought that would be a good Christmas gift and purchased it.  My daughter then asked to have it as an early Christmas present.  My wife gave in.  So, in much the same way, instead of holding out to the end to reveal the key I am going to provide it as an early present.   Ready?  Here it is: Divine Permission.  Let’s see if we can make some sense of that by looking at what we have to work with in Bible study. 

Each book of the Bible has a story.  It was written by someone far removed in time and history from today.  If you read something like “David’s triumph was heard throughout the land” it isn’t referring to a motorcycle.  Getting the setting is of immense help in grasping what is being said in the book. 

The Bible is a collection of 66 books.  The relationship of one book with the others forges wonderful truths, principles, and doctrines.  Getting the connections enhances the understanding of both the details and the whole of the Bible. 

As the writers wrote in the language of their day we are in need of language study as well.  From Hebrew and Aramaic of the Old Testament to the Greek of the New Testament there are few who can call those their native language.  We are fortunate today to have in almost all the languages of the world a copy of the Scriptures.  Even without knowing the original languages we have assistance from translators putting the words of the Bible in a language we can understand.  We can also study and learn those languages.  We can turn to reference books to aid in understanding the languages of the Bible. 

Practicing a systematic approach to the study is important.  Observing what is there in a passage.  Interpreting the words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs within the book and with a look at the original meanings of the words and the intent of the author is of great help to understanding. 

After all that there is still the need for the key.  Divine Permission.  After all, when Jesus spoke to the people of His day they knew the culture, historical setting, the language, the author and they still often didn’t get it.  Who did get it?  Those given Divine Permission.  Here, take a look at what Jesus said to the disciples:

He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not.  Matthew 13:11 (NLT)

There is a Divine Permission given by the Triune God to those He chooses to reveal His truth.  It is not accessible to everyone or just anyone. 

Jesus asked who people said He was and Peter told Him he thought He was the Messiah.  Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being.  Matthew 16:17 (NLT)

At that same time Jesus was filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit, and he said, “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way.  Luke 10:21 (NLT)

Jesus let the disciples know there was more to teach them and that He would send the Holy Spirit to teach them further.  “There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. 

13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future.
 John 16:12-13 (NLT)
The Apostle Paul instead of relying on great preaching skills leans on the power of God to communicate.   And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:4-5 (NLT)

He emphasizes the Divine Permission needed for understanding.  But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. 1 Corinthians 2:14 (NLT)

Many read, study, and explain the Scriptures, but without Divine Permission they may be missing what God is communicating.  Great scholars with impressive intelligence will not be able to grasp the simplest truths without Divine Permission.  The Bible is God’s book.  He watches over it.  He reveals its wonders to those who are humble and contrite of heart and tremble at His Word. 

Getting more out of the Bible requires getting closer to God.  May you receive Divine Permission to understand great and wondrous things from God’s mighty Word.