Archive for the month “January, 2011”

Renewing the Mind – Praying Like the Puritans

As I have been intentionally working on renewing my mind this week per my application from pondering Romans 12:1-2, I have been greatly helped by a collection of Puritan prayers called The Valley of Vision. They have stirred within me a desire to learn how to pray like the great saints of the past. They have revealed to me how shallow and anemic my own praying has been. They have helped me to put into words things that I did not know how to voice to God. (You can click on the picture to the right if you want to see what Amazon.com says about this book.) Here are a few more excerpts from some of the prayers that have helped me this week:

If it be consistent with thy eternal counsels,
the purpose of thy grace,
and the great ends of thy glory,
then bestow upon me the blessings of thy comforts;
If not, let me resign myself to thy wiser determinations.

O Lord, I am astonished at the difference
between my receivings and my deservings,
between the state I am now in and my past gracelessness,
between the Heaven I am bound for and the Hell I deserve.

Let thy love draw me nearer to thyself,
wean me from sin, mortify me to this world,
and make me ready for my departure hence.
Secure me by thy grace as I sail across this stormy sea.

Show me what sins hide thee from me
and eclipse thy love;
Help me to humble myself for past evils,
and to be resolved to walk with more care,
For if I do not walk holily before thee,
how can I be assured of my salvation.

* If you missed my Special Edition post yesterday, it will give you next week’s passage and memory verse for those of you Pondering Great Passages with me.

Pondering the Passages: Special Edition – Agassiz and the Fish

Since this is our week off I thought I would share a story with you that I first heard almost 30 years ago. It was shared in my “Interpreting the New Testament “class by Dr Gordon Fee in my first year at  seminary. I have never forgotten it and it has EVERYTHING to do with pondering passages of Scripture. This is why I think one week is a minimum to spend on pondering such great passages of Scripture. There is much to see but often we don’t take the time to “LOOK!” Read and enjoy. You may then want to go back over some of the passages from the past 4 weeks. And keep reviewing your memory verses.

Agassiz was the founder of the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology and a Harvard professor. The following account was written by one of his students, Samuel H. Scudder.

Agassiz and the Fish
by a Student

It was more than fifteen years ago that I entered the laboratory of Professor Agassiz, and told him I had enrolled my name in the scientific school as a student of natural history. He asked me a few questions about my object in coming, my antecedents generally, the mode in which I afterwards proposed to use the knowledge I might acquire, and finally, whether I wished to study any special branch. To the latter I replied that while I wished to be well grounded in all departments of zoology, I purposed to devote myself specially to insects.

“When do you wish to begin?” he asked.

“Now,” I replied.

This seemed to please him, and with an energetic “Very well,” he reached from a shelf a huge jar of specimens in yellow alcohol.

“Take this fish,” he said, “and look at it; we call it a Haemulon; by and by I will ask what you have seen.”

With that he left me. . . . I was conscious of a passing feeling of disappointment, for gazing at a fish did not commend itself to an ardent entomologist. . . . .

In ten minutes I had seen all that could be seen in that fish, and started in search of the professor, who had, however, left the museum; and when I returned, after lingering over some of the odd animals stored in the upper apartment, my specimen was dry all over. I dashed the fluid over the fish as if to resuscitate it from a fainting-fit, and looked with anxiety for a return of a normal, sloppy appearance. This little excitement over, nothing was to be done but return to a steadfast gaze at my mute companion. Half an hour passed, an hour, another hour; the fish began to look loathsome. I turned it over and around; looked it in the face—ghastly; from behind, beneath, above, sideways, at a three-quarters view—just as ghastly. I was in despair; at an early hour, I concluded that lunch was necessary; so with infinite relief, the fish was carefully replaced in the jar, and for an hour I was free.

On my return, I learned that Professor Agassiz had been at the museum, but had gone and would not return for several hours. My fellow students were too busy to be disturbed by continued conversation. Slowly I drew forth that hideous fish, and with a feeling of desperation again looked at it. I might not use a magnifying glass; instruments of all kinds were interdicted. My two hands, my two eyes, and the fish; it seemed a most limited field. I pushed my fingers down its throat to see how sharp its teeth were. I began to count the scales in the different rows until I was convinced that that was nonsense. At last a happy thought struck me—I would draw the fish; and now with surprise I began to discover new features in the creature. Just then the professor returned.

“That is right,” said he, “a pencil is one of the best eyes. I am glad to notice, too, that you keep your specimen wet and your bottle corked.”

With these encouraging words he added—

“Well, what is it like?”

He listened attentively to my brief rehearsal of the structure of parts whose names were still unknown to me; the fringed gill-arches and movable operculum; the pores of the head, fleshly lips, and lidless eyes; the lateral line, the spinous fin, and forked tail; the compressed and arched body. When I had finished, he waited as if expecting more, and then, with an air of disappointment:

“You have not looked very carefully; why,” he continued, more earnestly, “you haven’t seen one of the most conspicuous features of the animal, which is as plainly before your eyes as the fish itself. Look again; look again!” And he left me to my misery.

I was piqued; I was mortified. Still more of that wretched fish? But now I set myself to the task with a will, and discovered one new thing after another, until I saw how just the professor’s criticism had been. The afternoon passed quickly, and when, towards its close, the professor inquired,

“Do you see it yet?”

“No,” I replied. “I am certain I do not, but I see how little I saw before.”

“That is next best,” said he earnestly, “but I won’t hear you now; put away your fish and go home; perhaps you will be ready with a better answer in the morning. I will examine you before you look at the fish.”

This was disconcerting; not only must I think of my fish all night, studying, without the object before me, what this unknown but most visible feature might be, but also, without reviewing my new discoveries, I must give an exact account of them the next day. I had a bad memory; so I walked home by Charles River in a distracted state, with my two perplexities.

The cordial greeting from the professor the next morning was reassuring; here was a man who seemed to be quite as anxious as I that I should see for myself what he saw.

“Do you perhaps mean,” I asked, “that the fish has symmetrical sides with paired organs?”

His thoroughly pleased, “Of course, of course!” repaid the wakeful hours of the previous night. After he had discoursed most happily and enthusiastically—as he always did—upon the importance of this point, I ventured to ask what I should do next.

“Oh, look at your fish!” he said, and left me again to my own devices. In a little more than an hour he returned and heard my new catalogue.

“That is good, that is good!” he repeated, “but that is not all; go on.” And so for three long days, he placed that fish before my eyes, forbidding me to look at anything else, or to use any artificial aid. “Look, look, look,” was his repeated injunction.

This was the best entomological lesson I ever had—a lesson whose influence was extended to the details of every subsequent study; a legacy the professor has left to me, as he left it to many others, of inestimable value, which we could not buy, with which we cannot part. . . .

The fourth day a second fish of the same group was placed beside the first, and I was bidden to point out the resemblances and differences between the two; another and another followed, until the entire family lay before me, and a whole legion of jars covered the table and surrounding shelves; the odor had become a pleasant perfume; and even now, the sight of an old six-inch worm-eaten cork brings fragrant memories!

The whole group of Haemulons was thus brought into review; and whether engaged upon the dissection of the internal organs, preparation and examination of the bony framework, or the description of the various parts, Agassiz’s training in the method of observing facts in their orderly arrangement, was ever accompanied by the urgent exhortation not to be content with them.

“Facts are stupid things,” he would say, “until brought into connection with some general law.”

At the end of eight months, it was almost with reluctance that I left these friends and turned to insects; but what I gained by this outside experience has been of greater value than years of later investigation in my favorite groups.

***

Now then, in case you want to get started on our next passage…

Next Weeks Passage: Philippians 3:7-11

Next Memory Verse: Philippians 3:7-8a “ But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…”

Renewing the Mind – A Prayer

So this morning, as I am being intentional about renewing my mind, I came across a Puritan prayer that I used in my time with the Lord. Thought I would share part of it with you:

“O Lord who inhabitest eternity,

I thank thee for thy riches to me in Jesus, for the unclouded revelation of Him in thy Word, where I behold His Person, character, grace, glory, humiliation, sufferings, death, and resurrection; Give me to feel a need of His continual saviourhood, and cry with Job, ‘I am vile,’ with Peter, ‘I perish,’ with the publican, ‘Be merciful to me, a sinner.’

Subdue in me the love of sin. Let me know the need of renovation as well as of forgiveness, in order to serve and enjoy thee forever. I come to thee in the all-prevailing name of Jesus, with nothing of my own to plead – no works, no worthiness, no promises.

May I not be careless of thy favour or regardless of thy glory; Impress me deeply with a sense of thine omnipresence, that thou art about my path, my ways, my lying down, my end.  Amen.”

All of this prayer pierced my heart – I have underlined a few of the lines that particularly stunned me – helping me realize how impotent my own praying is. Grace and Peace to you as you continue your pondering!

 

Pondering the Passages: Romans 12:1-2

Romans 12:1-2 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Memory Verse for the Week: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

This weeks passage is probably very familiar. Don’t let that stop you from mining it for riches that are waiting to be discovered as you ponder these verses and let God speak to you.

The book of Romans, from my perspective, is the most passionate letter that Paul wrote. You see his passion for the gospel. You see his passion that the Jews might be saved. You see his passion for worship. When you come to Romans 12:1-2 his passion is at fever pitch. Here’s my amplified translation of v.1 that attempts to capture this passion:

“Therefore, I urge you, I plead with with you, I beg you – in view of God’s mercy, in light of everything that He has done for you (rescuing you, redeeming you, reconciling you) – to willingly offer your bodies every day as living sacrifices. Sacrifices that are holy and pleasing to God. Sacrifices that are not just out of your abundance but sacrifices that cost you something. Sacrifices that demonstrate to God that you are totally and irrevocably surrendered to Him. Why? Because this is the only reasonable thing for you to do. He created you. He loves you. He saved you. This is how you can worship God in real, practical, and tangible ways – as you give yourself to God. As you give your time, your talents, and your treasure to Him – not begrudgingly but because you are so overwhelmingly grateful for what he has done for you.”

So here are the questions that come to my mind as I ponder this passage:

Do I have an urgency similar to Paul’s when it comes to total surrender of my life to God?
Do I really understand God’s mercy – how He has not given me what I really deserve?
What parts of my body are as yet un-surrendered to God? My mind, my eyes, my tongue…?
To what extent is God pleased with my “offering”?
How am I conforming to the patterns of this world instead of to the Word of God?
What am I intentionally doing to renew my mind?
Am I being disobedient in any way to what God has revealed to me as His will?

Everyone of these questions demands an answer if I am going to really personalize this passage and get the most out of it. I am thinking on all these things. I will only answer one of these questions in this post but feel free to ask me any of these questions when you see me this week. So…

What am I intentionally doing to renew my mind? Admittedly, my mind needs a lot of renewing. So here are a few intentional things I will do this week as a beginning:

1) I will fast from all TV for one week beginning today (Thursday thru Wednesday). It is way too easy for me to turn on the tube and turn off my mind at the end of the day.
2) I will read one great book and blog about it in the coming week. This will give me something to do when I am not watching TV and help me to think God thoughts.
3) I will find 15 minutes each of these days to pray Scripture and ask God to renew my mind.
4) I will continue reviewing my memory verses from the past 4 weeks and make sure that I can still say them.
5) And I would like to ask you to take a minute right now and pray for me – asking God to transform me by the renewing of my mind.

Now a few thoughts about the difference in a living sacrifice and the sacrifices of the Older Testament:
1) OT sacrifices went to the altar not by choice. A lamb didn’t wake up one morning and say “Today I’m going give up my life and be a sacrifice.” – I, on the other hand, have a daily choice as to whether I want to present myself to God as a sacrifice.
2) OT sacrifices were dead not living. – They did not have the option of getting off the altar whenever things became uncomfortable for them. I, on the other hand, can live an “un-surrendered life” at any time that I want.
3) OT sacrifices were to be “unblemished.” I, on the other hand, come to the alter with all kinds of blemishes. It is the willing act of surrender that God uses to make me holy and pleasing in His sight. It is God’s doing, not mine.

And a few thoughts about knowing God’s will:
I hate to say this but I think most believers pretty much do what they want to. Me included. The whole idea of testing what we do to see if it lines up with God’s will is kind of foreign to us. We go about our business just sort of assuming that what we are doing is okay with God. And even expecting God to bless everything we do with a good ol’ “Attaboy!” We rarely stop to think and ask a few simple questions: 1) Why am I doing what I’m doing? Is it because it’s the way I’ve always done it or the way I’m expected by others to do it or the easiest way to do it? (These would fall under the category of “conforming to the world“) 2) Have I seriously thought this through? Have I sought counsel from people who love me – but even more than that, who love God with all their hearts. Have I spent time in God’s Word and prayed this through so that His peace reigns in my heart. (These would fall under the category of being “transformed by the renewing of your mind“)

Here’s what John Piper has to say about this: “Is it not plain therefore that there is one great task of the Christian life: Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. We need new hearts and new minds. Make the tree good and the fruit will be good (Matthew 12:33). That’s the great challenge. That is what God calls you to. You can’t do it on your own. You need Christ, who died for your sins. And you need the Holy Spirit to lead you into Christ-exalting truth and work in you truth-embracing humility. Give yourself to this. Immerse yourself in the written Word of God; saturate your mind with it. And pray that the Spirit of Christ would make you so new that the spillover would be good, acceptable, and perfect—the will of God.

I’d love to read how God has been speaking to you through these verses. You can leave a comment by clicking on the bubble at the top right of this post.

So next week is our “off ” week. Every four weeks we will take a break from pondering a new passage to review the four previous ones and solidify our memory verses. I’ve found one  of the best ways to do this is to ask others how they are doing with their verses and then to ask them to listen to you say your verses and make sure they are right.

So next week look for my post on the book I’m reading as well as a “Special Edition” post that I hope will help you as we continue to move forward with pondering great passages from the New Testament. I will wait until next week to reveal the next passage so that you don’t try to get a head start. Grace and Peace to you!!!

Pondering the Passages: 1 John 1:1-4

Great comments last week. Love the way ya’ll are personalizing the passages.

How are you doing on your memory verses? Remember the 3 keys to effective Scripture memory: Repetition! Repetition! Repetition!

Memory Verse for the week: 1 John 1:1 “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”

1 John 1:1-4

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete.

As John starts off his letter you get the feeling that he has had a recent personal  encounter with Jesus – when in fact it has probably been 50 years since Jesus ascended into heaven. But for John that encounter has been a fresh encounter everyday. I have to ask myself the question: Is everyday a fresh encounter with Jesus? Is He just as real and alive in me as He was when I first met Him?

For John this meant that he couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Because of how Jesus was still working in him  and still changing him John was compelled to proclaim –  to talk about Jesus with whoever would listen. Is this true for me? I confess that I am much more likely to talk about disc golf or Duke basketball or my family or even church before I ever start talking about Jesus.

There are 4 things that stand out to me in this passage:

1) John calls Jesus the Word of life! – He says the same thing in the first chapter of his gospel. And 8 times in Genesis 1 we read that “God said…” Throughout the Jewish Scriptures God speaks through the prophets. But in Jesus God makes his boldest statement of all. He speaks loud and clear with a final Word saying “You want life, this is where you will find it!”

2) John calls Jesus the eternal life! – This makes me think of the verse in John 17:3 that says “Now this is eternal life – that they may know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” The reason that Jesus came to rescue us was so that we might know God. It’s hard to get to know someone that you can’t see – so God clothed himself with humanity so that we could get to know Him up close and personal…. in the person of Jesus.

3) John wants others to experience the kind of fellowship that he has with other believers! – There is nothing better than being a part of a community that loves and cares for each other. People who do not have this have no idea what they are missing. I believe this is a great motive for evangelism. So many people are missing out on what the church has to offer – a community, a family, a place of belonging – instead settling for lonely, friendless, purposeless lives.

4) John wants others to experience real and lasting joy! – Not happiness but joy. I’ve heard so many people say, “I just want to be happy.” Happiness is something that comes and goes. I don’t want just to be happy, I want to be filled with joy – so that when the happiness disappears (and it will) then I will still have what it takes so that I do not fall into despair or hopelessness. Joy is found in knowing the One who has not only given us life but also given His life for us.

Bonus thoughts: John (as he does in the opening to his gospel) is using trinitarian language in this passage. So let me whet your pondering appetite with a few facts about the history of this doctrine…

The doctrine of the Trinity took centuries to develop, but the roots of the doctrine can be seen from the first century.

The word “Trinity” is not found in the New Testament, nor is the doctrine explicitly taught there. However, foundations of the concept of the Trinity can be seen in the New Testament, especially in the Gospel of John.

Hints of Trinitarian beliefs can also be seen in the teachings of extra-biblical writers as early as the end of the first century.  However, the clearest early expression of the concept came with Tertullian, a Latin theologian who wrote in the early third century. Tertullian coined the words “Trinity” and “person” and explained that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were “one in essence – not one in Person.”

About a century later, in 325, the Council of Nicea set out to officially define the relationship of the Son to the Father, in response to the controversial teachings of Arius. Led by bishop Athanasius, the council established the doctrine of the Trinity as orthodoxy and condemned Arius’ teaching that Christ was the first creation of God. The creed adopted by the council described Christ as “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.”

Nicea did not end the controversy, however. Debate over how the creed (especially the phrase “one substance”) ought to be interpreted continued to rage for decades. One group advocated the doctrine that Christ was a “similar substance”  as the Father. But for the most part, the issue of the Trinity was settled at Nicea and, by the fifth century, never again became a focus of serious controversy.

The doctrine of the trinity is one of the tenets of our faith that distinguishes Christianity from Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Judaism. If you would like to read more about this not-easily-understood doctrine then go HERE for a good, succinct treatment by the folks at Desiring God Ministries.

What has the Lord been teaching you from this passage? You can post your comments by clicking on the bubble at the top right of this post.

Next Weeks Passage to Ponder: Romans 12:1-2 (Don’t let the familiarity of this passage keep you from digging into it and finding rich, personal, practical truth.)

Next Memory Verse: Romans 12:1

The Music I Grew Up On

The very first album that I ever bought was Jim Croce’s Life and Times. I was 14 years old. Probably the best known song from that album was Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown. I was very sad to wake up one morning and hear on the radio that he had been killed in a plane crash at the age of 30. Other favorite songs of his that I loved included Time in a Bottle, Operator, I Got a Name, You Don’t Mess Around with Jim, and I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song. It was this last song that I learned on the guitar in 1979 and sang to my girlfriend Linda Tucker. It was the first time that I ever told her that I love her and began a lifelong romance that is now 32 years old and going strong.

My favorite band was The Doobie Brothers. But I was also a a big fan of The Eagles, Chicago, Elton John, Marshall Tucker Band, Linda Ronstadt, Gordon Lightfoot, Seals and Croft and Jethro Tull. I still have some of those early albums. Of course this was back in the day when an album was actually an album.

My early influences from Christian music included folks like Dogwood, Don Francisco, Amy Grant, and then my favorite Keith Green who I have blogged about before.

My son Tucker and I play this game whenever we are in the car together – usually listening to the Oldies station. Either he or I will ask “Do you know who sings this song?” I’m amazed at how many of the songs from my generation that he knows. I also amaze myself sometimes at how many songs I can still sing even if I haven’t heard them in over 20 years. I think I amazed him (and me) the other day when we were listening to G105 and a song came on that he knew and he asked the question. Without hesitating I gave him the right answer. Nickelback. Did I really know they sang the song? Absolutely not! They were just the first band that popped into my head. For just a moment there good old dad didn’t seem so old to his 20 year old son.

I guess I’m writing all this to reminisce a bit  before I get too old to remember but also to make a point that you already know. Music is powerful. It can touch the soul like almost nothing else. The music we listen to will lodge in our brains and stay there forever. That’s why it’s so important to listen to the right kind of music – or perhaps better to say don’t listen to the wrong kind of music. And let God use music to lead you to His throne where not only will your soul be touched but where you can be sanctified and drawn to worship the Lover of Our Soul.

Pondering the Passages: Matthew 5:1-12

*I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s comments and have been encouraged by those who have come up to me and said this was really helping. If you are using this tool to dive in to the Word how ’bout letting me know even if you aren’t posting anything – that way I can ask you from time to time how things are going and quiz you on your memory verse.Feel free to do the same with me – the whole mutual encouragement thing.

**I’ve also been led to believe that you can’t always access this blog from the Facebook link. If you are having problems with this then you might want to bookmark the blog and then check back every Thursday (www.sreyner.wordpress.com)

Memory Verse for the week: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)

Matthew 5:1-12

1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.

He said:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Things I notice:

The word ‘blessed’ is used 9 times in this passage. The world’s definition of blessed goes something like this: If I am wealthy, if I am successful, if I am beautiful then I am blessed. Jesus turns this upside down. He gives a radically different definition of what it means to be blessed.

What does it mean to be blessed? The Greek word is makarios. It describes the kind of joy that can’t thwarted by the circumstances of life. The kind of joy that is not dependent on financial wealth or good health or a problem free life. It is a joy that is rooted in God and that triumphs in the face of adversity.

What does it mean to be poor in spirit? To realize that we are spiritually bankrupt. To understand that I have absolutely nothing that can help me win God’s favor – that I am totally and completely dependent upon God to find life and joy and strength.

How is it that those who mourn will be comforted? What is it that they are mourning for? Mourning for their sin. There is a genuine sorrow in those who mourn that goes beyond just saying the words “I’m sorry.” There is heart break when one realizes what their sin has done to God and a desperate need to repent and make things right. What father would not wrap his arms around his child and comfort him when he sees this kind of mourning over sin.

How can I develop a “hunger and thirst for righteousness“? I notice about myself that I hunger and thirst for a lot of things. Food! Sleep! Comfort! Sex! Fun! New disc golf discs! Approval! Techie play toys! But  righteousness – not so much. So how can I begin to hunger and thirst for something that really matters? Here are a few thoughts as I’ve pondered this:

  • I need to become CONVINCED that righteousness is good for me! It’s kind of like eating more fruits and vegetables. I try to do this because I know that they are good for me. When I become convinced that righteousness is better for me than my unrighteous acts then I will crave them more.
  • I need to understand that righteousness is a heart issue and not a “do more good stuff” issue. If I do not desire righteousness then maybe I should examine my heart and deal with its corruption. Example: If I have a clogged artery in my heart the key is NOT to do more exercise – that could kill me. The key is to get the clog cleaned out – and that requires radical and painful surgery. Don’t like the sound of that but the alternative could be devastating as well as deadly.
  • I need to learn how to say “NO!” Titus 2:11 tells me that the grace of God teaches me to say NO to ungodliness and worldly passions. But it is up to me to say no when my desires are screaming YES. I think this is where godly friendships can be huge. I absolutely need you guys who are reading this to encourage me to pursue righteousness – because I promise you, even though I am a pastor, I have a very corrupt heart.

I note also that Jesus uses the hope of heaven and FUTURE reward to encourage and motivate His listeners to live faithfully in the present – even in the midst of persecution and mourning and trouble. Like we saw with Paul last week in Ephesians 1 I get the feeling that Heaven and it’s reward is never far from the mind of Jesus. It’s as if He is moving inexorably toward a goal and NOTHING is going to keep Him from getting there. If you are interested in learning more about Heaven and what we can expect, a really good resource I can recommend is the book Heaven by Randy Alcorn as well as his blog.

Next Passage to Ponder: 1 John 1:1-4

Next Memory Verse: 1 John 1:1 “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”

About Barking Dogs and Snoring

So it’s 4:15 on Sunday morning. I’ve been awake for several hours already. I wish that I could say that it was for spiritual reasons. Like maybe I was burdened in prayer for something and the Lord wouldn’t let me sleep until I prayed. Or as I anticipated Sunday morning worship I was so excited that I had to get up and spend time in the Word preparing my soul for what God was going to say to me. But it is for none of those reasons. Truth be told there is a dog in a pen right behind our house that has been barking for several hours.

I am typically a great sleeper but there are 2 things that I absolutely cannot sleep through. One is snoring and the other is a barking dog. I think it is the regularity of the noise that bothers me. Just knowing that every 20 seconds there is going to be a fresh blast of acoustical commotion keeps me wide eyed and alert. There is also the ridiculous hope that I somehow maintain that the last eruption will indeed be the LAST eruption – so I eagerly wait hoping not to hear anything until I of course hear the same thing that I have been listening too for hours.

Those many people who have been with me on mission trips in previous years  can attest to the lengths I will go to avoid snorage. I have been known to create “snoring rooms” and to banish all those afflicted with this nasal anomaly to the uttermost parts of the property. But what do I do about a dog in the middle of the night. I am not a gun owner so that is out of the equation. If I was I would be more tempted to use it on the owner than on the dog. To me it is the epitome of rudeness and un-neighborliness to allow your canine companion to bark all night is an outside kennel. It’s not like they are 4 acres away on very private property – it is literally 75 feet from my back window. Probably closer to my house than to his. I am also not a cop caller in the middle of the night. I don’t even know if that is something they would respond to anyway. Nor am I the angry neighbor that throws bricks through windows to get somebody’s attention. So I will suffer through a night without sleep and then probably forget about it tomorrow – only to be reminded about it tomorrow night. Hopefully not.

But if you happen to read this and you happen to see me at church in the morning and you happen to notice me walking around in a zombie like state – then please pray for the state of my soul as I deal with my anger issues – and perhaps offer to get me a cup of coffee: 3 splenda, 2 creams. And a pastry would be nice too.

Pondering the Passages: Ephesians 1:3-14

For those of you joining me on this adventure in pondering Scripture – glad to have you aboard. I’ve already been energized by you as you have let me know about your desire to participate. Let’s get started.

Ephesians 1:3-14

Memory Verse for the week: Ephesians 1:3 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

This is one of the richest passages in Scripture and a great place to start our pondering. It would be very easy for us to spend more than one week on this great passage.

As I pondered this passage here are a few of the things that went through my mind…

v.3 – Paul often seems unable to contain a sense of gratefulness to God and frequently gushes forth verses like this: “Praise be to God…” Question for me: Am I similarly overwhelmed by what God has done for me such that praise is regularly heard coming from my lips? The next few verses outline some of the things that he has done for me:
chose me
loved me
adopted me
redeemed me
forgave me
lavished grace on me
made His will known to me
marked me with His Spirit

Quite a list to praise God for. I note that none of these things have anything to do with “stuff” – material things. They are spiritual blessings – not material blessings.

As I read the passage I note two reasons why God has chosen me: 1) to be holy and blameless in His sight… v.4 and 2) that I might be for the praise of His glory…v.11.
Q: Am I seeking to live a holy and blameless life? What are my unholy sinkholes?
Q: Specifically, what can I point to in my life and say “I know that this brings praise to God?”

This phrase “to the praise of His glory” is used 3x in these verses (6, 12, 14). Me thinks therefore that it might really be important to God that I live “to the praise of His glory.” How am I intentionally doing so?

Paul uses the word “predestined” twice in this passage (5, 11). Predestination is a biblical doctrine but  a lot of people get hung up on the word. Here are a few thoughts about what it means as far as we are concerned:

IF you have put your faith in Christ and believed the gospel, if you know that He is your Savior and that His blood covers your sins, and if your life daily reflects the fact that you are one of His “holy ones”, then you are predestined. You do not have to get hung up on whether you are one of the few that He has  “elected” for His kingdom.

Understanding predestination is like looking at something from 2 completely different angles. From God’s perspective we have been chosen before the beginning of time. From our perspective we made a choice by our own free will to repent and be saved. Predestination and free will are working together not against each other. The Bible affirms both.

Predestination should be a comforting doctrine for the believer not a confusing doctrine. God is in control. Even when it looks like everything is spinning wildly out of control we can be assured that our God is in control and that He “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will.” (v.11)

For Paul, the future is a powerful motivation for the present. Twice in this passage he talks about the future. V10 – “when the times will have reached their fulfillment,” and v14 – “…our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.” I’m not sure that we think about Heaven enough and what it is going to be like and how we are going to react when we find ourselves in God’s presence. Perhaps if we did we would live differently.

(Post your comments by clicking on the bubble at the top right. Don’t worry if they overlap with mine. I suspect that often God will be teaching us similar things. I would suggest that you write out your comments BEFORE you read mine and then post them as they are after reading mine. That way mine won’t influence what you write. We are all learning together as we go along.)

Next passage to ponder: Matthew 5:1-12

Next memory verse: Matthew 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.”

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