Don’t Let Prejudices Rob You

Imagine you had a family member killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City or Washington, DC., and then after that horrific event God asked you to go to Osama bin Laden’s headquarters to talk to him about a personal relationship with Jesus. 

I bet you would have felt much like Jonah did when God said, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before Me” (Jonah 1:2). The Assyrians were some of the most brutal peoples of history, perpetrating almost unspeakably grotesque torture on everyone they attacked. 

And if you or I feel that way, it’s a good bet we would have responded like Jonah responded: “Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish” (v. 3). You probably know the rest of the story: Jonah spent three days in the gut of a huge fish before he finally agreed to obey God’s directive. 

It’s interesting to note that God was sending Assyria as His agent of punishment against Israel for all their vile idolatry, AND He was sending Jonah from Israel to Assyria to call them to repentance for their grotesque torture practices.

That tells me something we all need to remember: God cares for ALL people, and He will use whatever means necessary to get the good news of His mercy and love to them. 

Why is the story of Jonah in the Bible? Perhaps to teach us that although we think some person or people group is so beyond hope, God still loves them. It’s a reminder that God extends grace and mercy to everyone—even to those who are the least deserving of His grace and mercy. People like you and me (Romans 3:23, 5:8). 

In Hebrew literature, the main point of the story is found in the middle. In the case of this story, the middle is the prayer in chapter 2, especially verses 8-9 where Jonah contrasts the worthlessness of trying to cling to our prejudices versus trusting who God is and what He says. 

In light of that, I think this story should prompt us to ask three introspective questions: 

  1. What prejudices am I clinging to that are out of alignment with God’s Word? David’s prayer in Psalm 139 is one we should regularly pray. 
  2. Who have I thought is beyond God’s reach? God’s grace isn’t earned by anyone, but no one is beyond the reach of it! 
  3. Can I say as Jonah did, “But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will obey You, God. What I have vowed I will make good” (2:9)? It’s better not to make a vow to God than it is to make the vow and not follow through on it. 

Let’s all learn from the life of Jonah how much God loves ALL people. Don’t get so hung up on your prejudices that you miss out on the incredible things God has for you, as well as the incredible things God wants to do through you. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in this series on Major Lessons From Minor Prophets, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

Thursdays With Spurgeon—The Holy Spirit Is Our Teacher

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

The Holy Spirit Is Our Teacher

     The question arises: How may I know whether I am enlightened by the Spirit’s influence and led into all truth? First, you may know the Spirit’s influence by its unity. He guides us into all truth. Second, by its universality. He guides us into all truth. … 

     The true child of God will not be led into some truth but into all truth. When he first starts he will not know half the truth. He will believe it but not understand it. He will have the germ of it but not the sum total in all its breadth and length. There is nothing like learning by experience. A man cannot set up for a theologian in a week. Certain doctrines take years to develop themselves. …  

     It needs but little intellect to be taught of God. If you feel your ignorance, do not despair. Go to the Spirit, the great Teacher, ask His secret influence, and it will come to pass that He will guide you into all truth. …  

     Whenever any of our brethren do not understand the truth, let us take a hint as to the best way of dealing with them. Do not let us controvert with them. I have heard many controversies but never heard of any good from one of them. … Few men are taught by controversy, for ‘a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.’ Pray for them that the Spirit of truth may lead them into all truth. Do not be angry with your brother, but pray for him. Cry, ‘Lord! Open his eyes that he may “behold wondrous things from Your law”’ (Psalm 119:18).

From The Holy Spirit: The Great Teacher 

 

The Holy Spirit wants to help us understand the Book that He inspired. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would guide us into all truth (John 16:13). 

So I would suggest: 

  1. Pray before, during, and after reading Scripture that the Spirit will illuminate His inspired Word. The Holy Spirit is our Prayer Coach.
  2. Since all of God’s Word is inspired, use all of God’s Word. Don’t get bogged down in a single verse or passage, but ask the Spirit to show you the full counsel of the Bible. 
  3. Learn how to handle difficult passages in a productive way (check out this post). 
  4. Strive for unity among fellow believers. 
  5. Avoid controversies among fellow believers and non-believers. Simply present the Word of God and let the Spirit do the work that needs to be done. 

May our study of Scripture with the Spirit’s help bring illumination, empowerment, and unity.

Thursdays With Spurgeon—Light In A Dark Cave

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Light In A Dark Cave

     Now I must have an illustration. I must compare truth to some cave or grotto that you have heard of, with wondrous stalactites hanging from the roof and others starting from the floor—a cavern, glittering with spar and abounding in marvels. Before entering the cave you inquire for a guide, who comes with his lighted flambeau. He conducts you down a considerable depth and you find yourself in the midst of the cave. He leads you through different chambers. Here he points to a little stream rushing from amid the rocks and indicates its rise and progress. There he points to some peculiar rock and tells you its name. Then he takes you into a large natural hall, tells you how many persons once feasted in it, and so on. Truth is a grand series of caverns. It is our glory to have so great and wise a Conductor. Imagine that we are coming to the darkness of it. He is a light shining in the midst of us to guide us. And by the light He shows us wondrous things. In three ways the Holy Spirit teaches us—by suggestion, direction, and illumination. 

     First, He guides us into all truth by suggestion. There are thoughts that dwell in our minds that were not born there but that were exotics brought from heaven and put there by the Spirit. It is not a fancy that angels whisper into our ears and that devils do the same. Both good and evil spirits hold converse with men. …  

     Sometimes He leads us by direction. … The Spirit gives a direction and tendency to our thoughts. Not suggesting a new one but leading a particular thought, when it starts, to take such and such a direction. …  

     Perhaps the best way in which the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth is by illumination. … Beloved, you may read to all eternity and never learn anything by it, unless the Holy Spirit illuminates it. And then the words shine forth like stars. … Blind men may read the Bible with their fingers, but blind souls cannot. We want a light to read the Bible by; there is no reading it in the dark. Thus the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth by suggesting ideas, by directing our thoughts, and by illuminating the Scriptures when we read them. 

From The Holy Spirit: The Great Teacher 

A good prayer every time you open your Bible is this: “Open my eyes to see wonderful things in Your Word” (Psalm 119:18). 

The illumination of the Holy Spirit helps us connect the written Word to our real-life, every-day settings. 

When times are confusing, the Holy Spirit can illuminate the Scriptures to help us evaluate both our feelings and the facts around us through the filter of God’s truth. 

But perhaps most importantly, the Holy Spirit helps us take captive all of those thoughts. Whether they were whispered by angels or devils, or just thought from our own carnal minds, we can take all of those thought captive and make them obedient to God’s Word (see 2 Corinthians 10:3-5). We need to learn to think about what we’re thinking about, utilizing the truth of Scripture that the Holy Spirit will illuminate to us.

 

Think On This…

Here’s the seed thought for this episode of Think On This

Do to others what you would like them to do to you. (Matthew 7:12)

Think on this: Do I apply the Golden Rule negatively (just trying to avoid offending)? Or do I apply it positively (creatively trying to find ways to help others)?

 

Thursdays With Spurgeon—Getting Into The Truth

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Getting Into The Truth 

     The difficulty is the truth is not so easy to discover. There is no man born in this world by nature who has the truth in his heart. … Then since we are not born with the truth, we have the task of searching for it. … But here is the difficulty, that we cannot follow without a guide the winding path of truth. Why is this?

     First, because of the very great intricacy of truth itself. Truth itself is no easy thing to discover. … The most earnest student of Scripture will find things in the Bible that puzzle him. However earnestly he reads it, he will see some mysteries too deep for him to understand. He will cry out, ‘Truth! I cannot find you.’ … But we bless God it is said, ‘When the Spirit of truth has come, He will guide you into all truth’ [John 16:13]. … 

     We also need a guide because we are so prone to go astray. … David says, ‘I have gone astray like a lost sheep’ (Psalm 119:176). … If grace did not guide a man, he would go astray though there were hand-posts all the way to heaven. 

     The ‘Spirit of truth’ [is] not an influence or an emanation but actually a Person. ‘When the Spirit of truth has come, He will guide you into all truth.’ … He is infallible. … He is ever-present. …  

     Man can guide us to a truth, but it is only the Holy Spirit who can guide us into a truth. ‘When He, the Spirit of trying has come, He will guide you into’—mark that word—‘truth.’ … You may be brought to a chamber where there is an abundance of gold and silver, but you will be no richer unless you effect an entrance. It is the Holy Spirit’s work to unbar the two-leaved gates and bring us into a truth so we may get inside it. 

From The Holy Spirit: The Great Teacher 

I have often said that the greatest Expositor of Scripture is the Holy Spirit. He is the One who inspired the biblical authors, and He is also the One living in a Christian to illuminate the biblical texts. 

Before you open your Bible, pray this prayer from the psalms, “Open my eyes to see wonderful things in Your Word” (Psalm 119:18). And then listen to the Spirit’s voice as He takes you into the truth that will enrich your life and bring God greater glory. Just like those first Christians who were baptized in the Holy Spirit became skilled in their understanding of Scripture, you can experience the exact same thing today!

I have a whole series of messages on the power of Pentecostal Christians that you can read by clicking here and here.

The Legacy Of Worship

As my friend Josh Schram led us through Psalm 66 in our Selah series, I was reminded how our worship of God—especially in our trials—can leave a godly legacy that crosses generations and continents. 

There are three Selahs in this psalm. Remember that Selah is a call to pause to consider the impact of what the inspired biblical text just said to us. The Selahs in this psalm are surrounded by praise to God, as well as the impact of that praise. 

“We don’t praise God because our circumstances are good. We praise God because our God is awesome!” —Josh Schram 

 Psalm 66 could be briefly outlined like this:

  • We say to God, “How awesome are Your deeds!” 
  • Selah—pause to ponder how awesome God is. 
  • We say to others, “Come and see the awesome things God has done!” 
  • Selah—pause to let our worship of God impact others. 
  • Others join with us in saying, “God is worthy to be praised!” 
  • Selah—pause and rejoice as their praise to God reverberates. 
  • Now we can say to an even larger audience, “Come and listen to the awesome things God has done!” 

Notice that our praise of God—despite the circumstances we’re in—makes all of the other steps possible. 

“Come and see my life of praise” (v. 3) precedes the opportunity to say, “Come and listen to my testimony” (v. 5). In other words, we live out our love for God and earn the right to speak out to others about our love for God. 

Look at the same pattern in Paul and Silas:

  • They are thrown in prison on sham charges and they still are about to sing through their physical pain, “How awesome is our God!” 
  • God sends an earthquake that breaks off their shackles and opens the prison doors. 
  • The jailer asks how he also can have this kind of relationship with Jesus. 
  • Paul and Silas have the opportunity to say to him and his family, “Come and listen.” 
  • The jailer and his family accept Jesus as their Savior. 

But it’s not just this jailer. Luke wrote that the other prisoners were also listening to Paul and Silas sing about their awesome God. Through the jailer and perhaps some of these prisoners, a church was started in Philippi. 

Later on, Paul would write to this church about their partnership in ministry, and he would write to the Corinthian church about the amazing missions generosity of the Philippian church (see Philippians 1:3-5; 2 Corinthians 8:1-2). That’s what I mean about leaving a godly legacy that crosses generations and continents. 

God is worthy to be praised! Let others hear you saying, “God is awesome” even in the midst of your painful trials, and you, too, will earn the opportunity to say to them, “Come and listen as I tell you how awesome it is to be in a relationship with God through His Son Jesus!” You can be a part of this godly legacy in your community. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our Selah series, you can find the full list of messages by clicking here. 

Think On This…

Here’s the seed thought for this episode of Think On This

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)

Think on this: God has forgotten every sin of mine that He has ever forgiven!

Now And Not Yet

Psalm 68 is a Christological Psalm. That means it points to Jesus and it is fulfilled through Christ’s First and Second Advents. These types of psalms don’t make sense if they are restricted strictly to the Old Testament. 

As I have explained previously, Hebrew literature often puts the key point in the middle—in the case of this psalm, that’s verses 18-20. The opening verse sets the stage, or the scene of battle, and then right in the middle of this psalm of David is the description of God’s victory won through Jesus. 

There are three Selahs in this psalm, and I want you to notice what’s happening at each one: 

  • When You marched through the wasteland (v. 7) 
  • Who daily bears our burdens (v. 18) 
  • Sing praise to the Lord (v. 32) 

Do you remember the three definitions of Selah? A pause to consider; a breath before the crescendo; a time to weigh what’s valuable. In this case, I believe we should lean more to the second definition. Why? Because all three of these Selahs shows us what God has done, what He is still doing, and what He will ultimately do in the eternity of Heaven. I believe we are living in the breath/Selah after Christ’s First Advent and leading up to the crescendo of His Second Advent. 

Jesus is BOTH the Immanuel that came to earth at His First Advent AND the returning King at His Second Advent. We are living in an era of BOTH “now” AND “not yet.” 

The apostle Paul looks back to this psalm (especially those middle verses of 18-20) even as he looks forward to the Second Advent. He captures the essence of “now” and “not yet” in all these passages:  

Jesus paid the price for our sin.
He broke the bonds of hell and death.
He prepared the way to Heaven.
He showed the way to Heaven.
He built our mansions in Heaven.
He WILL return to take us to be with Him in Heaven!

 

So how shall we now live in this time of “now” and “not yet”? In a word: AWARE… 

  • …of His ultimate victory (Psalm 68:1) 
  • …of the desperation of the enemy. Death, sin, and the devil have been defeated! We now deal with a broken army, a scattered foe in the final death throes, a wounded, dying warrior desperately lashing out. The prince of this earth is quickly failing, while God is liberally pouring out rewards that were purchased by Christ our King! 
  • …of the brevity of this life (v. 2)
  • …of the joy of living in God’s presence (v. 3) 
  • …of the power of worship (v. 4) 
  • …of our confidence in being heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (vv. 5-6) 

Now is not the time for fainting, but fighting the good fight. Our Immanuel has won the battle, He will continue to strengthen us every day that we walk this Earth, and He will keep us by His side as He reigns for all eternity as King of kings and Lord of lords! 

If you’ve missed any of the previous posts in this series, you can check out the full list by clicking here. 

Thursdays With Spurgeon—Be A Reflector

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Be A Reflector 

For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6) 

     It is by the heart that we know God and Christ, and as our affections are purified, we become sensible of God’s presence in Christ. … Our beholding Him has purified the eyes that have gazed upon His purity. His brightness has helped our eyesight so that we see much already and will yet see more. …  

     Why did not everybody see the glory of God in Jesus Christ when He was here? It was conspicuous enough. Answer: It matters not how brightly the sun shines among blind men. … What, then, has happened to us? To eternal grace be endless praise! God Himself has shined into our hearts. That same God who said, ‘Light be,’ and light was, has shined into our hearts! … If you can delight in God in Christ Jesus, then remember, no man can say that Jesus is the Christ but by the Holy Spirit, and you have said it [Matthew 16:13-17]! …  

     You must not hoard up the light within yourself—it will not be light to you if you do. Only think of a person when his room is full of sunlight saying to his servant, ‘Quick, now! Close the shutters and let us keep this precious light to ourselves.’ Your room will be in the dark, my friend! … 

     A man of God, when he receives the light of Christ, can become so perfect a reflector that to common eyes, at any rate, he is brightness itself! … Scatter your light in all unselfishness. Wish to shine, not that others may say, ‘How great he is,’ but that they, getting the light, may rejoice in the Source from which it came to you and to them.

From The Glory Of God In The Face Of Jesus Christ

As the old hymn reminds us, “’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved; how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.” It is by God’s grace alone that we have been given light to see Jesus and to place our faith in Him! 

That light continues to grow within us the longer we gaze at the glory of God in the face of Jesus. Immerse yourself in the Gospels. Don’t read your Bible just to know the Word of God, but read to get to know the God of the Word better. Let the Holy Spirit purify your vision. 

Then you will become a reflector of God’s glory. The love and light of God are too wonderful to hoard to yourself! Ask God to bless you with a greater capacity to reflect the light of His Son to a dark, groping world.

 

The EGO That God Blesses

Have you ever noticed that it seems a lot easier to say, “God bless you” than it does to say, “God bless me”? Why is that? 

Do I feel unworthy of His blessing? If I am a Christian, I need to remind myself that I am in Christ, and He is in me, and He has brought me into the Father. This means that I am as blessed as the Father blesses the Son (John 14:20; Ephesians 1:3-6). God is blessed by our being blessed! 

Or perhaps I feel that “God bless me” is an arrogant prayer, while saying “God bless you” is a humble prayer. There is an EGO that God always blesses, and He delights to show us what that is!   

In Hebrew literature, the key point is found in the middle of a poem or story. In Psalm 67, that would make the middle verse: May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for You rule the peoples justly and guide the nations of the earth. Selah. (v. 4)

The nations rejoice because God judges fairly and God guides the nations. Selah—pause and take that in. The natural attitude is actually a God-negative attitude—“I prefer to be in charge … I don’t like anyone telling me what to do!” But the unnatural attitude is a God-positive attitude—“I trust God more than I trust me, so I’m glad He is in charge … I trust God to judge justly more than I trust world institutions, so I’m glad He is the final Judge!” 

This is very good news: Only God can rule and judge correctly! Men have biases and agendas; men are selfish and self-seeking; men seek their own glory and their own advancement. So the psalmist wants us to Selah/pause to remember that only God can lead and judge in a way that brings Him glory and brings us blessing. God is blessed by our being blessed! 

Working outward from verse 4, we see verses 3 and 5 are identical, teaching us that our God-honoring desire should be for all peoples in all nations to experience the blessing of an intimate relationship with God. 

A similar theme is sounded in the “bookend” verses of 1-2 and 6-7: We are asking God to bless us so that “all the ends of the earth will fear Him.” Once again we Selah/pause to consider this: Do I have the right EGO to request this blessing? Remember: There is an EGO that God always blesses.  

In his book Lead Like Jesus, Ken Blanchard identifies two types of E.G.O.s in our relationship with God:

  • Negative E.G.O.—Edging God Out 
  • Positive E.G.O.—Exalting God Only

The negative EGO says things like, “Bless me” and “Shine on me.” The positive EGO says, “Bless me so that I can be a blessing to others” and “Shine Your light on me so that others will see You.” 

Jesus told us to not let the light of our life be hidden. We are blessed by God so that we can be a blessing to all of the peoples in all of the nations. We desire that all may know the joy of serving a Righteous King. We want everyone to know the praise that comes from Exalting God Only. 

Oh God, be merciful to me. Cause Your face to shine on me. Bless me indeed so that I may teach others to fear You, so that they may come to know You as their All-Righteous, Good, and Loving King! 

If you have missed any of the messages in this series exploring the Selahs in the Psalms, you can find the full list of messages by clicking here. 

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