(In Absence of) Gratitude

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks. Romans 1:21

Praying Hands

And here begins the decent into darkness and depravity. It is easy to gloss over this phrase as I read further into the chapter about exchanging the glory of the incorruptible God for a corruptible image of men or animals, exchanging the truth for lies, and committing indecent acts. This progression culminates as God gives them over to a depraved mind and they are filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, and greed while lacking understanding, mercy and love.

This terrible downward spiral results from neglecting to honor God and give Him thanks. Ingratitude is the gateway sin opening the door to darkened hearts, futile thinking and the pursuit of ungodly passions.

And of this is I am guilty: a hundred plus times every day, I miss the opportunity to honor God or give thanks.  This is my wake up that gratitude is not optional if I want to choose life and not death.

I stumble thinking I have to FEEL grateful. Some days I do, but on other days I have to purposely write down a few things to acknowledge as gifts (not entitlements) from God. For example, a hot shower, electricity, sight and a delicious cup of coffee frequently make the list, but these things are temporal. I thank God that my name is written is His book of life and He is returning to take me to be with Him forever.  I thank God that He has sealed me with His Holy Spirit and hears my prayers (even if I don’t see an answer) and that His peace is my fortress in the storms of life.

Like love, giving thanks and expressing gratitude is an action not a feeling.

I once heard someone ask, “What would happen if you wake up tomorrow with only the things you thanked God for today?” What would I have?

In Romans 7, Paul asks why he doesn’t do the things he knows he should. This is how I feel when I fail to be grateful, and yet each time I recognize my lack of gratitude it presents an opportunity to remember the gospel and allow the kindness of God to lead me to repentance. For His unfailing love and unending mercy I am grateful.  

Discerning or Criticizing – What’s the Difference?

If I have a negative thought about something, I wonder “Is this discernment? Or is it criticism?” How can I tell the difference? 

Even people who are unfamiliar with the Bible can quote Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge so you will not be judged.” However, Jesus continues the teaching by adding, “For in the way you judge, you will be judged and by your standard of measure it will be measured to you.” Jesus does not tell us never to judge, but to recognize that we will be judged with the same harshness or mercy with which we have judged others. He also tells us that we should persistently judge all teaching against the truth of His word.

Jesus then provided two examples of judging – those who can easily spot the faults and shortcomings of others but rarely see the same flaws in themselves or the others who perceive and address their own shortcomings before pointing out the failings of others.

Is my discernment clothed in humility and compassion? Am I seeking to patch up what has been torn or poke holes in a usable garment? Dietrich Bonhoeffer once observed, “Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others, we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as ourselves.”

As I consider my thoughts or comments, whose criteria am I using to point out error? Are these standards from God’s word, my own preferences or the world’s values? Jesus always judges righteously because He has perfect knowledge and perfect motives. When I judge, my knowledge is always incomplete and my motives impure.

Later in the chapter, Jesus states that His true believers will be known by their fruit. So I consider, “What will be the fruit of this comment?” Wise discerning words bring healing and restoration while words uttered in criticism may result in harm and disunity.

If my thoughts are from discernment, has the Lord given me this understanding to pray and then speak or to only pray? When I read James 1:26, I think twice or three times about voicing discerning thoughts. “If anyone considers himself religious but does not keep a tight reign over this tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.”

While I have decided I can’t figure out the exact parameters of discerning, judging and criticizing, I can invite the Holy Spirit to filter every word, and ask Him to allow me to only speak as Jesus would. And I can ask Him to reveal my own sin and purify my motives.

Photo by Trace Hudson on Pexels.com

Understanding the Bible

I haven’t had as much time to write blogs because I have been writing lesson ideas for the classes in Ethiopia and making charts for my friends who are studying Isaiah with me. I forget that for some people trying to understand the Bible seems very challenging – like a whole new language. I wrote down the steps for what I do (almost unconsciously) each time I open God’s word.

Always Pray first. God opens our minds to all spiritual understanding.

Choose a book to begin (perhaps start with a gospel or a short letter). Read small sections over and over.

After you read the section 2-3 times, list the main events and/or people and words/phrases that are repeated. These are key words.

Try to answer questions about what you read: Who, What, Where, When, Why?

In any section ask yourself – What do I learn about God the Father, Jesus, the Son, or the Holy Spirit?

Is there an instruction for you to follow – either a positive (Do this) or negative (Don’t do this)?

Look for lessons you can apply to your life. Some may be good example and some bad examples to avoid.

Finally summarize your reading/studying for the day by using SOAP. You can make this as short or as long as you like.

Scripture

Observation

Application

Prayer

Some things are confusing so if you get stuck, focus on what is clear and you can understand. The more we read and study, the more our understanding will grow.

The next day begin where you left off. It is best to study an entire book (it may take weeks or months) so you can gain the context.

Example: 2 Corinthians 9:8-9 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in every thing, you may have an abundance for every good deed. As it is written “He who scattered abroad, he gave to the poor, his righteousness endures forever.”

Repeated words – all, every

Who? God

What? is able to make all grace abound

When? (not answered in this section)

Where? (not answered in this section)

Why? That you will have sufficiency in every thing and abundance for every good deed

Instruction – give to the poor

Scripture – 2 Corinthians 9:8-9

Observation – God promises to abundantly supply what I need for every good deed

Application – Who has a need that I can help with?

Prayer – Lord, thank you for your grace. Remind me that your generosity will supply everything I need.

Read through the Bible in a Year or Two or Five

Today I read Numbers Chapter 16 and Ezekiel Chapter 16. These seemed like 2 of the most depressing chapters in the Bible.  As I near the year’s end, I am almost done with reading through the whole Bible, but it took me not one year but almost five years.  The reason I know this is because each time I read though a book of the Bible I record the date I completed it at the top of its title page. I last read Ezekiel in April 2013. However, I have read Romans six times in those years and each of the gospels four times.

Ezekiel16I once heard Francis Chan say, “We read the Bible not to finish but to be changed.”  Every time I consider that thought, I pause and slow down.  Am I trying to complete a schedule or am I allowing God to transform me day by day?

You may notice although I am almost finished, the parts that remain unread are from the middle.  When I want to feel a sense of accomplishment, I read one of the Minor Prophets or an epistle. If you want to complete 90% of the books (60/66) of the Bible, you can postpone reading Leviticus, Numbers, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. I am not suggesting you do not take time to delve into these books because Leviticus and Numbers contain many passages foreshadowing the coming Messiah, and two of the most beautiful passages on the New Covenant are found in Jeremiah and Ezekiel. However, if you are at risk of not wanting to pick up God’s word because the day’s reading is in Numbers, change things up and read Joel or 2 Timothy. 

I will meditate on your precepts and regard your ways. I shall delight in your statutes; I shall not forget your word. (Psalm 119:15-16) Like the Psalmist, I desire to delight in the Word of God. For me, this means I will not chastise myself for taking so long to read through the entire Bible. Today, whether I meditate on one verse or read 10 chapters, I will mine His word for treasures more valuable than all worldly wealth and for nourishment sweeter than honey. 

Rejoice in Trials?

I keep encountering verses about testing and proving. For example….

In this greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perished even though refined by fire- may be proved genuine. 1 Peter 1:6-7

We also rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope. Romans 5:3-4

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. James 1:2

Although I know nothing about Greek, Blue Letter Bible (www.blbclassic.org) allowed me to explore these verses. The Greek word dokime appeared in various forms. For the verses above, these definitions were given
1. proving, trial
2. approved, tried character
3. a proof, a specimen of tried worth

I wanted to examine in more depth, “How do we rejoice in suffering?” Peter gives us one clue stating, “In this greatly rejoice,” but in what? In 1 Peter 1:3-6, we rejoice because in God’s great mercy, He has given us new birth into a living hope and into an inheritance that will never spoil, fade or perish. Furthermore, we are being guarded by God’s power for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Next, we can choose to set our minds on eternal things instead of the current hardship. We can’t visualize things the ways God does. Similar to the difference in perspectives from ground level and an airplane flying at 10,000 feet, our perspective is so limited compared to God’s. In John 13:7, Jesus told his disciples, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”

Finally, we are to rest assured of the future God has promised. Paul says it so perfectly in Romans 8:18, “Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Somehow, God will redeem our pain.

Challenge: Can we somehow gain a paradigm shift in our thinking from, “I have to go through a trial,” (being punished mentality) to “I am appointed to go through this trial.” We are entrusted with an opportunity to grow and for others to see Jesus. Whether God is personally teaching me a lesson on putting my life on display so others can learn something, this trial is not without purpose.

Obviously, this is all easier to write than to put in practice; however, I aim to train myself to rejoice in whatever God allows to come my way instead of wallowing in every unpleasant circumstance.

Galatians 5

It was for freedom that Christ set us free. Therefore, keep standing firm and do not be burdened again by the yoke of slavery! Galatians 5:1

Isn’t that great news?  But how are we to use that freedom (5:13)? And what does Paul says means far more than circumcision (5:6)? What hinders YOU from running your race well (5:7)?

Walk by the Sprit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. Galatians 5:16

What are the behaviors/attitudes of someone carrying out the desires of the flesh (19-21)? What is the evidence of someone being led by the spirit(22-24)?

Verse 21 says that those who practice such things (the deeds of the flesh listed) will not inherit the kingdom of God. Jesus said in Matthew 7:17-21 “Every good tree bears good fruit but the bad trees bear bad fruit…Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the faire. You will know them by their fruits.  Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven but those who do the will of my Father.”

What kind of fruit does someone see who is watching you?

Son or Servant?

In reading Galatians 4, I am left with lots of questions. I am curious about the bodily condition Paul mentioned in 4:16. It seemed the Galatians had favorably received him in spite of this yet now they were questioning Paul after hearing other teachers. In the overall theme of Chapter 4, Paul contrasts the Old Covenant with the New and the Law with the Promise. However, a lot still seems unclear so I will look forward to any insight from you about this chapter.

Yesterday our sermon by Pastor Shawn was on “Seleh” stopping to consider God’s truth in His Word. I liked the questions he suggested we ask when reading any passage so I will share them with you.

Is there a promise found?
What picture of God do I see?
Is there a problem of life addressed?
What principle should I live by?
What is God’s personal message for me in this?
The picture I noticed was the contrast between relating to God as his son or as his servant.
  • A son is free and a servant is in bondage
  • A son relates based on a relationship, a servant related based on rules
  • A son lives in love, a servant under law
  • The son has hope and a future inheritance, the servant has no hope but uncertainty and drudgery
  • The son recognizes the wealth of his heavenly father lives in abundance but the servant maintains a scarcity mentality
  • The son has rest in the promises of the Father and empowerment by the Spirit but the servant works in the flesh continually striving

And now it is your turn…. what are your observations/thoughts/applications as you read this chapter?

 

Galatians 3

You foolish Galatians! I had been a Christian about 10 years when I “found” this passage in Galatians 3. It read “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”  And my answer was “Yes, isn’t that what I am supposed to do – try harder and do more?  God saved me by His grace and I recognized there was nothing I could do to earn his favor but I was working so hard to please Him in my Christian life – I wanted to pray more, study the Bible more, serve more and honestly, I became worn out by striving to do all the things I thought I needed to do make myself into the person I thought God wanted me to be. Then I read this verse and how freeing it was to realize that just as I received salvation by faith, I would also be sanctified by faith. Hallelujah! It did not depend on my efforts and this was good news because I could never get it right! blessed

Read Galatians 3. What made Abraham righteous (3:6)? You can see the whole account in Genesis 15. Some people will claim the in the Old  Testament, before Jesus, people were made righteous by works of the Law.  What do you see from this section? What observations did you make about the law and faith, promise and covenant from this chapter? What was the purpose of the law (verses 19,24)? What is now true of us (26,27,28,29)? 

Since this is a long chapter with many subjects,  share as the Spirit guided your study  and any insights or applications you want to post.

 

 

Galatians 2

The power of the gospel was exploding in Asia but what were the essentials and what was part of tradition that was not crucial to becoming a believer? What was mandatory and what was optional? Read Galatians Chapter 2. I think the theme of Galatians was stated in verse 16, “A man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.”

What was one thing all churches were asked to do? (verse 10) Do churches prioritize this today?

In reading Acts 15 and Galatians 2, we observed a both a large-scale controversy in the church and a personal confrontation with Paul and Cephas (Peter). What applications did you learn about conflict resolution and compromise? 

Galatians 2:20 is a well-loved and memorized verse. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me.” Restate/paraphrase this as your own personal affirmation.  

For example (obviously my statement is not as poetic/powerful as Paul’s)… Jesus is ruling from the “control tower” of my life. I no longer make by own choices but let Him decide what is best. I have laid down my desires and asked him to direct me in his ways and purposes. He proved his love by pouring out his life for me so I choose to trust him for every detail of my today, tomorrows, and eternity.

Galatians Chapter 1

Read Galatians Chapter 1. What do you notice about the tone of this letter compared to the letter we just studied (Philippians)? What seems to have inspired Paul to write this letter?

What promise do we receive in verse 4 and what does that mean?

Certain men called the Judiazers had come to the Galatians presenting a “different” gospel. They claimed that although a man was saved by faith in Jesus, salvation and sanctification were maintained by keeping the Law.  In Paul’s letter to the Romans, we see how he responds both to the Judiazers and another group called the Anti-nomians who taught that  the Law is not important and it does not matter how one behaves. Galatians primarily addresses those who say the church must maintain the works of the law. If  we think that those presenting a “different” gospel only existed in the first century of the church, consider the controversy with “legalists” and “hyper-grace”  Today, we continue to see books and hear messages that distort the true gospel so Paul’s message to us is as timely as it was in 50A.D.

As we study these 6 chapters, examine your life to see if you are living under grace or under the law.? We will be talking about how we can subtly slip back into relating to God and others based on law instead of grace. I don’t have many questions from chapter 1 so you can comment on however the Lord led your study.

column