Our Shepherd

Bible Studies for Life lesson originally published here at the Biblical Recorder.

Focal Passage: Psalm 23:1-6

Our youngest son, Nathan, was a difficult baby. He had colic along with an irritable stomach. Eventually, we had to give him nutramigen baby formula for him to eat. If you’re not familiar with nutramigen, that’s ok. Think of it as liquid gold. At least that’s what it seemed like when we paid for it. Anyway, I can remember fighting with him to eat. We knew what was best for him even if he didn’t want to eat. I think David had something similar in mind when he penned the verses of his most influential psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd…” As a shepherd, David knew that his sheep were entirely dependent upon him. They required green pastures and still waters (sheep will not drink from moving streams). But more than provision, the Lord our Shepherd guides us. He guides us to places of provision and protection. Our Shepherd also leads us in the “paths of righteousness for his names’ sake.” David understood leadership. It was his responsibility to lead and guide his sheep. But when David comments about God’s leadership, he reflects on God’s purpose. As sheep, we don’t know what is best or where we need to go. We tend to wander and drift. But God leads and guides us, and notice why. He guides “for his name’s sake.” God guides us because he’s redeemed us. We are the recipients of his love, the bearers of his name. So he guides us because we reflect his reputation and glory to the world. The Lord “leads us in the paths of righteousness” because the only way we can walk in righteousness is by him and through him. When we walk in righteousness, it becomes obvious to others that we are walking with wisdom and purpose. Would you join David? Would you follow the leadership of your Shepherd in the paths of his righteous word for the sake of his glorious name?

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Are you evangelistic?

Have you ever had news so good to share you couldn’t wait to tell someone? We tend to be wiling to share news about pregnancies or weddings or promotions very easily. But do you share the best news of all? Are you evangelistic? Do you regularly put yourself in situations where you can share your faith personally?

In the New Testament, especially the book of Acts, the early believers are consistently, regularly, faithfully sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Privately, publicly, personally and powerfully they shared the good news with sinners. Philip, one of the church’s first deacons provides a great model for being evangelistic in Acts 8. Philip offers five imperatives that will help us be more effective and intentional evangelists.

  1. Be Obedient. Philip had been preaching in a revival setting in Samaria, but God sent him to the desert. Philip obeyed. His obedience led to an opportunity to share the gospel with an Ethiopian eunuch. Sometimes you may be frustrated with your situation and location. But be obedient. Maybe God has you right where you are just because he wants you to share the good news with someone.
  2. Be Attentive. Philip noticed the eunuch and ran to speak to him. I think sometimes we fail to share the gospel simply because we are so busy with our own stuff. Look for a person to talk with. Pay attention to the waiter or waitress at the restaurant or the homeless person on the street corner. Being attentive to our surroundings and to others will afford us opportunities to share the good new
  3. Be Inquisitive. Philip’s first words to the eunuch were in the form of a question, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” It can be challenging and intimidating to know how to share your faith with someone. But when you are not sure what to say, ask a question. Being inquisitive allows you to genuinely be interested in other people and move the conversation toward spiritual things.
  4. Be Prepared. Philip connected the reading in Isaiah 53 to Jesus himself. If you know Jesus as your Lord, then you know enough to share the gospel. Would you consider standing in a pulpit to preach with no preparation? I would hope not. Your greatest evangelistic preparation comes from your daily walk with Jesus Christ and meditating and memorizing Scripture.
  5. Be Available. Philip was not only ready to share, but even baptized the Ethiopian right there. This imperative should also be an overarching theme of our lives. Are you available to share Christ and make disciples or are you too busy doing other church things? There is little more important in our lives than sharing Christ with others and leading them to follow Jesus. We must be available.

It is so easy to be distracted and hampered by good things from sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. But when we look at the story of the early church, the gospel was not hampered. They shared over and over again because they were ready to share. Are you?

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God is Faithful—Jesus Kept His Promise to Rise from the Dead

Bible Studies for Life lesson for April 1, 2018 from Luke 24:1-12 (originally published here at the Biblical Recorder)

It amazes me the memory of my children. If I said I would play with them or take them somewhere or get them something, they never forget. I wish I could say that my faithfulness matched their memory. We are flawed and many times unfaithful. We break promises. But God does not. God is supremely, perfectly, gloriously faithful. There is no greater miracle than the miracle of the resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection has been doubted, denied and dismissed by skeptics over the years. Theological liberalism arose from Enlightenment skepticism. Where skeptics outright denied the claim of Jesus’ resurrection, theological liberalism contended that the resurrection was a spiritual experience that took place in the heart of every believer, but not an historical event. How could the resurrection actually happen? Dead people don’t come back to life. But Enlightenment skepticism and theological liberalism neglected to explain an integral element of the resurrection story—Jesus predicted it. Not only did Jesus predict his resurrection, but the disciples themselves dismissed his prediction. The angel they met at the empty tomb told them, “Remember how he told you… that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” They were completely unprepared for Jesus’ resurrection as they huddled together in fear and hopelessness. But when Jesus appeared to them resurrected, they came face to face with his faithfulness. Jesus kept his promise. Not only did he rise again, but he had predicted he would rise again. His resurrection declared his deity and the fulfillment of his promise vindicated his faithfulness. Before the resurrection the disciples were more likely candidates for depression than for becoming spokespersons for the largest religion of all time. The only explanation for change in the disciples is the ratified faithfulness of their risen Lord. Jesus promised he would rise. The disciples saw him, changed and declared his resurrection. And we today can have confidence in the historical reality of the resurrected Christ who has redeemed billions of lives.

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The Lord, Our Peace

Bible Studies for Life devotional originally published here at the Biblical Recorder.

Focal Passage: Judges 6:11-16, 22-24

Alfred Nobel is known today as the man whose estate funded the Nobel peace prize. What you may not know is that before the peace prize, Nobel invented dynamite. While dynamite has other uses, it was quickly adopted by militaries and used to destroy countless lives in war. Alfred’s brother Ludvig died in 1888. By fateful mistake, Alfred’s obituary was printed instead of Ludvig’s. One newspaper opined, “The merchant of death is dead.” That caption changed Alfred and led him to fund the peace prize that bears his name. We are a world enamored with peace that that seems impossible to achieve. Conflict continues geopolitically and interpersonally. Peace evades us. In Gideon’s story, the people of Israel were not at peace. They were under Midian’s rule because of their sinfulness. God chose Gideon to lead Israel to cast off Midian. After perceiving he had met the angel of the Lord, he became afraid. But God said, “Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.” God promised Gideon peace. But Gideon would face internal turmoil and lead armies into battle, how could there be peace? We can have peace with God even though our external situations do not reflect it. Gideon met an angel of the Lord, likely none other than a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. The peace we so desperately need, the peace the world lacks and the peace Nobel hoped to achieve with his prize met Gideon that day. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He came to bring us peace, to end our war with God, to release us from sin’s bondage. Jesus is also the King of kings and he will return. One day interpersonal turmoil, political parties and international conflicts will be in the distant past because there will be One King, One Ruler, One Prince, One Lord, and all will bow before him as the Prince of Peace.

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The Lord is Our Banner

Bible Studies for Life devotional originally published at the Biblical Recorder here.

Focal Passage: Exodus 17:8-16

One of the most iconic symbols in American history is the sculpture of the marines on Iwo Jima as they raised the flag of the United States of America. The flag symbolized victory, freedom and the power of the United States military. That picture aids our understanding of the concept of “the Lord is our Banner” In Hebrew it would read Yahweh-Nissi. A banner would be a military symbol that clearly identifies an army or a people. In the story of Israel’s battle with the Amalekites, Joshua led the rabble of former slaves to defend themselves. Moses watched from a hilltop overlooking the battle. As his arms were raised in prayer and dependence on God, Israel gained the upper hand. As his arms fell, Amalek gained the upper hand. Ultimately, Israel was victorious because God strengthened the armies of Israel against their enemy. It is interesting to observe the shared responsibilities in the battle. Israel fought. Men fell. Moses prayed. Moses lost strength. Aaron and Hur held Moses’ arms up. God gave Israel victory. The Lord is our Banner does not mean that we huddle in a corner hiding from our problems, enemies and difficulties. Rather, it means that we walk in faith and advance in dependence. We do ourselves no favors when we try to battle on our own strength. Rather, we gain victory when we look in faith to the Lord our Banner. More than a thousand years later God gave his people a glorious symbol of his victorious banner. When Jesus hung on that cruel Roman cross, he atoned for our sins and defeated our spiritual enemy. The cross of Christ is both historical reality and powerful symbol. We receive the victory of the cross not by fighting alongside our Savior, but by depending on the victory he won. Look to the cross as the symbol of God’s banner over you.

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God, Our Healer

Bible Studies for Life Devotional originally published here at the Biblical Recorder

Focal Passage: Exodus 14:27-29; 15:22-27

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you were in the Bible? Maybe you put yourself in the place of a disciple walking with Jesus? Or maybe an Old Testament hero like Moses or David or Daniel? At times I’ve wondered what it would be like to have existed in one of the Bible stories. There is actually a place for us in the Bible although it’s not very flattering. Truth be told, we are much like the people of Israel. Israel had just witnessed God sending plagues upon Egypt—ten of them. Israel had walked across the Red Sea on dry land. Israel had watched as God destroyed the Egyptian army with walls of Red Sea water. Even after those miraculous acts, Israel grumbled and complained faithlessly when they found a pool of bitter water in the wilderness. At Marah, Israel tested the Lord. Aren’t we much the same? We have been redeemed, protected, and provided for by God only to faithlessly grumble when something doesn’t go our way. If we find ourselves in the Bible, we are not the heroes, but the sinners. That is the point. Years later Jesus would face a similar situation to the people of Israel. He was also in the wilderness. Satan tempted Jesus to jump off the temple and show off God’s protection. Jesus replied, “Do not test the Lord, your God.” Jesus referenced the very text where Israel tested the Lord. They failed to trust God. We’ve done what they did. And that is why Jesus came, faced temptation, succeeded and ultimately went to the cross. We cannot obey our way into wholeness. We will never deserve the healing we need. But the healing and provision we need is available. It is available because Jesus refused to test the Lord, because Jesus obeyed perfectly when we disobeyed, because Jesus substituted his wholeness for our lack. Will you trust the perfect, risen Lord for your healing?

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Jesus Christ, our Provider

Originally published at the Biblical Recorder.

Bible Studies for Life lesson for March 4, 2018

Focal Passage: Genesis 22:1-14

Felt needs are important. We work in order to earn money to provide shelter, food, and clothing. Day to day we are hungry, thirsty, tired, frustrated, disappointed, discouraged, etc. and act to meet those needs. Sometimes, our felt needs can overwhelm us. In our text, Isaac said, “We have the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham and Isaac had a need—a need they felt. Abraham responded, “God will provide.” Do you have Abraham’s kind of faith in God’s provision? Søren Kierkegaard, a Dutch philosopher/theologian of the 19th century, famously interpreted Abraham’s’ faith in this text as a “blind leap.” In Kierkegaard’s estimation, Abraham closed his eyes, stepped out, and happily landed in a place of God’s provision. I believe Kierkegaard’s claim is glaringly wrong. Abraham’s faith in God’s provision was anything but blind. God led Abraham, forgave Abraham, cared for Abraham, and gave Abraham and Sarah a child far after their days of childbearing were past. Abraham’s faith in God’s provision was based on years of God demonstrating his faithfulness. In that desperately poignant moment when Isaac was tied down on the altar, Abraham trusted God to the point of obedience. Then God stopped him and showed him a ram caught in a thicket. This story teaches us two things about God’s provision. First, there is nothing we can sacrifice, give, or do to earn God’s provision. When God stopped Abraham, he did not send him home. It is important that we see that Abraham and Isaac still sacrificed, still worshiped. God provided them to a ram to sacrifice so they could worship God. Second, we access God’s provision through faith. It was Abraham’s faith in God that led him to obey. If we want to experience God’s provision, we must have faith. God has already provided on the grandest of scales. He gave us just what we needed when he sent Christ to the cross. We access his provision by faith. And when we believe in the provision of God through Christ, we have a basis for trusting God to provide our felt needs as well (Romans 8:32).

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