Surprises in Scripture

Anyone who takes time to read the Bible with an open and hungry heart will occasionally encounter verses that jump off the page, stand up and demand attention. This happemed to me this morning as I was reading Isaiah 8. A verse I had never noticed suddenly caught my attention. Today’s blog addresses this phenomenon. 

Hebrews 4:12 says “For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power [making it active, operative, energizing, and effective]; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and [the immortal] spirit, and of joints and marrow [of the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12 AMPC

http://bible.com/8/heb.4.12.AMPC

The power and mystery of this phenomenon is explained by the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. The Bible is full of verses waiting to be released upon our hearts. But my question for today is,  “why does this phenomenon happen?”  

The Holy Spirit, who applies truth to our minds knows exactly what we need at any given time. So when a verse I’ve never noticed before surprises me, I can be sure the Holy Spirit is communicating with me along a line of thought that I need to hear and apply. He knows my thoughts, my struggles, temptations and inner arguments. He uses the Word to awaken my heart to His truth. At that point it’s critical for me to stop reading and allow the truth to sink into my heart. If there is something for me to do differently, I need to obey. If it is a point of encouragement, I need to take heart. 

The bottom line is we never know when the Holy Spirit will cause a passage to come alive to us suddenly. But when it happens, He is speaking His truth into a need we have at that moment and it would benefit us to pay attention. 

Why the Levitical Health Laws

Leviticus 13:2 KJV

When a man shall have in the skin of his flesh a rising, a scab, or bright spot, and it be in the skin of his flesh like the plague of leprosy; then he shall be brought unto Aaron the priest, or unto one of his sons the priests:

One of the most difficult sections of Old Testament literature to wade through has to be the Levitical laws given to Moses by God. Leviticus Chapters 11-15 provide counsel to Israel on variety of health issues, but all dealing with clean and unclean matters.  Chapter 11 prescribes clean and unclean meats. Chapter 12 addresses effects of childbirth upon a woman’s Socio-spiritusl life. Chapters 13-14 provide direction for diagnosing, treating and cleansing leprosy. Chapter 15 covers skin and gland emissions and how they affect the public.

When we consider the doctrine of Biblical inspration, we may not question the authenticity of these teachings but it is a struggle to find something in the Levitical Health Laws which is profitable for instruction in Righteousness.  So why were these laws included in holy Scripture. Why not simply enter them into Israel’s historical documents?

But this genre IS part of holy Scripture and God has good reason to include it. A short answer should include the following:
1. This genre of Biblical literature reinforces the notion that God is concerned about the health and cleanliness of His people.
2. It further illustrates the distinction God makes between the holy and unholy, the clean and the unclean, good and evil. 
3. The sacred rituals involving the cleansing of the body further point to the conclusion that even daily human activity such as eating, sleeping and sexuality have spiritual implications. Jehovah has an interest in every area of human behavior.  He intends for us to encounter Him everywhere always, even in the mundane
4. Further, God has a claim on all human behavior and reserves the right to prescribe or prohibit behavior according to His purposes.
5.  At a time when medicine was less developed than in our day, God gave Moses and the priests insights for diagnosis of deadly contagious conditions which had pandemic  potential.

So while the Levitical Health Laws are no longer observed, they did serve a purpose of protecting God’s people from dangerous health conditions and death.  You may not find practical application from the ceremonial cleansing of the leper but it does show the kindness of God to provide restoration of the untouchables back into society as valuable citizens.  

Developing a Habit of Praise Day 5

Psalms 69:34 NLT

Praise him, O heaven and earth, the seas and all that move in them.

Throughout the Psalms David urges that all creation render praise  to God. In David’s day religion was regional. The gods were believed to control only a limited domain. If an army engaged another army on religious “home turf” they expected victory. If you could enter another nation’s backyard and defeat them everyone concluded that your God was more powerful than your enemies’ God.

David is clear that Jehovah is Almighty in the entirety of earth and heaven and as such deserves the praise of not only Israel but the entire earth and heaven. In another passage he urges the creatures of nature to praise God. If the rocks and trees, flowers and bees have reason to praise God, how much more do I have reason to give Him praise too?

Today I praise you Lord that your dominion is over all the earth.  Truly all men and creatures are at your service.
“For thou hast created, hast all things created
Thou hast created all things.
And for thy pleasure they are created,
Thou art worthy o Lord!”

Developing a Habit of Praise Day 2

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”  Praise desires to be heard, not for the glory of itself but for that of its object. Praise seeks to bring honor to its object by broadcasting it’s worth among others. May I never be too intimidated by the opinions of men to speak or sing praise to the Lord.

Today Lord, I praise you for the Victory found in knowing Jesus.  Yes, Sin has infected the race. We see it in from Main street to Pennsylvania Avenue.  It has left it’s wounds and it’s scars on every soul. But through his death on the cross, Jesus paid the debt of human depravity so that no sin can keep its hold on any soul who turns on faith to Christ. “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” (Romans 5:19)  …For sin shall not have dominion over you.” (Romans 6:14)  “If any man be in Christ he us a new creature, old things have passed away; behold all things are become new.”  (2 Corinthians 5:17)  “And this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4)

Praise you Jesus for the Victory over sin you share with us as we walk with you in spiritual friendship.

The Discipline of Quiet Time Part 2

Several weeks ago I began musing about the Christian  discipline  of a quiet time. My thoughts focused on removing obstacles which stifle our development of a quiet time.  We thought about distractions, hurriedness, and unrealistic expectations. We laid four cornerstones for the foundation  of a meaningful  quiet time: Intentionality, Solitide, Focus, and Open heartedness. For a review of those vital cornerstones, I invite you to re-read The  Discipline of  Quiet  Time Part 1.

In this offering, we would like to consider the creative of ways, methods, tools, and approaches we may utilize for a quiet time. God is a creative God. We need not think that there is only one right approach to quiet time. 

Our first consideration in shaping our personal  quiet  time  is how much time can we invest?  During some seasons of my life I have been able to dedicate an hour or longer per day to my quiet time. In other seasons, my schedule has limited my quiet time to a smaller slice of the clock.  What is critical is not the number of minutes spent but your openness to God during those minutes. So don’t become a slave to the clock.

The second consideration is that of content. Sometimes we benefit from devotionals written by  others. Our Daily Bread, My Utmost  for His Highest, Jesus  Calling, and other classic devotionals can provide a quick meditation for rumination throughout the day. These are usually based upon a single verse or short passage. A few comments are made in the verse, perhaps a relevant story is attached and a suggested application is provided. There is an abundant supply of specialized devotionals  available. Devotionals exist for men, women, teens, military, clergy, businessmen, athletes, teachers, parents, marrieds,  singles, intellectuals, artists, musicians. Devotionals may have random topics or be concentrated on a single topic such  as child rearing, suffering, finances, conflicts, forgiveness, dating, social issues, etc.

However, you may be the type which wants to discover truth for yourself and prefer reading strictly from the Scriptures with no commentary or thoughts of men to interfere with your communion with God.  This approach often requires more  time and can be frustrating if we are impatient.  However, fruit from your own garden is savory. Such devotional content provides more personalized meditation.

Once you have chosen content for your quiet time you may wish to record the discoveries that the Holy Spirit shares with you. I have often found that journaling, either in electronic format or on paper, helps me track my growth, recall sacred visits with God, and catalog new ideas for further study.  Journaling over a period of years will provide a rich autobiography of your spiritual journey. 

Quiet time is about more than reading. It should include a time of prayer, or communicating with God about the truths he is pouring into you. There will be times when His revelation to your heart will flood you with joy and you will want to adore Him. At other times, His Word will be like a sharp sword piercing you with conviction, prompting you to prayers of repentance and humility. Still other encounters with God will leave you  awestruck and you will only be able  to whisper prayers of profound praise. When His Word brings timely counsel, your prayers will take on a spirit of thanksgiving and commitment.

One further observation is needed. There will be times when you find no epiphany of truth. What then? 
We may respond to a spiritual drought by
1. Giving up (not recommended). 
2. Going through the motions (Not recommended for very long)
3. Changing approaches (good idea)

Giving up leads to stunted growth and more spiritual defeat. You may be diacouraged, confused or disillusioned but this season will pass if you continue to worship Him in spirit  and in truth.

Some choose to keep going through the motions like clockwork when they experience a dry devotional season. While there is something to be said for perseverance through dry periods, just clocking time to check the quiet time box off your list of  things on do creates a machine not a relationship.

Remember,  God is creative. We are changing daily. Our needs change,  our interests change, our quiet time  needs to adjust too. 

Using music in quiet time can provide a refreshing change of pace and renews spiritual growth. 

One may meditate upon a single verse of Scripture for a week and find treasures for the mind and heart.

A hearty Christian biography may loosen up your dry ground.  Illustrations of how other saints conquered the same giants which taunt you can invigorate your devotion and faith.

Taking a walk while you talk to Jesus may add a personal touch to your prayer life.

If you are a musician, your soul may be lifted up in worship by taking up your instrument for His glory.

Quiet time can be creative. Remember, the objective is not to complete a task but to get still and quiet so you can hear the whispering voice of God.

The Discipline of Quiet Time Part 1

Quiet time porch

The importance and practice of a daily Quiet Time was drilled into my Christian consciousness from an early age. Called by many names, including “devotions,” “Jesus time” or “spiritual meditation,” quiet time can mean the difference between a stale, stunted, bored soul and a fresh, growing, engaged soul.

The exercise of spiritual discipline of daily reflection upon God and His Word is a theme splashed  throughout the canvass of the Bible. As Joshua assumed leadership of God’s people, God gave him the following counsel: This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.”   (Joshua 1:8) The book of Psalms is full of exhortations to meditation (PS 1:2), stillness (PS 4:4), seeking God (PS 63:1), and solitude with God (PS 23).  Daniel was known for his piety in prayer (Daniel 6:10).  Jesus often retreated into the mountains to pray.

The wisdom of solitude and meditation is recognized by business professionals as well. Some of the world’s best known leadership consultants, Steven Covey and Ken Blanchard, include quiet reflection as part of thier curricula. It seems Gods ways have been proven effective and beneficial.

If you struggle with establishing the discipline of a quiet time, you’re not alone.  Take heart. The struggle to maintain a healthy devotional life may be complicated by a number of factors.  For men in particular, sharing an intimate relationship with a God who has a male personality can be a turn-off if we think of spiritual intimacy in the same manner as physical intimacy.  Unfortunately, we tend to envision a husband wife relationship when we speak of intimacy.  This is a corrupted fruit of our concept of love.  But men hunger male bonding for what’s called “male bonding” when we “get together with the boys.”  This model for intimacy is more applicable to our spiritual life with God.

Another complicating factor is a hurried spirit. Hurriedness seldom leads to a profitible quiet time.  If we’re in a hurry when approaching our quiet time, it may be preferable to wait until we can dedicate a few relaxed minutes.

Still another complication to quiet time is focusing on the process and missing the purpose. If quiet time simply becomes something to check off our list of things to do, we should step back and reflect on the purpose of our quiet time.

Each time we slip into bad habits, it takes a toll on our authenticity and spiritual vitality. But when we take the time to pour our energy into knowing God and listening to Him, the experience enriches our lives and soul. So, what are some secrets to maintaining a deepening devotional life?

Cornerstone one is intentionality.  Quiet time must be purposefully scheduled. Gardens aren’t weeded, flowers aren’t quiet time planningplanted, vacations don’t happen, houses aren’t built, and meals aren’t prepared without planning.  Similarly, spiritual intimacy with God can’t happen without purpose. Be intentional about quiet time.

The second foundation stone in building a passionate devotional life is solitude.  Without solitude the remaining ingredients will not develop. Getting alone and quiet before our Creator and Redeemer removes us from physical distractions. In Matthew 6:6, Jesus described solitude as “entering your closet.”  Solitude allows us to be alone.  Many recoil at the thought of being alone. Boredom, guilt, shame, and regret, threaten us when we are left to ourselves. But spiritual intimacy is something between you and God alone.  Get alone so God can have your undivided attention.

This leads us to cornerstone three: focus. Jesus said enter your closet then “close the door.”  Solitude without focus leads to a frustrating waste of time.  Fruitful solitude means separating ourselves from distractions. The loudest distractions we have today are our phones and electronic devices.  I have found that having my cell phone or laptop with me during quiet time is a huge distraction. Since most of us are over saturated with social media, leaving it on the charger or turning it off quiet time readingduring quiet time may help with focus.  Disconnect from all soul-suckers.

The fourth cornerstone is openness to the voice of God. As we walk away from distractions and get alone, it’s important to expect God to speak to us. Invite God into your place of solitude. God’s presence is what sanctifies solitude.  As you approach your time with God, try to envision Him walking toward you with open arms.  In reality, He is always as near as the air we breathe, but He promises to come even closer to us when we step toward Him. (James 4:8)  He desires to open up to us.  He wants to fill us with His presence and life; He seeks to impart to us His wisdom; He is engaged to teach us how to apply His truth to real life. Be open to His voice.

Having laid a foundation for a meaningful quiet time with God, we need to address some of the ideas which comprise the superstructure.  But that will be a topic for next time. Until then, I hope these thoughts will be a help to someone trying to get to know God more intimately. I know just recording my thoughts has helped me clarify what a profitable quiet time is all about.