What is it?

Looking through my journals and email, I found out that I was wishing for a lot of good things to happen. I claimed to be “hoping,” but I did not/could not be confident the desired outcome would happen. That is not what hope is about. Hope is more than wishing. [Want to know more? Click here.]

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Longing For Intimacy With God

I’ve started a new Bible study this week. My partner, Kris, and I are looking into what it means to have intimacy with God. Basically I want to not only know God, but also to feel God as I go about my daily life. I think people need to study His Word and get to know Him in order to sense His presence in our daily lives. This is a good study for me, because I often know a lot about God, but it doesn’t translate into my heart and thoughts as I go about my life. I long to know Him on a deeper level.
So this week’s study directed me to look at a few Psalms to study the longing people have for true intimacy with God. Psalm 62, Psalm 63, and Psalm 73 communicate some of the ways David and Asaph viewed God and how that translated into longing for Him. Some of the key points made in these Psalms include waiting for God alone, relying on Him alone as our rock and salvation, that He is our stronghold (NASB)/fortress (NIV), that we will never be shaken, that we should seek Him earnestly with thirst and yearning, and that He alone is our help and we should take comfort in the shadow of His wings  (Psalms 62, 63; Psalms of David). Psalm 73, a Psalm of Asaph, also says that He has taken hold of our right hands, and that besides Thee we should desire nothing on earth. Psalm 73 also says, in verse 28, “As for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, That I may tell of all Thy works.”
I discovered that I want that kind of intimacy with God, an intimacy that confidently rules my heart no matter what trials I may be facing. It’s more than just knowing these things are true. It’s also anticipating God working in my daily life and noticing when He works. David and Asaph were able to do that in the midst of the struggles in their lives. Experiencing God’s presence throughout each day will draw me closer to the God I worship. Another way to look at this intimacy I desire with God is to contemplate how I develop intimacy with other people. Getting to know them – their thoughts, feelings, joys, and sorrows – allows me to feel closer to them. And, my sharing with them those same elements in my life, allows them to draw closer to me. So, getting to know God is the first part of the process. However, I also need to apply Psalm 62:8 and openly share with God what’s going on in my life. “Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us (Emphasis added).” I don’t exercise that much in my life. I feel afraid to let God know everything that’s flooding my thoughts and feelings. How ridiculous is that?! God already knows, but He desires me to share it all with Him instead of keeping it all bottled up and trying to deal with the issues on my own. He desires us to take refuge in Him.
As part of my application for the study of these three Psalms, I decided to memorize Psalm 63:1-3:
O God, Thou art my God; I shall seek Thee earnestly;
My soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh yearns for Thee,
In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Thus I have beheld Thee in the sanctuary,
To see Thy power and Thy glory.
Because Thy lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips will praise Thee.

I also decided to put a reminder on my phone each and every time something is scheduled where I need to connect with God on an intimate and trusting level. Each time I’m going to see a doctor. Each time I’m going to be involved in a conflict. Each time something is going to be physically hard for me to accomplish. Each time I’m feeling lonely or weary. Each time I have the opportunity to share Christ with someone. Each and every occasion in my life where I want to see God work (which is all the time!)
Where do you need to seek Him earnestly in your life? Do you need to remember, even memorize, a specific passage of Scripture to remind you of intimacy with God? It’s more than head knowledge. It’s more than a feeling or emotion. It involves both of these experiences to develop a truth intimate relationship with God.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Acts Review: Chapters 15-28

Continuing my review of Acts, I found that many of the applications from chapters 1-14 can also be made based on the themes and principles in the last 14 chapters as well. There were a couple of additional ones which I will highlight. In addition to possible application questions I will look at several summary passages of Scripture found throughout Acts. I think you will be able to determine the key points of the book of Acts as a result of looking at these verses.
Application Questions:
       7.     Am I ready to give a response for the hope and belief I have in Jesus? Am I prepared to share my sorrows and my joys? Do I tell others the good things God has done for me? Do I make it clear that His blessings far outweigh life’s difficulties? Do I use every opportunity, every hardship, every struggle as a platform for sharing Christ? Is Christ the center of my conversations and in my writings? Do I make bold and faithful appeals? Do I see my limitations as the means for spreading the gospel truth?
            References: 2:14-15; 16:25; 20:18; 25:23; 26:30-32; 28:18

       8.     Do I share possessions to care for others? Do I consider how I may encourage and build up the body of Christ for the betterment of all? Do I encourage my local church to have the characteristics of a thriving congregation (unified, devout, attentive, and teachable)? How do we be unified in Christ as believers? Do I let others in the church help me and encourage me? Do I help other believers see and listen to God as He is working in our lives?
            References: 2:1; 2:46; 10:33; 10:45; 20:31

       9.      Do I keep myself pure from the things in this world that can be considered idolatry? Do I hold onto evil things . . . even those things in my thoughts and emotions? Is there spiritual fruit in my life? Do I do my best to “maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men?”
            References: 15:20; 16:33; 19:19; 19:37; 21:19

       10.     Do I take comfort in Christ’s presence even when I feel and think I’ve come to a standstill? Do I believe God has a purpose for my life? Do I consider persecution and trials as blessings from God? Do I rejoice in these blessings? Do I act as if God will not give up on me even if He has to repeat lessons multiple times?
            References: 5:41; 10:16; 20:18; 23:11; 25

Did any of those spark your interest? Make a plan and begin to change one area of your life today. It’s never too late to get started on transforming your life.
Now for the key summary verses found throughout Acts. I will just quote each one and summarize them all at the end. There are six of these verses.
                    1.       Acts 6:7       “And the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”
                    2.      Acts 9:31       “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and, going on in fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.”
                    3.      Acts 12:24      “But the word of the Lord continued to grown and to be multiplied.”
                    4.      Acts 16:5      “So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily.”
                    5.      Acts 19:20      “So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.”
                    6.      Acts 28:31      “[Paul continued] preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.”
What are the common factors in all these verses? First I go back to the commission Jesus gave the disciples. The commission was found in Acts 1:8. “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” The summary verses state how that command was being fulfilled in the lives of the disciples. For me, these summaries tell us what happened in the early church. They tell us that the spread of the gospel and the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ had begun. It’s up to us to continue the work begun in Acts. It’s our turn to spread the gospel and bring glory to the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Acts Review: Chapters 1 -14

Primarily my review involves looking at the various applications I listed as possibilities for each section of Acts that I studied. I’m finding there are several reoccurring themes that I would like to think more about, pray more about, and apply to my life more than I have in the past. Some of these will be reminiscent of previously talked about thoughts from Acts, and some may be new. However, I’m going to try to highlight the most repeated applications (in the first 14 chapters of Acts; I’m sure they will also show up in the last 14 chapters). I think the best way to do this and include various references to where it came from is to list them with their references. [All references are in Acts and are based on the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise noted.]
      1.      Do I expect and hope in the coming of the eternal kingdom? Do I expect answered prayer?    In other words, do I believe God will fulfill His promises?
            References: 1:6; 7:17; 7:55-56; 10:31

      2.      Am I continually devoted to prayer? Am I involved in earnest prayer? Do I pray with others and not just in isolation?
            References: 1:12-15; 2:42; 7:55; 9:11; 10:31; 12:5; 12:15

      3.      Am I filled by the Holy Spirit for service? Do I have the proper attitude about service? Do I have my priorities straight? Do I use my Spirit-given gifts for service?
            References: 2:4; 5:29; 9:43; 11:27; 13:45

      4.      Does my gospel message include the death of Christ, the physical resurrection of Christ, and the manifestations of Christ in our daily lives? In other words, am I involved in witnessing and am I including all the pertinent points?
            References: 2:40; 2:31; 4:1-2; 8:4; 13:38-31; 14:3; 14:19

      5.       Do I make it clear where my “miracles” or “ministry” come from” From whose authority do I speak? Do I meet people where they are in their spiritual journeys? Do I show tenderness, compassion, and love in sharing the gospel?
            References: 3:12-13; 3:16; 3:17; 7:17-18; 7:55-56; 8:13; 8:30; 8:35; 10:29; 12:23; 13:28; 14:7

      6.      Am I intentional in my ministry? Do I hear and respond to God’s call or take advantage of the Holy Spirit’s opportunities? Do I bravely and boldly share the gospel even in the face of threats or skepticism or rejection? Do I get defensive in those situations?
            References: 4:20; 8:4; 8:26; 9:10; 13

Remember, these are just from the first 14 chapters. Stay tune for next week for the rest. In the meantime, does any one of these areas prick your hearts? Is there something you could be or should be doing better? Don’t wait until next week to take action. It’s in the taking action that our lives are transformed into the likeness of Christ. It’s also where we begin to see growth and change. It’s also what sets us apart from those who have not yet been saved. I call to mind Jesus’ words in John 14:21:
He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Just the Beginning: Acts 28

This week we finished the chapter-by-chapter study of the Book of Acts. Chapter 28 gave us the account of how God got Paul and his companions to Rome. First in verses 1-16 they are in Malta after the shipwreck. There God used Paul and Luke to proclaim the gospel and to heal and cure all who came to them with ailments. There’s also a few verses that tell of a snake biting Paul and Paul not having any ill effects from it.
But, in Rome, once they got there, Paul first went to the Jewish community, as was his custom. He was able to speak to the Jewish leaders. He gave an account of what happened in Jerusalem, explained his work, and tried to use the Scriptures to persuade them to listen to his message. He appealed to them that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Verse 24, says, “And some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe.” That’s the way it goes, even in this day and age. Paul fulfilled his responsibilities in sharing with the Jews, and when the Jews became divided, he also shared with the Gentiles. He actually told the Jews: “Let it be known to you therefore [because they had closed their eyes to the truth], that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen (vs. 28).”
And that’s exactly what Paul did. He preached while he was being held under arrest, chained to a soldier, awaiting to speak to Nero. Acts doesn’t tell us about that encounter. There’s a lot of extra-Biblical writings that have accounts of Paul’s life after this point, but they don’t agree with each other. We do know that while he was waiting he was able to preach the gospel message unhindered (presumably by the Jews or the Roman government). The book ends by saying, “And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters, and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered (vs. 30-31).”
One of the commentators said that Acts doesn’t have an obvious ending, wrapping up Paul’s life – or even his presentation to Nero – because Acts really continues today as Christians today continue the spread of the gospel message. The job is not over. It won’t be until Christ comes again in all His glory. Until that day, we must use every opportunity as a platform for the gospel – in our deeds, in our love, in our words. We are to be Christ among the people. We cannot separate ourselves from non-Christians so we may be kept “pure” and “perfect.” Paul’s example is of going to the people, mingling with them, getting to know them, and sharing with them the judgment to come and the mercy we can have in Christ, now and forever.
Next week I will do some summarizing and looking back at the possible applications I wrote down. I believe there will be some reoccurring themes in those applications.