A Voice in the Crowd

“The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep.  The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.  But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”  
John 10:2-5 (NIV)

How often have you witnessed or experienced someone saying, “I would recognize that voice anywhere!”  Most of us have people in our lives that could be talking in the midst of a crowd and not even knowing they were there, we would immediately recognize their voice and know who is talking.  That type of recognition doesn’t happen overnight.  It requires much time spent conversing and listening so that we not only know the sound of the voice, we also know the character of the content of what will be spoken.

It is fairly easy to find people who want to hear from God.  Hold a class or teaching series on knowing God’s will and people are quick to sign up.  Change one word in the title and focus the class or teaching series on doing God’s will and all of a sudden participants are nowhere to be found.  Is it possible that many within our modern Christian culture have such a difficult time hearing God’s voice because we have consistently failed to listen to the things we know He has said?

Rarely a day goes by but what I hear or read the statement, “My God would never ____________” with the blank being filled in by something that even a casual reading of scripture would show God has in fact done or said.  I find it interesting that these statements are always “My God would never” and not simply “God would never”.  We have indeed created God in our own image and often define Him in ways that make us feel comfortable and safe.  In the midst of such a culture, it is no wonder we struggle with hearing and knowing the voice of our Shepherd.

It is in our quiet times with God and His Word that we become familiar with His voice and begin to recognize the things that He would say by understanding the things that He has already said.  The quiet times are necessary so that we are prepared to hear our Shepherd’s voice even in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  Scripture teaches us that Jesus would often withdraw to “lonely places” to spend time with His Father, but as you read about the life of Jesus it should be clear that He recognized and obeyed the voice of His Father even in the midst of the crowds.  God expects and wants us to listen, to recognize His voice and to follow it, each moment that we live — whether in quiet times or in times surrounded by the crowds of this world.

Jesus says that His sheep will know His voice and they will follow Him.  When you and I struggle with questions about hearing God, perhaps we need to seriously examine if the problem is really in the hearing or in the following.  I pray that you and I are not only hearers of the Word, but doers of the Word as well.

In prayer,
Tom

The TRUTH that Leads to Freedom

 “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. . . . So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.'”
John 8:31-32, 36 (NIV)

I had the privilege of sharing a sermon this morning from John 8:31-59 as I chose to address the topic of freedom on this Fourth of July holiday weekend.  I opened by reading a poem, Freedom, that God had put in my mind to write yesterday morning.  Then, as my custom is, I used a word of the sermon title as an acrostic to outline my sermon.  God calls His followers to know, live, and share a freedom that can only be found in the truth of Jesus who claims, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

As we unwrapped “The TRUTH that Leads to Freedom”, we first looked at the Teaching that leads to freedom.  Jesus stated that by holding fast to His teachings we show that we are His disciples and will be set free by the truth of them.  Jesus made it clear in the story of the wise and foolish builders, that there is a difference between knowing the teachings of Jesus and actually putting them into practice.  It is by being a “doer of the word and not a hearer only” that we find the Teaching that leads to freedom.

The second point of the message addressed our need to practice a Repentance that leads to freedom.  Repentance is a word, and practice, that most of us tend to avoid because it requires an admittance that there is something not right in our life.  Often lost in a culture that loves to quote “judge not”, is the clear message of Jesus that He came not to call the righteous but to call sinners to repentance.  The real excitement in that last sentence ought to be the realization that Jesus came to call you and I to a Repentance that leads to freedom!

Through Jesus, we also gain an Understanding that leads to freedom.  Some of my favorite passages in the Bible are when Jesus addresses His disciples and refers to them as “dull” or asks them, “do you not understand?”.  I love these because it shows that Jesus knows that my understanding of who He is and the freedom He offers is a growing process.  In one of those passages there is an expressed concern about the keeping of some Jewish ceremonial practices to be considered clean.  Jesus explains that it is what is inside of a person that makes them clean or unclean  It is knowing, and trusting, the promises of Jesus to wash away my sins that gives me an Understanding that leads to freedom.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the message was this fourth point as I addressed the Traditions that lead to freedom.  I must make it very clear, it is not the traditions themselves that lead to freedom rather an examination and understanding of why I practice them.  Jesus made it clear to those accusing Him of forsaking the Law of God, as found in the Old Testament, that His intention was not to abolish the law, but rather to fulfill it.  He was keeping and fulfilling the law not for the sake of tradition but because he understood and believed the purpose behind it.  When we seek the old paths, paths founded in the truth of God’s Word, and walk intentionally in them as part of our relationship with God, we discover Traditions that lead to freedom.

Finally, we considered the Honor that leads to freedom.  Jesus could do and say the things He did while on earth because He wasn’t concerned about bringing honor and glory to Himself.  He was despised, ridiculed, rejected, and crucified all while living in complete freedom.  His stated goal was to not bring glory to Himself but to honor His Father.  It is so easy to get caught in the trap of compromise as we become afraid of what people will think of us.  Most of us want people to speak well of us and to honor us for our accomplishments and for who we are.  The problem is not so much in honoring people or being honored by people — God tells us to give honor to whom honor is due.  What keeps us from experiencing freedom is our desire to bring honor to ourselves.  It is when we make the focus of our life all about bringing glory to God that we can experience the Honor that leads to freedom.

Like the Jewish listeners in the days of Jesus, I think many people are disgusted with the idea that someone would set them free.  That original audience believed they were already free and had never been enslaved to anyone or anything — sounds rather familiar and contemporary to today’s culture, at least to me.  As much as we like to fight for our freedoms and shout to be heard, it doesn’t appear to be working all that well.  Perhaps it is time we turn to The TRUTH that Leads to Freedom!

In prayer,
Tom

After All, It Was Just a . . . Piece of Fruit!

After All, It Was Just a . . . Piece of Fruit!

 “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.”
Luke 16:10 (NASB)

Fruit assortment

Just a piece of fruit.

When I read the Bible, I often try to put myself in the scene in some way.  To imagine myself in the skin of one of the characters or think about how I would react if I was the character.  When I read the beginning of Genesis, I think about Adam and Eve and why the temptation worked so well.  It’s easy to imagine because temptation is something we’ve all given in to.  The instruction from God was very clear yet Satan presented a case for why ignoring that instruction was actually to their benefit.  If they would just eat the fruit, their lives would be so much better.  They would be so much wiser.  They would be like God!  Surely the benefits outweighed any consequences and God would understand . . . after all, it was just a piece of fruit.

I doubt that Adam and Eve anticipated the shame and regret that would descend upon them so quickly — they had never experienced either before.  I’m not even sure they fully understood the severity of the consequences their actions produced.  What was death?  There is no indication they had witnessed death of any kind until God provided the garments of skin for them.  After being driven from the garden to live a life of hard work and painful toil just to survive, I wonder how often they questioned the appropriateness  of their punishment . . . after all, it was just a piece of fruit.

And from that time forward, mankind has followed in their footsteps.  We hear simple instructions yet we convince ourselves that the benefits of not following them somehow make the instructions irrelevant.  We see the short-term benefit while paying no attention to the eternal consequences of not being faithful in the little things.  We go about life as we want to live it, ignoring and dismissing all instructions that might inconvenience us in any way.  When called into account for our lack of faithfulness in the little things, we insist that it really shouldn’t matter . . . after all, it was just a piece of fruit.

As I was removing tape and staples (which should not have been there) from the auditorium wall at church, the verse at the top of this article came to mind.  It also brought to mind an incident from the first summer I was responsible for the maintenance at camp.  We were in our second season of using some very nice additions to the dining hall and health officer’s cabin at the camp and some very strict instruction and policy had been laid down to protect the huge amount of work and investment that had gone into them.  To protect the new walls, we had a very strict no tape of any kind on any of the painted drywall.  We made it through most of the summer until one week a volunteer came and insisted that they needed to tape decorations all over the back wall of the dining hall.  When they were unable to convince me that the benefit to them was worth ignoring the instruction, they went over my head to my boss who gave them permission to do what they wanted . . . after all, it was just a piece of tape.

When the end of the week came and all of the tape was removed, the effects were quite obvious.  When the tape came off, so did the paint!  My boss noticed it and remembered the words of the camp board at the building dedication, “Take a good look at these additions.  We expect them to look like this and be maintained in this condition.”  So, I was given instruction that I must repair and repaint the entire wall before any of the board members came on site.  Yet not once was there any acknowledgement that this was caused by a failure to follow simple instruction and policy . . . after all, it was just a piece of tape.

While this was a specific example that related to my frustration of once again removing tape and staples that should not have been present from a wall, this same mindset is far too common.  We adopt a belief that the ends justify the means so it doesn’t really matter how we do things as long as it brings a perceived benefit to us.  So we take things from work . . . after all, it was just a few things they didn’t really need.  We speed . . . after all, it was just a few mph over the posted limit.  We cheat on our spouse . . . after all, it was just some harmless fun.  We _____________ (you fill in the blank) . . . after all, it was just ____________!

I pray that when you consider the instructions given by God in His Word, including the instruction to obey those in authority, you would be found faithful in the little things . . . after all, it’s just the right thing to do!

In prayer,
Tom

2 Kings: Lesson 20 — A Wasted Opportunity!

The following are discussion questions from a weekly study I am leading through the book of 2 Kings.  We meet each Wednesday evening at the Deer Run Church of Christ.

The Unraveling of a Nation

A Study of the Book of 2 Kings

Lesson 20 (A Wasted Opportunity!)
2 Kings 20
May 21, 2014

The Text:

  1. What happened to Hezekiah in “those days”?  What message did God send to him?  How did Hezekiah respond?
  2. As Isaiah is leaving Hezekiah’s presence, what does God tell him to do?  What message does God give?  What does Hezekiah ask for?  What is given? 
  3. Who came to see Hezekiah when they heard of his illness?  How did Hezekiah receive them?  What did Hezekiah show them?    
  4. What did Isaiah ask Hezekiah?  How did Hezekiah respond?  What does Isaiah say will happen? 
  5. What did Hezekiah think of the word of the Lord spoken to him by Isaiah?  Why?  Who succeeded Hezekiah as king?  As you look at the beginning of chapter 21, how did his son live?  When was he born?

The Application:

  1. How long do you think you will live?  What would it take to “put your house in order”?  How would you respond if God somehow delivered a message that you were about to die? 
  2. Have you ever been given a second chance?  Why do we tend to believe bad news but want proof about good news?  Do you take full advantage of second chances you are given?  Why/why not?   
  3. Do you ever find yourself “showing off” for the benefit of others?  Why do people like others to know what they have?  Who do people often credit for their possessions?      
    –    
  4. Who would the people around you say you try to please most?  Is there anything wrong with telling and showing people all that you possess?  What is there about seeing something that makes people want to have it?           
  5. How willing are you to accept current peace at the cost of future turmoil?  Are you more concerned about your life or for those who come after you?  Would you want extra time if you knew that it would result in eventual disaster?

2 Kings: Lesson 19 — Praying to a Powerful God!

The following are discussion questions from a weekly study I am leading through the book of 2 Kings.  We meet each Wednesday evening at the Deer Run Church of Christ.

The Unraveling of a Nation

A Study of the Book of 2 Kings

Lesson 19 (Praying to a Powerful God!)
2 Kings 19
May 14, 2014

The Text:

  1. How did Hezekiah respond to the reports of what was said by the Assyrian field commander?  What was the message he sent to Isaiah?  How did Isaiah respond?
  2. What report did the Assyrian field commander hear?  What did he do?  What did Sennacherib hear?  What message did he send to Hezekiah?
  3. What did Hezekiah do with the letter brought to him from Sennacherib?  How does he address God?  What does he say about Sennacherib?  What does he ask God to do?
  4. How does God respond to Hezekiah’s prayer?  What does God say about Sennacherib’s messages to Hezekiah?  What does God say about the things Sennacherib had accomplished?  What promise does God give Hezekiah?
  5. What does God promise regarding Sennacherib’s intended attack on Jerusalem?  What did God do in the Assyrian camp?  What did this cause Sennacherib to do?  What happened to him?

The Application:

  1. How do you respond to news of what seems to be insurmountable difficulty?  When you feel attacked because of your faith, are you more concerned that people are talking poorly about you or about God?  How does your life reflect the victory God has promised?
  2. What does it take to get you to change your course of action?  How often does pride keep you from backing down from your words — even when more pressing matters ought to be attended to?
  3. What do you do with attacks and complaints against you?  Is it easy or difficult to address God appropriately when you feel threatened?  How do you view those who speak and act against God?  What does it take for you to ask God to deliver you?
  4. Do you always feel like God hears your prayers?  Why/why not?  Do you think your words have ever insulted God?  What are some of your successes in life?  How have they happened?
  5. What can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus?  Does knowing that mean that you always live like it is true?  Do you believe God has the power and desire to defeat all that seeks to destroy you?  How will you live because of that?

Next Week:   A Wasted Opportunity
2 Kings 20

 

2 Kings: Lesson 18 — Standing Your Ground!

The following are discussion questions from a weekly study I am leading through the book of 2 Kings.  We meet each Wednesday evening at the Deer Run Church of Christ.

The Unraveling of a Nation

A Study of the Book of 2 Kings

Lesson 18 (Standing Your Ground!)
2 Kings 18
May 7, 2014

The Text:

  1. How was Hezekiah’s life like that of the kings before him?  How was it different — what did he do that others hadn’t?  How does God describe him?
  2. What was Hezekiah able to accomplish?  What was his interaction with the Assyrians and the Philistines?  What was happening in Israel while Hezekiah reigned in Judah?
  3. In Hezekiah’s fourteenth year of reign, what did the king of Assyria do?  How did Hezekiah respond?  Did Hezekiah’s actions satisfy Sennacherib, king of Assyria?  
  4. What message did Sennacherib send to Hezekiah?  What did Sennacherib’s message say about his view of Hezekiah’s actions in removing the high places and altars throughout Judah?  What did Hezekiah’s men ask the messenger to do?  Why?  What was the response? 
  5. What message did Sennacherib’s commander want the people of Jerusalem to hear?  What did he offer them?  What did he say about Hezekiah’s message to the people that “The Lord will deliver us.”?  What did the people do?  Why?

The Application:

  1. Are there things in your life, or the life of your family, which have become accepted that God would want you to remove?  How do/would you know?  What would it take in your life for God to say (in a good way) that there is none like you? 
  2. How much credit do you give to God for any success that you have?  Would you do anything different in/with your life if you believed God would make those efforts successful?  How do you feel when you see people around you fall to the enemy? 
  3. When you face attack or hardship, do you consider you may have done something wrong?  How likely are you to make an attempt of peace with those you have wronged?  Does your best efforts of peace mean peace will happen?         
  4. Have people ever misunderstood your worship of God?  Are there times when people seem to think you ought to worship God in a way that is different that what God says?  Have you ever spoken things publicly in order to intimidate/humiliate someone when you should have talked to them privately?      
    –    
  5. Are there people around you who try to make you doubt God’s ability to save?  Are there times the enemy tempts us today with ease and comfort if we just go along with him?  How do you respond?

Next Week:   Praying to a Powerful God
2 Kings 19

 

2 Kings: Lesson 17 — Enough is Enough!

The following are discussion questions from a weekly study I am leading through the book of 2 Kings.  We meet each Wednesday evening at the Deer Run Church of Christ.

The Unraveling of a Nation

A Study of the Book of 2 Kings

Lesson 17 (Enough is Enough!)
2 Kings 17
April 30, 2014

The Text:

  1. How is Hoshea’s way of life described . . . Is it good or bad?  Why did the king of Assyria set out to attack Hoshea?  Who had Hoshea turned to?  What did the king of Assyria do?  How long did it take?  What was done with the people of Israel?
  2. Why did the things from the first question happen?  What were some of the specific things the Israelites had done?  How had God warned the people?  How did the people respond?  Who did the people use for an example of how to live?
  3. How did God feel about Israel following the example of other nations?  What did he do about it?  What influence had Israel had on Judah?  How did God respond to that?
  4. What did the king of Assyria do with the towns of Samaria after he had taken the Israelites captive?  What did God do to the people living in the towns?  Why?  What conclusion was told to the king of Assyria?  What response did the king have?
  5. Even after being taught to worship the Lord, what each national group that was brought into Israel do?  Did they follow the instruction given on how to worship the Lord?  What did they do?  Who does this sound like?

The Application:

  1. How good is “good enough”?  How do you know?  Have you ever made a commitment that you later changed your mind about?  Would God think there are times when you have turned to others even after you’ve given your allegiance to Him?  In what ways?  What should we do?
  2. How much attention do you pay to God’s Word when you go about your daily activities?  Are there warnings in God’s Word that you know you ignore?  Why do we tend to justify and keep doing things we know God has said not to?
  3. Are you different in the way you act and talk according to who’s around you?  Does the misbehavior of fellow Christians influence what you determine is appropriate and right?
  4. When you remove something inappropriate from your life, do you pay attention to what takes its place?  Do you ever suffer simply because you didn’t know better?  What should be done in those circumstances?
  5. Where do you get your instruction on how to worship the Lord?  Are we more likely to look at how others worship, or look at how God wants us to worship?

 

Next Week:   Standing Your Ground
2 Kings 18