I use the S.O.A.P. method of Bible study:
Scripture / Observation / Application / Prayer



Saturday, April 13, 2013

John 3:16-17 - A Loophole or Lifeline?

John 3:16-17:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.


If you have ever been out on the ocean, maybe you have thought about how vulnerable you are out there. All that water — and no land in sight!

“Man overboard!” is not a cry to be taken lightly. A man left on his own, swimming in the middle of the ocean has absolutely no chance to survive. If he doesn’t exhaust himself from treading water, there are a host of other reasons he will not survive — from hypothermia to becoming dinner for a large sea creature.

A man overboard cannot save himself no matter how good a swimmer he might be. How he came to be overboard is of no real concern — the real concern is that he is where he is!

His only hope lies with those left on the boat! His salvation depends on someone throwing him a lifeline to hang on to and be pulled back on board. Once the rope is thrown — he has to hold on for all he is worth!

There are some among us who read John 3:16, and see it as a loophole — as if God inserted an alternative for those who obey Him to avoid suffering consequences:  if you believe, you live — if you don’t, you perish.

That truly isn’t the situation at all!  God isn’t the one condemning us — we have condemned ourselves!

A person who finds himself in this world without God and drowning in a life of sin, is exactly like the man who has fallen overboard! He is in a place where he cannot save himself, no matter how hard he tries. His hope lies somewhere outside himself.

Read John 3:16 closer.  What you will see is God recognizing that we are hopelessly drowning in sin — and He is arranging a lifeline for us! This isn’t God simply encouraging us to have faith in Him, He has arranged this lifeline because — He loves us!

Romans 5:8:  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Think you can save yourself from sin? You will eventually exhaust yourself and sink to the bottom of the hopeless abyss. Without God, we have no hope. 

Yes, God wants us to have faith in Him, but that faith is not being forced on us at the risk of punishment — we are lost already! God is throwing us this rope in hopes that before we are lost forever, we will grab on and let Him pull us back to safety!

Don’t be confused, this is not just a light-hearted belief in God… This is an active, soul-rending, life-changing belief.  If it were anything less, then even the demons would be saved.

James 2:19:  You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder.

God has done all He can by casting out the lifeline in the form of His Son.  Have you taken grasp of it?

Galatians 3:26-27:  So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

And — if you have grasped onto Jesus, and have been pulled to safety, are you diligently watching the waves for others sinking souls you can throw a lifeline to?

1 Peter 4:10:  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

Monday, January 14, 2013

John 2:16 - Do You Worship in a Market Place?

John 2:16:
To those who sold doves, he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”

Can you imagine the sounds and smells that were in the temple that day? When you gather a bunch of people in a tight space and bring in livestock and other commodity trading, you have the makings of a bazaar or farmer’s market.

The temple was a glorious place — a place where the very surroundings gave evidence of God’s majesty. In fact, even though they shouldn't have, many Jews of that day swore by the gold of the temple!

But, as it was, a visitor to the temple was met with a cacophony of noise, smells and — mixed messages! Was the house of God a place of worship, or a place of business?

Jesus’ actions showed the right answer!

Today, we have no temple, but we do need to be cautious about how we conduct ourselves. One of the most frequent complaints I hear about “organized religion” is that “they always want my money!”

If you tune into the “television evangelists,” it is truly only minutes into the programs before there is some kind of appeal for funds. Some appeals seem reasonable, and some border on the ridiculous — but all muddy up any message being delivered. It is difficult to refute the charge against “organized religion!”

The spreading of the gospel has some financial costs. Who should bear those costs?

Some have turned to raising the funds from those they reach out to — leading to the practice of “creative marketing” — the more people reached out to, the more potential income. In the short term this is great for the fund raisers, but in the long term this is devastating to those who fall victim to the charlatans — causing many to doubt God and distrust any who claim to follow Him.

Paul understood the problem. Causing those “taught” to bear the burdens of the “teacher” can become a distraction, or a blockade in the spreading of the Gospel. Even though Paul had the right to “earn a living” from teaching the Gospel, he had strong feelings about exercising that right.

1 Corinthians 9:18:  What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.

2 Corinthians 2:17:  Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.

2 Corinthians 6:3:  We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.

In gathering funds for the spreading of the gospel, let us not turn the church into a market place — selling trinkets, books and “religious” items to a “captured” audience, making the church look like a “money hungry” machine. We have no biblical support for holding such raffles, car washes or bake sales — even asking those outside the church for support.

The burden of spreading the gospel should and does lie squarely on the shoulders of the church. The early church — the church we read of in the New Testament — the church Jesus died for — gathered its support from among itself. Here is what the apostle Paul told the churches in Galatia to do . . .

1 Corinthians 16:2:  On the first day of every week, each of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come, no collections will have to be made.

To gather funds any other way is to do so beyond Scriptural example, precedent, directive or command — and that is always a dangerous way to conduct ourselves.

 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

John 3:16 - What's In God's "Jelly Bean Jar?"

John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

I love jelly beans. To me, they are the perfect candy — hard shell “self-wrapping” with a gooey center. They can be eaten quickly by chewing, or savored for a while as they dissolve to their flavorful jelly centers.

When I buy jelly beans, they are usually packaged in bags containing several flavors. My purchase gives me everything in the bag—I get all of them—not just the flavors I like.

As a child, I suffered from Asthma and the medicine I had to take was flavored like “black licorice.” After a few years of having to take the medicine, I came to have a great dislike for licorice, or anything that tasted like it. Since most black jelly beans share that same anise flavor of licorice, I don’t like them either. I either toss them, or give them away to someone who does like them.

Now, I paid for the whole bag—and I bought it with the idea that all of the jelly beans would be mine—but that means I paid for those that don’t please my palate. Once I owned the bag, it is my decision as to what happens to the beans—whether they go into my Jelly Bean jar, or the waste can.

Will you think I am wasteful? — Some of my friends think so.

Can you disagree and think I should keep all of the beans in the bag? - I know a few who do.

But—no matter what you might think—It basically comes down to one thing . . . Do they please me?

Any bean that goes into my Jelly Bean Jar has to be a bean I would like to enjoy. Why should it be otherwise?

Have you ever thought about how this concept works with God?

We are told the He loved us so much that He gave His one and only Son for us. That is THE ultimate price! There is no question that God wanted us to be in His “Jelly Bean Jar” - the church.

However . . . Now that God has paid for us, not all of us are pleasing to Him. John 3:18 tells us that our belief is important:  If we believe in His Son, then we are pleasing to God. If we do not, we are already condemned.

So what does this mean? Even though God paid for us, and wants each of us to be a part of those being saved, it still comes down to whether our faith is pleasing to Him. How our faith manifests itself in our lives is the key . . .  Is it a latent faith, or an active faith?

James 2:19: You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

Simply having a knowledge of Christ is not the “faith” that makes us acceptable to God.

James 2:24: You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

James 2:26: As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

Faith, or belief in Christ, must be an active faith to be pleasing to God.

Mark 16:16: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

James 1:22: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

 

Monday, October 22, 2012

John 2:16 - Business Among Brothers

John 2:16:
To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”

There is a concept in the business world called “networking.” It is a great way to increase your market coverage, increase sales, and — ultimately — increase your profits. It works well because it is a way of making friends, and converting them into customers — and vice versa.

Rotary, Shiners, Kiwanis, Optimist, Sertoma and other organizations have a reputation of making the world better through their humanitarian efforts. But, if you polled their members, you would find a strong motivation for joining was the potential for networking. If you are a member of such an organization, or have been involved with them, it is not uncommon to see business deals conducted in social situations. — How many napkins have been used as note pads for large projects?

Getting ahead in the business world is an art form. Any method that gets someone’s attention for your sales pitch, or introduces you to a group of potential customers is a valuable asset. Membership in an organization that has a captive audience for you is worth joining at almost any cost.

As an old commercial used to say . . . “Membership has it’s privileges.”

Networking like this is an old tradition among some organizations. Sometimes it is a good practice, and other times — not so good.

What about when it comes to the Lord’s Body — the church?

There is a fine line here, and it has to do with your motivation. 

Only you — and the Lord — know what motives drive your actions.

In the setting of John 2:16, it could be said that those selling doves and other “worship” items were a great help to those who have come to the temple unprepared, or from great distances. But, apparently these “helpers” had the wrong motivation behind their actions — the kind of motivation that caused the Lord to make a whip and drive them away.

The nature of our relationships with others in the church will cause us to interact on a business level from time to time — and who better to trust than a brother or sister in Christ?

But — are you intent on capitalizing on those relationships? — Counting on them being your customers? — Influencing those relationshipsfor your own gain?

If you have positive answers to those questions, you might look at your motives a little closer.

Here is a test to see your true motivation: 

How do you feel when you find a brother or sister in Christ has gone to someone else and bought goods or paid for services that you also offer?  Are truly disappointed because you lost an opportunity to serve them — or upset because you lost a sale from some one that “should have bought from you?”

If you are a Christian in business, ask yourself this question . . .

Do you truly see fellow Christians as “brothers and sisters,” or as “business opportunities?”

Romans 12:10:  Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

 

Monday, August 6, 2012

James 1:2-4: "Olympic" Faith

James 1:2-4:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sister, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

The Olympic athletes can give us great insight on how faith works — faith that is active and vital.

As children, many of us have visions of ourselves as great Olympic superstars. Maybe we will be the next Bruce Jenner, Mark Spitz, or Michael Phelps. We have a belief in our own ability to be as great as one of the athletes the world watches in amazement.

But — not many of us work at it beyond our shallow belief in ourselves. Not many spend time practicing and struggling to improve our athletic skills and abilities. As a result, we stay the same as everyone else — far from our idea of being the next Olympic Gold Medalist.

Move this example into the world of faith:

Many of us, at some point, have a faith in God.  We believe He exists — but we don’t exercise our faith in Him. When opposition or some obstacle comes along, we falter — and our faith wanes.

Faith is like a muscle — it needs exercise to grow strong.

Those who have an active and vibrant faith have it because of exercise. When those same oppositions and obstacles came along, they worked through them, and their faith came out stronger on the other side.

Hebrews 11 give us a great list of some “Olympic” stars of faith:  Able, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets . . .

Just take a few minutes and think about what each of them faced in their lives. You will see great obstacles and mighty opposition but, because of their faith, they did not give in — they overcame

Now, back to athletes:  They practice and struggle to develop their skills and abilities. When opposition and obstacles come in their way, they are able to overcome them — often inspiring us in the process — only because of their previous exercise and diligence in training themselves.

As we go through life, we must understand that our faith is only as strong as we make it. If we lean on our faith, and exercise it, we will develop a faith strong enough to hold us up.

How do we build our faith? — Immerse yourself in God’s Word.

Romans 10:17:  Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

The Father has given us what we need to be strong enough to face whatever comes. We need to learn to build our faith in Him — not the world — not other men — not ourselves!

Hebrews 11:1:  Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

James 2:26:  As a body without works is dead, so faith without works is dead.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Luke 5:31-32 - Are You Healthy or Sick?

Luke 5:31-32 (NLT):
Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.”

When Jesus began choosing His disciples, among the first was Matthew, also known as Levi. His choice was a bit controversial because Matthew was a tax collector — not someone the public looked upon as worthy of great respect. In fact, they looked upon tax collectors as sort of “legal” bandits.

Matthew responded to Jesus’ call instantly and left everything behind and followed Him. And, like any of us who discover something of great worth, Matthew wanted to share it. So, he gathered his friends for a banquet in honor of Jesus to give them a chance to meet Him too. It was a great gathering of tax collectors and others sinners — and Jesus was right there in the middle of them, seeming to have a good time.

As it would happen, some of the Pharisees had seen what was going on.  They had seen Jesus eating and spending time in the company of these “scoundrels,” and they just could not fathom why Jesus would let Himself be seen with them.

They asked Him, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?”

The answer Jesus gave them is one that should cause us all to reflect on how we view ourselves from the inside…

Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor — sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.”

Think about yourself — which group would you be a part of? 

Do you see yourself from the inside as someone who is “righteous?” When you see others who are “sinners,” do you consider yourself better than them? When you see someone obviously drowning in sin, do you think to yourself, “At least I am better than that guy!”?

If you do, you might spend a little time taking a closer look at what Jesus taught about the self-righteous Pharisee who prayed in the temple, “I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.” (Luke 18:11-12)

When we lose sight of our own sinfulness, and convince ourselves that we are somehow “righteous” of our own accord, we deceive ourselves.

Writing to the Roman Christians, Paul quoted a Psalm of David, “No one is righteous — not even one.” (Rom. 3:10) A few verses later, he explains about righteousness (Rom. 3:23-26):

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.”


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

John 15:3 - Have You Been Pruned?

John 15:3
“You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you.”

Grapevines, especially when professionally tended, are amazing. Sometime after the harvest, and before new growth begins, vine growers will take time to trim off all the branches from the previous year, leaving just a few stronger branches, which they tie to a taut wire to hold them firm while they grow for the next harvest.
When the growing season gets under way, it is amazing how little time passes before the bare, clean branches explode with fresh, new green leaves. It seems like they pop out almost over night!
Some grape vineyards have been tended for many, many generations. It is not uncommon to learn that vines planted by great-great-grandfathers are still being tended by great-great-grandsons. Each generation has passed on to the next the knowledge of how to trim, prune, and encourage the vines to produce year after year.
In this passage, Jesus compares Himself to the vine, us to the branches, and God to the gardener. We can see a few important things about our relationship to Him and God through looking at grapes.
There are a few facts that are universally accepted about how to tend to the vines:
— If you want a good harvest you must drastically trim back the vines once each year — as much as nine tenths of the vine’s branches! —
When our own desires are left unchecked, we choke out any new fruit. We can become so comfortable in our own lives that we forget our goal of bearing fruit for the Lord, and become more focused on making our own situations better. We must realize that we need pruning to be fruitful — and drastic pruning!
— Grapes only grow on new wood. —
If not pruned, and left to grow on their own, the vines might produce an abundance of fruit, but the quality is very poor — and sometimes the burden of so many branches and so much poor fruit strains the ability of the plant to support any harvest at all.
Have you ever seen someone busy to the point where they are not accomplishing anything? There are times when we would benefit from stepping back and looking at what it is that keeps us busy. Are we using our resources — our time, money, talents — to the best results? Or are we just — busy?
— Knowing when to prune is as important as knowing how to prune. —
Pruning too early or too late can damage the plant.
The good news? We aren’t responsible for pruning! 
God prunes — He knows when and how we need to be trimmed back for the best results. We simply need to look for His hand at work, and be willing to let go of the parts of our lives that God deems useless for His harvest — and remember that with every snip of His shears, comes the promise of more abundance.