Category Archives: Bible Study Lessons

Giving Thanks is Good for You

Cover of "Giving Thanks: The Gifts of Gra...

Cover of Giving Thanks: The Gifts of Gratitude

This is the time of year that we pause to give thanks.  It is one of my personal favorites of all holidays because we share with our families and friends one of life’s most precious commodities:  our time.  No presents, nothing but our time.  Of course, some great meals are thrown in there too.

Typically, we are reminded to give thanks by our pastors as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday.  It is a practice that Christians should engage in regularly.  It is good for our spiritual health.  A while back my pastor shared the account of a man who came to him for counseling a few years ago.  This man suffered under a load of troubles.  His marriage, his money, his mental health, all was in turmoil.  My pastor counseled him to turn his attention to something for which he could be thankful.  The man said he couldn’t do it.  The pastor took a piece of paper and led this man through a few ideas about things he could express thanks.  When finished, they had come up with about fifty things.

The next year the pastor met with this man.  Some time had passed and this man seemed transformed.  He said that of all the things he was counseled on, the one thing that helped him the most was making the list.  This man kept the list and referred to it regularly.  The focus on thankfulness transformed this man’s life.

I saw an article in the Wall Street Journal on the health benefits of saying thanks.  I quote, “A growing body of research suggests that maintaining an attitude of gratitude can improve psychological, emotional and physical well-being.   Adults who frequently feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not, according to studies conducted over the past decade. They’re also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy or alcoholics. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly and have greater resistance to viral infections.”

God knows this, so why don’t Christians listen?  Here’s what Scripture says:  “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.  Christians ought to be the most thankful people on earth.  Christians should remind themselves that it is God’s will.  Christians should have the corner on the market of thankfulness.

Giving thanks honors the Lord.  It should not become a cliché.  It is an opportunity.  It is good for our health.  It is good for our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

This is the one ingredient we do not want to leave out of our Thanksgiving recipes.  I encourage you today to pause, to thank God for all your blessings and hardships, and to tell others how thankful you are for them.  Thank you Lord for this opportunity to share something that I hope will transform someone’s life today.  Amen!

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Reformed Theology and Southern Baptists: The Masses Don’t Care

English: Postage stamp depicting Martin Luther...

English: Postage stamp depicting Martin Luther, the initiator of the Protestant Reformation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many of my friends and associates work in churches and ministries.  Some of them talk quite a bit about being “reformed.”  They make it a point to bring this up often.  Some even go as far as to include the label on their blogs and websites.  Presently, there are debates among Southern Baptist leaders about who is the most reformed, or whether it is OK to breath the word in the context of their ministries.  Southern Baptists go as far as to offer conferences addressing reformed theology and to issue informal statements about their theological positions in an effort to garner support and approval from like-minded leaders.  Have we taken this discussion too far?  The Protestant Reformation occurred hundreds of years ago.

Can we not agree on whether God is sovereign over all things, that humanity is fallen, that the saved are elect, that salvation is in Christ alone, that sanctification leads to the transformation of persons and society?  Why is this still being debated?  Could it be that denominational leaders are so narcissistic that they want to continue the argument so that they draw attention to themselves and to their own glory for being in such a superior theological position than others?  Or are they afraid they are going to lose influence if they don’t line up with their cronies and continue to draw the unassuming masses to their churches?

I have a response for reformers.  My answer may sound a bit smug, but I don’t intend it to be that way.  My answer goes something like this, “One thing I am sure of—I seek to be conformed and transformed.”  I like these words.  Conformed and transformed.

By now you know that I am referring to a couple of passages in Scripture, Romans 8:29 and Romans 12:2.  Romans 8:29 refers to how God has called us “to be conformed to the image of His Son.”  In contrast to this type of conformity, Romans 12:2 tells us what not to be conformed to:  “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

It seems that all the reformed guys are more intent on being conformed to their reformed counterparts than they are on being conformed to the image of Christ.  I don’t hear much coming from these guys about the “conforming” that God works in us, the ultimate and complete sanctification.  This is the goal of our relationship with God through Christ Jesus.  Conformation implies that there is something already established that is the object of our conformation.  This is God’s will and it is a concept that we must grapple with in order to understand His will.

The act of transformation involves something in transition, namely ourselves and our constant act of turning our mind toward God in each thing we are confronted with in the world.  It is a metamorphosis, a total change from the inside out that is led by the mind.  My mind is transformed as I pray, as I read God’s Word, as I involve myself in fellowship with other believers.  This transformation is essential in discovering God’s will for our lives.

Be careful of the tendency to ignore conforming and transforming.  Sometimes the snare is the theological issue of the day, things that tend to puff up rather than to produce the humility and patience of being conformed to His image.  My prayer is that Christians would carefully examine their hearts to see if God is working in them in such a way that produces this image in them.

Preliminary Considerations When Studying Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual Gift Lists

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Like Paul expressed in 1 Corinthians 12:1, “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.”

Have you ever studied what Scripture says about “spiritual gifts?”  The key passages are Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4.  From these passages we observe some overriding thoughts that should govern our study:

1.  The church is not merely a building or an agency, it is a living organism.  The church is the Body of Christ and Christ is the head of the body.

2.  The church cannot function properly without the operation of spiritual gifts among its members.

3.  The exercise of spiritual gifts within the church leads to unity, not division.

4.  Discovering our spiritual gifts involves offering ourselves up as living sacrifices to the Lord.  We yield, we present our bodies, we have no right to ourselves.

5.  There is a distribution of gifts in the body, so in a way we can say there is diversity in unity.

6.  Spiritual gifts are grace gifts and there is a measure of faith in exercising these gifts.

7.   When you exercise your spiritual gift, you will be fulfilled and others will be edified.  God will be glorified.

8.  The exercise of our spiritual gifts should make us less self-conscious and more others-conscious.

9.  We often have a central, motivating spiritual gift; however, more than one spiritual gift may be seen in one believer.

These are just a few points of emphasis as you begin a study of spiritual gifts.

Do you know your spiritual gift?  If not, begin by asking God to show you.

My Father, My Provider

Christ in Gethsemane (Christus in Gethsemane),...

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Many times in life we are overcome by worries.  There are so many things to worry about.

Jesus talked about this to His followers.  He said that “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in” and make our lives unfruitful.

One thing that helps me overcome worry is to remind myself who my Heavenly Father is and how He takes care of His children.

A favorite hymn of mine is “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”  Listen to the words of this great hymn:

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

God, our Heavenly Father, is faithful.  He has been faithful.  He will always be faithful because He loves us.

He has shown His love toward us through His Son.  Our Heavenly Father has redeemed us by the blood of the Lamb.

When I follow Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord, I become a child of God.

He gives us the right to be adopted into His family by grace.  We are born again into His family.

And because we are in God’s family, He is now our Heavenly Father.

The Lord God tells us in Scripture, “I will live with you and walk among you, and I will be your God, and you will be my people.”   “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters.”  2 Cor 6:16-18

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”  Eph 1:3

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”  James 1:17

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” 1 John 3:1

“The Lord knows those who are His.”  2 Tim 2:19

Our Heavenly Father takes care of His family.  Our Heavenly Father protects His family.  Our Heavenly Father provides for His Family.  Our Heavenly Father is faithful and shows favor to His people.

“The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.”  1 Thess 5:24

“His love reaches to the heavens, His faithfulness reaches to the skies.” Psalm 36:5

“His faithfulness continues through all generations.”  Psalm 119:90

Our Heavenly Father has made a provision for our sins, why would He not continue to provide for us?

We can trust in our Heavenly Father because He is faithful to His people.

So why is it that we worry?

Why do we as children of God not experience peace?

Why is it that we are filled with doubts and with worries each day?

Let’s look at a passage together where the Lord Jesus instructed His followers not to worry.  Look at Matthew 6:25-34

Jesus had gathered his disciples around to teach them about their Heavenly Father and how to live their life on this earth.

In this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus referred to “God the Father” many times.

He wanted his followers to know what it meant to be a child of the Heavenly Father.

Read Matt 6:25-34

What does this passage tell us about being a child of the Heavenly Father?

1.  First, if I am a child of the Heavenly Father I do not need to worry.

Jesus said it another way.  He told the disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  John 14

Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything.”  Phil 4:6-7.

What do we do if we are troubled?  Jesus told us to “Trust in God, trust also in Me.”  Trusting our heavenly Father takes away the troubles of our heart.  We must watch over our heart with care.  The best way to watch over our heart is to trust God.

Also, if we are anxious we should pray to our Heavenly Father.  We can cast all of our cares on Him because He cares for us.  When we pray to our Father, His peace guards our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.  Only He can take our worries away. We must trust Him, we must pray to Him.

Remember that your life is short.  The Bible tells us it is a vapor, it is short.  We are encouraged not to waste our life by worrying.

You cannot add to your life by worrying.

2.  If I am a child of the Heavenly Father, He will feed me and clothe me.

The Bible tells us “the eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food at the proper time.”  Psalm 145:15

The Lord gives us the food we need for our bodies, but also the food for our Spirit.  He gives us His Word to feed us spiritually.

The Lord clothes us and covers us with His Righteousness.

The Lord feeds us and He clothes us, so do not worry.

Read the accounts of George Mueller and John Haggai.

3.  If I am a child of the Heavenly Father, He knows what my needs are.

The old song said, Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows my sorrow.

Jesus reminded us that our Heavenly Father knows.  He knows our needs and our troubles.

Scripture tells us that “God knows our hearts.”  Luke 16:15

Psalm 139 tells us, “Lord you have searched me and you know me.  You know when I sit down and when I rise up.  You know my thoughts.  You know my ways Lord God.  You know the words I say before I say them.  You know the days of my life and they are written in your book.”

Isaiah said the “God tends His flock like a shepherd.”  The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

“The Lord gives strength to the weary, He increases the power of the weak.”

“When we hope in the Lord, our strength is renewed.”

We have both physical and spiritual needs.

They are both important, but sometimes we neglect our spiritual needs to focus more on our physical needs.

Some of us spend more time working out, rather than working in.

Example:  runners on Sunday morning

4.  If I am a child of the Heavenly Father, I must learn to go to Him first when I have needs.

The Bible says that the Lord is near to all who call on Him.  Psalm 145:18

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.   Heb 4:16

We are told to “come near to God, and He will come near to you.”  James 4:8

He never leaves us nor forsakes us.

Learn to go to our Heavenly Father first with our needs and cares.

Jesus encouraged the disciples to pray, “Our Father who art in Heaven.”  He said that our Father knows what we need before we ask Him.

I am thankful for my Heavenly Father who feeds me, who clothes me, who takes care of me, and knows all of my needs.

Are you part of God’s family today?

If not, you can be.

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father but by me.”

Are you having doubts today, are you worried about your life?  Come to Jesus and come to the Father.

The Bible says if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Come to Jesus today and become part of God’s family.

Be On Your Guard

Christ and The Pharisees

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The situation in Northern Africa this week prompted thoughts on the common traits of corrupt leaders.  Typically these traits center on control.  Their leadership is coercive.  They rely on oppression and force to stay in power.

Along these lines and perhaps timely, Mitch Horowitz provided a short essay for the Wall Street Journal this week entitled, “When Does a Religion Become a Cult?”  Horowitz is editor in chief of Tarcher / Penguin in New York and the author of Occult America.  Through his studies and observations, Horowitz sees common threads among various religious groups that give them the stamp of a “cult.”  These criteria include:  behavior control, information control, thought control, emotional control, financial control, and extreme leadership.

Christians should learn much from these observations.  It should prompt us to “be on our guard.”  How do we guard ourselves?  What does Scripture teach?

Surely this is an important concept because our Lord Jesus instructed His followers often to be alert, take heed, be on your guard.  Paul uses this concept as well when writing the epistles.  For example, Jesus said in Luke 12:1, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees.”  Paul’s closing comments to the church at Corinth include the admonition to “be on your guard” (1 Cor. 16:13).

Take time to study a few more verses that deal with the concept.  I would suggest that Proverbs 22:5 be the basis for your study:  “In the paths of the wicked lie thorns and snares, but he who guards his soul stays far from them.”

Review passages surrounding these verses as well:  Acts 20:31 and I Timothy 6:20-21.  Also, Paul’s letter to the Colossian church provides a good study on this topic.

The Purposes of the Church–Winning Souls

Jesus and Saint Peter, Gospel of Matthew 4.18-20

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Proverbs 11:30  “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise.”

God desires his children to be wise in the way they live.  It pleases God when we ask Him for wisdom.  When God told Solomon to ask for anything he wished, Solomon asked for wisdom and it pleased God.  We know that God wants us to ask Him for wisdom.  James 1:5 “If any of you lack wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

So when I ask God for wisdom, I must look in Scripture to see what the Lord is telling me.

In Proverbs 11:30, God is telling me “he who wins souls is wise.”

Have we forgotten today that God is pleased with us and with the church when we are involved in “soul-winning?”

It is His desire that we be a witness for Jesus Christ and that we share the Gospel, which is the Good News that Jesus came to earth to die for our sins and that through Jesus we are saved.  We are given eternal life through Him.  We are reconciled to God through the blood of the Lamb.

This is one of the purposes of the church, to be involved in bringing others to Christ.  To be involved in winning souls for the Lord is of supreme importance.

But we have to question whether the church is an effective witness for Christ today.  We see the church placing importance on so many other things than on sharing the Gospel and winning souls for Christ.

Why is the church not effective in winning souls for Christ?  Why are we not seeing many come to Christ for salvation?  What makes our witness for Christ weak today?  Why should we be concerned?

First, I might ask whose responsibility is it to share the Gospel?

Some of us may say, “The pastor is responsible, let him share the Gospel.”

Another may say, “Oh, the missionary is responsible to share the Gospel.”

The Bible tells us plainly that it is the Christian who has the responsibility to share the Gospel.  We are to be a witness for Christ to those who are lost.  Sharing the gospel is God’s method of saving souls, and we need to do our best in carrying this out.

Let’s look at 1 Peter to learn more about our witness for Christ, to learn more about winning souls for the kingdom.  Peter was concerned that believers understand who they were in Christ.  The Gospel message is a central theme in this letter from Peter.  Here are some of the basic thoughts in the Gospel message as expressed in 1 Peter:

1 Peter 1:3-5  3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

1 Peter 1:18-19  18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

1 Peter 1:23  23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

So we have this great hope, but why is it that the church is weak in our witness for Christ?

Why are we weak in sharing the Gospel?  Let’s look at some possible reasons:

1.  We get discouraged by the trials we face.  1 Peter 1:6 says that the Christians suffered grief in all kinds of trails.  We need to remember the purpose of trials.  1 Peter 1:7

2.  We struggle with being holy.  1 Peter 1:15-16  How can I live a holy life?  I Peter 1:13-14

3.  We lack unity in the church.  I Peter 2:1  How do we fight against hypocrisy, envy, deceit?  I Peter 2:2-3

4.  We are disobedient.  I Peter 2:8  How do we deal with disobedience?  Focus on who we are as His people.  I Peter 2:9-10

5.  We are not submissive.  We need to learn to serve one another.  I Peter 2:13-17

6.  Our marriages are not an effective witness.  How to be a better witness?  I Peter 3:1-2, 7

7.  We are not prepared to share the message of the Gospel.  1 Peter 3:15

8.  We are not living for God.  1 Peter 4:3   Live for the will of God, 1 Peter 4:2

9.  We lack love in the church.  What is the picture of love in the church? 1 Peter 4:7-11

10.  We lack humility, we are proud.  1 Peter 5:5-6

We are His people, we are His witness, we are to be faithful in sharing.

Some sow, some water, but God brings about the fruit.

Where are you today in your witness for the Lord?

God at Work in the Believer

The Passage of Time

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Phil. 1:6  He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.

Sometimes I don’t think Christians grasp how God is at work in our lives.  How do I know this?

1.     We think if we work hard enough at the Christian life we can accomplish something.  The problem is that if we do this, we get tired or get disappointed at how slow things get done.

2.     We think we can set the agenda for our lives, but it is God’s agenda that takes priority.  We may set goals, but it is God’s goals that matter.

3.     We don’t have time for interruptions.  We must remember that God is at work in the lives of our friends, our neighbors, our family and that His timing is what counts.

We need to remember Phil. 2:12-13  Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.

A maturing believer realizes that God is at work in us and that we must persevere and be patient for the spiritual growth that God wants for us.

If God is at work in me, what is the evidence?  Where do I look to see the maturing process in me?

When God is at work in you, you sense His presence. Exodus 33:13-14

When God is at work in you, you become more sensitive to sin and its destructive power. Romans 6:6, 8:2

When God is at work in you, you are becoming more sanctified.  1 Thess. 4:7, 5:23

God is working in you to bear fruit for the Kingdom.  Eph. 2:10, John 15:1,5

You bear the fruit of the Spirit when God is working in you.  Gal. 5:22-23

God is at work in us to help us understand His ways and His involvement in our lives.  Romans 8:28

God is at work to help us to be quiet before Him and to help us pray.  Jesus and solitude, Rom. 8:26-27

God is at work in us to draw us near to Him and to encourage us to seek Him.  Ps. 42:1-2, 63:1

God is at work in us to involve us in evangelism.  1 Cor. 3:6-9, Matt. 9:37-38, Col. 4:5-6

God is at work to make us less self-centered and more Christ-centered.  Gal. 2:20, Phil. 1:21

Is God at work in you today?