Life Lessons with Dr. Steve Schell
68 - Priorities

68 - Priorities

July 7, 2022

It’s the most natural thing in the world: People turn to God because they need something and want Him to use His power to help them. That’s actually the motivating factor behind most of the world’s religions, and has been throughout human history. People do something, or sacrifice something, or chant something until their god or impersonal spiritual force treats them favorably. And history has shown that humans will do just about anything, no matter how horrible or costly, to persuade whatever they call “god” to help them.

Selfishness is obviously a main motivation behind this sort of religious behavior, but selfishness isn’t the only reason people relate to the spiritual realm this way. Sometimes people pursue God/god/good vibrations on someone else’s behalf. Fear or anger can also drive people to seek for spiritual help, but regardless of why people come, the underlying nature of the relationship between humans and the spiritual world remains the same: pleasing God, or a god-like energy until He, She, or It gives us what we want or need. It’s very much like a business transaction. We pay something to get something.

The problems with approaching the God of the Bible this way isn’t so much that we ask Him for help, after all, He’s the Source of all things. The problem is we only ask Him for help. We don’t seem to want to be with Him as a person. We’re content to go on with our daily lives until there is a problem. We get religious until the crisis passes, and then slide back into our routine. But the God of the Bible created us for relationship. He made us in His own image (Ge 1:27) in the hope that we would freely choose to become His children. Here’s how John stated it in the opening to his gospel:

“He (Jesus) was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, [even] to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (Jn 1:10-13)

This God, the God of the Bible, the real God, wants to love us, and He wants us to love Him, more than we love anything or anyone else. And for that to happen we must desire to be with Him more than we desire anything else. We must hate the things that separate us from Him and long for a way to draw close to Him.

Judas Iscariot is traditionally portrayed as the embodiment of evil, almost sub-human, as if a normal human being could never do what he did. Indeed, he became Satanically possessed in the process of betraying Jesus (Lk 22:3; Jn 13:2, 27). Jesus warned him that he was becoming “a devil” on one occasion (Jn 6:70), and referred to him as “the son of perdition” (spiritual ruin) after he left the upper room to report their location to Caiaphas (Jn 17:12). But what apparently motivated Judas to follow Jesus in the first place was not different than what motivated the cheering crowds that lined the road to Bethany, or even some of the other disciples (Mt 20:17-28; Mk 10:35-45). The problem arose in Judas’ heart when Jesus explained His priorities and Judas refused to change his. At that point he became deeply disappointed in Jesus, and that disappointment gradually turned into anger, while in the other disciples it merely turned into sadness (Lk 24:17). Today, let’s examine our own priorities.

67 - Listening Carefully to God

67 - Listening Carefully to God

July 4, 2022

If you’ll recall, Mary is the one who listened carefully. While her sister Martha was busy serving the guests, she sat at Jesus’ feet and pondered His every word. The Gospel of Luke describes that exchange. Let’s hear it again:
“Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up [to Him] and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but [only] one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her’” (Lk 10:38-42).

Unlike her sister, Mary stopped to listen. Unlike the twelve disciples, she let Him say whatever He wanted to say. She didn’t try to argue with Him or correct His theology like Peter did (Mt 16:21-23). And in the passage we’re reading today, we discover that she didn’t ignore the sad predictions He made about His death. Other than Simeon, the old man who prophesied over Jesus when He was a baby (Lk 2:21-35), Mary appears to be the only disciple who understood that it was God’s will that Jesus die violently for our sins. And it’s not because Jesus didn’t try to teach people that truth. Over and over again He told His disciples and the multitudes that the Father had sent Him to die for them, but no one listened, probably because they didn’t like what He was saying.

Yet this one woman, who only weeks earlier had undoubtedly helped to prepare her brother’s body for burial (Jn 11:1-2), came over to where Jesus was seated at a dinner table and began to prepare Him for burial as well. How did she know that He was going to die a few days later? She knew because He had said so, and she had listened carefully to every word He spoke. You and I must do the same. We must listen carefully to every word God speaks, even when we don’t like what we hear. It can be a matter of life and death.

66 - Love - Not Anger

66 - Love - Not Anger

June 30, 2022

Human beings have always had a hard time getting along with each other. The same forces that separate us from God also separate us from people. The Bible uses a simple word to describe those forces; it calls them “Sin.” Bundled into that one word are three destructive attitudes that have been the source of our troubles from the first humans onward. Those attitudes are selfishness, rebelliousness and independence. The “sins” we humans commit are the result of the “Sin” that's inside us. If you examine the things we do that offend God and hurt others, you will usually find that they are the result of one or more of those three attitudes: selfishness, rebelliousness or independence. 

Jesus went to the cross, not only to forgive our “sins” but to free us from the “Sin” that causes us to do those “sins.” He does that by giving us a new heart and filling us with the Holy Spirit. He replaces our selfishness with selfless love, our rebelliousness with trusting surrender and our independence from Him and others with humble cooperation. When that miracle takes place, a person not only enters into a new relationship with God but with other people as well. Those forces that used to drive us apart are still present in our “flesh” (our physical bodies and our old ways of thinking), but they no longer have the power to enslave us. That's why John can say this in one of his letters: 
“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death” We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1Jn 3:14, 16). 

Selfless love, trusting surrender and humble cooperation not only draw us close to God, but they draw us close to each other as well. Those qualities draw us together for the right reasons, and they make it possible for us to accomplish amazing things. 

65 - Refusing to Believe

65 - Refusing to Believe

June 27, 2022

There are people who absolutely refuse to believe in Jesus Christ no matter what proof is presented. You can explain God's plan of salvation in crystal-clear terms, but they say it doesn't make sense to them. They might watch a miracle performed before their eyes, yet they won't repent. There are people who fearlessly acknowledge that the Bible warns them about what will happen to them if they die in their present condition, but still refuse to change. Why? What causes a person to refuse to believe? I'm sure there would be a different answer for each person we asked, but over the years the explanations I've heard or observed all seem to result from a particular decision that person made earlier in life. 

Most of us, at some point in time, have struggled, or will struggle, with doubt. And there are many who become honestly confused by all the conflicting opinions about God. There are passionate voices that argue for God, and there are passionate voices that argue against Him. And I don't think any one of us escapes getting caught in those debates on occasion. But generally, as the years pass, most of us will come to the conclusion that the existence of God is, at least, possible, if not probable. Because in truth, it takes more faith to believe there is not a God than to believe there is one. So those who end up firmly rejecting God, do so for a reason, and that reason is often hidden from view. Somewhere in their past a deep, primal decision was made. They asked themselves a question and then answered it in a way that ended their investigation into the truth about the claims of Jesus Christ. And until that answer changes, no amount of evidence will make a difference. In fact they don't want more evidence, it only worries them. 

As Jesus looked at the crowd standing around Him at Lazarus' funeral, His reaction was surprising. He became visibly angry and then He began to weep. What did He see that made Him do that? He saw people who refused to believe. Today let's try to understand what causes some individuals to refuse to believe, and then let's decide to do something about it. 

64 - Resurrection and Life

64 - Resurrection and Life

June 23, 2022

You aren't your body. You express yourself through your body; you are influenced by your body; you even have to take care of your body, but your existence is rooted in another dimension altogether. That's because God made you in His image, and He doesn't have a body. He is spirit (Jn 4:24). When He created Adam and Eve, He created rational, volitional, conscious beings who can know Him, obey Him, love Him and communicate with Him, person to person. He gave us a body, and said it was “good,” and intends us to have one forever. But you are not your body. No human is. Once conceived we are eternal spirits: rational, volitional, conscious beings.

I admit it can be difficult to remember this when someone dies. Their body looks dead, but that's because the person isn't there anymore. He or she has gone somewhere else. That body was just the “clothing” they once wore, and someday God will give them a new one.

Without this perspective, nothing in the Bible makes sense. The ideas we read there are based on the understanding that this season of time, on this planet, is only a testing ground, so people can decide for or against God. And based on those decisions they will spend the next season, which lasts forever, either with Him or separated from Him. And as we watch and listen to Jesus it is quite evident that He was constantly seeing both these dimensions: the physical and the spiritual. To Him the line between life and death was very thin. In no way did He think a human being ceased to exist when their body died. He spoke of people who died as simply stepping into another level of existence and knew that it was possible, given the right circumstances, for someone to return to their body. And what made that possible was Him. Wherever He was, that could happen because life radiated from Him like light shines from the sun. So in His presence, dead things could come back to life, and He could give that gift of life to whomever He chose.

Standing on the outskirts of a little village called Bethany Jesus tried to explain this truth to a grieving woman, but on that day the Father had given Him the assignment to do more than simply use words. His assignment was to demonstrate His power over death, to show her what He is going to do for her, and for all of us, someday. He not only told her that He is the resurrection and the life; He proved it.

63 - Dangerous Places

63 - Dangerous Places

June 20, 2022

Anyone who serves God effectively has to have two important qualities: courage and caution. They have to be willing to die for Jesus but determined not to do anything careless that might end their ministry early. Without courage a person won't follow where God leads; without caution a person will create so much trouble for themselves that they have to stop. Caution is the careful analysis of a situation before taking the first step, and for a disciple of Jesus Christ that means earnestly seeking God's will and listening to the guidance of His Spirit. It means not acting until He says it's time and not holding back when He tells us to move forward. Everything depends upon hearing God clearly and refusing to move until we have. 

This combination of courage and caution is what Jesus was modeling for us when He decided to return to a dangerous place. That trip to Bethany could easily have been His last. If we look only at the outward circumstances, He was being reckless. And that's exactly what His disciples were trying to tell Him. He had barely escaped with His life only months earlier. Why, they asked, would He go back to a place where His enemies were waiting to arrest Him? He would not likely escape being stoned this time. Yet He went back to Bethany, and His disciples, gloomily deciding to die with Him, followed along. Why did He deliberately go into danger? We need to understand, because He still leads us into dangerous places. 

62 - Not Yet

62 - Not Yet

June 16, 2022

One of the most wonderful aspects of watching Jesus in action is that we're seeing how things ought to work. He never prayed a wrong request; no prayer of His ever went unanswered because of a lack of faith, and no spiritual opposition was too difficult for Him to overcome. Whenever we get into the subject of prayer the question always arises as to why some prayers are answered, and it appears, some are not. Because we humans sometimes do pray amiss or lack faith or encounter strongholds that are too tough for us, trying to explain our disappointments in prayer can become very confusing. We're never entirely sure which part of the “failure” is our fault and which was actually God's will, but we didn't know it. Yet when Jesus ministered, there was no element of human failure. We're watching perfection, which is why this account of the raising of Lazarus is so interesting. It shows us that there is a right time for a prayer to be answered and that God's answer may arrive after we have passed the point when it appears to be too late. 

Before we go any further into this subject we need to recognize the fact that we are specifically told that it was God's will to raise Lazarus. When Jesus heard the report He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified” (v4). That is not the case with everyone who dies. There is a time for each of us to die, so we can't read about this miracle and then decide that if we have enough faith and are patient, God will raise up every person we pray for. Even Lazarus went on to die a natural death, and his body stayed in the grave. 

But notice: Even though in Lazarus' case it was God's will to do a miracle, it was not His will to do it immediately. There was a right time for the miracle, and until that time arrived Jesus waited. When He finally reached Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days. His sister Mary was so heartbroken she didn't even come out to greet Jesus (v20), and Martha responded to His statement about her brother “rising again” (v23) by assuming that Jesus meant he would be resurrected at the end of the age (v24). Clearly both women had passed the point of hoping for a miracle for their brother. And who can blame them? By every normal standard it was too late. Yet the fact remains, when they asked for help God didn't say “no.” He said, “not yet.” There are times He says the same to us. 

61 - Hearing God - Receiving Power

61 - Hearing God - Receiving Power

June 13, 2022

Let's reflect for a moment on our walk with God. When was the last time that you or I did something because we felt God told us to do it, and then He showed up and did some sort of miracle or we would have failed? If the answer is never, or it was so long ago we can't remember, what we're going to talk about today may be challenging to understand, but we have to try, because according to Jesus hearing from God and depending on His power is the normal way every believer is supposed to function. The spiritual world is very real, and we are all capable of functioning at that dimension, but if we haven't been taught how things work, we may be hesitant to act or doubt that what we are sensing is accurate. In our lesson today we will hear Jesus tell us how He walked with God, and then we will hear Him pray that you and I will do the same. And then we'll examine four ways God speaks to us, and nine ways His power helps us. 

Three terms, one meaning
On a winter day in Jerusalem, surrounded by members of Israel's highest religious court, Jesus described His walk with the Father using three terms He repeats on several occasions in the gospel of John. He spoke of the “works that I do in the Father's name” (v25); He spoke of being “one” with the Father (v30); and He said the Father is in Me, and I in the Father” (v38). I believe these three terms are three ways of saying the same thing. All three describe His relationship with God the Father. Everything He did, He did in the Father's name; He and the Father worked together as one; and this was possible because the Father was “in Jesus” guiding, revealing and empowering Him, and Jesus was “in the Father” representing Him, expressing His character, submitting to His will, and depending on His power. By observing Jesus people could see what the Father was doing or saying in that particular situation. Like a glove over a hand, He perfectly expressed the Father's will. The Son submitted to and obeyed the Father's guidance so completely that to see one was to see the other. 

60 - Believe the Works

60 - Believe the Works

June 9, 2022

“If I do not do the works of the Father, do not believe Me, but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father” (Jn 10:37-38). 
Jesus did not try to win people by impressing them with the brilliance of His logic. He didn't try to argue people to faith. He simply performed a miracle that was so solid, so unavoidably real, that it spoke for itself. Any honest person, after examining the evidence would have to admit that God must be the One who did it. Then Jesus would explain who He was and why He had come. There was an order to the way He approached people. First He performed an undeniable miracle, then He spoke truth. Whenever someone questioned the truth that He proclaimed, all He had to do was point to the miracle and say, “There's the proof that God is at work through Me, so listen to what I have to say.”
When we read the Book of Acts we see His disciples following this same pattern: First God would perform a miracle, then they explained the gospel (Ac 2:12-16; 3:1-16; 5:12-20; 8:5-8; 9:1-18; 10:1-8; 13:4-12; 14:8-18; 16:16-33; 19:10-12; etc). But at some point during the course of church history we stopped following this pattern, probably because there were fewer and fewer miracles. We replaced Jesus' pattern with logical arguments, and that approach is still with us today. And we've been doing this now for so long, arguing without miracles to prove that God is with us, that many segments of the human population have grown tired of listening to us. In their minds we are just one more voice among many voices, one more religion among many religions. Particularly in our own western culture we're rapidly losing influence, which is why it's time to go back and do what Jesus (and our forefathers and mothers) did: First God does a miracle, and then we proclaim the truth about Him. 

59 - Grace, Love and Repentance

59 - Grace, Love and Repentance

June 6, 2022

Does grace mean I can keep doing bad things and still go to heaven? Does God's love mean I don't have to stop? Does repentance mean if I say “I'm sorry” God will let me continue sinning? If asked those questions most of us would quickly answer, “No! Of course not,” that is until God told us to stop doing something we really wanted to do. In that case our answer might be less definite. We might start looking for Bible verses that could be interpreted to mean “maybe” or listening for “prophetic words” that say, “In your case it's okay; you're the exception to the rule.” What used to be unquestionably right or wrong in our mind gradually becomes debatable. We might even start quoting conflicting opinions on the matter to show how uncertain a definite answer is on that subject. 

What's happening is that we've entered into the process of making something that was once forbidden into something that is now possible. Before we can convince others that God will allow us to do what we really want to do we must first convince ourselves. In order to do that we have to start questioning the standards of right and wrong that we have been taught, looking for loopholes. And this temptation to re-interpret God's moral standards is a danger which, sooner or later, will confront us all, because sooner or later each of us will really want to do something God forbids, which is why it is so important for us to understand these three terms: grace, love and repentance. As you might expect, each of these words has been given a wide variety of definitions, so that one person might say the word and mean one thing while another hears them say it and understands something entirely different. Since there's only one proper way of deciding the true meaning of each word, and that's listening to what the Bible says with an unbiased ear, let's ask the Bible to tell us what each word means and then ask ourselves how God wants those words to guide us when we really want to do something that He forbids. 

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