Thursday
Jul102014

Draw the line

Explore the Bible
July 27, 2014 

Laura Macfarlan
women’s ministry director
First Baptist
Siloam Springs

Daniel 1:3-6, 8-9, 11-21

Daniel and his three friends became part of the spoils when the kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians in Daniel 1. Survival for a prisoner of war might mean blending in, not making waves and certainly not asking for special favors.

But Daniel and his companions displayed a radical faith when they boldly asked for permission to receive vegetables and water in lieu of the royal food and wine provided. Their request was prompted by a desire to keep God’s commands – even at the risk of personal danger. They knew God’s precepts. They carried His Law in their hearts when they were carted off into captivity. God’s Law prompted a radical faith that propelled an unlikely request. 

Their request may seem unremarkable to us because we know the end of the story. But when they chose to obey God, they had no idea whether their request would bring accommodation, a beating or worse.

As the story unfolds, their radical faith is rewarded as they reap the blessings that come with obedience. 

Daniel 1:17 reveals, “To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.” 

Verse 20 reveals the wisdom of Daniel was 10 times greater than that of the king’s other advisors.

Daniel and his companions not only remembered God’s commands, but resolved to respond to those commands in obedience. The result is a timeless truth: Obedience brings blessing. The blessings may be eternal and spiritual in nature, but the true man or woman of God will recognize the prosperity of God’s economy and embrace it. We must know God’s Word and then follow in radical faith to live it out loud. 

Daniel’s example of faith offers timeless principles for us today in our journey of faith. His life brings three R’s that should be written on the heart of believers: (1) Remember God’s commands, (2) respond in obedience and (3) reap the blessings.

Thursday
Jul102014

Enduring faith 

Bible Studies for Life
July 27, 2014 

Ann Hibbard
member
First Baptist
Almyra

1 Peter 2:13-23

I like to think of suffering as temporary. 

With that perspective, suffering comes and goes with a definite beginning and end. The end is not typically as close to the beginning as I might like, but it is still definite. 

Then I read 1 Peter 2:13-18. 

On the surface, these verses simply remind us how to live. Submission to the government, obedience to those over us, love for our fellow man and fear of God all easily fit into a general discussion of daily life. 

Suddenly, though, Peter’s discussion takes a drastic turn in verse 19. 

1 Peter 2:19 says, “For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.”

At this point in the passage, I realize that suffering is not quite as defined as I would like it to be. It does not always have a neatly packaged beginning and end. Instead, it continues as long as we have to deal with other people. 

When suffering becomes indefinite like this, faith begins to elude me. I wonder how long I can endure. After all, I will never escape people. Suffering in relationships surrounds me constantly, whether it be from those in authority or those who are supposed to be my closest friends. 

What if I never see an end to the struggle? 

As we have looked at aspects of faith in suffering, we have seen that comfort can only come when we have a faith focused on the truth of Christ and His salvation, knowing that He left “an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). We have been reminded that passivity does not reflect true faith. Instead, living out our faith in active obedience brings us to a place where we find “favor with God” (1 Pet. 2:20).

When we combine focus and action, we cannot help but remember the sacrifice of Christ. Looking upon Him and following His example results in unfailing, enduring faith. 

Thursday
Jul102014

Hope of new worship

Explore the Bible
July 20, 2014 

Laura Macfarlan
women’s ministry director
First Baptist
Siloam Springs

Ezekiel 43:1-12

You and I were created for worship. Our reason for being on this planet is to bring honor to God, to praise Him, to walk in worship.

In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel offers a corporate example of the lives we are to lead as individuals. We are called to holiness – lives lived differently, set apart, intentionally focused on worship of our Creator. 

In the Old Testament, worship occurred at the Temple. As God’s people lost their way and their focus on God, they prostituted themselves to other gods (Ezek. 43:9). We do the same. 

To whom – or what – have we sold ourselves? A hobby, a TV show, the lure of the new job with a new title, a new boat or perhaps real estate with more square footage? Have you found that the things you desire to own often end up owning you?

The Israelites found themselves in captivity to the Assyrians, and their bondage kept them from God’s Temple and from God Himself. 

What holds our hearts captive? Where are you and I distracted by not only evil things, but even seemingly good things – or even neutral things that we have allowed to become ultimate things? What keeps us from walking in worship?

Our hope of new worship need not wait for heaven to be fulfilled. We can allow His will – His worship – to begin here on Earth. Jesus Himself taught us to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).

How can you walk in worship today? Ask God. Invite the Holy Spirit to teach you, prompt you, to stir up your heart to worship as you go. Consider these walk-in-worship prompts:

– Creation: Praise God for His obvious handprints all around.

– Drive time: Make it praise time.

– Pray God’s Words back to Him in worship: The Psalms make it easy.

– Soak time: Take 5 minutes, listen to praise music, ponder His majesty, praise His goodness.

Thursday
Jul102014

Active faith 

Bible Studies for Life
July 20, 2014 

Ann Hibbard
member
First Baptist
Almyra

1 Peter 1:14-19, 22-25

Passivity stands as one of my greatest enemies in the midst of a struggle. A lack of action on my part knocks me back into old habits, causing me to crave anything but the Word of God. Give me comfort food, let me get lost in a book or take me away somewhere. Distract me from my struggles, and fill my heart with temporary pleasures. If I can just ignore the suffering, it will eventually go away, won’t it? 

According to 1 Peter 1:14, nothing is further from the truth. Falling back into those “former lusts” represents the opposite of the obedience and holiness to which we are called. We cannot simply sit back and remain passive as we pass through struggles. 

Every time I stand in the midst of suffering, God seems to have a specific instruction for me. I never feel like doing it because it usually flies against all logic in that moment. God leads me to give generously in the middle of a major financial struggle. When discouragement weighs me down, He instructs me to encourage someone. When I hunger for a specific provision, I am told to pray for and rejoice with a friend who receives the very thing my heart so greatly desires. 

Our faith cannot uphold us in times of suffering without obedient action. And typically the most obedient action is an expression of pure love for others that directly speaks to our own suffering. Peter puts this so eloquently in 1 Peter 1:22: “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart.”

An active faith reminds us God never ceases His work in and through us, no matter how intense the struggle. When we actively obey, even in suffering, He uses that obedience to accomplish His will in our own lives, as well as in lives around us. 

Are you suffering? Do not allow your faith to become passive!

Thursday
Jun262014

Hope of new life

Explore the Bible
July 13, 2014 

Laura Macfarlan
women’s ministry director
First Baptist
Siloam Springs

Ezekiel 37:1-3, 11-14, 23-28

Our family spent the summer of 1998 in Orlando, Fla. During that summer, wildfires burned almost a half million acres in the state.  

As we drove to Jacksonville, Fla.,  for a weekend visit, we saw the devastating aftermath of those fires. The “dry bones” described in Ezekiel 37 bring to mind the charred, skeletal remains of trees left behind by the fires. 

“Dry” is an apt description of our condition without God. Lives once verdant with life can quickly become brittle, dry and seemingly lifeless when lived apart from Christ. As we abide in Him and entrench ourselves in His Word, we can be “like a tree planted by streams of water” (Psa. 1:3). Our souls and our spirits are thriving, growing and full of life.  A life yielded to Him does, indeed, “yield its fruit in season” (Psa. 1:3).

But many of us are prone to wander – to enter our own dormant season and neglect God and His Word.

Have fiery circumstances incinerated your delight or robbed you of your joy? Have hard things hardened your heart toward God? Have you reached a crisis of faith – a place of knowing God can fix or change your problems, but becoming resentful because He does not act?  Do the words “dry” or “charred” describe your faith? Do you feel spiritually dead, lifeless and distant from God?

Our return trip just two days later revealed a powerful picture of hope. Sprouting up among the blackened skeletons were patches of green throughout the seemingly lifeless forest floor. The hope of new life was evident! The new growth was a remarkable parable for the hope of new life we have in Christ.  

We can come to Him for salvation – asking Him to take the ashen remains of our sinful choices in exchange for the beauty of new life, eternal life found only in Christ. And, as followers of Christ, we can keep coming back as new challenges and circumstances reveal a continual need to return to Him, to abide in Him. We can experience the dry bones of our souls being regenerated with new life in Christ.