Monday, December 22, 2008

A stumbling block and foolishness.

1Co 1:23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
The first century church was used in some incredible ways by God, on one occasion God used street preachers to save over three thousand people on one day, other times He used miracles and signs and wonders Men of God preached the truth regardless of their surrounding conditions and God used them for the conversion of souls and the glorifying of Himself. However Paul knew that God uses means and tools to bring about His will, and he knew that there was a great difference between the Jews and the Greeks. When Paul preached to his own people, the Jews, he was preaching to a group of people that understood the creation of the world, the fall of man, the universality of sin, the truths of God's interaction with men, and the inerrancy of the scriptures. So then when he preached Christ, and Him crucified to the Jews, they understood everything he was saying; the problem was they did not want to believe it because that would mess up their idea of getting to heaven through good works and personal sacrifices. On the other hand, when Paul preached to the Greeks he was preaching to a culture that was completely humanistic. The Greeks believed in many gods, none of them all powerful, in fact they believed that most of their gods were simply highly evolved men. So when the gospel was preached to the Greeks, it could not simply be said, "believe on Jesus, the son of God, to save you from your sins." The Greeks would throw this off as the empty babbling of unlearned men because they had no idea what the true meaning of "believe" was, they had no idea what was meant by a singular God and His son, they didn't understand what "sin" was. So Paul rightly classified the Jews as those who didn't want to believe, and the Greeks as those who could not believe.
Now what is the point of all this? How does it apply to us today? It has a great application in how we, as Christians, present the gospel. Most of us are too frightened or ashamed to ever present the gospel at all, but if and when we do, I'm afraid we go about it all wrong. We have to identify which culture we live in, not in order to pamper to it and become more like it, but so we know how to approach it with the gospel. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone in the bible belt is a christian and further more not everyone in the bible belt even understands some of the most foundational truths about the bible. This used to be a largely "Jewish" culture (meaning that the majority of people understood the fundamentals of the scriptures). There was prayer not only in school but at almost every public event, the bible was taken seriously and taught as fact, most people attended church at least sporadically if not frequently. The make up of this country has changed drastically over the past 100 years. There is now no mention of anything remotely christian allowed in any public place, evolution is taught as fact in our education system, the scripture is ridiculed and quickly disposed of by anyone with any aspirations of national acclaim and recognition. We are living today in the picture of a Greek culture. If the gospel is to be heard and accepted by our culture, we must start relaying the foundations, reteaching the authority of scripture, reinforcing the truth of man's depravity and God holiness, rebuilding the fortress of salvation through Christ alone. Otherwise, our preaching will continue to be rejected as foolishness and we will be found as unwise stewards of what God has given us, holding the truth in unrighteousness.

A righteous ruler.

Prov. 29:2 When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn. Sept. 14, 2008
It hardly seems possible that the presidential elections are only two short months away, and yet the most common sentiment I hear, from Republicans and Democrats both, is discontentment. I do not deny that Obama's camp remains as enthusiastic as ever, nor that McCain's choice of Palin seems to have energized his supporters, but the populace as a whole seems to think that this year most of us will have to choose the lesser of two evils. It seems as though we must choose between fighting terrorism or growing our economy, between good stewardship of our environment and decreasing our dependence on foreign oil. It seems as though there is not a candidate who has a balanced plan to do what is best in all of these areas, or at least that is the way it is being presented to us. Unfortunately, I think our priorities have become confused concerning which issues we look at and how we view them. We have fallen so in love with our money, that our pocket book begins to decide which candidate we support; both camps are spending the majority of their time and effort trying to convince us their plans are better for your wallet. I have yet to hear an honest evaluation as to which candidate is more righteous, no media source has taken the lifestyles and credentials of the candidates and matched them up against scripture. You see how far we have come from scripture and how far we have fallen in step with the world, because even now you are probably thinking that what I'm suggesting is ludicrous. You have bought into the mantra of the unconverted that we are not supposed to allow religion to play a role in who we vote for. I have heard the phrase "We are not electing a pastor, we're voting for a president." Whenever someone says that, they are failing to remember that the scripture says that whether a ruler is righteous or wicked has a direct affect on the well being of a country.
I too am having a hard time deciding who to vote for, but I know this, I am not letting my bank account decide! I am going to have to stand before God one day and give an account for who I put into a position of authority in my country, so I must vote for the man that my conscience allows. I must take into consideration his view of God and his word, I must look at his view of the sanctity of life, I must consider his opinion of the family and the structure of a home, and I promise you it will not be an easy decision to make. I beg you as well, whether you vote for McCain, Obama, an independent, or exercise your right to write a name in, vote for a righteous man. The result will lead to the entire nation rejoicing or mourning.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Faithful Stewards

I Cor. 4:2 Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.
As Christians we understand that we are nothing more than stewards here on this earth, we know that our bodies are not our own since we have been bought with a price. (I Cor. 6:20) All our possessions and faculties are only good gifts which come from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness neither shadow of turning. (James 1:17) Therefore this verse is a direct admonition to every Christian concerning how we are to live our lives, and according to this verse the primary thing is that we be found faithful. This is a truth that is found in almost every walk of life, an employer would rather have a consistent, trustworthy employee, than an employee that works hard, but is inconsistent or untrustworthy. We see it all the time in sports, there may be someone who can hit the odd home run or catch a long touchdown or two each season, but the best players are the ones that are consistently hitting RBI or consistently catching the first down passes and moving the chains.
Christianity is no different, it is not required of stewards that we be martyred, or that we sacrifice all on the foreign mission field, our job description does not include being able to write a best selling book or pastor an enormous church. Every Christian though is required to be faithful, we are all commanded to not become weary in well doing and often times that takes more faith than a martyr. I have long said that I think it is easier to die for Christ than to live for him, death is a short, one time action, a devoted life requires re-commitment every morning. This means that when our reputation is attacked we keep doing right, when our family rejects us we keep doing right, when our finances suffer we keep doing right, when we feel betrayed by those closest to us we keep doing right.
There is a song I sang as a child, that contains theology that isn't too deep and yet we rarely follow it's words, it goes "Do right 'till the stars fall, do right 'till the last call, do right when there's no one else to stand by you. Do right when you're all alone, do right though it's never known, do right since you love the Lord, do right."
On the day that I enter through the gates of the celestial city I want to hear my Father say, "Well done thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of thy Lord." The scriptures ask the question in Luke 18:8 "When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" I do not know the day or hour of his return, but if he should return during my lifetime, I hope that I might be found holding fast to the profession of faith. If instead Christ should tarry, at the point of death I want to be able to say with Paul "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith." (II Tim. 4:7)
All of this starts with how I conduct myself today, this week, and this year. Let us commit to being faithful to the things of God where ever we are at; we may never be a
C. H. Spurgeon or a John Owen, we may not be martyred by a reverse crucifixion the way Peter was or give our all in the heathen lands the way Adoniram Judson did, but we can fulfill the requirement of stewards, that we be found faithful.

Be not conformed

Rom. 12:2a And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind,
Paul's epistle to the church at Rome is an extraordinary book and one of the easiest to categorize. Rom. 1:1 - 3:20 is showing us the necessity of salvation for all men everywhere, 3:21 - 4:25 tells us that God provides righteousness to those who trust Jesus Christ as Lord, we see in chapters 5 - 8 that salvation produces a new life, 9 - 11 teaches us that God is faithful to perform all his word, and then chapters 12 - 16 call all regenerated hearts to a completely changed way of life. Paul basically summarizes these final four chapters in 12:1, 2, verse two being our focus this week.
There has been a question that has been bugging me for quite a while now and it is, why do so many, so-called christians, look so much like the rest of the world around them? If you pulled the average church goer out of their pew and examined every aspect of their life during the week, what would be the distinctive factors about their life that would show us clearly that their entire world view has been turned up-side down? With this thought in mind I have been examining my own life, do I listen to music other than that which directly glorifies the Lord and if I do, then why? What about my dress, is it always chosen with the thought of modesty, moderation and presentability in mind, so that I might be the best witness possible to the greatest number of people? Or do I choose it to draw attention to myself or for the purpose of looking "cool"? What about my choice of the video games I play and movies and TV shows I choose to spend my time watching, is there a purpose in any of them higher than pure entertainment, (which is complete selfishness and self-absorption)? Going deeper than things, I must also examine my speech, do I speak many vain and empty words just to hear myself talking? Or perhaps filled with pride I speak with the intent of being quick, sharp and witty instead of being complimentary, encouraging and teachable.
You see, it is not just about being different for differences sake, I don't stop driving a car because the rest of the world drives a car. My main purpose in life is not to be different, my highest goal is to be like Christ and if I'm acting like Christ than I most certainly will be different; because our culture is at enmity with God and therefore the things that pertain to God and godliness. I have not yet worked out all the kinks in my life, but I assure you that I am working on it and will continue to work on it for as long as I'm alive. I often wonder though, am I the only one that is so sick of all this hypocrisy, am I the only one that is tired of "playing church"? I know I am not, but if you too are tired of all the pretense than don't quit going to church because it seems as if everyone there is a hypocrite, begin reforming your own life and pray that with much love and mercy God would begin to change the hearts of those around you. We must make a choice, will we live godly and suffer persecution (II Tim. 3:12) or will we conform to the world and get society's collective pat on the back. It is one or the other, we cannot have the approval of God and society, friendship with one equals enmity with the other, conformity to one must necessarily mean a distinct difference from the other.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The only way

Acts. 4:10-12 Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand before you whole. This is the stone which was set at naught of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
This is one of the strongest portions of scripture, that speaks of the exclusivity of Christ for salvation. It is becoming not only popular but expected that we believe that everyone can find their own to heaven and be okay. That what is right for one person may not be right for another, that there are many religions that all have the same goal but different terminology. The scripture is very explicit in its denial of this fallacy and those of us that claim to believe that it is indeed the very word of God, have no other recourse but to deny such heresy as well. When one understands the simplicity of the state of man and the justice of God we realize that such exclusivity is necessary.
Here is the situation man is in, everyone born of a woman has sinned. Either we have lied or we have taken something that did not belong to us or we have lusted in our heart and mind, one way or another we have all sinned and that in multiplicity. So then, knowing that the law states that the punishment for sin can be no less than eternal death, how can God grant us entry into heaven. We cannot say "A loving God wouldn't really let a basically good person go to hell". Here is why, what if you came home this evening and found that every member of your family had been brutally murdered, you catch the murderer with blood on his hands running out the back door and drag him to the police. On the day of his trial his defense before the judge is that he is a middle aged man with no record at all with the law. He admits that he did murder your family, but except for that he as never gotten so much as a speeding ticket. Could that judge be loving and merciful and allow that man to walk free because he is basically good? Of course not, to be a good and just judge he must sentence the murderer to what ever punishment the law has dictated. So God would be unjust and unrighteous to ignore his own law and let a guilty man (no matter how "basically good" he was) walk into heaven.
Now let us look at another possible scenario, what if the judge sentenced that murderer, in accordance with the law, to stay in prison until he could pay a twenty-five million dollar settlement to you. Now someone steps up and pays the twenty-five million dollars for that man, he is now free from the sentence of the law because the debt has been payed. So when the book of Acts says that there is no other name given under heaven whereby we must be saved, except for the name of Jesus it is not that ridiculous a statement if you look at it logically. Buddha could not pay that debt for you because he had his own debt to pay, as did Muhammad and Gandhi and even Mary the mother of Jesus was a sinner.
So then we can see that not only is perfectly right that God rejects everyone from heaven on their own merit, but we can equally see that if we will apply the payment of Christ alone for our sins we can be saved from hell in the afterlife and sin in this life.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

False Pastors

Jer. 23:1, 17 Woe be to the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the Lord... They say still unto them that despise me, The Lord hath said, Ye shall have peace: and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you.
I mentioned in my last post how amazing it was that the prophet Jeremiah could write something so long ago and so far away, yet it still have such impact today. I have chosen a different portion of Jeremiah this time, but it too is extremely relevant in our culture today. God is speaking through Jeremiah to the religious leaders of Israel and rebuking them for destroying and scattering the children of God; but what I find so disturbing is the way in which they were destroying and scattering the people. God does not rebuke them for being insensitive to the feelings of the people, he did not say that he was displeased by their lack of making people feel good about themselves. God's quarrel with the false pastors is that they were telling those who were haters of God that God would give them peace, they were telling those that were ignoring God and living however they wanted to that God would never really recompense them for their evil deeds. The problem was that the pastors had abandoned truth for feel-good messages. This is a sin that is running rampant in our churches and seminaries today, so called "Bible colleges" teach the future preachers of our country to steer clear of speaking of repentance, because repentance insinuates sin and sin makes people uncomfortable. What they are missing is that the Bible says that repentance is part of the belief that is necessary for salvation. The problem is that most churches would rather have a church with three hundred souls in it that are headed for hell, than to have a church where thirty regenerated people worship. We have given up true spirituality in order to grow numerically and God says he hates it.
Our televisions are full of preachers who have built their entire "ministry" around telling people that they can have their best life now, or that God just wants you to be you, or that God is not mad at you no matter what. Their messages are the same as those in Jeremiah's day and if God does not change, why would we think that he condones now what he cursed then?
For any pastors or preachers that might be reading this I would exhort you to continue to preach the truths of the gospel, that the wages of sin is death and what a man sows that will he also reap. That without faith it is impossible to please God and if in this life only we have hope of Christ we are of all men most miserable, but thank God that we have a hope outside of this life. For the lay readers, let me encourage you not to fall prey to the false prophets that only tell you what you want to hear instead of what we all need to hear. A drowning man would probably rather hear that he is okay, but if I really care for him I will tell him of the danger he is in and provide him with a way of escape. The preachers that tell you that God just wants you to be rich, successful and comfortable, do not really care for your souls. Subject yourself to a man of God that will watch for your soul as the scriptures command him to, instead of conforming to everyone's whims in order to fill his pews. In reality the pastor that makes you feel better about yourself is probably the one that God says is scattering and destroying His church; but if you find a man that will preach on sin even when it makes you uncomfortable so that you will repent and turn back to Christ, that is the true man of God.

Glory in the Lord.

Jer. 9: 23, 24 Thus saith the Lord, let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth:
It is amazing how much the prophecies of the Old Testament still apply to us today, they were written thousands of years ago, to a culture completely different than ours, in a country on the other side of the world. They remain relevant for two reasons, one is because they were directly inspired by God and he knows just what to write that will stand the test of time, the other is because mankind stays intrinsically the same. Our time passes, cultures change, and circumstances change; but the way we think and act stays the same. It was obviously a struggle for the people of that day to stay humble, it always has been for human beings. Ever since the fall, when Adam and Eve were tempted with pride and fell, it has remained one of the greatest weaknesses of their offspring. We are so quick to take the credit for the blessings that we enjoy, the rich men brag of their riches, the strong men brag of their strength, the smart men brag of their brains, and everyone of them are simply enjoying a blessing given by God. The first angle we can take on these verses is that every good thing we enjoy on this earth is a gift from God and therefore not to be bragged about or gloried in.
The second way we could look at it, (which in my estimation is most consistent with the context) is that all of those things listed by Jeremiah aren't really all that good. Strength is a good thing, but it takes a lot of upkeep. it requires you to exercise regularly, eat properly, and do many other things regarding you sleep, diet, and activities, to keep your strength. Wisdom is good, but with it comes much more understanding of how little you really know, combined with the fact that a lot of smarts requires extra responsibility and time and focus on your specialty. Riches are helpful, but they bring with them the burden of extra management and oversight of just how you are using those riches. On top of all this, every one of those things will one day fade away! No matter how wise you are you will one day lose it either to the degeneration of your body or for sure at the time of your death. The same goes for physical prowess or strength, and we all know that money never lasts. If you somehow manage to keep it all to the day of your death, you still can't take it with you.
Contrast all of this to the gain that comes with knowing more about God and his son Jesus Christ. The more knowledge and understanding and wisdom you gain in regard to them, the better off you are. It carries no eternal downside to it, sure you may have to sacrifice some here on this earth because of it, but you probably won't remember that at all in ten thousand years. It will not fade away, you will carry your relationship with Christ and your knowledge of him to the grave with you and into eternity. The story is told of John Newton the author of "Amazing Grace", when he had gotten so old he could no longer see and was beginning to forget much about his life, he would still tell those that came to speak to him, "I know this, I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior". History tells of the apostle John, when he had gotten so old he could no longer walk and eventually he got to a point to where he could no longer even speak in sentences, he would say to all who would listen "Love, love, love". If you read his three epistles you would see why that was such a preeminent theme in his mind. For both of them it was all about Christ.
I would encourage you to not be so worried about your body or your mind or your finances as you are about Christ. Let him be your most passionate obsession and all the rest will fall into place.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Godly sorrow

II Cor. 7:9-10 Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that you sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.
Paul here is writing the church in Corinth for the second time and is referring here to the strong words that he had with them concerning a sin within the church. Though he was sorry he had had to hurt their feelings, he was glad that they had heeded his words and repented of the sin, to repent means not only to be sorry in your mind and words, but in your actions as well. The very definition of the word repent is "to feel such sorrow for sin or fault as to be disposed to change one's life for the better; be penitent." This is a contrast to the word sorrow here, it is very easy to be sorry about something but to repent is another thing altogether. How many of us have seen the occasion when one child will smack another in a fit of anger, and then as soon as the second child begins crying immediately start expressing how sorry he is? Unfortunately this is not unique to children, we have all seen the public figure get caught acting in a immoral way only to stand before a microphone to tell the world how sorry he is for doing it. It is easy to be sorry, what's hard, is to forsake that way of life and begin to act differently, the child who is truly repent will not smack another child again, the dignitary will never again commit whatever indecency he was caught in.
Lets take this to a more personal level now, how many of us have ever heard a sermon or read a book that laid bare some particular sin in our life and we have felt sorrow and remorse throughout the entire speech or reading? Yet how often do we walk out of the church or put the book down, glad to have that burden off our shoulders, and continue to live the same way? No one cares if you are sorry that you did something, in fact Paul said that sorrow without repentance led to death. We know that continuing in our sin leads to death as well,(II Pet. 2:10-12) so then the issue is not whether you are sorry or not, but whether or not you repent.
So then following this train of thought I would exhort you as well, to be careful when you hear preaching that convicts you about a particular sin in your life that you waste no time in turning from that sin. Unfortunately, it has become a rare thing in this day to hear preaching against sin, the name of the game today is preaching that only makes people feel good about themselves and is encouraging. While there is no doubt in my mind that is important to preach encouraging messages, it is also true that we are reprove and rebuke as well as exhort. We live in a part of the country where if we don't like what's being said in the pulpit we can just pick up and move to the church across the street. However, the man in that pulpit is watching for your soul if he is a true Pastor, and he does not want to see you die spiritually, but to see you brought to the repentance that leads to salvation not to be repented of. I would then encourage you to examine yourselves to see whether you have repented and turned from your sins, or have you simply been sorry only to continue in them?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Leaving our waterpots behind.

John 4:28 The woman then left her water pot, and went her way into the city, and saith unto the men, come, see a man that which told me all the things that ever I did; is not this the Christ?
These two verses come from a very familiar story in scripture concerning a Samaritan woman at a well, and her conversation with Jesus. In this story we find that Jesus not only lays her sins bare and shows here her need of a savior, but he also tells her that he is capable of giving her the living water that will cause her to never thirst again. When Jesus finally announces that he is the Christ, the woman that has already professed her belief in the Messiah, leaves her waterpot behind to go tell others of this radical transformation that has just taken over her life. There is a beautiful picture presented here in the woman leaving her waterpot behind at the well when she left to tell the city of Jesus.
The first thing I want you to see is that she was leaving behind the very thing that had sustained her up to this point. In it rested her every hope of staying alive, in the time and place that she lived, if you did not have a waterpot and someone else did not draw water for you, you would die! This woman left it behind because she now had a greater sustaining force in her life than water, even as Jesus said, "my meat is to do the will of Him that sent me". Do you want to know why we have such weak, anemic and empty christians in this country? It is because we still rely completely on the physical things for our sustenance and know nothing of the meat and drink that this woman was partaking of, which was to do the will of her Father.
Secondly, I want you to see that the waterpot that she left behind epitomized her entire old way of living and it was left behind when Christ changed her. When a person is converted there will be some changes that immediately begin to take place, the things that once brought you pleasure will turn to gravel in your stomach. Everything about her old life had become so unimportant and even despicable in her eyes that she left it behind. If you have a regenerated soul your old ways of living ought to no longer pleasurable to you, and you ought to leave them behind to take on a new life.
This waterpot was also her mission up to this point, she came to the well with one purpose in mind, to get water. When Christ saved her, all her goals and missions had changed, she left that well and all her earthly ambitions about drawing water had been forsaken. How many of us have goals, plans and missions for our life that are exactly the same as before we claim we were converted? This woman had the same goal as every other woman in that village, to get water; she became unique when she dropped that bucket. So often I am like that woman, in that my goals for my life look just like everyone else's, to get money, to get fame, to get a step up in the world. When the truly unique thing to do would be to drop those ambitions for the sake of Christ. If I have put off the old man and put on the new, if my stony heart has been replaced with one of flesh, why wouldn't my goals and plans change, why wouldn't I leave my waterpot at the well? Her plans didn't just change for the sake of changing though, she replaced them with Christ's plans and goals, to tell other of Him.
If Christ has converted you, then I would ask have you left your waterpot at the well in every sense of the phrase? Have you left behind your sustenance, your sins, your dreams and goals in your haste to obey Christ? If not I would beseech you to make this the day that your waterpot is dropped, and you trust completely in the sufficiency of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Choosing our friends wisely

I Cor. 15:33 Be not deceived evil communications corrupt good manners.
This verse of scripture is used often in our culture, but because of the way our language has evolved in the last few centuries it doesn't quite mean what it sounds like in our modern English. In order to understand this verse properly, we need to define a couple of words. The word "communications" here, is not referring directly to methods used to impart opinions to others through speech or words, as we often use it today. Instead it means the type of people we associate with, or who we make our companions. The second word that is a little confusing is the word manners, today when we say manners we are talking about customs or traditions that are considered polite in our culture. When the KJV was first translated in 1611 the word was most commonly used to speak of a way of life, which is the way Paul wrote it in the Greek. So then this verse's connotation is something along the lines of, Don't be deceived evil companions corrupt your life.
Proverbs tells us that he that walketh with wise men shall be wise; but a companion of fools will be destroyed, Paul is reiterating this passage. We live in a culture in which we are forced to deal with people every day from every sort of background, and I think that is a good thing. As Christians we are not called to come out of the world, but that we would walk differently in the world, and one of the key components of our life is who we choose to hang around with. I know many people who claim to be Christians and yet spend the majority of their free time around "The wrong crowd". I don't know about you but I have heard so many testimonies of someone that was "a good person" but got involved with the wrong crowd. Paul warns the Christians in I Corinthians that if they played with fire they were going to be burned, and even prefaces it with "be not deceived". I think one of the main reasons he said that is because it is so common for us to either trick ourselves or be tricked into thinking that we can hang out with people who are constantly in trouble and yet somehow avoid the trouble ourselves. The truth is whether it's simply guilt by association, or actually becoming tangled up in the trouble (which is more common), you will become part of that "wrong crowd". People don't get in the wrong crowd, they become the wrong crowd.
Let me encourage you to be very careful who you decide to hang out with, if they are the ones that are always pushing the legal limits or always hanging out at the clubs or simply always wasting their time, don't become part of that group. Look for friends that will encourage you to righteousness and wisdom; because if your friends are wise you will be too, but if your friends are fools not only will you become a fool, they will only lead you to destruction.

justification and sanctification

Titus 2:13-15 Looking for that blessed hope and, and glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.
In this passage of scripture, Paul is writing to a fellow minister in the faith, counseling him on how the church is to be run, and reminding and teaching him some fundamental doctrines. We must keep in mind that at this point, the church as we know it was in it's infancy and Satan was doing all in his power to corrupt the truth before it got spread too far. Paul starts out these verses telling Titus to be looking forward to that day when Jesus Christ, our great God and Savior, will appear. I'm thankful that he also took this opportunity to remind Titus of just why Jesus came to die the first time.
The first reason Paul gives is that Jesus came to redeem us from (that is pay for) our iniquities. We know that the scriptures plainly teach that sin pays out wages and those wages are death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. God cannot simply ignore our sins though, the only reason God can offer that free gift is because our debt has already been paid by a sinless one, Jesus Christ. We call this "Justification", basically it means that God as a judge looks at our record and sees that although we once owed a debt, it has been paid, and we are therefore free to enter heaven. Although we continue to sin on occasion as long as we are in this world, all of it has already been paid for if you have received salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
Paul then gives Titus a second reason that Jesus came to die and that is to purify us and make us zealous to good works. This is called "Progressive Sanctification" and it is the doctrine that over a period of a lifetime God's children live holier and holier lives through the strength of the Holy Spirit. The reason Paul mentions this as a reason Christ died, is because before we are redeemed, we can do nothing but sin, we have no choice. When Christ saves us we now have freedom; not to live however we want to, but to choose the right. As we grow in grace and God teaches us through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the scriptures, we begin to make the right choices with greater frequency. Satan hates this doctrine and has tried ever since Paul's time to eradicate it, but in God's word we have preserved for eternity that Christ came to die to purify us and make us zealous of good works. The one who denies this is saying the same thing that those who teach works salvation are saying, that Christ's blood can't really do all the scriptures say it can do. One crowd says it is not powerful enough in itself to justify you, the other says it is not strong enough in itself to sanctify you. Paul says it is strong enough to do both, and inevitably does both. You did not choose to be justified and you cannot choose whether you want to be sanctified or not, that's God's business!
Lastly in these verses, Paul tells Titus to speak these things with authority, and to let no man discourage him through despite. We cannot stop people from despising the truth, but we can go on, holding fast to the doctrines of Christ, speaking the truth in love. If you stand on God's word than you can be sure you are on the side of the truth, because God will be true and every man (that disagrees with Him) a liar. You may suffer for speaking the truth, but fight the good fight, keep the faith, that you may finish your course with joy. If you are one that has been redeemed, let me encourage you to be pure and zealous of good works, as a faithful servant of Christ.

Thou shalt not covet

Exo 20:17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.
Out of all the ten commandments, this last one is probably the least thought of and most shrugged off. While we commonly agree that it is a heinous sin against God and man to commit idolatry, adultery, theft, murder and most of the other ten commandments, the idea of covetousness is not thought of as one of the "worst" sins a man could commit. On the contrary, we live in a culture that heavily promotes the idea of covetousness, one that floods all our senses with the idea that we don't have as much as we deserve. TV, billboards, radio, magazines and everywhere else an advertisement is found, a sense of ingratitude is being cultured, nine times out of ten. I don't mean to say all advertisements are bad, but I do mean to say that the way they are presented often are. This problem persists outside of advertising though, in the business world you are often told things like, "it's do-eat-dog world out there", "look out for number one first" and "trample on whoever necessary to get to the top", such sayings promote the idea that material possessions are more important that people.
While this is the only commandment that deals only with your thought life and not directly with an outward action, does not cheapen it's importance in God's eyes. Take a look at Eph. 5:5 "For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God". This passage is very clear that those who are living in a constant, unrepentant state of covetousness are showing out what's inside, or rather the lack of it, the spirit of God obviously is not dwelling in them and they have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ or of God. Notice he doesn't say they have a lesser or smaller inheritance, but that they have no inheritance. Covetousness does not make you lose your salvation, but is you are living with it and refusing to repent, you are proving that you never were saved to begin with. If God were to deal with you as a child he would help you defeat that spirit of covetousness (which the bible says is idolatry) whatever correction it took. If he is leaving you in slavery to your sin, than he is dealing with you as a bastard and not as a son. (Heb. 12:8)
Obviously than this sin of covetousness is a very abominable one before God, it is one that is easy to fall into in our culture, yet it must be avoided at all costs. Our souls are at stake here, steer clear of placing things as more important than God or even other people. A man's life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses. (Luke 12:15)

The necessaries of life

Job 23:12 Neither have I gone back at the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food.
Job is in the middle of some of the greatest trials ever endured by a mortal, he has lost his vast fortune, he has lost his position of authority, he has lost all of his children, he has lost the support of his wife, and he is in the middle of enduring rebuke and false accusations from his friends. To top it all off this had all come in the space of about two weeks from the best we can tell. Now Job opens his mouth and defends himself, telling his friends that he has not gone back on God's commands, in fact he said that he had made God's word the highest priority in his life. Chapter one tells us of his faithfulness in praying and offering sacrifice for his children on a continual basis.
We should learn a lesson from the example that he left for us in how important the word of God should be for us. In a day and age when we are so busy running to work, running to school, running errands, going to our social activities, we have laid aside the truly important things of life. How often do you get so busy that you let an entire twenty-four hours go by without eating? On the contrary when was the last time you let a day go by without reading a passage from the word of God? I know how easy it is to allow a day to slip away without going to God's word to either start it off or finish it out, but simply because it is common place or easy to do is not an excuse. It is not just the place of the preacher to be studying, it is the place of every christian. How many of us could honestly say that we have not gone back from the commandments of God? I know I'm still a work in progress. How many of us could say we miss meals more often than we miss our time alone with God? If you can, I commend you and encourage you to stay the course, but all too often we allow ourselves to be convinced that there are more important things than our walk with God.
Deut. 8:3 tells us " that He might make thee to know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live." (Jesus quotes this passage in Matt. 4:4) Yet there is little to no practical application or even recognition of this among those of us that call ourselves christians. Bible reading and prayer time is one of the luxuries we allow ourselves if we have time, instead of being the most important thing in our life that causes us to change our schedule to accommodate. I would challenge you to take God's words and commandments more seriously, to make a habit of making sure you have fed your soul before you ever feed your body. We find a way to squeeze food into our busy schedules, if it were really important we could find a way to read the bible. Prioritize your life, if you honestly cannot read you bible daily because of you schedule then quit something. I am not over-simplifying, I am not preaching anything I don't practice, there have been many occasions where I have quit a job or social club membership because it was cutting into my time with God. It is not an impossibility, it just takes some determination and dedication. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

For all have sinned

Rom. 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
This verse is a very well known verse in scripture, it is one of the most commonly used verse in evangelism, used to show people that they are indeed sinners. While this is very important, since there is no need of salvation if you have not sinned, we often fall short in explaining just what sin is. We live in a culture that thinks nothing of sin, a culture that uses sin in advertisements, entertainment, and even every day life. You can no longer walk into the grocery store, much less turn on the television without being assaulted by the sight, sound, and feeling of sin. Immodesty, sexual innuendo, blasphemy and pride, are just a few of the sins that are so blatantly portrayed all around us all the time. We live in a culture that is no longer shamed by sin, my generation as a rule has forgotten how to blush.
So when we say that all have sinned, people do not feel horrified by the thought that they have offended a holy God, but instead they feel vindicated that they are not the only ones that are sinning, in fact every one is. To say that you have sinned basically means that you have broken a law, and on the outset that doesn't sound to bad, until you understand that it is God's law that you have broken. Even then this doesn't phase many people because they don't understand who God is, but when you understand how infinite God's goodness and mercy and love and holiness is, it brings the idea of sin to a whole other level. If we sin against a king, our punishment needs to be relative to how worthy the king was and consequently how offensive our crime was. When we sin against a God that is infinitely worthy, that means that we are guilty of an infinite crime and therefore worthy of infinite punishment.
Secondly, the verse says that we have all come short of God's glory. Once again the common response is "Well of course I have I'm just a man and he is God". What needs to be explained is that in order to get into heaven we are required to meet God's standard of glory. So then we have two options, either we must become a god and live a perfect life or else we must get in on the repute of another who is worthy. This is why Jesus Christ had to live and die as he did, had he lived a sinless life and then simply ascended into heaven we couldn't get in because no payment would have been give for our sin. Had he lived anyway short of Godly perfection his death would have meant nothing. So this verse provides the necessary preamble to any evangelistic message, but it means nothing unless the people see sin as heinous as it is, and the dire consequences for coming short of God's glory.
Any sin is nothing short of spitting in God's face, there is no excuse in the fact that everyone does it, coming short of his glory is a automatic exemption from heaven. As the hymn says " Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace." If you turn to Jesus for salvation he cannot not only pay your sin debt, but he can restore you positionally to God's glory.

Eternal security

Rom. 8: 38, 39 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In last week's column, I wrote about the importance of examining ourselves to make sure that we are indeed new creatures, saved and changed by the spirit of God. Because I am afraid that there are many out there that have a wrong idea about what salvation is, and are going about with a false security. As much as Satan would love to tell a lost man he is saved, the flip side to that coin, is that he also tries to convince saved men they are lost. While this does not do quite so much damage as the former, it is a very real and very dangerous threat to Christianity. If the devil can convince a lost man he is saved until he dies, that man will forever be in eternal torment; but if he can convince a saved man he is lost, it will have no consequence on the soul, but it will make that saved man a much less effective servant for the kingdom of God.
With that in mind let us take a look at our two text verses, Paul lists every physical and spiritual resource you can imagine and diffuses any possibility, of any of them having the power to "unsave" a man. There are many denominations and religions that will tell you that there are ways to lose your salvation, ranging from something as small as missing a church service, to as great as committing suicide. There are also debates as to how you can become saved once again, or even if it is possible to be saved again once you have lost it. It is the doctrine of salvation by grace alone that sets true Christianity apart from every other religion in the world. Every religion outside of true Christianity teaches that you have to either do something to gain your salvation or do something to keep it, both are heresies. Paul says that there is nothing that can separate those who have been saved from God's love, no deed of their own, no power of hell, no act of another, is more powerful than God. When anyone claims that salvation can be lost, they are in essence claiming that there is something stronger than God. I can tell you this, if God can't keep me saved there is no hope for me; because if God isn't strong enough to secure my salvation, I'm certainly not stronger than God. If the perfect blood of Jesus Christ is not enough to pay my sin debt, what can I give that is worth more?
Do not give place to the devil, when he comes at you with accusations of your sinfulness and tries to convince you that you are not good enough to deserve salvation. You can rest assured in the fact that he is right you are not good enough to deserve salvation, that is what makes grace, grace, that is what is meant when the scriptures say that salvation is a gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast. Yes, we're saved unto good works, but not because of good works, we are saved because of God's love for us, and that is something that can never be changed.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A new creature

II Cor. 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
Isn't it amazing how almost every word we use for being saved carries with it the connotation of change. We say they have been converted, when you convert something (i.e. electricity) it goes in one end and comes out the other side something completely different. We say they have been regenerated, according to that means "to re-create, reconstitute, or make over, esp. in a better form or condition". We say they have been born again, once again implying that they are no longer the person they were under their first birth. All these terms are theologically accurate because there is indeed a change wrought in those that have believed, doesn't it sound almost ludicrous to suggest that God runs the universe and is sovereign in all matters including salvation, yet is incompetent to cleanse? Paul says that if any man is in Christ he is a new creature, old things are passed, all things have become new. Note the lack of variables, it is not that all things should be new, or he ought to act like a new creature, or we hope the old things have passed away, it is definitive.
That would then beg the question, what if someone has gone through the motions that the preacher told them to go through, they said the prayer, they knelt at the alter, they asked Jesus to come into their heart, and yet there is nothing new about them, what about them? That is a very relevant question, because there are so many people (especially here in the buckle of the bible belt) that could apply that very question to themselves. The preacher told them that if they would just understand "the five truths God wants you to know" or some other neatly packaged ticket to heaven they would be saved. Yet for all that they have never felt remorse for sin, they do not enjoy being around other Christians, they would much rather read the daily news then the Bible. There has been no evidence of a changed heart over the past fifteen years or so, since they did what the preacher said to do to get out of hell and into heaven. Whenever they approach someone about it though, they are told that's just the Devil trying to make you doubt, don't worry about it, while that may be true, it may also be true that they are not truly converted and it is the Holy Spirit convicting them and drawing them to salvation. You, my dear reader, may even be one of these very people that find no sense in this verse because nothing has become new to you. I cannot tell you with absolute certainty whether you are lost or saved, because God has not given me the authority or knowledge to say such things. What I do know is that the scriptures say if you are in Christ, you are a new creature, and if your thoughts and actions have remained exactly the same as they always were, the only logical conclusion I can see is that you are not in Christ. Not that you lost your salvation, for we know once a soul is put in Jesus' hand it can never be removed, but that perhaps He was never in you to start with. Like I said I cannot see your soul, but I can see the outside which is a reflection of what's on the inside.
May God bless you as you search yourself and the scriptures, that you may either be assured of your salvation or be converted, not by following some prepackaged "Romans Road" or any other work, but by the moving of God and the drawing of his Holy Spirit.

Belief in Christ

Acts 2:36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.
Last week's column was on the critical issue of belief, however belief in and of itself means nothing unless you understand what it is that we are believing in. You can believe in George Washington, you can believe in a light switch to bring you light, we can even believe in our belief, but none of those things will save us. What is really critical is what we are believing in, if you have true belief, but it is in works to save you, then your belief means nothing, our belief must be in the Lord Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, very few people who think they know who Jesus is, actually know the Jesus of the scriptures, they want to take Jesus on their own terms instead of going to the Bible to find out who it says He is. It is my desire to show you the Jesus of the Bible, (if such a thing is possible in such few words as I have at my disposal here.)
The first thing we need to address is just which Jesus we are talking about, Jesus was and still is a very common name among Jews. In Hebrew it is the same name as Joshua, and it is not enough for us to believe in just any of the many Jesus' of today or history. Peter specifies it when he says "that same Jesus", the Jesus that Peter is talking about is the one that was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died as an innocent man, and raised himself the third day. If you disagree with any of those facts, you are not believing in "that same Jesus" that I am believing in, and that Peter was preaching, if you deny any of that about Jesus you are putting your trust in a Jesus that is never mentioned in scripture.
The second thing that Peter preached about this Jesus is that He was the Christ. It is not enough for you to believe in Jesus the good man, or in Jesus the prophet, or Jesus the miracle worker. Believing in the Jesus of the Bible means that you believe He was the Christ, the Messiah, the chosen one of God, and in fact God Himself. The scriptures use the phrase "Jesus Christ" standing alone, without any other words describing Him, 93 times. How can anyone claim to believe in the Jesus of the Bible and yet deny the fact that He was the Christ? You can't, saving belief includes believing that He was and is the Christ.
The third and final description that Peter said was so intrinsically intertwined into who Jesus is that there is no salvation outside of it, is that this same Jesus is also Lord. This is a doctrine that is bucked by many and yet there can be no more escaping this fact then the truth that he is Christ, because the name Jesus is proceeded by the title "Lord" 115 times in the New Testament. To say that you believe in Jesus and yet refuse to submit to his authority as Lord, you would have to tear 115 verses out of the Bible. To believe in the Jesus of the Bible it is expedient that you believe that He is Lord, and if He is Lord then we need to be obeying His commandments, and that is where so many people get hung up. They want to believe that they have been saved from hell, but when the rubber meets the road they don't want it bad enough to except it on God's terms, they want to get it on their own terms. They want to be saved from hell but not from their sins, until God has brought you to a point where you are willing to believe on the Jesus of the Bible, the Jesus of Peter, Paul, and Silas, then there can be no salvation.
Belief is the critical doctrine of Christendom, but it is all a bunch of rot if you are not believing in the right person, I would challenge you to examine your own life and see just who you have believed in. Was it the Lord Jesus Christ? Have you ever believed at all? Believe in the Jesus of the scriptures and be saved.

True belief

John 3:36 He that believeth on the son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the son shall not see life: but the wrath of God abideth on him.
The doctrine of belief in Jesus is the single most important issue in all of Christendom. According to the gospel of John (as well as the rest of the scriptures) it is the only way that salvation can come, without belief the wrath of God abides on every person. If this is all so, than it is expedient for us to understand what it is to truly believe. Even in the New Testament, error was not only sneaking into the church but some of it was storming in. In order to lay down a clear and concise statement of what Christians should believe and how they should interpret difficult portions of scripture, christian leaders would gather together in councils and write a creed articulating a doctrine. One such doctrine that was being disputed was this issue of belief, what did it mean to believe in the Son? Is there a difference between believing in many secular things and believing in Christ? This is what was decided hundreds of years ago by these giants of the faith, and has been held by orthodox Christianity ever since.
The first kind of belief was given the Latin term notitia, notitia is the word that we derive our verb "to note" from. This type of belief means simply to understand what is being said, I say to you that a chair will hold you up, and you understand what a chair is, you understand what it means to sit, and you understand what it means to hold up. You notitia what I'm saying, you understand it. However, notitia is not saving belief, there are many atheists that notitia the gospel, they understand what is being said, but that does not save them.
The second kind of belief is another Latin word, assensus. You can probably tell that this is where we get our word "assent" from, it means that you agree that what I'm saying is true. To assensus the gospel means that you leave the realm of pure intellectualism and take a small step of faith. Not only do you understand what I mean when I say the chair will hold you up, but you actually agree that the chair has the ability to hold you up. Unfortunately, there are many filling the pews of our churches who assensus the gospel, but it means no more to them than the fact that Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo. Assensus by itself is not saving belief either, I know a man that agrees with everything I say about the gospel, but will have nothing to do with it personally. By his own admission he is heading to hell, yet he refuses to believe in the gospel.
The last part of saving belief is known as fiducia, the English word fidelity springs from this term. This is the belief that is spoken of in John 3:36, while it is not possible to have it without the first two, it is the essential, final piece to saving belief. To fiducia the gospel it becomes personal, you actually sit in the chair that you have already said you believed would hold you up. A person that has this kind of belief in the gospel is eternally secure in Christ, there is no if, ands, or buts, for a person that fiducias the gospel. If you are trusting in anything else outside of Christ for your conversion, (i.e. baptism, church membership, good works, Communion) you do not fiducia the gospel. While all of those things are critical components for someone who is already saved, they have no bearing on your whether God saves you or not. I pray that your belief goes beyond that of notitia and assensus and that you have put complete fiducia in the Son, so that you may escape the wrath of God and have everlasting life.

The Lord is my shepherd

Psa. 23:1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
Probably one of the best known verses in scripture, this first verse of the twenty-third psalm has many truths in it that we do injustice to when we simply skim over the verse and don't take much time to meditate on it. First off we see who it is that is doing the shepherding, it is the Lord. What we need to remember is that "the Lord" is not God's name it is his title, when we say that the Lord is our shepherd we are in essence saying that we admit that God is the Lord of our life. It is not simply God as our Father, or Savior, although both of those are true descriptions of him, it is God as our King, Captain, and Lord. Secondly, David admits that God is his shepherd. While this statement probably causes us to conjure up images of a very feminine and European looking Jesus, carefully watching over some sheep in a green pastures; anyone that has ever had sheep or goats knows that those animals are rarely content to stay in that green pasture. It would almost seem as if they were bent on their own destruction, they are forever wandering close to cliffs and precipices and places that can mean nothing but danger. The shepherd has to lead them away from those places time and time again, always patient and loving. I am so much like those sheep so often, I wander into a place in my life that will lead me into nothing but trouble, and God in all his mercy and long suffering leads me back to the paths of safety. I think of the hymn "Come thou fount", I can always relate to the last verse where it says "Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love". The christian life isn't always those peaceful green pastures, many times we ignore the shepherd's call and then expect him to bail us out when we fall over that cliff. Every time he leaves the ninety-nine to find the one that has gone astray. Admitting that the Lord is our shepherd means acknowledging that there will be times when we don't want to go where he wants to lead us, it is those times that we must remind ourselves that we are but sheep, and we can do nothing but listen to the shepherd's voice and follow where he leads. Because many time he will lead us through rocky canyons in order to bring us to the greenest pastures.
Lastly note that the psalmist says he will never want, that word want does not mean he will never desire anything, it means he will never be without the things he really needs. The New Testament tells us that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. The grass often looks greener on the other side of the fence, but the good shepherd always knows which grass is best for us. Sometimes what we think we need God knows we don't, and once again we have to learn to give in to the shepherd's will and rest in the fact that he will always give us what we need, which is often the opposite of what we want. The Lord is our shepherd, and we will never lack, but don't think that means he'll give you everything you want, when you want it. Imagine if sheep were simply given everything they ever wanted, it would ultimately lead to their demise. So we too, would destroy ourselves if left to our own devices.
Trust in the good shepherd, even when the hardest thing to do is trust, especially when the hardest thing to do is trust, and you will never lack.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

keep thy heart

Prov. 4:23 Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.
It's amazing how many people think that Jesus came to do away with that "old, broken law of the Old Testament", in order to implement a "new and better formula, called the New Testament". When Jesus himself said that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. In Matthew 15:17-20 Jesus said something that went against everything the Jews had learned through tradition over the last several hundred years, this is what he said, "whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught[.] But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man."
Jesus here is not denying the fact that one of the ceremonial laws was to wash your hands before you ate, but the pharisees had turned it into something spiritual, something that was necessary for their salvation. What the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders were missing, was that the ceremonial law was always either a picture and type fulfilled in Christ, or something that was given to the Jews for their own benefit. The law about washing your hands never had anything to do with salvation or holy living, it was given as a sanitary issue that we still follow today. (Just look at the signs in any public restroom, "all employees must wash hands before returning to work.") Unfortunately, the Jews had taken the hand washing rule too seriously (By making it a spiritual law) and had completely ignored Prov. 4:23. Jesus wasn't giving them some new law, he was clarifying the old one that they had twisted up.
I don't know that on the day of judgment we'll give an account for how often we did or didn't wash our hands, but I think we will give an account for how clean we kept our heart. We live in a world much like the one that Jesus was dealing with, if you are caught returning to work without washing your hands you can lose your job. If your boss found out you were living an immoral life style and tried to fire you, he would probably get sued for discrimination. Now don't get me wrong, if you're going to be handling my food (or anything else for that matter) I hope you wash your hands before you leave the restroom; but I am even more concerned that your heart be clean. We provide our children with condoms and by doing so we shout to them the message that we care much more for their physical life than their spiritual one. When the government hands out sterile needles so that drug addicts can continue abusing themselves "safely", we tell them that so long as they live a few years longer, we care nothing if they burn for eternity in hell.
Oh, beloved in the Lord, stop bowing to the to the pressure of our sinful culture, stop "running to the same excess of riot" that they do. Gird up the loins of your prophet's mantle and love our country enough to tell them what they need to hear about eternity, instead of what they want to hear about today. When we stress the physical and neglect the spiritual, we are acting just like the Pharisees and proving that the truth is not in us.

Warriors for Christ

II Tim. 2:4 No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.
In the context of this passage Paul is writing to a young pastor named Timothy, and encouraging him to be a faithful soldier in the army of Christ, not a physical army but a spiritual one where instead of killing your enemies you love and care for them. Paul is encouraging him to learn all he can of the scriptures and then to turn around and teach other men what it is he has learned. Paul says that in order to be a good soldier Timothy cannot become to involved in all the things of the world around him, Paul draws a parallel with something that Timothy could relate to, the Roman soldiers that were garrisoned in every town in the then-known world. Everyone knew that a good soldier had to make his profession his life, you couldn't be involved in every social program and entertainment center and still be the complete soldier you needed to be. Much like our modern athletes that play more than one sport, a problem arises when both start competing for your time and specific concentration. As a Christian, Paul emphasized the importance of keeping first things first and making sure you kept yourself free from the affections of worldly lusts which so easily ensnare us.
There is a glaring absence in today's "Christianity" of this kind of dedication to the things of God. A recent poll conducted by the Times Daily showed that almost half of the respondents didn't even attend a religious service on Easter Sunday. Many of these people probably call themselves Christians, but they cannot even obey the simple admonition to not forsake the assembling together of the believers. We go to church... unless there is a really good book we stayed up late reading, or a ball game we want to watch, or a school program our kids "have" to be involved in, or any other affection of the world that we have tied ourselves to. We read our bibles... unless we have too much work to do, or we're too tired, or we don't feel like it. Have the facts changed? Can a man be a warrior and yet entangle himself in the things of the world? The sad fact is that the facts are the same, which leads us to the conclusion that we aren't really soldiers at all. We have given up fighting in order to please our flesh, which in turn proves that we don't really care about pleasing God who has called us to be a soldier. If we don't care about pleasing God, why do we call ourselves Christians? Those sound like some pretty stark words, but what other conclusion can we come to if the bible says that you keep yourself from the things of the world to please God?
On the flip side of the coin, we cannot take ourselves out of the world and we must needs have have communications with ungodly people and organizations on a regular basis. The key word is "entangleth", it becomes a sin when we allow those things (and they may not even be ungodly in and of themselves) to get in the way of doing all those things that a child of God is called to do. Would you join with me in resolving to cut loose of the secular things that are keeping us from doing those things that are expected of a Christian? Would you decide that you are not going to let anything new tie you down and stifle your ability to serve God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind? Be a warrior for God, and make sure that whatever your occupation, it is just another tool to show forth the love and mercy of Christ on depraved, helpless sinners like us

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Keep the faith

II Tim. 4:7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
Paul is writing from a prison cell, probably awaiting execution. He is writing to a young preacher named Timothy and exhorting him to preach the truth without thought of repercussions or personal loss as a result. Paul uses his own experience to encourage him in that endeavor, without boasting he tells Timothy that he has fought many battles, endured many hardships, and through it all he has persevered to the end.
As I read this passage I was encouraged myself to overcome temptations my looking at the big picture. It's easy to fall to temptation when you only think of the immediate results, but when you consider what it could cost you down the road, it makes it much easier to overcome. Paul was not perfect, he said himself that he often did those things that he hated, and that he considered himself the chief of sinners. The difference with Paul was that every time he fell he got right back up, every time he realized he had sinned, he immediately repented and started doing right once again, he never allowed his failures and shortcomings to discourage him to such a point that he stopped working for Christ. I have heard many people say that they used to be an active servant for Christ but over time they just burned out, others have told me that while I'm young I'll be energetic and optimistic but when I get older it will be inevitable that pessimism and weariness will force me to stop working so hard. While I'm sure that with age I will gain experience and my body will endure some wear and tear, that does not mean that I will not be able to work with equal vigor for Christ. The reason I can say that with such confidence is because there are abundant examples in the bible. Paul here looks back on his life and has no regrets about his work ethics, in the old testament Caleb continued to drive the pagans out of the promised land into his eighties.
Another thing I gleaned from this statement was how your priorities change when you're looking death in the face. Paul says nothing about his social accomplishments, he makes no mention of how much fun life had been, nor did he note his education, the only thing he told Timothy that gave him comfort was that he had done his best for God. How many people have you heard of lying on their deathbed and wishing they had spent more time at work, or more time out on the town? You don't, you always hear people say they wish they had spent more time with their families, or more time serving their community, or more time serving God. The reason for that is that all men know in their heart of hearts that they are about to meet their maker, and all the things that are done for self will count for nothing. When we stand before God, the things that will count for something are the things that we did in obedience to scripture.
Let's take this advice from Paul and use our time in the pursuits that will really count for something, both to us when we look back on our lives, as well as to God when we meet him after death. For it is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment.

All for the glory of God

Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. I Cor. 10:31
The first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism for Younger Children is "What is the chief end of man?" The answer being "Mans chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." As the custom of catechizing our children has become rarer, we have begun to lose this prime truth that ought to be the governing force in our lives. If I were to ask most professing christians today why they ate and drank, I can say with fair confidence that the majority of them would say it was in order to stay alive or healthy. I doubt as to whether there would be even one that told me their motive for eating and drinking was to bring glory to God. If I were to put this question in different words and ask how much we do each day for the express purpose of bringing God glory, I don't think the answer would be much different. The sad truth is that we do relatively little, if anything, on a regular basis with the prayer that God would use that action to glorify himself. If we begin to grasp what exactly it is that Paul is teaching here it would change the way we live our lives, it would change the way we think, our entire worldview would have to be completely reassessed.
Now to be sure, God is bringing glory to himself every day, in every way. God is conducting the entire world in the way he wants it to go, and therefore glorifying himself whether we acknowledge it or not. If we are not actively seeking to glorify God it does not rob him of glory, but it does rob of us of a blessing. When we are living our lives with the subconscious belief that the chief end of man is to pleasure himself, we are living in disobedience to scripture, we are living a life that makes our self god, by inserting ourselves where God was meant to be, that is the center of our lives. While we don't think of ourselves this way most of the time, it is in fact how most of us live out our lives. We eat to keep us alive, we work to pay our bills, we spend our free time doing what makes us feel good, we sleep so that we feel better. When we ought to be eating so that we may serve God better, pay our bills because that is what God expects, spend our free time doing what God has asked of us, and sleeping so that we are refreshed to do God's work.
For the vast majority of christians and the world alike, we spend our lives thinking, or at least acting like, we are the center of the world. With such sayings as, "You only go around once", and "It's a dog eat dog world", and "You have to look out for number one first", the truth of what is in our hearts begins to spill out. It's true you do look out for number one first, the problem is we have put the prime number on the wrong individual, we are not number one, God is number one.
I would encourage you with each passing day, to take this truth to heart in a way that changes the way you act. I have resolved to live my life in such a way as to make sure that the reason I do what I do is that it is something that glorifies God. That applies both to the "grand tasks" such as what I preach, down to the "menial ones" such as what and when, I eat and drink. Don't waste your life thinking you are the chief end of your life, do something that will transcend this life, make glorifying God your chief end.

Desire the word

I Pet. 2:2 As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:
Peter is writing to christians scattered throughout Asia Minor and encouraging them in their faith. There were those among them who were dealing with severe persecution from both the Roman government as well as the Jewish authorities, and they were beginning to question whether or not their faithfulness was worth all the trouble. Paul encourages them in this passage to desire the word of God as their life sustaining force. He tells them to desire it the same way that that a baby desires it's mother's milk.
One of my goats recently had twins, it is amazing to see the fervor and frequency with which they nurse, it is a driving force inside them telling them that if they want to live long, they have to go to their mother's milk. It ought to be the same for us as christians, if we want to grow and thrive as children of God, we have got to read God's word with both fervor and frequency. It is not a chore or obligation to read our bibles on a daily basis, instead it ought to be both instinctive and a pleasure. If the word of God ought to be as important to us as nourishment is to a growing baby, then why are we so negligent about reading our bibles? Why are we so reluctant to put ourselves under the preaching of the word of God? Why do we look for entertainment as opposed to strong doctrinal content in our pulpits?
Peter said one of the best ways to counter trials and persecution is to develop a deep desire to read God's word, the only way to develop a desire for something is to fall in love with it, and the only way to fall in love with something is to spend time with it. We have a hard time keeping our daily bible reading schedule, because we don't discipline ourselves to read it. I have found in my own life that when I make sure I'm reading my bible, I have more of a desire to read my bible, and when I let myself become slack I lose interest and desire.
Notice also Peter calls it a sincere word. The scriptures are not simply a guideline for life, they are not good suggestions for how you ought to live, nor are they trivial historic factoids. The bible is a sincere word, one that needs to be taken seriously, a word of truth that is a command to righteous living. Peter had no qualms about it's authenticity and the trendy attraction that has taken over much of the world questioning the Bible's canonicity, had no place in Peter's way of thinking and speaking to others concerning the importance of the holy writ. Such vain babbling ought not persuade us, instead we are to be steadfast in our belief, trusting in the sincere word that has the power to shine the light of the glorious gospel on our hearts.
I would encourage you to follow Peter's command to both desire and revere the word of God, that it would be a staple for your daily life, and a blessing instead of a burden.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The throne of grace

Heb. 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
We live in a culture, in which the reality of God has been watered down, to some it is nothing more than an exclamation of surprise, others honestly believe in God but his holiness and purity have been belittled by the televangelists with their catch phrases, like, "Just say 'Jesus, I take you!' and he's yours". The Jews lived in the polar opposite of this culture, under the Old Testament law there was only one group of people that could offer sacrifices for the sins of the people. Of this group of people there was only one man that could come before the mercy seat, (the mercy seat being the throne of God in the holy of holies, where a single sacrifice was placed once a year to atone for all the sins of the Israelites that year). When this high priest would go into the holy of holies to offer this sacrifice, he would go in with bells tied to the bottom of his robe and a rope tied around his ankle, because the people knew that if he went before the throne of God in the wrong way, God would strike him dead. Therefore, if the bells stopped jingling for a certain period of time, the people outside would know to pull his dead body out of the holy of holies, for they could not go in to retrieve him.
The writer of Hebrews then, is telling the recipients of his letter (who were Jews), that since Jesus had been crucified for all God's children, the veil separating the holy of holies from the rest of the temple had been miraculously torn in two pieces. This signifying that anyone could now come to the mercy seat to find grace, and come boldly not fearing the wrath of God on their unrighteousness. The difference is, that before the death of Christ the high priest would go before God, hoping that he had done everything necessary to appease the wrath of God. Now we come before God with the full understanding that we can do nothing good enough to appease God's wrath, but instead fully trusting that Jesus' death and resurrection did fully satisfy him. The high priest went before God the same way that those that trust their good works to save them do, without any assurance that they had done everything necessary to appease God. The writer of Hebrews wants to make sure that we understand this old covenant is no longer in place, but instead we can come boldly before the throne of grace, trusting in nothing but the finished work on Calvary to save us from our sins.
All of this does not negate the fact that we still must honor God's holiness, and fear his justice, boldly does not equal impishly or arrogantly. Instead it implies the same healthy relationship between a father and son, we still honor, respect, and in God's case worship him, but we do it with complete trust that he is looking out for our best interests, and no matter what offenses we have committed against him, he will always be our father. We can disappoint, offend, or displease him, and it ought to break our heart when we do, but that does not bar us from boldly and humbly approaching the mercy seat and asking for forgiveness for the sake of Christ.

Wise fools

Rom. 1:21, 22 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.
Paul uses the first few chapters of Romans to prove that all men know of God, through a universal knowledge written in our hearts by God. This is seen to be true, all the world over, any civilization you find will always have a basic knowledge of a god, an alter, and a mediator between basic men and that god. Paul then builds on that principle, and teaches that all men left to their own devices will reject the true God. Which brings us to our text verses, where Paul says that even though man knows God, they refuse to acknowledge his omnipotence and instead try to come up with any other explanation for this law written on their hearts.
We deal with this in so many different ways in our modern world, we see people chalking their existence up to evolution, or the blessings they enjoy as coincidence. Pride has caused our heads to swell, and now wisdom (or education) is the name of the game, and yet the theories the world comes up with to explain away God sound so juvenile (or as Paul says foolish). The one we deal with with the most regularity, is the theory of evolution. The entire theory was thought up on the presupposition that there is no God, and it has spread so quickly because of the dogma that has been so aggressively pushed saying that you can not be scientific and believe in God. In recent years this has extended to the point that scientific establishments have begun firing their scientists based solely on whether or not they believe in creation. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. Their logic doesn't seem make much sense to me, no one in their right mind would find a clock on the side of the road and conclude that a garbage truck had driven by and it just so happened that all the right pieces had fallen off, and fallen together, to make the clock. Even if a garbage truck drove by once a day for millions of years the chances of the right pieces, falling in the right place, to form a clock are non-existant. Why then, do we look at something much more sophisticated, with billions of cells, doing everything in perfect sync, and believe it was an accident of nature? Especially since hundreds of scientist have tried to make a living organism out of non-living substances, using all the ideal situations and places, and have failed. But we will believe that it all happened by chance? Who is wise, and who is the fool here?
Now, we have to conclude that micro-evolution happens around us all the time, that is that there are some animals that adapt to their environment as it changes. However this is just further proof for an amazing creator. Never before has a species morphed into a completely new species, and those that claim to believe that they do regardless of proof or evidence, are fools claiming to be wise.

Gain to me, loss for Christ.

Philippians 3:7, 8 But what things were gain to me, Those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.
Paul in his letter to those in Philippi, tells them in a very forthright way that all the things that exalted himself, all the things that made him look better or that were a gain to him in any way, he accounted as a loss on Christ's account. Furthermore, that all the things that glorified himself that he had given up, were in his estimation dung, and not something to regret giving up but instead things that he was glad to be rid of. Paul says in another place that we should follow him as he follows Christ, and this would be a good place for us to follow his example. We live in a country and generation and culture that has saturated us in the idea that we deserve to have everything we want exactly when we want it, and they will go to the furthest extant to allow us this luxury. From credit cards to fast food to drive through wedding chapels in Las Vegas, our world makes sure every lust of the eye and lust of the flesh and pride of life is satisfied at the first inkling.
The Christians of our day (at least here in the western part of the world) could use some of Paul's advice, when he said that anything that benefited his ego or lusts, was a loss for the case of Christ. We are so sold on the idea that we have to drive a new car and we have to have a wide screen HD TV and we have to be entertained at all times, that I wonder what we are putting to Christ's account. Now I don't think that it's wrong to have any of those things in and of themselves, but what Paul is asking is what would you have been able to do with that money and time if you had used them for God instead of yourself? I could water that down and ask what would happen if we equally split our resources between ourselves and the things of God? The answer would be an enormous impact on the world. Can you imagine the shock waves that would be felt around the world, if half of the time and money we spend only on our non-essentials, were given to missions or some other gospel based ministry? In a country as rich as America, where billions of dollars a year are spent on entertainment alone, the blessings are unspeakable, the responsibility is then likewise enormous, and we are squandering our responsibility as stewards on a daily basis.
As part of the gimme generation, I know the temptations that bombard us from every outlet are hard to resist, but it comes down to seeing the worth of what Christ did for us on Calvary. Jesus said in Matt. 16:26 that the entire world is not worth as much as a single soul, if Jesus then redeemed our soul that is of such value, why are we not devoted to giving him everything we can? Paul saw the pleasures of the world in such a light that he said they were to him as dung, something that he was not only glad to get rid of, but something he would want to put as far away from him as possible. Why then do we act like we are some sort of heroic martyr when we give up the smallest thing for Christ? We give up a sin that our flesh loves and believe we have done something extraordinary, we put more than a tenth in the offering plate and act as if we have done God a favor, we give up an afternoon in front of the TV to minister to those in a nursing home and imagine we have done some noble act.
Would you join me in working harder each day to count those things as undesirable things that we are glad to be rid of? To try with increased vigor to give more of our resources to the things of God, and to see our salvation as something worthy of everything we have to offer? Not that you'll ever repay the debt Jesus paid on the cross, but out of an overwhelming gratitude that changes our outlook on the things of earth. As the hymn writer Isaac Watts wrote, "Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small, love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all."

Trust in the Lord

Prov. 3:5, 6 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart: and lean not to thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.
As a human, and especially as a man, I am so often tempted to think that I can take care of myself, that I don't need someone else telling me what to do. I have to constantly remind myself that I am nothing outside of Christ, that I cannot do anything without God's strength. Obviously, outside of Christ's atonement and God's effectual calling I would be headed for hell, and rightly so. What's harder is keeping in mind the fact that I can do nothing physically outside of God and his mercy. It is a common misconception among men, that they are self made, or that they made themselves who they are today. When in fact it was God who gave them the strength of body to accomplish whatever feats they had to overcome in their lives. It is God who gives us the clarity of mind to make the daily decisions, that so often have lasting repercussions. That's not to mention the basic necessities he grants me such as the upkeep of my heartbeat and the air flowing through my lungs. How vain it is of me to imagine that there can be any physical success in this life outside of the mercies of God.
David's admonition was to trust in the lord with all thine heart, but instead we are tempted to trust God along with other things. A man who is sitting on a platform and yet has all sorts of safety belts on as well, is not truly trusting that platform to hold him up; people who claim to trust God for everything, and then go out and build up physical supports "just in case", are not trusting God with all their heart. I once heard of a man that said he honestly believed it was only through faith and trust in Jesus Christ that he could be saved, but just to be safe he also got baptized in the catholic church, took the Muslim pilgrimage to mecca, and did everything, every religion, told him was needed for salvation. That man was not trusting Jesus at all, but instead was just trusting in the Lord with some of his heart.
David also says that we need to acknowledge Him in all our ways. All too often we want to trust in God in some areas of our life, and yet unwilling to turn others over to him. We will trust him to give us each day the strength needed, but not believe he can do everything necessary to save us. Or, we will say that he can save us, but not keep us saved. Others trust God with their health, but not their money. David said it was expedient that we acknowledge God's sovereignty in every aspect of our lives.
The last part of these verses (like almost every other command in scripture) have a promise attached to the command. That if we do trust God with all our heart, in every aspect of our lives, he will direct your paths. God never leaves his children out to dry, David says in another psalm, that in all the years of his life he had never seen God's children begging bread. That's because God has promised that for those that do his will, he will lead them in the paths of righteousness for his names sake, and even in the valley of the shadow of death we need not fear evil for God is with us. Will you make the new years resolution with me, to try and trust God more in this next year? To acknowledge his omnipotence in every aspect of your life, and allow him to prove his faithfulness to keep his promise to direct our paths?