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The Green-Eyed Monster

31 Jul

Last week, Pastor Zane went over the characteristics of the early church. We saw some incredible signs and wonders being accomplished through the apostles. The people had such faith that they would carry the sick into the streets hoping that Peter’s shadow would pass over them which led to others bringing their sick and afflicted to the apostles so that they could be healed and people flocked to get closer. God was using the apostles to do incredible things, and He wants to use us to transform the world. This morning, we’ll see what happens when people in authority get jealous.

I encourage you to take the time and real our passage for today found in Acts 5:17-32.

We start with a very important word: but. Signs and wonders were taking place by the power of the Holy Spirit through the apostles. Sick people were healed; the afflicted were made unafflicted. The popularity of the apostles was growing and as people heard the message of the Gospel, they responded with decisions to follow Christ. The church was growing to the point that the number of people became multitudes, there were too many to count.

And then we see something that can plague any ministry leader. “The high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealously.” And there it is. Jealousy is not always a bad thing. Divine jealousy is a single-minded pursuit of things that are holy. Ex. 20:5 speaks of God as a jealous God in the exclusivity of our worship. 2 Cor. 11:2 refers to jealousy in the exclusivity of the marriage relationship because you need that to make the marriage permanent. Not jealous because your spouse was talking to someone else or because they have a job. It’s jealousy over the importance of the marriage covenant. In modern English, jealousy is defined as a feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages. In this context, jealousy is not good. In fact, I think I’ll paint with a broad brush and say that jealousy in ministry is rarely good. When we start looking at what others are doing for the Kingdom, or how many people they have, or how many salvations they experience, it can lead us to feel inadequate or somehow that we’re missing the mark. I’ve been there and it’s not a good place to visit. Your pastors regularly pray for other churches and pastors in our area. We must be Kingdom minded and not inwardly focused and that takes effort.

The high priest and all his associates were jealous of the apostles because of what was going on. They were filled with or consumed by jealousy. So, the high priest orders the apostles taken into custody and they were physically dragged to jail – again. Remember they were thrown in jail in 4:3. The next day, there was an inquisition as to what and why they were doing the things they were doing. Remember after the last encounter with the Council, they were, “commanded not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 4:18) Don’t forget the important conclusion from that story: the Sanhedrin that Pastor Mike spoke about: the Pharisees and the Sadducees found no fault in them and let them go – they didn’t do anything illegal, immoral, or unethical. We don’t know the exact time frame between that day and the day we’re talking about now, but it couldn’t be long. The Council was jealous of the success experienced by the apostles. Success is very difficult to define, especially in church. I’ve experienced this myself when I was seeking a job in ministry. Search committees wanted measurable means of success that they determined. The Sadducees were envious that people were responding in droves to the truth that the apostles were teaching and demonstrating in their lives and in the lives of countless individuals that responded to the message.

So, into jail they go with the intention of being tried the following day just like in Chapter 4. The Lord had something else in mind. The Spirit of God is moving mightily and things are happening that are inexplicable – they are by definition miracles: people healed, demons cast out, people selling stuff and giving to those in need. These miracles could only be attributed to the power of God. And He shows up again in the form of the angel of the Lord. The angel of the Lord, “Opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” This isn’t just a great escape, this is miraculous! They were let out and were told something very specific: “Tell the whole message of life.” Keep doing what you’ve been doing; tell people about the resurrection, tell people about the transforming power of God, tell people how He dragged you from the miry clay, tell people how you’re a new creation, tell people how you’ve been redeemed, redeemed, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Don’t miss this! The apostles, “entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach.” No prayer service, no consideration if they should do it again and risk being thrown in jail again – it’s already happened twice, they simply obeyed. The high priest sent his minions to get the apostles out of jail, but those guys find the apostles gone and the jail locked up tight as a drum with the guards in place totally unaware that the prisoners had been set free. The officers report back to the Council and tell them what they found inside the jail – nothing.

“Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this.” They didn’t understand how those guys weren’t still locked up. As they’re scratching their heads, someone comes in and says, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” The Sanhedrin are not the kind of people that take too kindly to having their orders ignored. Back to the temple the captain and his officers go to do over what they did yesterday. Remember the captain is second in line after the high priest and is responsible for what happens in and around the temple. If you want something done right, do it yourself, right? Something different happens from the previous day, the captain and officers brought them back to the Council, “without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).” Normally, the punishment for disobedience would be stoning and the captain probably wanted to make that happen, but the apostles were so popular that if they were harmed, the captain and his officers feared retribution from the crowd. Remember the Council was filled with jealously over these men of God.

Here comes the stand-off. The stand-off includes one of the most often misquoted and misused phrases in Scripture. The apostles are brought before the Council again to be questioned by the high priest. The high priest reminds them, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” Remember in Peter’s first and second sermons, he placed responsibility for the death of Jesus on those he is standing in front of. Of course, the Council is responsible for Jesus’ death just as we are in the sense that we needed atonement for our sin. The difference is the Council thought their religiosity would save them. Their message was not received by the people. The message of the apostles was received by many people and the Council sought to shut that down once and for all.

After the high priest’s accusation, Peter and the apostles respond by saying, “We must obey God rather than men.” I want to spend some time here to clear up this phrase. I have heard this used as justification for civil disobedience, for not submitting to a husband, for trying to dominate a wife, and for beating children. I’ve heard it used to justify witnessing for Christ on the job and not working. I heard it used as a legalistic proof text for anything and everything church related. What Peter says has nothing to do with any of that. If we are to take 2 Tim. 2:15 to heart, and we should, then we must understand what is happening in the context of the verse you’re looking at. I think we often get interpretation and application mixed up when studying scripture. Just to set the record straight, there are some things in Scripture you can read and understand the meaning in the context in which it was written. But there is great danger in carelessly handling the Word of God. It must be studied with the understanding of the human author, the intended audience, the time in history, the culture at the time, the language, and a host of other important aspects. Wait a minute, you’re thinking, that sounds a lot like work; I thought we’re supposed to sit back and enjoy so great a salvation! Let me put it in perspective. The average American spends just over 8 hours a day at work. That same guy spends almost 9 hours a day in personal care which includes sleeping, 2.5 hours a day in leisure pursuits, and just over an hour eating. The average American spends about 7.5 minutes a day in pursuit of religious activity. Hold on now, I’m not an average American, I am a Christian! How you spend your time reveals your priorities. When Jude says to, “Earnestly contend for the faith” in Jude 3, he means it. I cannot comprehend how people will work so hard at things of this world and casually pursue the things of eternity or perhaps even ignore them all together. If you find yourself without time to study God’s Word, to spend time with God, to pray, to fellowship with believers, to go to church, or to pursue God, you need to reevaluate your time.

“We must obey God rather than men.” Do you think God would tell us to, “Obey your leaders and submit to them,” (Heb. 13:17) yet not really mean it? Do think He would tell us, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God,” (Rom. 13:1) and not really mean every person? If you’re at work and your boss says you cannot witness on the job, consider what he is saying. Are you witnessing when you should be working? Do you have an attitude that you’re going to do whatever you want regardless of the authority? Do you think that God would have you sin no matter what you do? Obey God and sin against the authority. Obey the authority and sin against God. No win situation. If your boss really, really says you cannot mention God or Jesus at all, ever at work, find a different job. There are breaks that legally cannot restrict your conversation, but when your boss expects you to work, then be the very best worker you can be. Be a model employee. If you’re going to use the obey God card, you better know what God says and many, many times, people use that to justify their own desires.

Peter concludes his defense before the Council in vs. 30-32. He reiterates what he said the last time he was before these men. God had given these men the privilege and responsibility to carry the Gospel message to the people. The Council was attempting to stifle the message of hope the apostles carried to the people. What the apostles were doing was not illegal, but teaching about Christ did not line up with the goals of the Council. The message of hope carried people from the burden of religion to the freedom found in Christ.

I do not believe that God will put you in a situation where you must sin to honor Him. Believers absolutely should obey God, but it’s rarely an either-or situation. If you want to use the obedience card, you better play it consistently in every avenue of life. So, what happens next? What will become of the apostles? Will they be able to escape the clutches of the Sanhedrin? We’ll have to wait until next week to see what happens to these heroes of the faith.

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Sharing is Caring

10 Jul

You can watch and listen to the message here.

Last week, the disciples were ordered to stop preaching in the name of Jesus and they responded in prayer. They established a pattern for prayer that we should follow in our lives: pray first, pray together, pray with confidence, pray biblically, and pray expectantly. As we continue our journey through Acts, we’ll see how vital prayer is in accomplishing the mission God has set before us. This morning, we’ll see what happens when people are truly transformed by God.

Acts 4:32-35 says, “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.”

Let’s be clear on something. The disciples have just prayed and God answered by shaking the place where they were and they were, “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” This is not a contradiction to 2:4. They were empowered again by the Holy Spirit which leads to v. 32. Luke tells us, “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” The word congregation is better translated multitude. At this point in the young church, there are at least 8120 men. There had to be lots of women and children that aren’t numbered so it’s reasonable to conclude that the number of believers far exceeds 8120. Don’t use this as an excuse to justify the attendance at a particular church as a measure of success. The point Luke is making here is that of those people that made up the assembly that believed in the finished work of Jesus Christ, those that made a profession of faith and lived like Jesus, those people, “Were of one heart and soul.” You’ve heard that phrase heart and soul before. It should be obvious that Luke is not talking about a physical heart or soul, but a spirit of oneness, a spirit of togetherness, a spirit of community. This passage is very similar to 2:42-47, but one theme stands out in this passage compared to the previous passage at the end of chapter 2.

The overarching premise here is that of unity. This spirit of unity led them to do something very contrary to our way of thinking. “And not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.” That doesn’t mean they didn’t own anything themselves. This isn’t some justification for socialism or a misguided notion of fairness. The idea of fairness is running rampant through our society. We think it’s not fair that someone has a better car than we do. It’s not fair that my kid doesn’t get a trophy. It’s not fair that they got promoted and I didn’t. The idea of fairness has spread to the church too. It’s not fair that they get to teach and I don’t. It’s not fair they get to sing and I don’t. Thankfully, we haven’t really experienced those kinds of things at 3RC.

The defining point where selfishness gives way to selflessness is found in that word, “believed.” Jesus always transforms the heart. Show me someone that remains the same after salvation, and I’ll show you someone that is not genuinely saved. Only in the modern church do we deemphasize the power of God and accept simple profession of faith without corresponding transformation. The murderer Saul was radically transformed into the Apostle Paul. The greedy tax collector Zaccheus was transformed to the point that he gave away half his wealth and if he cheated someone he paid back four times the amount. Peter was an uneducated fisherman and forsook all he knew to follow Christ and was transformed into the leader of the Apostles. Don’t tell me that God doesn’t have the power to transform lives today. The same power that transformed those Bible guys, transformed me. Paul told us, “In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Eph. 4:22-24)

These believers were so radically transformed, they had all things in common. We tend to think of things as our own. I earned it; it’s my money; it’s my room; it’s my toy; it’s my guitar. This selfish nature is destroyed by Christ. Our attitude should be, what’s mine is yours. If you need it, I have it. “And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.” The apostles continued telling people about what they saw after Jesus died. The resurrection of Christ is a pivotal event in the history of the world. I don’t have the time to go through all the reasons why it’s so important, but the short answer is that Jesus’ resurrection confirms the Old Testament prophecies of Messiah and it validates who He said He was.

At this point, Luke focuses on one particular aspect in the life of the new believers and that is sharing. This idea of sharing is nothing new to these people. Luke mentioned the idea of common property in v. 32. This goes back to the ideals of Greek society attributed to Pythagorean and Plato that there is no private ownership of anything. That ideal likely never materialized, but the concept would not be foreign to the people that the Apostles are now teaching. This idea of sharing is more in keeping with the Old Testament promises of God. Deut. 15:4-5 says, “However, there will be no poor among you, since the Lord will surely bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, if only you listen obediently to the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all this commandment which I am commanding you today.” These believers were experiencing the power of God and, “abundant grace was upon them all.” Peter referenced the last days in 2:17 and they are experiencing God’s blessing in 4:33, and now they are working toward the ideal that there should be no poor people among them.

Is this an ideal or is it something that can actually be achieved? Again, we can point to society today where we have so called experts saying it’s not fair that executives make so much money. We have government programs for people that fall below a certain income level. We have government grants that are available for some people to go to college. We have Obama phones because everyone needs a cell phone. These are all programs designed to even the playing field of society. But did these first century believers seek to even the playing field? I can answer that with one emphatic word: no.

So how did it work? Look at vs. 34-35. There were believers that had property. They voluntarily and willingly sold property when there was a need. There is no evidence to suggest this was mandatory, but when a need arose, they sacrificed some of what they owned and laid the proceeds at the feet of the apostles. Before you go and put your house on the market, this is what they used to do. Now if the Lord is leading you to do this, by all means go ahead and do it. In reality, we have to go back to the first century context of what a need is. A need is to require something because it is essential or very important rather than just desirable.

Over the years, I have become very jaded over the subject of needs. The vast majority of people that have come across my path wanting help from the church are not affiliated with any church and are not affiliated with Jesus Christ. Somewhere along the way, the church has become the go to place to make ends meet. From car repairs to cable bills, from rent to utilities, from gas to medical bills, I have seen a lot. Strangers coming to the church expecting to get what they want. They want the church to help them because they think that’s the way it should be. Before you get all judgmental on me and say we should help our folks, most people that come to the church wanting money are not in need; they are in want. I have watched people spend foolishly then come to the church and expect to be bailed out. If you have ever been involved with church finances, you will quickly agree. We will help our members in one way or another. It might be with money, but it also might be with biblical, financial counsel, and accountability. Sometimes we talk about giving up that Starbucks or passing on a new outfit, or you’ll be encouraged to eat at home instead of eating out and then we can give to a good church cause, but these early believers were selling property and land to meet the needs of other believers.

We have such abundance in the church. We fill our homes with stuff and when it overflows, we put stuff in the attic, then is spills into the garage, then we build a shed, and that overflows so we put our stuff in a storage unit. We end up paying money to store stuff we don’t use and likely won’t use. Why? Because we’ve bought into the idea of the American dream. I’ve never heard of the Honduran dream or the Brazilian dream, or the Paraguayan dream. The American Dream was publicly defined in 1931 by historian James Truslow Adams. He coined the phrase in his book, Epic of America. In the book, he says, “The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” He goes on to say the American Dream is not, “. . . a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

The America Dream seems contrary to the example of the early church. Maybe you’ll point out that what the early church did was descriptive and not prescriptive. You might say, “We don’t have to sell our houses and land to meet people’s needs,” and I would agree. I think it would be appropriate to look at an Old Testament passage from a book few people have read let alone studied. Take the time to turn to Haggai 1. To quickly set the context, a remnant had returned to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. There is economic hardship in the land of Judah. Look at the five things Haggai says is going on in vs. 5-6. Even though they’ve planted a bunch of crops, they’re not getting much in the way of harvest. Since the harvest isn’t so good, there’s not much food to satisfy their hunger. There’s not enough to drink to quench their thirst – the word drunk here means satisfy fully. They just can’t keep warm with the clothes they have. For the people that do work, it seems like they just put their money into a pocket full of holes where it disappears. The people have got to be thinking, “How in the world can we afford to rebuild the temple when we can’t even afford to take care of our families?” Many today would ask the same question, “How can I afford to sow into the work of the Lord, when I’m having trouble making ends meet?” I cannot afford to tithe or give.

In v. 7, the Lord says, “Consider your ways.” Haggai doesn’t stop there. Look at vs. 8-11. The real call is to evaluate your priorities. Have you ever thought that perhaps your current economic situation is a result of misplaced priorities? The people of Haggai’s time sure didn’t. They were content to hang out in their paneled houses all the while neglecting God’s house. In other words, they were more concerned about how their own houses looked. Their priorities were messed up. These early believers Luke is talking about are way different than the remnant that returned to Jerusalem. I think it’s fair to ask, is your attitude more like those exiles that returned to Jerusalem or these early believers? The early believers sold their stuff when there was a need and brought the proceeds to the Apostles. In the church today, we operate a little differently. We receive tithes and offerings as a way to support the mission of the church God established in Scripture and to fulfill the vision of your pastors. That financial support typically comes in through giving a portion of the wages people earn through their vocation. The attitude of these first century believers demonstrates an attitude of sharing. We are grateful for all the Lord provides for us at 3RC and I don’t take for granted the blessings He has poured out on me. But sometimes, we focus more on what we don’t have than on what we do have and on what God can do. These believers used what God had blessed them with to meet the needs of others in the church.

What’s mine is yours. If you have a need, we must be willing to see those needs met. There is no reason anyone in the church should walk around naked or hungry, but if you have Netflix and the fastest interned available and can’t pay the electric bill, there’s some issues. As Paul said in Phil. 4:19, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

An Unlikely Leader

24 Apr

Check out the video here.

The last time we were in Acts, Pastor Mark walked us through some mountain top experiences. No matter how exciting those breath-taking experiences are, they cannot sustain life. Food and water are found in the valley and that’s where God equips us to live life for Him. This morning, we’ll see one of the disciples take a position that no one would have foreseen.

I hope you’ll take a look at our passage found in Acts 1:15-26.

You’ve heard it said that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Simon Peter made a great first impression in Scripture, but we often forget about that and focus on his shortcomings. According to Matt. 4:18 and Mark 1:16, Simon Peter was recruited by Jesus on the shores of the sea of Galilee along with his brother Andrew. Scripture tells us that Jesus told them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.” (Matt. 4:19-20) Peter made a great first impression of obedience.  he did what Jesus commanded him to do. As we get to know Peter through the gospels, we begin to see him in a different perspective. We saw his faith waiver when he walked on the water toward Jesus in Matt. 14:30. When Jesus told the gathered crowd that the Pharisees were like blind men leading blind men, Peter asked Jesus to explain what that meant. He rejected the idea of Jesus’ atoning death and even tried to rebuke Him in Matt. 16:22 when Jesus responded by saying to him, “Get behind Me, Satan!” (Matt. 16:23) Peter struggled with forgiveness wanting to limit it to seven times; quite generous when you think about being wronged by the same person. He didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet. And no one will ever forget Peter telling others that he did not know Jesus. We learn that Peter was as human as any of us and we like to remember all his failings, but the Peter we see in Acts is not the same Peter that likely screamed like a little girl when he started sinking in the water.

Then we begin to see the new and improved Peter. “At this time” refers to the times of prayer and waiting that followed Jesus’ ascension to heaven. “Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty persons).” Peter stood up; he took the lead here. The other 10 disciples would have been there too. These men that walked and talked with Jesus, who saw and experienced things that no one in history has experienced since were all together and Peter is the one that takes the lead. Some people are born to lead and others have leadership thrust upon them. There was no election here, no casting lots, no drawing straws, no jockeying for position. Peter stood up and took charge because that’s the way God wired him. Peter shares what I believe was a very impassioned message that I’m going to highlight.     “Scripture had to be fulfilled.” The Bible is right and it’s always right in every case when taken in context and applied in and with the correct cultural understanding. Either Scripture is correct all the time or it’s not. The benchmark for a true prophet of God is that all his predictions come true; if the predictions or prophecies do not always come true, even one time, then they are not a true prophet of God. Peter uses the past tense in v. 16, “The Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.” Peter is referring specifically to Ps. 69:25 which he quotes in v. 20a and even reminds us that all Scripture is given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Peter is reminding the people about what happened and we tend to think a lot of time has passed, but look at v. 12. This was right after the ascension.

Peter knew the Scripture and he knew the importance of it. You can say all day long how important Scripture is in general and is to you, but if there is no demonstration of that importance, it’s just words. I know from experience how excited people get about an upcoming Bible study. You will never get all you need in the walk of faith by listening to your pastors or teachers. The mandate in 2 Tim. 2:15 is directed at all believers. Until you get a hold of that, your growth will be limited, at best. In the same breath, Peter gives us some insight into Judas. You’ve heard about the duck test? If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. This uses what is known as abductive inference. Since Judas looked and acted like a follower, the most likely conclusion is that he was a follower. There were clues along the way that although he looked like a duck and quacked like a duck, he was a chicken. Just because someone acts like a follower does not make it so. This has and does plague the church even today. People in church walking with believers and acting like believers, but have never made a decision to follow Christ for themselves. I maintain and will maintain for all my days that there is strong evidence in Scripture that does not suggest we become more and more like Christ as live a life of faith, but Scripture demands that we become more and more like Christ as we live our lives in obedience to Him. It’s really hard for us to grasp how Judas walked with Christ and the disciples for those years in public ministry and experienced the wisdom of Christ and observed the miracles of Christ and yet remained lost. Peter even tells us in v. 17 that Judas was counted among those in ministry. Vs. 18-19 provide a parenthetical thought about Judas that Luke gives us as a side note for our understanding. Then we come to the second half of v. 20 which gives us the purpose for Peter standing up. Peter quotes Ps 109:8 giving us the business at hand and says, “Let another man take his office.” “Office” that Peter refers to literally means position as overseer.

Take a look at the qualifications for Judas’ replacement. I guess a good question to ask is why replace Judas at all?        Why not continue with the eleven? These men had demonstrated their faithfulness, they were capable, they were hand-picked by Jesus. There is no biblical requirement to have twelve in this office that Judas vacated. When we get to Acts 12:2 that tells us the Apostle James died and no replacement is mentioned. Perhaps adding a 12th apostle is a reference to the 12 tribes of Israel or to the 12 thrones of Revelation. This we do know: Jesus told the disciples in Matt. 19:28 that they would sit on 12 thrones. Given what we know about Judas, Jesus could not have been thinking that Judas was one of the 12 that would be in heaven. At the very least, and not a bad reason at all, Peter reminds the crowd about what Ps. 109:8 says. Scripture must be fulfilled.

In considering a suitable replacement for Judas, you’d think it wouldn’t be a big deal. Peter was looking for a duck and it really had to be a duck. Peter stands and gives the crowd the first qualification. Judas’ replacement must be a man who witnessed, first-hand, the entire ministry of Jesus. That means he must be faithful. He must have persevered over time. From Jesus’ baptism to His death to His resurrection to His ascension. Peter and the rest of the original 11 most certainly would have known the one that would be recommended. The recommendation was coming from the 120. This was the qualification for the apostleship that we will see throughout the book of Acts, but the office didn’t last forever. The key qualification then is obviously, the one chosen must be an authentic believer; a follower. How do we know? Because faithful people do not quit. There is a demonstration in their life of the power of God over time. I know too many people that are on fire for God for weeks or months. I don’t know a ton of people that are on fire for God for years and decades. I do know lots of people that have attended church for years. This is a wonderful reminder that ministry leaders should be considered and chosen from those people that are already faithful. So, a demonstration of authentic Christ following is the baseline.

The other qualification is that the one chosen must be a witness to the resurrection of Christ. This would be crucial as they went about sharing the good news of Christ. That’s different than what we share about Christ. In speaking to the Gentile believers in Ephesus, Paul reminded them that their faith was built, “on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.” (Eph. 2:20) Two men were recommended: Joseph and Matthias. Both men qualified, but one only one would be selected. No secret ballots, no show of hands. “And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” They prayed. In Lu. 6:12-13, we see Jesus praying before the original 12 were selected. They prayed because God knows the heart of a man. “And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.” Don’t freak out by what looks like the element of chance. God chose who He would choose. In those days, this was the way it worked. As we’ll see next week, the Holy Spirit did not operate ten the way He does now. Matthias is chosen without fanfare, without ceremony, and takes his place among the 12.

We started this morning looking at the first impression we get from Peter. While he had some issues when he was new to the faith, we saw him emerge as a leader of the apostles: Peter – version 2. He shared the importance of Scripture with the 120. He reminded the people about Judas and provides the qualifications for the office of Apostle. Matthias is selected and walks out of the Bible, never to be heard from again. Would there be other apostles in the New Testament? What about people that call themselves apostles today? Stay tuned as we walk through this awesome book.

The Depth of Wickedness in Man

30 Jan

pitYou can check out the podcast here.

Last week, we reaffirmed that we are privileged to play a part in God’s plan for humanity. Whatever that role may be, we’re part of getting accomplished what God wants to accomplish. Our motives should be pure and holy as we seek to fulfill the purpose He has for our lives. Do right in all facets of life because it’s the right thing to do. Be obedient to His leading, but line His leading up with Scripture. We quickly covered a number of principles for daily living that we’ve seen before in Proverbs. We finished last week talking about a contentious woman. If the woman in your life is contentious, show her the unconditional love of Christ. If you’re the contentious woman, allow the power of God to transform your life. This morning, we’ll see the depth of depravity that’s present in the wicked.

Take a look at what Solomon says in Pro. 21:10-19. Where does wickedness come from? I think that’s a good place to start. We need to understand the foundation for wickedness that is present in man. People born into this world don’t need to make a conscious effort to do wrong – it comes naturally. We’re born with the sin nature that is passed from father to son from generation to generation. We saw this a couple of weeks ago when we looked at Rom. 5:19a that told us, “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners.” Remember, “There is none righteous, not even one.” (Rom. 3:10) Sin is the lost person’s master and you have to do what the master says.

Wicked people do wicked things because they have no power to do otherwise. Of course, they can do things that society would call good, but goodness evaluated by a morally bankrupt culture is not the standard. I know that sounds harsh, but we’ve got share the truth of Scripture so people are aware of where they are. Eternity’s too long not to tell the truth. The wickedness is formed in the soul at conception because of Adam’s disobedience. That’s why, “The soul of the wicked desires evil.” Desire can also be translated crave. Evil dominates the thoughts and plans of the wicked. Remember what led to the flood: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5) Remember the second greatest commandment Jesus referred to in Matt. 22:36-40? He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The wicked have no favor for their neighbor.

Let’s do some quick review. V. 11 says, “When the scoffer is punished, the naive becomes wise; but when the wise is instructed, he receives knowledge.” It’s the same principle we saw in 19:25. When people see that others are held accountable for their actions, it will deter bad decisions. That’s one of the reasons the news reports sentencing for high profile crimes. Wise people make themselves available to learn and are willing to receive instruction. This leads into the next verse, “The righteous one considers the house of the wicked, turning the wicked to ruin.” Even though there may be short term gain for wickedness, the righteous wants to avoid the pain and suffering that comes with it. The righteous remember Pro. 12:7 where Solomon said, “The wicked are overthrown and are no more, but the house of the righteous will stand.” No amount of prosperity or comfort in this world will turn the righteous from following God. I’m sure this next verse has been used to justify all sorts of pseudo outreach programs. “He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered.” This is a verse that speaks to mercy, but it can’t stop there. It’s great to feed people who are hungry and clothe people that are naked, but if that’s where you stop, it’s just a good thing to do. The Gospel must be intentionally woven into that work for it to be a work of God. Our primary goal as a church is to make disciples, but if all we do is feed hungry people, we’ve missed the goal established for us by Jesus Himself. This verse speaks to the cry of the poor being ignored. If we ignore the plight of those in poverty, then our cries will not be heard. Remember Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matt. 5:7)

The next verse is not an endorsement to bribery. A gift in secret subdues anger, and a bribe in the bosom, strong wrath.” Gifts are often appropriate, especially when given in private. If you make a big show of giving someone a gift, then the emphasis is on the giver instead of the receiver. If a bribe is offered to subvert justice, that is clearly unbiblical and must be avoided. “The exercise of justice is joy for the righteous, but is terror to the workers of iniquity.” This make sense, right? If you are righteous, and the only way to be righteous is through the blood of Christ, you want to see justice done. This is the justice dispensed by our government: you want to see right things accomplished and wrong things squashed. So, the next obvious question is, right according to who? We must stick to the unchanging standard of God’s Word. There may be amendments to the U.S. Constitution, but there are none to the Bible.

“A man who wanders from the way of understanding will rest in the assembly of the dead.” The path of righteousness is a straight and narrow path. Last October, Kari and I were in the mountains of NC and we went hiking. What’s nice about hiking off the Blue Ridge Parkway is the hiking trails are marked. If you get off the marked path, chances are good you’ll get lost. If you stay on the path, you won’t get lost. This is the metaphor Solomon is using. If you get off the path of understanding, you’ll end up with the dead because you will be dead. In Matt. 7:13 Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.” There are no alternate paths to righteousness. It is only God’s way through Jesus.

“He who loves pleasure will become a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not become rich.” I could spend a whole lot of time here because this is sure a verse for today. The pursuit of pleasure drives many people – even in the church. Solomon is not just talking about pursuing pleasure, but coveting pleasure. Now there’s nothing wrong with having a good time, but if that’s your focus, something’s wrong. If you’re looking for the next fun thing, the next thing to entertain you, the next thing to wow you, Solomon says that you will become poor. Solomon also says, “He who loves wine and oil will not become rich.” At the risk of being labeled old fashioned, I think this loving wine thing is an epidemic in the church. I know I spent a lot of time on 20:1, but Solomon addresses the topic again. Do you look as forward to getting into God’s Word as you do having that glass of wine? The oil in this verse refers to olive oil. This seems a strange addition to the wine. Wine and oil were common at banquets. Overall Solomon is saying if you pursue pleasure and luxury, you’re going to be poor. Turn over to 2 Tim. 3 and we’ll tie up this thought nicely with Paul’s warning to Timothy. Look at vs. 1-5. Avoid here means keep away from. That’s a pretty stern warning.

“The wicked is a ransom for the righteous, and the treacherous is in the place of the upright.” This is a pretty challenging verse that has to do with justice. The same idea occurs in Pro. 11:8 where it says, “The righteous is delivered from trouble, but the wicked takes his place.” The wicked are atonement or payment for the righteous, but don’t confuse that with the atonement of Christ that brings redemption to those that believe. In Exodus 12, the Israelites were told to put blood from a sacrificial lamb on the doorposts and lentils of their houses. The Lord said He was coming and when he saw the blood, He would pass over the house and go to the next. The Jews followed the instructions and were spared at the expense of the Egyptians. In that manner, the Egyptians became a ransom, or payment for the righteous. Righteous and upright don’t mean perfect here, but an overall desire to follow after God.

In Joshua 6, God told Joshua to lead Israel into battle against Jericho where the walls came tumbling down. Israel was instructed to take nothing as spoils from the battle: no gold or silver, bronze or iron – those are holy to the Lord. Following the victory at Jericho, Josh. 7:1 tells us, “The sons of Israel acted unfaithfully in regard to the things under the ban, for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah, took some of the things under the ban, therefore the anger of the Lord burned against the sons of Israel.” Achan’s sin affected the entire nation of Israel. Their next battle occurred against the much weaker Ai where they were soundly defeated causing Joshua to tear his clothes and go into mourning. God told him to get up and told him what had happened to cause Israel to be defeated. God declared that, “Israel has sinned,” and because of that, “Israel cannot stand before their enemies.” (Josh. 7:11ff) God instructs Joshua to cast lots to find the guilty party and the lot eventually falls to Achan. Joshua confronts Achan who says, “When I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold fifty shekels in weight, then I coveted them and took them; and behold, they are concealed in the earth inside my tent with the silver underneath it.” (Josh. 7:21) Joshua sends people to Achan’s tent and they find the spoils exactly where Achan said it would be. Achan the wicked, was used as a ransom for Israel, the righteous. Achan was stoned to death and then burned. Everyone else in Israel followed God’s instructions – they had a desire to follow after God. I know that was a somewhat lengthy explanation, but sometimes, you really have to work at understanding the meaning of Scripture.

Let’s get one last one in for today. “It is better to live in a desert land than with a contentious and vexing woman.” This is similar to 21:9 that we looked at last week and Solomon adds vexing here. Vexing means intending to harass and full of disorder or stress. Now, that’s a lovely woman. First, the man is alone on a roof top and now he’s alone in the desert or wilderness. The commonality between the two verses is that it’s better to be alone than deal with an argumentative and unruly wife. I don’t know if that woman from 21:9 found her way to the roof and now the guy has to get away even more or not. It’s better to be exposed to the harshness of the wilderness – the wind, the weather, and the sand than it is to be with that harsh and vexing woman. And before you allow the thought to enter your mind, this is not an endorsement to leave a woman that is constantly arguing and causing stress in your life. The best way to handle a contentious wife is to love her as Christ loved the church.

Another message that covered a lot of ground. We saw where wickedness starts and that’s in the soul of humanity as we are born into sin through one man’s disobedience. Wicked people do wicked things because they don’t know any other way. Righteous people look at pleasing God rather than any short-term gain from wickedness. Don’t shut your ear to the cry of the poor, but make the Gospel an intentional aspect of any acts of mercy you engage in. We looked briefly at gift giving, exercising justice, and staying on the path of righteousness. Don’t love pleasure so much that you forsake God. We looked at the results of Achan’s sin and finished looking at the vexing woman and hopefully we now have a better understanding of the depth of wickedness in man.

God is Always on the Throne

23 Jan

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Last week, we covered a lot of ground. We started by looking at the parental relationship and the implications of being a bad child. Solomon spoke of being a virtuous king and the responsibility that comes when you’re the one determining punishment. We saw some important aspects of our relationship with the Lord. I encourage you to conduct a critical self-evaluation of your faith and also suggest you ask someone you love and trust to provide you with some feedback regarding your walk of faith. This morning, we’re going to look at who is ultimately in charge.

Our passage today comes from Pro. 21:1-9. I hope you’ll take the time to read it.

throneSo, who’s in charge? That’s a great question that many people ask, particularly in times of national or international crisis. Solomon reminds us that, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” What’s that really mean? Are we all just puppets in a crazy game controlled by God? The answer lies in the very difficult concept of God’s sovereignty. I really believe that if you take God out of the equation, life would implode. It is God who keeps everything in motion. In Is. 46:10 God said, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.”

Ultimately, God’s purpose will always be accomplished. Don’t confuse sovereignty with God’s will. When we consider the model prayer offered by Jesus in Matt. 6, He prayed that God’s, “will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s will is not always accomplished here. One significant example is people dying without receiving the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. 2 Pet. 3:9 tells us that God is, “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” So, what can be gained by people dying apart from Christ? I can honestly say I don’t know. God uses everything at His disposal to accomplish His ultimate goals. He often uses you and me to accomplish it. That is the privilege of free will. God wants us to choose to do His will just like you want your kids to choose to do what’s right instead of forcing them to. Sometimes you might use enticements or rewards for your kids to do what you want. You supervisors and managers will sometimes do the same thing – a bonus or time off. But it really does your heart good to see people do what’s right because it’s the right thing and they choose to do what is right. When you consider a higher plain, God will lead and guide people to do what will ultimately accomplish His plan. For us, it’s spending eternity with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I don’t know what lies beyond that and does it really matter?

 We saw God’s way, now look at man’s way. “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts.” Back in Pro. 16:2 Solomon said, “All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives.”  There’s not much difference in the two verses. Evaluating the motives of people can be very difficult. I confess that I sometimes am not a good discerner of people. I tend to believe what people say at face value, but I do learn to read them. When you consider motives, you can do the right thing for the right reason, the right thing for the wrong reason, and you can do the wrong thing for the right reason. Does that sound like gibberish? Let me give you some examples to help you understand. Here’s the right thing for the wrong reason. You financially support the work of the ministry because you can take a tax deduction. Your kids are good and obedient all day so they gain favor to go out that night. You volunteer to teach a class so everyone sees how smart you are.  What about the wrong thing for the right reason? You steal food to feed your family. You lie to someone to avoid hurting their feelings. You withhold the truth from someone so you don’t alienate them. The best and wisest thing to do is the right thing for the right reason. You give to the work of the ministry knowing that ministry costs money and God has blessed you with financial resources. You speak the truth in love regardless of the consequences knowing that truth sets people free. That’s where God wants us. If you’re not sure, pray like David when he said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” (Ps. 139:23-24)

This leads right into the next verse. “To do righteousness and justice is desired by the Lord more than sacrifice.” When I read this verse, I immediately thought about Samuel and Saul. In 1 Sam. 15, the prophet Samuel was sent to anoint Saul as king of Israel. Samuel gave Saul this command from the Lord: “Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” (1 Sam. 15:3) Those instructions are clear. So, Saul got together his troops and went to battle and defeated the Amalekites. The Bible says, “But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were not willing to destroy them utterly; but everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.” (1 Sam. 15:9) Saul is the king of Israel and blamed the people for his disobedience. The conclusion is found in 1 Sam. 15:22-28 that tells us by one act of disobedience, Saul is stripped of his throne. Obedience is the utmost and highest principle in the Bible. As I often say, everything we do can be placed securely under the umbrella of obedience. Giving, prayer, Bible reading and study, serving God and others, as well as a boatload of other commands and principles in Scripture.

Let’s review some principles already covered. “Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, is sin.” Don’t be proud or your torch will be snuffed out. “The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.” The way to gain advantage in this world is to work hard. The word diligent means careful and conscientious in one’s work. The assumption is that the work is not sinful and the hard work puts you in a favorable position. If you’re hasty: that is, you cut corners, take the easy way instead of the right way – you’ll come to poverty. “The acquisition of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death.” Dishonesty and fraud get you nowhere. Cheating is stealing whether it’s knowledge or material goods. “The violence of the wicked will drag them away, because they refuse to act with justice.” This verse is tied to the previous one. Solomon is talking about the violence that the wicked use against others. The violence they engage in will come right back to them. “The way of a guilty man is crooked, but as for the pure, his conduct is upright.” It’s a contrast between the guilty/wicked and the godly/pure. Evil people do evil things. Righteous people do righteous things. The only power in us to do what is good, right, holy, and pure comes because God has granted us the power of the Holy Spirit when we accept the gift of His one and only Son. When we go back to Genesis, we learn that. “The Lord said to Noah, “Enter the ark, you and all your household, for you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time.” (Gen. 7:1) Noah was righteous and that’s why he was spared.

Let’s spend some time on the next one. Solomon says, “It is better to live in a corner of a roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.” He makes a comparison between two things. Living in a relatively uncomfortable place at peace or living in a comfortable place with an uncomfortable situation. No one lives on a roof, right? In biblical times, the roof of a dwelling was typically flat and often served many purposes. In 1 Sam. 9:25, “Samuel spoke with Saul on the roof.” In 2 Sam. 11:2, David walked around the roof where he saw a beautiful woman bathing. In Ps. 102:7, David was, “like a lonely bird on a housetop.” In Acts 10:9, “Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray.” The roof was a great location for prayer, meditation, meetings, and was sometimes used as a place to sleep.

It’s better to be on that rooftop than it is with a contentious woman. Just what is a contentious woman? This woman is quarrelsome, prone to argue, disagreeable, and is no fun to be around. What does she argue about? Anything and everything. She fights against everything done. She is desperate to be the boss, to be in charge and to control everything that happens in the home. If the man tries to exercise his authority, she gets all the more contentious. He finds it more comfortable to retreat to the roof. As we have seen, Proverbs is a book of wisdom and perhaps this is the wisest thing for the man to do. Go to the roof where he won’t be tempted to engage in her contentions. Little is accomplished by arguing with someone that will not hear the other side, will not listen to reason, and will not accept what they consider defeat. I can imagine that it’s difficult living with some spouses. I know that some people come from dysfunctional homes where the love of God was not prevalent. I know it may be tough to be at home because of what you have to deal with. Wisdom dictates the best course of action. You still need to be the man that God has called you to be. Have you loved your wife unconditionally? Have you demonstrated it? A dedicated time of earnest prayer away from the fussing and fighting is better to do than quit. Too many people take the easier road and that’s to give up. I’ve heard a ton of reasons why not holding true to the marriage covenant is the only course of action. When you say, “I do,” that’s a very serious commitment that should only be broken by death.

Don’t take the road that Adam took when he blamed Eve. Take responsibility for the relationship as the one that is in authority. And don’t what if: what if she won’t follow? What if she leaves me? I assure you that God understands what you’re going through and He understands the seriousness of the marriage covenant. We just saw in 21:1: “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” When God told Abraham that Sarah was to have a baby and she overheard and then laughed, God asked, “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14) It really comes down to a matter of trust and no one ever said it was easy, fun, or would change overnight, but don’t exclude the power of God from the equation. Waiting on God to move and work in people’s lives is tough, especially when they’re in your own home or family.

We are privileged to play a part in God’s plan for humanity. Whatever that role may be, we’re part of getting accomplished what God wants to accomplish. Our motives should be pure and holy as we seek to fulfill the purpose He has for our lives. Do right in all facets of life because it’s the right thing to do. Be obedient to His leading, but line His leading up with Scripture. God’s not wishy washy, so don’t you be either. We quickly covered a number of principles for daily living that we’ve seen before in Proverbs. It’s best to be honest always. We closed out with a very difficult relationship. If the woman in your life is contentious, show her the unconditional love of Christ. If you’re the contentious woman, I pray that you would allow the power of God to transform your life because He is always on the throne.

Rapid Fire Principles

9 Jan

rapid-fireYou can check out the podcast here.

The last time we were in Proverbs, we learned the wise man stays away from strife, but the fool argues about things that don’t matter. Don’t allow yourself to be baited into an argument. There are fights to fight, but this isn’t what Solomon is talking about. He’s talking about nonsensical arguments where you’re wasting breath. Be mindful of the plans others have or present to you. They may not be what they appear to be so take the time to ask the right questions. Loyalty and trustworthiness are qualities that are diminishing as we move through time. Become the person that God wants you to be. We saw the value of a godly king and the Queen of Sheba recognized that quality in Solomon. This morning, we’ll see some rapid fire principles; some that we’ve already looked at and we’ll also dive into the issue of trustworthiness.

Take a look at our passage found in Proverbs 20:9-19.

Let’s start with one of my favorite topics. Solomon says, “Who can say, ‘I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from sin?’” It’s a rhetorical question, but we can quickly answer it. The standard for holiness is not being good. The standard for a relationship with God is not made on our terms.  No matter who you might think God is, you have to approach Him in the manner He has determined. The only way to approach God is in perfection and folks, we fall short. That’s why Solomon asks the simple question, “Who can say I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin?” The answer is no one. Rom. 3:10 reminds us, “There is none righteous, not even one.” But it didn’t stop there. The conclusion to that thought is found in Rom. 6:23, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” New life can come only after death. I know it may not make sense, but it’s true. When there is new life, the old is passed away. Your life is like the changing of the seasons. The dead, cold winter gives way to new life in the spring time. This verse is a realization that we are sinners and we cannot do anything to cleanse ourselves. 1 Jo. 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” In Rom. 3:9, Paul made sure everyone was on the same page when he asked the rhetorical question, “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.” We are all born into sin. We can choose to stay in our sin or acknowledge that Jesus is Lord and Savior and turn from our wicked ways. Read Rom. 5:18-21 to learn that the purification comes from what Christ has done.

The shady business practices in v. 10 are the same things Solomon addressed in 11:1 when he said, “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight.”

Look at the lad in v. 11. Notice it’s not what someone says although that’s important. “It is by his deeds that a lad distinguishes himself if his conduct is pure and right.” The lad Solomon mentions is a young man. The idea is that young people generally are free from the pretenses grown-ups have. They have not yet learned the finer points of discretion. You’ve heard the phrase, “Out of the mouths of babes?” Kids are generally are a what you see is what you get kind of people. Kids don’t hide their motives. When they want something, they ask or demand it. The point is that it is the actions of the child indicate who he really is. Of course, the conduct of people can be evaluated as well. Solomon says so in the next verse: “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the Lord has made both of them.” This points to the fact that the Lord has given us ears to hear and eyes to see. You are able to judge the character of someone by what you see and hear.

Here’s a series of verses regarding work. There’s a lot here, but it’s pretty straightforward. Solomon says, “Do not love sleep, or you will become poor; open your eyes, and you will be satisfied with food.” Before social media, if you were tired, few people knew about it and it really didn’t matter because you had to live life. Today, being tired is a viable excuse not to fulfill any commitments you may have. You’re too tired so you call out of work. I’ve heard of people that are too tired to do housework and yard work; they’re too tired to go to Bible study, or Community Group and sometimes people can even be too tired to go to church. What’s funny is that people are rarely too tired to go to a party, baby shower, the movies, a concert, or the beach. I bring this up in light of the previous verse Solomon just said about the seeing eye and the hearing ear. You can talk a good game, but your actions scream out true intentions. Don’t be sleeping when there is work to be done.

“Bad, bad,” says the buyer, but when he goes his way, then he boasts.” This is for you people that love to shop in places where you can negotiate for the best price. You’re looking to get the best price so you tell the merchant what a piece of junk it is he’s trying to sell. You talk him down to a lower price then you go about bragging about how slick a negotiator you are.

“There is gold, and an abundance of jewels; but the lips of knowledge are a more precious thing.” This is a common theme throughout Proverbs. It’s way better to have knowledge than gold.

“Take his garment when he becomes surety for a stranger; and for foreigners, hold him in pledge.” Back in Bible days, it was common practice to use a garment, a coat or cloak, as security for a debt. Today, we could think of this a title loan. There are a number of warnings in Proverbs about acting as security for other’s debt. We’ve seen it in 6:1, 11:15, 17:18, and we’ll see it again in 22:26. This isn’t a verse promoting harsh treatment. The point here is that if a person ignores this sound financial advice and makes a pledge for a stranger, then hold that stranger accountable. Take his garments or hold him in pledge as a servant so you don’t suffer loss. There is a difference between Christian charity and a lack of accountability. In today’s society, we think if someone is held accountable for their actions, whether it’s debt or holding to their faith or challenging someone on their ungodly beliefs that we are judgmental, unloving, and intolerant. Remember the housing crash where people were foreclosed on their homes? They couldn’t make their payments and the bank took back the house and somehow, the banks turned out to be the bad guys. Now, it’s awful that people lost their homes, but if you say you’re going to pay back a debt, shouldn’t you be held accountable?

“Bread obtained by falsehood is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth will be filled with gravel.” This is about honesty. As I have mentioned many times, we often get requests from people that need help with a variety of financial issues. From the electric or water bill to repairs for their vehicle. Many times they have just gotten a job, but won’t get a paycheck for another week or two. Some of these people are telling the truth and some are not. How do you tell the difference? You don’t. If the Lord leads you to help someone and they misuse your generosity, that’s not on you, it’s on them. The advantage gained by someone being dishonest will be short lived. The gravel is not literal gravel, but the discomfort, pain, and suffering that come as a result of being dishonest.

“Prepare plans by consultation, and make war by wise guidance.” This is pretty self-explanatory, but I want to point out something I have experienced a number of times. As a shepherd or pastor, I am rarely brought into a discussion early in a decision making process. Too often, the person that has willingly submitted to membership and has voluntarily placed themselves under the authority of the church and her leadership, refuses to seek my guidance or input. There are a few exceptions, but my experience is that people will typically do what they want to do. Is it the day in which we live. The church has become really no different than any other organization. “He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, therefore do not associate with a gossip.” A secret is just that.

It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong or sinful about it, but the person may not want it revealed at this point in time. People do have a right to privacy and no one wants that privacy violated. Maybe you reveal a secret under the guise of, they wouldn’t mind if I tell so and so. There are people I will never tell anything private. Solomon says don’t even associate with someone that has loose lips.

We began by asking the rhetorical question, who is without sin? The cleansing we enjoy is not because of anything we have done, by because of what Jesus did. Youngsters say what comes to mind because they haven’t developed the ability to hide their motives. We looked at a number of principles for daily, principled living whether it’s at home, the job, or in church. Next week, we’ll hopefully finish up this chapter by continuing to look at principles for daily living.

What’s the Harm with Santa Claus?

7 Dec

This is a reposting of an article I wrote in December 2010 concerning Santa Claus and believers. This is my perspective as a child of the King, a father, a grand-father, and a pastor.

He’s fat and jolly. He loves kids. As Christians, is there a problem including Santa in your Christmas festivities and if so, what’s the big deal? I get asked that question fairly often during the weeks leading up to Christmas.

We see it all too frequently. Parents drag their kids all over town to get their picture made with Santa. Many children are placed on Santa’s lap kicking and screaming. I mean, really kicking and screaming. Think about it, some children don’t want to sit on the lap of someone they know let alone a complete stranger, but Santa dutifully endures the children, no matter what kind of mood they’re in.

By most reports, the origin of Santa Claus can be traced back to the 4th century and a man named Saint Nicholas. He was the Bishop of Myra, an area in present day Turkey. By all accounts St. Nicholas was a generous man, particularly devoted to children. After his death around 340 A.D. he was buried in Myra, but in 1087 Italian sailors supposedly stole his remains and moved them to Bari, Italy, greatly increasing St. Nicholas’ popularity throughout Europe. St. Nick’s reputation for generosity gave rise to the idea he could perform miracles. It wasn’t until 1822 when Clement C. Moore wrote the poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” for his family on Christmas Eve that the idea of Santa Claus grew to legendary proportions. The story became known as, “The Night before Christmas” and was first published on December 23, 1823. The rest I suppose, is history.

Santa Claus continued to live on in the hearts and minds of children and adults as well. He is on TV every December in the classic, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” as well as others. Santa has appeared in a myriad of movies including, “Miracle on 34th Street,” “The Polar Express,”  The Santa Clause 1, 2, 3,” “Santa Claus, the Movie,” and “Ernest Saves Christmas.” And who can forget the popular 1964 movie, “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.”

Santa is so fun, who could find fault with such a popular, lovable, jolly, old guy in a red suit?

I’m not going to tell you what to do, mostly because my experience has shown me that people will do what they want to do anyway. I would however, like to offer up some ideas why bringing jolly old St. Nick into our lives might not be the best thing to do as an authentic Christ follower.

Can we be authentic Christians if we include Santa in our Christmas activities? There are people that I love and respect that include Santa in their family Christmas traditions so I don’t want you to think I live with some lofty, high, and mighty, holier than you people attitude because I don’t. I love the Santa Clause movies (all three of them) and I love Elf. But what’s the difference in enjoying a good Santa Claus movie and telling our children that Santa Claus brings them presents? I would say there’s a huge difference.

 

SPOILER ALERT!       SPOILER ALERT!

 

Santa Claus is not real. At all. He’s totally fake. Really.

Look at the characteristics of Santa.

  • He knows when you’ve been good or bad, so you need to be good, for goodness sake, right? The idea is that Santa brings gifts to those children that are good. Often forgotten now a days, is that he gives a lump of coal to those naughty children. Have you ever known any child that got a lump of coal in his stocking? Can you name just one kid? Have you ever known someone that knew someone that knew someone else that heard of a kid getting coal at Christmas? Me neither. The idea here is that a child needs to earn the gifts that Santa brings. I’ve never met a kid that didn’t think they were “good” enough to receive presents.
    • Santa’s reward system is contrary to that of God. God’s gift is unconditional. John 3:16 tells us that God gave His son to us simply because He loved us. We didn’t have to earn God’s love.
    • So God’s gift is not dependent upon our behavior. Can I get a Hallelujah?!?!? In fact Romans 5:8 tells us God’s criteria is the exact opposite of Santa’s. Even though we are currently bad (sinners), Christ  died for us. It’s not whether or not we are good or bad, it’s simply because we are here.
    • Only God is omniscient.
  • Santa has the supernatural ability to deliver presents to children all over the world beginning on Christmas Eve by flying around in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. Think about the logistics of that. Does he go back and forth to the North Pole to restock, or does he carry all the gifts at once? Is the sleigh equipped for landing on any type of terrain? I mean does it work on sand so Santa can go to places in Saudi Arabia? Does he have a conversion package that adapts the sleigh to concrete landings? I know these are silly questions, but you see how far you have to go to continue the myth of Santa. He has to be everywhere at once in order to carry out this feat.
    • Jeremiah 23:25 tells us that God fills the heavens and the earth.
    • Proverbs 15:3 says the eyes of the Lord are everywhere.
    • Psalm 139:7-10 tells us there is no place where He is not.
    • Only God is omnipresent.

So Santa takes on a God-like character. Is that a problem? I think so. I’m pretty sure that God said there shouldn’t be any gods before Him. Now I’m not saying anyone out there is worshiping Santa, but come on, when did it become okay to lie to your children? I don’t know a parent out there that would be okay with their children lying to them. After all, isn’t that what you are doing by perpetuating the myth that Santa is real? Do you tell your kids that there really is a talking sponge that wears square pants?

What about selfishness? Acts 20:35 says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Doesn’t the idea of Santa bringing presents contradict that? When a child sits on Santa’s lap, the conversation typically goes like this: Santa: “Have you been a good boy (girl) this year?” As a side note, why does Santa ask this? I thought he knew if you’ve been good or bad. Well perhaps it’s to give the kid an opportunity to fess up for wrongdoings. Anyway, back to Santa. After that question, he generally asks, “What do you want for Christmas?”  The child then recites a list of acceptable gift ideas for Santa. Now it’s about getting gifts, not giving which is consistent with Scripture.

In light of this, when do you talk to your kids about Jesus? Isn’t He the reason we celebrate Christmas? What about the manger? What about His miraculous birth? What about His purpose for coming? What about God’s incredible, unconditional gift to us? I cannot reconcile Santa with the Bible.

As Christian parents, our primary mission regarding our children is to introduce them to Jesus Christ at the earliest age possible teaching them who He is and why He came.

I am certain there are people that completely disagree with me including pastors and people a whole lot smarter than me. That’s fine. It is my choice to exclude Santa from our celebration. It is your choice to include him. I don’t love you less, I don’t think bad thoughts about you. When I present my case, some people get down right angry with me. Yes, it’s true. They’ll say, “Pastor Ian is just an old-fashioned fuddy duddy that wants to take the joy out of Christmas for my child.” On the contrary, I want to introduce you to Jesus Christ, the only person we can truly find joy that is unspeakable and full of glory. Jesus Christ is the reason for Christmas, not Santa Claus. What are you missing out by excluding something that is not in the Christmas story found in the Word of God? Remember, I’m talking to people who profess to be followers of Christ. Why would you want to take any of the focus off of the One that made our salvation possible?

One more thought. When your kids find out that you have been perpetuating a myth about Santa (okay, when they find out you have lied to them), how will they feel about what you have told them about Jesus. Will He be viewed as a myth or make believe too? Hmmm.

My Liberty (Part 2)

14 Nov

You can check out the podcast here.

Two weeks ago, I laid a foundation for the issue of social drinking. To put your mind at ease, I’m not going to tell you to totally abstain from drinking alcohol and I’m not going to say take a drink once in a while. I want to walk you through the wisdom of Solomon and then you can determine what is the wisest thing to do. This morning, we’ll conclude the message about alcohol although we’ll see it again in Proverbs.

Pro. 20:1 says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.”

alcoholSo, what’s the Bible say about social drinking? I’ve taken an inordinate amount of time to lay the foundation for this issue that seems to be gaining a foot hold in the church. Jesus turning water into wine is a very common argument people use to justify alcohol consumption. It would be great if the Bible gave us some very clear and unmistakable guidance. For other issues, God has done just that. We’ve been given hundreds of commands in the Bible. It would be far simpler if the Bible said, “Do not drink alcohol,” or “Drink one glass of wine a week.” Since it doesn’t, we have to take the time to dig out the truth ourselves and not listen to people that haven’t done the work to make an informed, wise decision.

Solomon says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler.” Solomon is personifying wine and strong drink. Wine, in and of itself, cannot speak so what’s going on here? How does wine mock the person drinking? Mocker is a synonym for scoffer that we have seen so many times in Proverbs and the use of the word is never a positive one. Remember scoff is frequently used as a method of derision or profaning things that are holy. Wine says it’s just one drink, it’s healthy, it’s for my benefit, it helps me relax. A German proverb says, “More are drowned in the wine cup than in the ocean.” “Strong drink is a brawler.” Strong drink is the Hebrew word sekar. It means an intoxicating drink not made from grapes. Brawler means to murmur, growl, roar, or be boisterous. So we have this verse that says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.” Other versions translate intoxicated as deceived or led astray. I’ll say it like this: if you are deceived or led astray by the influence of alcohol, you’re not wise. Maybe you’re a responsible drinker. You never get drunk. You don’t drink and drive. You make sure you eat while you drink to maximize the metabolism of alcohol that you take in.

So let’s break it down in accordance with wisdom. I think I have made a very strong argument that drinking alcohol is not a sin, so that’s off the table. You can read point paper after point paper from people in the church that are dogmatic on this topic. The anti-alcohol people quote Pro. 20:1 along with Pro. 23:29-33. Another one is, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20) The pro-alcohol people will cite 1 Ti. 5:23, “No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” We can certainly enjoy our freedom in Christ. We have been set free from the bondage of sin and have become slaves of righteousness. We’re free to enjoy food that was once restricted. We don’t follow the Law because Christ has fulfilled the Law. People tend to define this as an issue of liberty or legalism. I think the issue is much more complicated than that. In 1 Co. 6:12 Paul said, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” If we take this verse in context, Paul just told the Corinthians that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. Right after this verse he talks about food and fornication when he says, “Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.” (1 Cor. 6:13) This verse relates back to Acts 15:19-20 where the Apostles prohibited, “things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.” So it’s not as easy as just saying I have liberty to do this or that.

Let’s put some practicality to this issue. I acknowledge that you are not responsible for the decisions other adults make as a result of watching you, but what of the principle of being a stumbling block to another believer? In Lev: 19:14 stumbling block refers to treatment of others: “You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.” In Matt. 16:23 Jesus told Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” This shows us that Satan influenced Peter to distract Jesus from His primary mission. In 1 Cor. 1:23 Paul said, “but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness,” which shows that Jesus was not who the Jews were expecting in a Messiah. When we talk about stumbling block today, it represents a spiritual metaphor that refers to hindering another’s walk of faith. In Rom. 14:13 Paul says, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this – not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.” Then later in Rom. 14:21 he says, “It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.” Some of the Roman believers were converted Jews and wanted to uphold the feasts, the Sabbath, and other ceremonial laws that Gentile converts did not know about. Those Jewish converts looked down on the Gentile converts and passed judgment on them because they ate meat and did not observe the Sabbath. The 14th chapter is really an eye opener when you take it in context.

People also cite 1 Cor. 8:9, “But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak,” and this time, he’s talking about meat sacrificed to idols. This principle of Christian liberty really has nothing to do with alcohol specifically, but what we consume in general so it’s really inaccurate to say we have the liberty to drink and use those verses as proof texts. That’s not to say we should not consider how other people perceive what we do or do not do. Stumbling blocks arise when there are what we believe to be gray areas of Scripture. As I mentioned earlier, it would be far easier if the Bible gave us direction on this. I’ve heard believers talk about the good taste of a fine wine or the smoothness of whiskey. I really enjoy a dark, bold cup of coffee or a frozen coffee. It tastes good and my inhibitions are not lessened because of it. My thinking is not affected by consuming diet Pepsi. Research has shown that even one drink can affect your thinking. I don’t develop a sense of courage because I drink it.

So we have to consider wisdom. After all, that’s what this entire book is about. How does drinking alcohol glorify God? You can apply the same standard for everything we do. What is our primary function on earth? To live a life of obedience. To glorify God in all we think say, and do. And there it is. If our primary motivator in life it to glorify God, how are we intentionally engaging in that? In the days before Facebook, Twitter, and for the really old timers . . . MySpace, the only way to find out what was going on is people’s lives was to talk to them. If you wanted to see pictures of what they were doing, you looked at a photo album. If you wanted to make new friends, you were introduced to them. If you wanted to give a message to someone, you called them on the phone or wrote them a letter. Now we have instant access to everything going on in our life so in this new age of communication and social media, what messages are we conveying to our friends and followers? What message is sent when you post pictures of your favorite alcohol beverage on Facebook? Especially when you tag on a caption that says something like, “Unwinding after a long day” or something like that. Do we really need alcohol to help us forget a tough day? David said, “When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul.” (Ps. 94:19) I’ve even seen pictures of professing believers with a glass of wine next to their Bible with a caption along the lines of, “Getting ready to spend time with God.” If you want to have the attitude that people need to get out of your business, then why have them on your friends list and why post all the stuff?

Since we can’t call this a sin issue, we have to call it a wisdom issue. I think we have established that drinking alcohol is not a sin. One thing is clear: drunkenness is always condemned in the Bible. It’s not only for safety and health reasons, but drunkenness leads to other problems such as anger and violence, addiction, and the lessening of inhibitions that lead to lustful temptations. So the question must be asked, “What is drunk?” Are we to use the laws of the state to determine drunkenness? Are you supposed to carry a portable breathalyzer to determine blood alcohol content to avoid crossing the legal limit of intoxication? I have never seen anyone that is drunk that did not begin with the first drink. Is. 5:11, “Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink, who stay up late in the evening that wine may inflame them!” I would think that kind of attitude isn’t present in authentic believers. Remember, this is not a sin issue, but a wisdom issue. Would you be embarrassed if I, or someone from church, saw you out in town drinking alcohol? What are you missing by not drinking? For me, I don’t want to drink because it reminds me of my life before Jesus. It represents my old self and who I used to be. It’s not who I am now. I am a tee-totaler and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything because I don’t drink.

While the issue of social drinking can result in a draw as far as definitive direction, the question is not, “Can I drink socially, but why do I want to drink socially?” While you have the freedom to drink, it may not be profitable (1 Cor. 6:12) and may even contribute to the stumbling of others (Gal. 5:13). If you want to enjoy an alcohol beverage, I implore you to exercise wisdom. I suggest you exercise restraint before you post anything on social media regarding alcohol because people are watching you. “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal. 6:14)

My Liberty (Part 1)

31 Oct

drinkCheck out the podcast here.

The last time we were together in Proverbs, we learned that laziness and authenticity as a follower of Christ are not compatible. It’s incomprehensible to use an ungodly adjective to describe your walk of faith. We should be growing more and more like Christ as we allow the transforming power of God to change us from the inside out. When you discipline someone and it’s made public, others will see that there are consequences for wrong doing. We must take the time to intentionally instruct others in the ways of faith. What if they don’t listen? It shouldn’t stop us from doing what is right. One thing that works my patience is for people to stop listening or refuse to listen to wisdom when it’s obvious they could use some help. We finished up by talking about that rascally witness. Don’t be him. Judgment is coming one day, let’s make sure we’re doing God’s work. This morning, we are going to talk about an issue that will cause some to turn a deaf ear, some will say I’m old fashioned or a prude, or that I’m living in the dark ages. I pray that you will hear my heart as we talk about this issue and I hope you will stick around until we finish.

This may be the most controversial message I preach at C4. It’s controversial because people have decided to do what they want to do rather than do what is wisest. I am not going to paint with a broad brush and say that everyone is the same. I pray you’ll keep an open mind and really determine what is best to do from God’s point of view. Some people have already made up their mind that they’re going to drink or not drink alcohol regardless of the compelling argument one way or another that I make here this morning.

Solomon starts Chapter 20 with this new topic, one he has yet to address to his son: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.” Before we even begin, I have had alcohol and my first memory, as I have shared before, comes from my childhood. My parents liked to entertain and I remember dinner parties where the alcohol flowed quite freely. Before and after dinner, I would walk around drinking left over drinks. I have been drunk a number of times in my life and not one of those times was I glad the next morning. I have several people in my family that drink to excess. I have seen the wake of destruction left behind because of alcohol and it occurred as a youngster, while in high school and college, the Navy, police work, and my ministry. I hope you know me well enough that I generally do not fly off the handle with knee jerk reactions or make decisions without first doing my homework. I have carefully studied this issue and I have seen a notable shift in recent years regarding the consumption of alcohol by Christians. I like to think of myself as a student of God’s Word and I have allowed my study of the Scriptures to change doctrines I have been taught in the church over the last three decades. Some have allowed their eisegesis of the Word to formulate their doctrine instead of allowing the Scripture to speak.

So how will I approach this topic? I am not going to preach about this as a do or don’t drink alcohol. I’m not going to say we must totally abstain from drinking alcohol and I’m not going to say take a drink once in a while. I want to walk you through the wisdom of Solomon and then you can determine what the wisest thing to do is. Regarding alcohol, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson said, “You don’t have to look like the world. You don’t have to ride as close to the edge as you possibly can without falling off.” There are church denominations that provide guidelines or distinctives for alcohol.

In a 2006 resolution, the Southern Baptist Convention resolved to, “express our total opposition to the manufacturing, advertising, distributing, and consuming of alcoholic beverages.” In the same resolution, they urged that no one be elected or allowed to serve in any capacity that consumes alcohol. Assemblies of God General Superintendent George O. Wood said, “We require all ministerial applicants to agree to refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages; and recommend to our constituents that they also abstain.” Our own denomination says it this way: “We believe in Christian liberty, but freedom always has its limitations. Responsible Christians do not abuse freedom. The apostle Paul wrote forcefully about Christian liberty in the Book of Galatians. He shattered the legalists with the doctrine of grace. But in First and Second Corinthians and Romans, the apostle also rebuked believers when liberty was abused. He declared boldly the principles of Christian liberty, but spoke with equal forcefulness about Christian accountability. The EFCA desires to preserve our freedom in Christ. We encourage our people to be responsible, godly men, women and young people who desire to live under the control of the Holy Spirit in obedience to the principles and precepts of God’s Word, and in harmony with God’s will for life as revealed in the Scriptures.”

We also don’t want to take a legalistic approach either. Legalism has caused lots of pain in the church. Women can’t wear pants; men can’t have long hair; no working, card playing, or sewing on Sunday. Legalism determines the godliness of an individual on what is done or not done by following a strict set of man-made rules. We’ve heard a number of comparative arguments as well. Just because someone doesn’t drink doesn’t mean he’s any godlier than someone that does drink. Kari and I were invited over to a family’s house for a meal several years ago and the host was drinking beer. He offered me a soft drink or water, but not a beer. He obviously didn’t think drinking was a sin, so why wouldn’t he offer me one? I was a guest in his home, but if he knew I abstained and might be offended by him drinking alcohol, why wouldn’t he skip the beer for that one meal? So, he was either offensive or rude. In the church, we typically isolate the stumbling block verse to alcohol, but it applies across the board. If you’re going to cause someone else to stumble, then you should rethink your actions and we’ll dig into that more later. Drinking alcohol in excess is undeniably addictive. Do you find yourself wanting wine or beer with every meal? Do you find yourself going to the fridge as soon as you get home from work? I can honestly say that I’ve never met anyone that would describe themselves as an alcoholic that has never had alcohol. Some people make a faulty comparison between over eating and over drinking. If you eat out at a restaurant and have an 8000 calorie meal high in saturated fats, you’ll likely not get pulled over by the police. The chances of getting into an accident that results in serious injury or death because of your cholesterol level are minimal so that’s not a good comparison. This isn’t a cultural issue either. I know wine is used as a beverage throughout Europe, but they also have nude beaches there. Polygamy is practiced in much of Africa as well as the Middle East because it’s part of the culture, but we don’t allow it here.

Let’s talk about some facts. There are two kinds of wine mentioned in Scripture: fermented and unfermented – it depends on the context. We know that a Christian should not drink to get drunk because drunkenness is always condemned in the Bible. There are prohibitions about drinking anything of the vine during certain periods of time. Priests engaged in temple service were instructed to abstain from drinking fermented wine in Lev. 10:8-11. Nazirites were forbidden from drinking during the course of their vow in Num. 3:6. Lemuel’s mother told him drinking wine or strong drink was not appropriate for kings in Pr. 31:4. Paul’s qualification for overseers in 1 Tim. 3:2-3a includes the phrase, “Not addicted to wine” which literally means not at, by, near, or with wine. Maybe you’re thinking, “That’s all good! I’m not a Temple priest, Nazarite, king, or overseer.” Here are some statistics for you to ponder. Almost 88,000 people die every year from alcohol-related causes, making alcohol the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States. (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) According to one study, of the 490 million people in the European Union, more than 23 million are dependent on alcohol.

According to the Center for Disease Control, excessive drinking includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, and any drinking by pregnant women or people younger than age 21. Binge drinking is the most common form of excessive drinking and is defined as consuming four or more drinks for women during a single occasion and five or more if you’re a man. Heavy drinking is defined as consuming eight or more drinks during the week for women, and 15 or more for men. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines moderate drinking as up to one drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. In addition, the Dietary Guidelines say that if you do not drink alcohol, don’t start drinking for any reason. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says, “Expanding our understanding of the relationship between moderate alcohol consumption and potential health benefits remains a challenge, and although there are positive effects, alcohol may not benefit everyone who drinks moderately.”

Just so you don’t think I’m coming at the issue from a biased angle, there are some benefits from drinking alcohol. There are studies that show wine can be good for the heart and can prevent colds. Vodka is shown to eliminate bad breath, as long as you use it as a mouth wash and spit it out. Beer is rich in Vitamin B and lowers the risk of heart attacks in women. There is a dizzying number of studies involving the benefits and detriments of alcohol consumption.

The Harvard School of Public health sums it up like this: “It’s safe to say that alcohol is both a tonic and a poison. The difference lies mostly in the dose. Moderate drinking seems to be good for the heart and circulatory system, and probably protects against type 2 diabetes and gallstones. Heavy drinking is a major cause of preventable death in most countries. In the U.S., alcohol is implicated in about half of fatal traffic accidents. Heavy drinking can damage the liver and heart, harm an unborn child, increase the chances of developing breast and some other cancers, contribute to depression and violence, and interfere with relationships.”

Let me throw out some surprising statistics. People ages 12-20 drink 11% of all the alcohol consumed in the United States.[1] Oddly enough, cooking sherry is a favorite item among teens because it’s considered food and not subject to the same legal requirements as alcohol, but contains 17% alcohol.[2] People who start drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to meet the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives.[3] One in five Americans have lived with an alcoholic relative while growing up.[4]

I know we haven’t gotten to the meat of the verse yet, but I needed to lay a foundation for what is to come. If we fail to apply wisdom to this area of our lives, it could impact other areas of our lives that have far reaching consequences. My hope and prayer is that you return next week and listen to the conclusion to this message.

[1] (http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/underage-drinking.htm, n.d.)

[2] http://www.forwardlookout.com/2012/06/drinking-cooking-sherry/15454/comment-page-1

[3] http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/UnderageDrinking/UnderageFact.htm

[4] http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Children-Of-Alcoholics-017.aspx

Rampant Laziness and Assault

17 Oct

lazyCheck out the podcast here.

Last week we learned that wisdom is not some elusive quality. You can develop wisdom by listening to the godly counsel of others. Godly counsel that has resulted from years of walking with God. A biblical worldview will lead to godliness for the rest of your days. Make intentional plans in your walk with God; He will reveal the path to take and be open to what He wants rather than what you want. Just because something seems good and right does not mean God wants you to do it. Being a follower of God does not mean nothing bad will ever happen in your life or the lives of those you love. Circumstances must not dictate your love or devotion to God. God is God and He is in control no matter what life may look like at any given moment. This morning, Solomon talks about laziness and assault with some very condemning word pictures.

I encourage you to take the time and read our passage found in Pro. 19:24-29.

Solomon starts off talking about laziness beyond imagination. You’ve probably dealt with some lazy people in your days, but this is lazy. This is a word picture so vivid, it should immediately conjure up an image in your brain. “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish, but will not even bring it back to his mouth.” Sluggard means slow or idle. You’ll see slugs in the garden and they’re typically pests. It’s a gastropod – a snail like creature without a shell. This guy is the poster child for laziness. Get this in your mind; this guy is so lazy that he exerts all his energy just to make the stretch to the food dish. Since he’s expended his energy, he just can’t find the strength to bring his hand back to his mouth to feed himself. How lazy do you have to be to have food in front of you, but you just can’t bring yourself to eat it? That’s lazy. Is there really anyone so lazy that they would die before expending the energy to eat? Maybe your husband might die if you didn’t feed him. At least that’s how it might seem. Solomon is speaking metaphorically. The instinct to eat is very powerful. I know it is sometimes difficult to get your list of things to do accomplished when it’s a rainy, gloomy day and all you want to do is lounge around and watch movies. But that’s not what Solomon is talking about. Everyone needs time to recharge their physical batteries. The person Solomon is talking about is a sluggard; it’s who he is. He’s lazy beyond imagination. He works at doing nothing. If you’re a Christian, this laziness isn’t possible because of the ongoing transformation in your heart.

It is somewhat awkward to transition between topics and Solomon does it again in the next verse. “Strike a scoffer and the naive may become shrewd, but reprove one who has understanding and he will gain knowledge.” Before we get into it, rest assured this is not giving permission to put the smack down on someone. If we remember from previous uses of the word scoffer, it means contempt or openly expressed disdain. It is the feeling of contempt or feeling that something is unworthy. Think of it in this way. When people are held accountable for doing wrong, other people can benefit from it. Back in my Navy days, if someone got in trouble and went to Captain’s Mast, which is known as non-judicial punishment, the results were published so others could see what can happen when you do wrong. Our newspaper publishes the crime report every week and tells the readers who has been arrested and what the charge is. In a biblical context, we see the same thing. Deut. 13 tells us the punishment for idolatry was stoning. Deut. 13:11 concludes by saying, “Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and will never do such a wicked thing among you.” We saw just a couple of weeks ago that a stubborn and rebellious son could be stoned to death by the elders of the city. (Deut. 21:18-21) Before you go and tell me how barbaric that is, you have to go back to the root of the issue. These were consequences for violating God’s law. Nowhere in Scripture has it ever been permissible to go around killing or harming people. That’s what people miss. We want to live in a society where everyone else is held accountable, but many people don’t want to be held accountable for their own actions.

The New Testament is filled with examples of where we are commanded to hold ourselves and others accountable to the standards found in God’s unchanging word. Let me highlight three examples from three different writers.

  1. “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matt. 18:15-17)
  2. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” (Ja. 5:16)
  3. “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” (Gal. 6:1)

The goal is always recognition, redemption, and restoration. These verses apply in a Christian to Christian context. The principles of learning should be nothing new to us. Pro. 9:9, “Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser, teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning.” Pro. 17:10, “A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.” God’s goal is not to hammer us every time we do wrong. His goal is for us to be continually transformed into the image of His Perfect Son. When we read the instruction manual first, the chances of failure are drastically reduced. When the scoffer is struck, even the naïve or simple can learn from it.

Here’s some more parenting advice. Look at vs. 26-27. We’ve seen the principle in v. 26 before, but I want to make sure you don’t miss that key phrase in v. 27. “Cease listening” is probably one of the most frustrating things in parenting. Quite honestly, this is one of the most frustrating things I engage in nearly every day. Many times it’s not that the listening stops, it’s that there’s no listening to begin with. You try to give some guidance and you’re waved off. Sometimes you’ll get the ‘I know what I’m doing’ look. Sometimes you’ll get the ‘I’ve already decided what to do and nothing you say is going to change my mind’ look. Sometimes you get the ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about’ look. When you quit listening to people who can provide you with good, solid biblical guidance that back it up with a lifetime of passionate following after God, “You will stray from the words of knowledge.” When you ignore the instructions, disaster results.

Let’s shift over to a rather amusing choice of words. Solomon says, “A rascally witness makes a mockery of justice, and the mouth of the wicked spreads iniquity. Judgments are prepared for scoffers, and blows for the back of fools.” When you hear the word rascally, you might think of Bugs Bunny and his arch enemy Elmer Fudd. Maybe you think of Spanky and Alfalfa. A rascal in this context is an unprincipled or dishonest person. That makes sense doesn’t it? Someone that is unprincipled or dishonest will make a mockery of the justice system where people take an oath to defend the constitution or swear to tell the truth. There is still the fundamental tenant of our justice system that people will tell the truth. It’s a crime not to tell the truth in a court of law or to law enforcement. This guy is a liar, he is wicked, and he is a fool. Over and over again, Solomon has talked about the important of listening to wisdom. Over and over again, we’ve seen the wicked and the foolish fail to heed the godly wisdom of others. Judgment awaits him as judgment awaits all of us. I love how the Psalms start and it certainly fits here: “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!” (Ps. 1:1) In one of the most sobering verses in Scripture, Matt. 25:41 says, “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.” The mocking and the evil and the wickedness will one day end. Until then, we need to follow the wisdom God has set forth in the Bible.

Laziness and authenticity as a follower of Christ are not compatible. It’s incomprehensible to use an ungodly adjective to describe your walk of faith. We should be growing more and more like Christ as we allow the transforming power of God to change us from the inside out. When you discipline someone and it’s made public, others will see that there are consequences for wrong doing. We must take the time to intentionally instruct others in the ways of faith. What if they don’t listen? It shouldn’t stop us from doing what is right. One thing that works my patience is for people to stop listening to wisdom when it’s obvious they could use some help. Do not cease to listen to the wisdom of others. We finished up by talking about that rascally witness. Don’t be him. Judgment is coming one day, let’s make sure we’re doing God’s work.