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Good News for 2017

3 Jan

2017Check out the audio version here.

Take a look at our passage for today found in Rom. 10:11-15.

Notice the words in v.15, “Good news of good things.”

I looked at what the Associated Press said were their top stories of 2016.  There were some items that people will consider good news while most people will consider it all bad. Here are the top news stories of 2016 according to AP.

  1. US ELECTION: This year’s top story traces back to June 2015, when Donald Trump descended an escalator in Trump Tower, his bastion in New York City, to announce he would run for president. Widely viewed as a long shot, with an unconventional campaign featuring raucous rallies and pugnacious tweets, he outlasted 16 Republican rivals. Among the Democrats, Hillary Clinton beat back an unexpectedly strong challenge from Bernie Sanders, and won the popular vote over Trump. But he won key Rust Belt states to get the most electoral votes, and will enter the White House with Republicans maintaining control of both houses of Congress.
  2. BREXIT: Confounding pollsters and odds makers, Britons voted in June to leave the European Union, triggering financial and political upheaval. David Cameron resigned as prime minister soon after the vote, leaving the task of negotiating an exit to a reshaped Conservative government led by Theresa May. Under a tentative timetable, final details of the withdrawal might not be known until the spring of 2019.
  3. BLACK MEN KILLED BY POLICE: One day apart, police in Baton Rouge, LA, fatally shot Alton Sterling after pinning him to the ground, and a white police officer shot and killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop in a suburb of Minneapolis. Coming after several similar cases in recent years, the killings rekindled debate over policing practices and the Black Lives Matter movement.
  4. PULSE NIGHTCLUB MASSACRE: The worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history unfolded on Latin Night at the Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. The gunman, Omar Mateen, killed 49 people over the course of three hours before dying in a shootout with SWAT team members. During the standoff, he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
  5. WORLDWIDE TERROR ATTACKS: Across the globe, extremist attacks flared at a relentless pace throughout the year. Among the many high-profile attacks were those that targeted airports in Brussels and Istanbul, a park teeming with families and children in Pakistan, and the seafront boulevard in Nice, France, where 86 people were killed when a truck plowed through a Bastille Day celebration. In Iraq alone, many hundreds of civilians were killed in repeated bombings.
  6. ATTACKS ON POLICE: Ambushes and targeted attacks on police officers in the U.S. claimed at least 20 lives. The victims included five officers in Dallas working to keep the peace at a protest over the fatal police shootings of black men in MN and LA. Ten days after that attack, a man killed three officers in Baton Rouge, LA. In Iowa, two policemen were fatally shot in separate ambush-style attacks while sitting in their patrol cars.
  7. DEMOCRATIC PARTY EMAIL LEAKS: Hacked emails, disclosed by WikiLeaks, revealed at-times embarrassing details from Democratic Party operatives in run-up to Election Day, leading to the resignation of Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other DNC officials. The CIA later concluded that Russia was behind the DNC hacking in a bid to boost Donald Trump’s chances of beating Hillary Clinton.
  8. SYRIA: Repeated cease-fire negotiations failed to halt relentless warfare among multiple factions. With Russia’s help, the government forces of President Bashar Assad finally seized rebel-held portions of the city of Aleppo, at a huge cost in terms of deaths and destruction.
  9. SUPREME COURT: After Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to fill the vacancy. However, majority Republicans in the Senate refused to consider the nomination, opting to leave the seat vacant so it could be filled by the winner of the presidential election. Donald Trump has promised to appoint a conservative in the mold of Scalia.
  10. HILLARY CLINTON’S EMAILS: Amid the presidential campaign, the FBI conducted an investigation into Clinton’s use of a private computer server to handle emails she sent and received as secretary of state. FBI Director James Comey criticized Clinton for carelessness but said the bureau would not recommend criminal charges.

Those are just the top stories and you might argue there was one piece of good news, but the rest are clearly what we would call bad news. We typically focus only on bad news.

As Christ followers, we have the privilege to share the good news that is always good. The good news we have is called the Gospel. We just celebrated Christmas which tells the story of how Jesus was conceived of a virgin and born into this world. We must go further and tell people that He lived a sinless life as He walked the road to Calvary where He willingly gave up His life so that we could be reconciled with God. Jesus died on that cross, but three days later, He rose again defeating death. He was seen walking about by the multitudes and He gave people hope. Jesus ascended to heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us. That’s all exceedingly good news. Jesus said, “Because I live, you shall live also.”

As we move into the New Year, there’s going to be crises, challenges, and problems. Let’s focus on living for Christ in spite of our circumstances. Let’s adjust our attitudes and focus on the positive.

As I look forward to the coming year, there are a few things I would like to see happen:

I’d like to see people truly commit their life to Christ. It’s clear that this is what God wants: 1 Tim. 2:4 says, “Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Somewhere along the way, we decided that sin is relative. There is no standard of conduct, but the Bible is very clear that we have a sin problem. Rom. 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Is. 64:6 says, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” But I have more good news: God has given up on us. God draws us to Him through the power of the Spirit. Jo. 6:44 says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” God made a way through Christ. 2 Cor. 5:21 says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” We have been justified in Christ: we are declared righteous based on the merits of Jesus. We have been sanctified: Christ’s righteousness is applied to each of us every single day. It’s our responsibility to make sure that everyone knows they’re welcome at the foot of the cross. Jo. 6:37 says, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” Peter said it this way:“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”  (2 Pet. 3:9) “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  (Jo. 3:16) You don’t have to be a certain way to get Christ, come as you are.

I’d like to see God’s people passionate about their personal faith and ministry. 2 Cor. 5:17 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” Nowhere in Scripture is this more evident than in the life of the Apostle Paul. Acts 9 records his conversion experience. The same Holy Spirit that transformed that murderer into an apostle lives in us so why do we have such low expectations from Christians today? Saul was lost. He finally recognized where he was without Christ and made a decision to follow Him and immediately began preaching. The people of the day were confused at this miraculous transformation, but that didn’t deter Saul from telling others what had happened. Acts 9:22says, “But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.” We need a renewed passion for Christ.

These days, a general commitment to Christ substitutes for repentance. We’re satisfied with mediocrity; we’re satisfied being halfway committed to Christ and His bride. Committed means to be wholeheartedly dedicated. I often say I wish people would be half as committed to their walk of faith as they are their favorite sports team. Faithfulness has been replaced by casualness. We spend a lot of time and energy engaged in things that don’t really matter when you consider eternity. We have a tendency to take things for granted. We think God will always be there and we’ll start really serving Him when we’re ready or when we have time. Remember Saul persecuted the church and then met God and his life was never the same. Today we have people meet this same God and their lives are no different. What’s really disturbing about that is many people in the church are okay with it.

In 2017, I’d love to see people get passionate about God. I’d like to see people take Bible study with us. In 2016, we had over 200 people take Bible study with us in person and online and studied the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and now we’re studying God’s covenants. What I have observed over the last 17 years I’ve been in ministry is that people who consistently study and apply the Bible to their lives grow stronger in their faith. When the challenges of life occur, you’re better equipped to handle it. Other people will see this and ask you how you did it. You use that as a springboard to tell people about the power of God that is available to them. It would be really nice if that power you speak of is evident in your own life. More often than not, we treat God as the genie in the bottle. We reach for Him when we want something and then we put Him back on the shelf for another day. That is not how you worship the God of the universe. We’ve got it backwards: we look for God to serve us rather than for us to serve Him.

I think we have a tendency be complacent. Matt. 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” To put anything above the Lord is foolish, but we do it all the time. I think few people would admit that, but our actions speak louder than our words. I’d like to see people get more involved in the opportunities we have here. I think we’ve gotten lazy in our faith. Fewer and fewer people are willing to work hard. Fewer and fewer people make themselves available to do the hard, stressful, and emotionally draining work of the ministry. Fewer and fewer people are willing to persevere. More and more people say no to serving in the church What have you said yes to? I’d like to see people really make connections with others. There are people very casual about participation in the things of the church. We have people that miss one, two, three, four weeks and no one seems to notice and if they do notice, nothing comes of it. I’d like to see people participate in intentional ministry.

I’d like God’s people resist Satan. James says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  (Ja. 4:7) We cannot resist the devil in our own strength. We must first submit ourselves to God.  Then we can stand against Satan in the strength and might of the Lord Himself. Resist his destructive plans. Satan is a destroyer. He will try to destroy your home, your church relationship, your testimony, etc. Once you say yes to Satan, it becomes easier the next time, and easier. Satan’s way is never good, but unfortunately, even Christians are too ignorant to recognize this. Stay far from sin. Don’t see how close you can get.

I’d like to see Jesus come back in 2017. Phil. 3:20 says, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus promised in John 14:3, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” We’re too attached to this temporary home. We work to have things that will pass away. We spend the majority of our time on things that have no bearing on eternity.

What do you want to hear and see by the end of next year? How many will you share Christ with? How will you serve the Lord by serving others? Will you live the life of holiness God has called you to live? How authentic will you be?

The Fascination of the Shepherds

19 Dec

angel-and-shepherdsCheck out the podcast here.

Last week we focused on the shepherds and the angels for good reason that we will see this morning. The familiarity of this Christmas story shouldn’t prevent us from learning something new each time we look at it. The shepherds were scared out of their minds when the angel of the Lord appeared, but the angel told them something incredible: a Savior had been born. The angel even gave them a sign on how to find the One. That’s the good news of Jesus Christ. This morning, we’ll see how the shepherds went from frightened to fascinated.

Read Luke 2:11-20 to get a feel for the context as we take a final look this year at the Christmas story.

How did the shepherds respond? They heard the message from the angel of the Lord. “Today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” It was a message of hope, a message of peace, a message of salvation, a message of deliverance. Maybe you’ve shared the same message except you change it around and say 2000 years ago, a Savior was born. The shepherds could have responded in a number of ways. We’ve heard the message before. We’re too busy with our jobs to listen. Apathy, indifference, disdain. All the same things you hear today. Maybe there’s something lacking in our lives that was present with the angels that had them convincing the shepherds to find out more. Maybe we lack the glory of the Lord in our lives. Maybe we use words to speak about His power, but it seems to be lacking in our own lives. Maybe we don’t confidently share what God has done in our lives because we fail to see what He has done. Maybe the message of the manger is ignored because we’ve lost or never had God’s glory. The glory of God should be evident in our lives. It’s an acknowledgement of who He is, of His power, of His compassion, of His mercy, and His grace. It doesn’t mean everything is going great, will be great, or that we’ve figured it all out; it’s just that we recognize that God is God. When presented with the incredible message of the good news of Jesus’ birth, the shepherds responded in an incredible way. They went to Bethlehem. An angel appears and tells them a Savior has been born, the multitudes break out in shouts of praise and the shepherds move from fright to fascination. “When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” The angels left and they immediately began to talk among themselves. The talking wasn’t a debate. They said let’s check it out. Let’s, “See this thing that has happened.”

What did the shepherds do? I love how Luke portrays what happens next. “So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph.” We have no idea how they found Mary and Joseph. Maybe they asked around about a pregnant girl, maybe they knew all the inns that were in Bethlehem, maybe they knew all the places where a traveling couple could stay; who knows? One thing is for sure – they were in a hurry. Hurry means move or act quickly. They were obedient and they were quick about it. I could spend a whole lot of time here. We don’t see the shepherds praying about what to do. We don’t see them getting advice from their friends. We don’t see them making excuses about why they can’t go check it out. We don’t see them saying I’ve seen a fresh born baby before. They left the fields and went to Bethlehem to see this thing that had happened. They wanted to be a part of something that had never happened before. If I could take a side trip here. God is doing incredible things all around us if we’ll just take the time to recognize it. The shepherds were told to go and they wanted to check it out themselves so they went.

There is an indication that they were told to go because the angel tells them, “You will find a baby wrapped in cloths lying in a manger.” They found Mary and Joseph, “And the baby as He lay in the manger.” Not only did they find Mary, and Joseph, and the baby . . . they found Him exactly as they were told. It was specific. I’m laying odds that there weren’t any other babies born that night in Bethlehem. Don’t underestimate the significance of this. The shepherds found the baby exactly as they were told. Since they found the baby exactly as they were told, it stands to reason that the identity of the baby would be exactly as they were told. A Savior has been born and there will not be another one. Messiah is here! Col. 1:19 says, “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross.” This is the way God designed it. Full access, full grace, full mercy, full redemption, full restoration, and full peace. Can you imagine being there? Did the shepherds fully understand what they were seeing? Did they understand they were seeing the face of God? Could they possibly comprehend that they were looking at the salvation of mankind?

The shepherds visited with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus and, “They made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.” This is fantastically brilliant. The shepherds met the Savior and what did they do? They became evangelists telling anyone and everyone who would listen. They shared the message from the angels, they shared about meeting with Mary and Joseph, and they shared about the baby that God had given for mankind’s redemption. It was a story that was absolutely incredible. They heard the announcement of the angel and they responded. I can imagine them seeing someone in Bethlehem and beginning a conversation, “You are not going to believe this, but let me tell you what has just happened.” “And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.” There is one word that really gets to me. It’s the pronoun all. Everyone that heard the message about Jesus from the shepherds wondered. Wondered is also translated amazed. Without exception, people were amazed at the story of Jesus’ birth. Do we find that today? Today, even in the church, we have lost the incredibleness of the birth of our Savior. We’ve heard it so often, that it’s just another Bible story. Believers get caught up in the same things that draw other people away from Jesus. We’re inundated with events that fill up our December. We think about presents that need to be bought and the bills that are going to come in. We have believers that make a jolly old fella with a white beard the center of a season that must be reserved for the Savior of the world.

How did Mary respond after the shepherds left? “Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” The things she treasured is everything concerning Jesus. How He was conceived, His birth, and His life. Was she thinking of Gen. 3:15 when Jesus birth was first prophesied? Since you’re already in Luke, take a quick look at Lu. 2:25-35. At this point, there’s no indication that Mary understood the implication of being the Savior. She pondered these things. She wondered, she thought, she tried to wrap her brain around the things she was told and the things she saw with her own eyes, but it is really hard to understand and remember, she was likely a teenager. When we consider Is. 9:6-7, she was probably asking herself what it meant to have the government rest upon His shoulders. She probably didn’t understand that there, “Will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore.” You think about what you know and how hard it is to understand this precious gift that God has given to us. Mary pondered these things, she thought about it and I’m sure it perplexed her.

What did the shepherds do? “The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.” Matthew doesn’t mention the shepherds, Mark and John start off their gospels with John the baptizer. We don’t see the shepherds again. They drift off into scriptural oblivion not to be mentioned again. I find it curious because the shepherds played such an important role in this event. No matter the incredible and great things the Lord calls us to do and we accomplish through Him, it’s still all about Jesus. The shepherds told Bethlehem about Jesus and they went back into the fields praising God – present tense. When we see and hear things about God, do we praise Him? This is what I’m talking about. We are so underwhelmed with the things of God. The shepherds had a personal encounter with God and they responded by telling anyone who would listen about the Messiah. As a professing believer, you’ve said you’ve had a personal encounter with God and how do you respond? Do you immediately tell others about what has happened? You cannot acknowledge the gift that was given by God without acknowledging the reason the gift was given.

After Jesus is circumcised on the eighth day, He continued according to Lu. 2:40, “to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.” We don’t see or hear anything about Jesus until he’s 12 years old when His parents make their way to Jerusalem for the Passover. After the Passover, Mary and Joseph leave to head home and don’t realize Jesus isn’t with them until they had traveled a day’s journey. One final passage I’d like you to read for yourself. Look at Lu. 2:45-51. We find the same phrase when Mary is treasuring these things in her heart. Jesus must be about His father’s business. You cannot have Christmas without recognizing the reason it had to happen. Jesus was born of a virgin to enable Him to be our Passover lamb. He lived a sinless life so that He could affect the redemption of mankind. He is a gift. Maybe you have never received and accepted the gift of God. Maybe this year is the year you will.

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.

Christmas – The Characters

5 Dec

Check out the podcast here.

mangerWe are all familiar with the Christmas story, maybe too familiar. In our over saturation of Christmas, the meaning of the message sometimes gets lost because of the season. It doesn’t make sense, but we see it over and over again. Sometimes when we’ve heard a story over and over through the years we get a little distracted because we think of it as a review. We don’t really listen because we know where it’s going because we’ve heard it before. In a Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown exclaims, “Doesn’t anyone know what Christmas is all about?” We then hear Linus reciting Lu. 2:8-14 and he concludes by saying, “That’s what Christmas is all about.” Every year we hear preachers preach Christmas sermons, but do we really know the Christmas story? This Christmas, we’re going to take the time to walk through Luke’s telling of the birth of Christ. I encourage you to take the time to read it at home too.

I really encourage you to take the time to read Luke 2:1-20 for yourself.

Here’s the overview. When you study the Bible, you need to take a view from above. Too often, people want to get right into it and find all the answers they seek, but are not willing to do the work necessary to get it. Shortcuts may be awesome for computers or other electronic devices, but there are no shortcuts in understanding the Bible. When people take shortcuts in life, it rarely results in good things. Sarai tried a shortcut in Gen. 16 when she helped God make Abram a great nation. It didn’t work. Satan tempted Jesus in Matt. 4 to take three shortcuts. Satan came to Him when He was tired and hungry. He offered Jesus immediate satisfaction: fresh bread, a miraculous delivery by jumping from the Temple’s pinnacle, and then promised to give Jesus the kingdoms of the world. That was at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Satan was trying to get Jesus to bypass the heartache, pain, and suffering that He was destined to endure. You can’t watch A Charlie Brown Christmas to get an understanding of Christmas.

There are several characters introduced to us by Luke. Many of us can name the players. Mary and Joseph and the inn keeper. Of course, there is baby Jesus.    There is the angel of the Lord and the shepherds. There is the multitude of the heavenly host.  So let’s look at these people. Mary is a very holy figure to some people, but what do we learn about her from this passage? Mary was with Joseph. They were traveling from Galilee to the City of David which is called Bethlehem. They were traveling because of the decree sent out from Caesar Augustus that said a census was to be taken. The census applied to men so they could be taxed by the Roman government. The number of people to be counted included, “all that inhabited the earth.”  In order to do that, everyone had to go to their hometown to register. The phrase City of David is used 45 times in the Old Testament and it refers to Jerusalem. It’s used twice in the New Testament and it refers to Bethlehem. Joseph was of the house of David and David was born in Bethlehem. Mary has a very unique condition that never occurred before or after. It wasn’t just that she was with child. We find out how Mary finds herself pregnant in Luke 1:26-35. That’s pretty exciting stuff. And then in Matt. 1:25 says Joseph, “Kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.” By any account, the journey from Galilee to Bethlehem would have been very difficult even in ideal conditions. The conditions that Mary and Joseph found themselves in was anything but ideal. Given Mary’s condition, they likely would have walked the easier of the routes. It was about 90 miles from Galilee to Bethlehem. Think about how fast you can walk. Now think about walking on unpaved paths, carrying your gear, with a pregnant woman. They could have walked about 20 miles a day so the journey would take them four or five days. Have you ever thought about where they stayed each night? Did they camp or stay at inns along the way? When they finally arrived at their destination, imagine how they felt. Tired, hungry, dirty, smelly. All they wanted to do was find a room, get a bite to eat, and go to bed. Although the text doesn’t say anything about how they were feeling, think about how you feel after a long trip.

After they arrive in Bethlehem, “The days were completed for her to give birth.” We don’t know how long they were in Bethlehem before she went into labor. That’s one of the nice tidbits we put in the story. They got there just in time for Mary to start the delivery process. Perhaps all the walking helped Mary go into labor. Wait Pastor Ian, God orchestrated all of this to ensure the prophecy of Micah 5:2 was met. “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” No one can choose to be born and certainly cannot choose where they are to be born. Luke very casually says, “And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Lu. 2:7) Did you know that the first gender reveal party ever held was for Jesus? Gen. 3:15 tells us, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” We quickly gloss over the first part of that verse in Luke and focus on the second part. Before He was laid in the manger, have you thought about the actual birth? With our modern medicine and technology, you really don’t even have to wait until it’s time. When the doctor feels as though the baby is ready or a certain number of weeks has passed, a woman can be induced into labor. No more inconvenient middle of the night births. Babies can now be born to fit into a more convenient time. For many women, gone are the days of waiting until the baby determines it’s time to make an entry.

This must have been a challenging birth. Notice Jesus was Mary’s firstborn giving insight that there would be other children. This birth was free from the numerous choices available today that can sometimes complicate the process. There was no talk of medication for Mary. There were no birthing suites and no swimming pool births. Luke doesn’t go into any details of the birth. How long was she in labor? Today when women choose natural child birth, it’s nowhere in the same ball park as what Mary endured. There’s typically someone close by that can help. A mid-wife, a doula, or mom. If something goes wrong today for someone that chooses natural child, EMTs and paramedics are only a phone call away. Not in our story. One minute Mary was pregnant, and the next minute she was wrapping Jesus in those swaddling cloths. I think this is interesting given that Luke, a doctor who desired to write with significant detail, left this part of the story out.

The picture portrayed in our modern day nativities do not accurately portray the scene. The beautiful pictures of the little manger is nothing close to reality. The manger or feeding trough is nothing more than a box or platform that was used to feed animals. I want you to picture this because it’s important to understand what God was willing to do to offer us redemption through this little human. If you have pets, think about what their food dishes look like. Hair, slobber, nose juice, bugs, and all sorts of unseen germs, and bacteria are around the dish. Into that environment was laid our Savior. I’m sure Joseph did the best he could with what he had. He probably scraped together the cleanest hay he could find. If he had a coat or covering, he probably laid it down. And Jesus was placed in the manger where we assume he gently drifted off to sleep without making a single noise.

I’m going to leave Jesus in the manger with Mary and Joseph watching over Him. Next week we’ll see how the other characters in the story responded to the birth of Jesus. Stay tuned as we continue to take a different look at this very familiar story.

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

The Work Ethic

25 Jul

Check out the podcast here.

Last week, we saw Solomon use the terms foolish and wicked interchangeably. Someone that says God’s Word is outdated or irrelevant will bring contempt for anything that is holy and pure, and godly. Even though fewer and fewer people are willing to stand in agreement with the unchanging Word of God does not mean you have to. Don’t dismiss the power of God to change your life. He can do it if you’ll allow Him to. A decision to follow Christ will bridge the gap in your understanding of things that are inexplicable, but there will always be things about God that cannot be understood. Biblical and godly wisdom provide an inexhaustible fountain of cool, refreshing living water. Don’t be a gossip. It hurts the one listening and the one that it’s about. This morning, we’ll continue looking at some current events.

Pro. 18:9-12 says, “He also who is slack in his work is brother to him who destroys. The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe. A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his own imagination. Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, but humility goes before honor.”

Who would have ever thought we’d be in times such as we are. I’m sure other generations have thought the same things about the times in which they were living. Solomon’s opening verse is really an eye opener. “He who is slack in his work is brother to him who destroys.” As with many of the words Solomon uses, we need to know what they mean before we can fully understand what he’s saying. Slack means careless, lazy, or negligent. Work means occupation or job. Before we talk about that, it’s understood that the guy Solomon refers to has a job; he has the opportunity to support himself. The problem he has is because of the way he performs, or perhaps a more accurate statement is does not perform his job. There are jobs that once you are hired, it’s really hard to get fired. If you do not do the job for which you were hired, you should be fired. People today talk about the jobless rate in America and normally the first week of the month, you hear the jobless rate for the previous month. It gets reported all over the media and those rates often drive the stock market which can drive interest rates and all the other inner workings of our economy. How would you define your work ethic? Our work ethic was given all the way back in the beginning of humanity. Gen. 2:15 says, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to cultivate and keep it.” Adam was given a mandate by God Himself. Work was a joy for Adam and his wife and was part of the very good things that God created. It wasn’t until after the fall that work changed. In Gen. 3:17, God cursed the ground and work became hard and sorrowful.

Now let’s fast forward. As a worker, do you fall into Solomon’s category or the Apostle Paul’s? Paul said several things about work, but I want to highlight two verses. In 2 Thes. 3:10, Paul told the church. “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.” He wasn’t being mean. If you’re able to work and do not, then you should not reap the benefits of those that do work. We’re not talking about people not able to work. We’re not talking about retired people that worked all their lives. Solomon and Paul are both talking about actually working to support yourself. Back in the old days, if you didn’t have a job, you kept looking until you found one and you were willing to do whatever you needed to do in order to earn an income. We seem to have taken a step backward in this idea. In Georgia, we have 12 government programs to help no or low income families. If you have a job and can’t make it, get another one. I know it can be difficult to get a job these days, but I always say that there is work for people that are willing to work. If you have a job, praise the Lord! Be the best worker you can be. If you have to be there at 9:00 a.m., be there 15 minutes early, not five minutes late. The other verse I want to share is one I’ve shared a number of times that’s found in Col. 3:23: “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” Here’s what the rest of that passage says that will tie in nicely with what Solomon says, “knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.” Solomon says don’t be a slacker. If you’re a slack worker and get fired, don’t blame the employer for that firing. That’s what Paul is saying.

“He also who is slack in his work is brother to him who destroys.” Brother here doesn’t mean blood relationship, it means companion. Slackness and laziness lead to destruction. Laziness leads to waste. Solomon is saying that doing a poor job is as bad as actual destructiveness. If I were to go talk to your boss, and we all have bosses, and ask about your work ethic, what would they say? Are you the go to person at work? Are you the person that not only does their job, but does it with a great attitude? Remember from last week that we have been set apart for the Gospel and that should make an incredible difference in our lives. Christians are not better or worse than anyone else, but we should have a spirit about us that represents Jesus. Keep in mind that great verse found in Acts 1:8 when Jesus tells us, “You shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem and Samaria, and even to the remotest parts of the earth.” Our life is supposed to be a living testimony of who Jesus is.

I was thinking about titling this message, “What’s in a Name?” Here’s a great reminder: put it on a yellow sticky and attach it to your mirror, your dashboard, or wherever else that you need to remind yourself about who Jesus is. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous runs into it and is safe.” There have been many songs written with this verse in it. The name of the Lord is so incredibly powerful. What is the Lord’s name? In Gen. 17:1, God told Abraham, “I am God Almighty.” In Ex. 3:14, His name is, “I am.” In Is. 9:6, “His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” He is the Alpha and Omega; the Beginning and the End. He is the Creator, the Redeemer, the holy and anointed One. He is the good Shepherd, the Healer, our Righteousness. He is our Provider, the Ancient of days, our Sanctification. He is our mercy, our grace, our wisdom. His name is so powerful, “So that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:10-11) Can you picture that? What an incredible sight that will be. When Paul says every knee will bow, he means it. The Name of the Lord gives us His attributes, His character, His qualities – everything about who God is. “My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge; My savior, You save me from violence.” (2 Sam. 22:3) Ps. 18:2 says, “For You have been a refuge for me, a tower of strength against the enemy.” That strong tower can withstand any attack.

There are two things going on here I don’t want you to miss. Solomon is not saying God is a strong tower although I just read some verses from Samuel and David that say He is. Here Solomon is saying just His name provides protection. His name provides the safety and security necessary to protect you. Why? Because in His name are all the attributes that tell us who He is. “The righteous runs into it and is safe.” Safe here means protected from or not exposed to danger or risk; not likely to be harmed. There is safety in Christ. Hold on you might say. There are people suffering all over the place under persecution. Matt. 10:28 reminds us, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” The name of Christ is a safe place, it’s a holy place, a righteous place, an eternal place. Acts 4:12 says, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” It’s not that you’ll never get hurt or suffer, but you rest on the knowledge of who God is and you look and think eternally.

From a safe tower to a strong city. While the righteous are running into a mighty fortress that is our God, “A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his own imagination.” Let me be clear; there is nothing unbiblical about having wealth or being rich. No matter what the media says, just because you have wealth doesn’t mean you’re an evil, nasty, selfish person. I encourage you to go to globalrichlist.com. There you can plug in how much you make a year and the site puts your income on a global scale relative to others in the world. For example, with what I make in one month as your pastor, you could be paying the monthly salary of 209 doctors in Azerbaijan. This is the same wealth trap that Jesus warned about in Matt. 19:24 when he talked about a rich man and a camel and is the same trap for many people that have wealth. The media has done all they can to divide us by race, ethnicity, wealth, political affiliation, and faith. Solomon is not saying anything negative, per se, about wealth here. He’s reinforcing the idea that wealth can be a barrier to seeing the truth of who God is. When a person is affluent, there is the perception that all is well, that everything is great in their lives. But the same desire to seek and find the Creator is placed in each and every person according to Rom. 1:19. Instead of finding safety in the name of the Lord, the rich man finds a counterfeit safety in his own strong city. His safety is in his high wall, but the safety is in his imagination. It’s not actual safety because those walls will come down. He’s prideful, he thinks nothing can touch him. “Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, but humility goes before honor.” This is the typical pattern for many of us right before we do something dumb. We take our eyes of off Christ and think we can do it ourselves and sometimes we even have an illusion that things are okay without God, but it’s just an illusion. It’s only when our total reliance is on Christ that we will begin to see His incredible handiwork in our lives. There’s no shame in recognizing our reliance on God.

Remember back in Pro. 10:4 Solomon said, “Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, But the hand of the diligent makes rich.” As Christians in the workplace, we should be known for our work ethic. That mandate to work goes all the way back to Genesis, but work didn’t become drudgery until after the fall when the ground became cursed. If you’re able to work, you should work to support yourself and your family. Being a slacker in your work will lead to destruction. When you’re feeling blue, or your down, or your up and excited about life, remember always that the name of the Lord is an incredible reminder about who is really is. Don’t follow what you think God is, follow what the Bible says He is. There is safety in the Lord so put your trust in God, not in riches.

The Wickedness of Today

18 Jul

WickedYou can listen and download the podcast here.

Last week, we started by asking the question, what does it cost to be righteous? The answer is that it just might cost everything. Sometimes we find ourselves at odds with the government and it’s just not right to fine people who are doing right. We still live in a society where wrongdoing is punished and there are ways to redress wrongs that have been committed. In a faith based setting, you can’t run down and correct all the nasty things that are said about you. David said in Ps. 54:1, “Save me, O God, by Your name, and vindicate me by Your power.” You must rest on the fact that God is the vindicator of the righteous and if people know you, they’ll know your character. We need to be calm, cool, and collected in our dealings with people and sometimes the best answer is silence. If people part company with you because you have been set apart for the Gospel, that’s one thing, but separating yourself from God’s people and God’s Word is a good sign that there’s spiritual sickness in that person. Ignorance of God’s Word is no excuse to live in the folly of your own mind. This morning, we’ll continue looking at some current events.

Our passage for today is found in Pro. 18:3-8 that says, “When a wicked man comes, contempt also comes, and with dishonor comes scorn. The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook. To show partiality to the wicked is not good, nor to thrust aside the righteous in judgment. A fool’s lips bring strife, and his mouth calls for blows. A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are the snare of his soul. The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, and they go down into the innermost parts of the body.”

We started last week with something for today and we’ll begin this morning in the same manner. “When a wicked man comes, contempt also comes, and with dishonor comes scorn.” Solomon has often used the adjectives wicked and foolish interchangeably, but that word contempt carries some significance. Contempt carries the idea of having no value, worthless, or beneath consideration. Some have wrongly assigned the contempt to the wicked one, but that’s not what Solomon is saying. When you put it together with all that we have learned in recent verses, Solomon is talking about contempt the wicked have for all things holy and pure. When that wicked guy comes; the guy that says the Bible is outdated, foolish, not relevant, old fashioned, too mean or judgmental, when that person raises his fist and declares that a loving God would not do x, y, or z, he is demonstrating contempt for God’s holy and perfect Word. When the wicked walk into your life, so does their contempt. Ps. 14:1-3 gives us this incredible truth, “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; there is no one who does good. The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” We see this happening all around us, but what’s even more disturbing is that we’re seeing it in Christian circles too. Fewer and fewer people are standing solidly on the truth found in God’s Word. We can attribute this to a number of reasons, but I think the primary reason just might be that we have people that profess to be followers of Christ that just are not. We have professing believers that don’t read or study God’s Word, that don’t participate in the things of the church and don’t even want to. These same folks are ones that will claim their relationship with God is special or wonderful. They might even say they pray all the time. I want you to really ponder this question: when you sin; when you fall short of the glory of God, when you fail to live up to the standard of perfection, does God say, “It’s okay, it doesn’t matter.” Do you say that when your employee messes up? Your child? Your friend? When we fall into that trap, we minimize the power of God to perform actual transformation in our lives and we cheapen the incredible sacrifice Christ made on the cross. Don’t live under the false premise that God’s love erases His judgment.

The scorn Solomon mentions means contempt or disdain expressed openly. It really doesn’t freak me out when lost people do this regarding God’s Word. In 1 Cor. 2:14 Paul said, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” There is a bridge that is established when you make a decision to follow Christ. There is a connection made when the Holy Spirit enters you. Things that were unexplainable to you now come together. Things you had such difficulty understanding are now received by faith. I have no problem saying, “I can’t explain it, I just believe it.” How can you believe so easily? They might ask. It’s really a dumb question. Some people aren’t willing to take that step of faith with Jesus even though they do it in nearly every facet of life. People that don’t understand the internal combustion engine have no issues driving a car. People that don’t understand how an airplane can fly have no problem stepping onto that plane. People that have no idea how electricity gets distributed from the power plant to the home have no issues flipping that light switch. People that don’t understand how medicine works still follow the prescription. But when it comes to spiritual matters, they want full disclosure and complete understanding. Have you ever tried explaining the inexplicable? Have you ever tried comprehending the incomprehensible? Have you ever tried figuring out a miracle?

It would be really helpful for you to read 1 Cor. 2 to give us the context for Paul’s statement I quoted a moment ago. Our responsibility is not to convince people about Jesus although there is a tremendous need to reason through the Scriptures. Our responsibility is to demonstrate what Jesus has done in our lives. I think that might be the reason why some professing believers want to distance themselves from absolute truth of Scripture. There’s little to no demonstration of God in their lives. And one final, very timely passage found in 2 Tim. 3:1-9: “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also.” The times in which we are living in did not catch the Holy Spirit of God by surprise.

Solomon provides us with some more word pictures. “The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.” Let me help you with this word picture. In our area we have what’s known as shallow wells. While the water drawn may be cool and seem refreshing, it’s not fit for anything except to irrigate your lawn. It contains Sulfur, iron, calcium, magnesium, organic compounds, and bacteria. It stinks; it leaves stains behind, it doesn’t taste good, and the well is affected by drought and overuse. If you want real refreshment that’s suitable for human consumption, you have to dig deep. “The fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook” that does not run out. Real wisdom comes from deep within the soul because its source is God. Let me run through these next verses because they’re different ways to say what Solomon has already said. Pro. 18:5-7 says, “To show partiality to the wicked is not good, nor to thrust aside the righteous in judgment. A fool’s lips bring strife, and his mouth calls for blows. A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are the snare of his soul.” All familiar stuff.

Solomon addresses something that I think is destroying a lot of people. “The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, and they go down into the innermost parts of the body.” Solomon’s talking about gossip. Before we go any further, we need to understand what gossip is. Gossip is generally defined as idle talk or rumor; especially about the personal or private affairs of others. For the most part, we seem to enjoy gossip, unless it’s about us. We have tabloid newspapers like the National Enquirer, the Globe, and the Star. We have gossip columns, celebrity gossip, and TMZ. Gossip is expressly forbidden in Scripture, but we find it’s commonplace in the church. Sometimes it’s veiled as a prayer request and it rarely comes from the one needing prayer. It comes in the form of, “Pray for so and so . . . they’re having a hard time with their husband’s drinking.” “Pray for . . . their children are so disobedient and rebellious.” “Pray for . . . they’re behind in their mortgage.” “Pray for . . . they’re so sick,” and then a long list of details regarding the sickness is shared. Sometimes it’s even shared with a pained look and there seems to be genuine hurt from the teller. Look at the word picture. “The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels.” Dainty means delicately small and pretty. I should tell you that the word morsel is also translated wound. Look at the results of taking in that dainty morsel. “They go down into the innermost parts of the body.” Here’s what gossip does. It gets in your system and destroys you from the inside out. It affects the hearer and the one about whom the tale is told. Think about it like this: there are things that are harmless when applied to the skin, but can be deadly if taken internally. Hydrogen peroxide comes to mind. On some medication, you’ll see the warning label: external use only. Gossip gets in you and affects you in ways you cannot overestimate. Gossip hurts people. So what if it’s the truth? Gossip often comes in unsubstantiated claims. I love it when someone tells me, “People are saying . . .” Really, who are those people? Oh, just people. Those people won’t be named because the one passing on the information doesn’t want it to come back to them because they’re gossiping. Now if you hear something, it’s okay to check it out. Remember, even if it’s the truth, it may not need to be shared.

Solomon uses the terms foolish and wicked interchangeably. Someone that says God’s Word is outdated or irrelevant will bring contempt for anything that is holy and pure, and godly. Even though fewer and fewer people are willing to stand in agreement with the unchanging Word of God does not mean you have to. Don’t dismiss the power of God to change your life. He wants to change you if you’ll allow Him to. A decision to follow Christ will bridge the gap in your understanding of things that are inexplicable, but there will always be things about God that cannot be understood. Biblical and godly wisdom provide an inexhaustible fountain of cool, refreshing living water. Don’t be a gossip. It hurts the listener and the one that it’s about.

What Does It Cost to be Righteous?

11 Jul

You can listen to the podcast here.

The last time we were in Proverbs, we learned that joy and laughter are not necessarily joined together. Joy can’t be bought; it is delivered at the moment of our spiritual birth, but we do need to develop that joy which serves as life giving spiritual medicine for our soul. Happiness is dependent upon circumstances; joy is from Jesus and knowing who He is. Solomon clarified bribery and it’s still wrong and undermines the foundation of justice. Wise people have understanding which serves to help keep them focused. Fools are driven by the shifting winds of whatever suits their fancy. Finally, we saw that having a fool for a child is vexing for the father and the mother. No parent wants to raise a fool and the only way to minimize that chance is to continue to Deuteronomy 6 your kids. This morning, we’ll tackle some current events.

RighteousPro. 17:26-18:2 says, “It is also not good to fine the righteous, nor to strike the noble for their uprightness. He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent. He who separates himself seeks his own desire, he quarrels against all sound wisdom. A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind.”

Solomon’s opening verse for today talks about something that we have seen happen recently. “It is also not good to fine the righteous, not to strike the noble for their uprightness.” Before we get to some applications, we need to evaluate what Solomon is saying in context. We have to ask ourselves, who has the power to impose fines? Who has the power to impose punishment in society? He’s still talking about justice and this is linked to verse 23. Justice can be perverted through illegal means like bribery, which could lead to innocent men being found guilty or guilty men being found not guilty. As a side note, the outcome of a criminal court proceeding results in the defendant being found guilty or not guilty. A not guilty verdict does not mean innocent. Criminal trial outcomes can have a very profound impact on society. Remember the Rodney King trial in Los Angeles that led to the LA riots of 1992. Remember Casey Anthony was found not guilty of murdering her children. Who can forget O.J. Simpson being found not guilty of double murder? The protests in Baltimore, MD and Ferguson, MO resulted after the deaths of Freddie Gray and Michael Brown. The riots and unrest in those two cities didn’t wait until a trial.

In a civil trial, the ruling is for the plaintiff or the defendant. Think Judge Judy. Those are always civil cases. It is a fairly common occurrence for an individual to be at odds with a governmental official. When the ruling doesn’t go in your favor. If you feel you were wronged. In a silly example, you’ve seen this dealing with your kids. The kids get into a fight and you ask what happened: he hit me first; no I didn’t he hit me first. That might result in punishment for both, but one of those kids is probably telling the truth, but just didn’t prove his case to your satisfaction. There will always be someone on the losing side, so to speak, which could cause issues. In a criminal trial, the defendant must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Our judicial system has been set up in this manner because they would rather let the guilty go free rather than the innocent be punished. Solomon’s take on this is that the righteous should not be fined. Don’t punish the right. Don’t, “Strike the noble for their uprightness.” So what are the applications for today? There is not enough time to cover every possible scenario, but I think recent events can illustrate this. Besides the court cases I already mentioned, we can see this on a smaller scale and it generally involves one’s will. This is the first year since 2011 that I have not served as the president of my neighborhood HOA. I’ve seen some unrelenting division among homeowners when they don’t get their way. I’ve had people call and rant and rave at me. I’ve had people come to my house and demand I take action against some perceived wrongdoing.

On a grander scale, there’s been a lot of talk about the rights to refuse service to someone based on personal convictions that come from one’s faith. I think some of this comes from a perception that one faith in particular seems to be discriminated above all others. The truth is there have been some pretty vile things done in the name of religion, Christianity notwithstanding. I think we do have a responsibility to defend the defenseless; speak for those that have no voice, but we need to do it for the right reason. Let’s not promote a political agenda or reiterate media talking points; let’s demonstrate the love of Christ and not apologize for what we believe. Are there corrupt governments out there? Of course, but I like to think that in our system there are built in checks and balances to prevent one branch from getting too much power. There are methods and systems in place so innocent people are not punished. We can’t eliminate false accusations against us. I have had this happen to me in every aspect of my life. It happened when I was in the Navy. It happened when I was president of the HOA. It’s happened in law enforcement. And yes, it’s happened here, I had a pastor that gave me a great piece of advice. I think I’ve shared this before, but it bears repeating. He said people are going to attack you and accuse you of things that are not true. You can’t chase down every accusation against you to prove your innocence. Jesus put it like this: “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.” Peter gives us this great insight in 1 Pet. 4:12-16, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.” If we’re going to be accused, let’s be accused of being godly, holy, righteous, and loving.

Here’s another familiar and great verse. “He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” There is the old adage comparing listening and speaking. It was the Stoic philosopher Epictetus that said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” It was James that said, “But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” (Ja. 1:19) There is much wisdom in silence. Silence is golden. Will Rogers said, “Never miss a good chance to shut up.” George Eliot said, “Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact.” Francis Bacon said, “Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.”

The man of few words has a cool spirit – it’s a calm demeanor, not excited, anxious, or emotional. I love this description. It’s not that this guy has no emotion, but he’s able to control himself just like in Eph. 5:22-23 where Paul tells us about the fruit of the Spirit. When you are emotionally under control, you are able to understand. Picture it this way: your child comes to you crying and you ask what’s going on and they can’t formulate sentences because they are so emotional and you say those commanding two words: calm down! In a somewhat shocking parallel, Solomon says, “Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.” I think that’s the first nice thing he’s said about fools. It’s like there’s a glimmer of hope for the fool if he’ll just keep his mouth shut. I think I said this earlier in Proverbs, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” It’s a quote commonly attributed to both Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain, but Solomon, through the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, really is the author. Even a fool can sound smart as long as he doesn’t talk. There’s no actual wisdom or understanding in there, but when he doesn’t talk, no one knows that he’s foolish.

These next two verses are so very powerful. As I approach my ninth year of pastoral ministry and reflect back on all the people who we have crossed paths with, I can tell you this verse serves as a confirmation for so much that has happened over the years and is happening now. I want to spend some time here so we understand what we’re up against. In Pro. 18:1 Solomon gives us this incredible truth: “He who separates himself seeks his own desire, he quarrels against all sound wisdom.” Do you wonder how people can get off track? One of my favorite passages in Galatians is found in the opening lines of the letter. Paul gives us this in Gal. 1:6-9: “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” The word amazed has been translated as astonished, marveled, astounded, and surprised. When he says, “I am amazed that” carries the idea of irritation and surprise. Paul was truly shocked at this turn of events.

When we go back to Proverbs, I think we get an understanding of the root cause of that and I can tell you that I have seen this with my own eyes on a number of occasions and it really is shocking. When Solomon says, “separates himself” he means to part company with. This separation isn’t because someone moved away or got married, or had children that leads to an overall we’re at different places in our lives kind of thing. That can happen to all of us. Rom. 1:1 tells us that, “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.” As Christians, we also have been set apart for the Gospel of God. Solomon is not talking about pursuing God, but an intentional separation to, “seek his own desire.” To drive this home, Paul says in Gal. 5:17-21, “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” This is the same thing Solomon is saying. And what’s the result? The biblical fool, “Quarrels against all sound wisdom.” This is wisdom that comes from knowledge which leads to understanding which is rooted in the fear of the Lord. When you live for Christ; when you study and meditate upon Scripture, you are confronted with unchanging truths. Each of us makes a decision to trust God or not. Have you ever quarreled against sound wisdom? Have you ever read Scripture that reveals something in your own life and you say, that’s not what that means? It is likely that we could all think of someone that fits into this category, but let’s make this personal. Have you ever justified your sin? Have you ever redefined your sin? It’s way easier to point this out to everyone else, but are we allowing the Lord to transform us?

“A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing in his own mind.” Isn’t that what you find? While ignorance may be bliss to some, Paul says something different. If we follow the mandate in 2 Tim. 2:15, there really is nothing in Scripture that should remain unknown to us. Of course, many mysteries will remain and there will be things we simply cannot understand, but we don’t really get to use the, ‘Gee, I didn’t know any better’ excuse. That’s what the fool does.

We started by asking the question, what does it cost to be righteous? The answer just might be everything. Sometimes we find ourselves at odds with the government and it’s just not right to impose punishment on people who are doing right. We still live in a society where wrongdoing is punished and there are ways to redress wrongs that have been committed. In a faith based setting, you can’t run down and correct all the nasty things that are said about you. David said in Ps. 54:1, “Save me, O God, by Your name, and vindicate me by Your power.” You must rest on the fact that God is the vindicator of the righteous and if people know you, they’ll know your character. We need to be calm, cool, and collected in our dealings with people and sometimes the best answer is silence. If people part company with you because you have been set apart for the Gospel, that’s one thing, but when people separate themselves from God’s people and God’s Word, it’s a good sign that there’s sickness in the spiritual health of that person. Ignorance of God’s Word is no excuse to live in the folly of your own mind.

Our Allegience

6 Jul

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A couple of days ago, we celebrated the 4th of July and many people don’t know that the actual holiday is called Independence Day. This holiday is more than fireworks, cookouts, and parades and this year, more than a long weekend. Independence Day is about a country founded, rooted, and established on Christian principles. It was Patrick Henry that said, “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by religionists but by Christians, not on religion but on the gospel of Jesus Christ.” In his farewell address to the nation, George Washington said, “Do not let anyone claim tribute of American patriotism if they even attempt to remove religion from politics.” “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.” – Pres. Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Danbury Baptists on Jan 1, 1802. “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people. . . it is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” – John Adams. Despite what politicians, the main stream media, or the history revisionists say, America was founded not on the concept of freedom to worship any god, but on the freedom to worship Jesus Christ.

It was not independence that motivated early Americans, but individual rights. People living in the colonies at the time were known as British Americans. They were citizens of Great Britain. Their main concern was the British Parliament levying taxes on them to pay for the French and Indian War also known as the 7 Years War. There was the Molasses Act, the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act, Townshend Act, the Tea Act and others. Effectively, everything that was bought or sold, imported or exported had a tax placed on it or it was regulated. In 1774 following the Boston Tea Party, the British Parliament passed five laws that they would call the Coercive Acts. The Colonists would call them the Intolerable Acts. This led to the famous phrase, “Taxation without representation” and later “Taxation without representation leads to tyranny.” The Colonists had no representation in the British Parliament which led to the Battle at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. Hundreds of Colonists gave their lives to regain these rights. It was during this time of conflict that Patrick Henry, a politician from Virginia gave a speech before the Virginia Provincial Convention. 

Here is how he concluded it: “The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable – and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come. It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace – but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted to declare absolute freedom from England. John Adams, who was on the drafting committee for the Declaration of Independence, wrote his wife saying, “The second of July 1776 will be the most memorable day in the history of America; I believe it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival, with shows, games, sports, balls, bon fires and illuminations, from one end of the country to the other, from this time forward and forever more.” It was on July 4th that the final wording was ratified and later signed by the 56 members representing the 13 colonies. John Adams was right. After America declared her independence, she had to win it by force. There was no Army or Navy and their fighting forces consisted of militia units in the colonies. England had an army of well trained and disciplined soldiers. Declaring independence and achieving it proved difficult because the people were never fully united behind the war effort. About a third of the colonists were apathetic. As many as a third of the colonists sympathized with Great Britain calling themselves loyalists. They were also known as Tories. This meant that victory in the Revolutionary War depended on patriots who made up about a third of the new country’s entire population. 7200 Americans were killed during the war; 8200 wounded; 10,000 died from disease and exposure with nearly 3000 men dying at Valley Forge alone. 6500 died in prison after being captured and 1400 soldiers were listed as missing.

The war that began on April 19, 1775 ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1783. America was established; a nation where every person could be free and have an input into the ways things should be done. Though many signers of the Declaration paid a high price, others reaped a great reward. Two of the signers became President, three Vice-President, and two sons of signers became President. Seven served in the House of Representatives and six in the Senate. 16 went on to become state or federal judges. 13 became governors and dozens of others held other high political offices. Five would go on to establish colleges and universities including the University of Georgia. Each holds an important place in our history.

If you are here today and you call yourself a Christian, you have made an allegiance pledge. Do you remember the day when you made that decision? Remember last week we heard from my buddy Chris Martin and for him, that day was June 1, 1996. The day you understood that your sin separates you from God and without the shed blood of Christ, there is no hope? Do you remember the day when you understood the free gift of grace that God lavished up you? Do you remember that day? The day you made that declaration? At that time you pledged your allegiance, your devotion, your loyalty, your dedication, your commitment, your very life, to Jesus Christ. You made the same proclamation Paul made in Gal 2:20, I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Paul says that he has been killed with Christ, he no longer lives, but Christ is living within him. No longer will you live for yourself; you’ll no longer seek your will for your life; you’ll no longer live for the things of this world. You now seek God’s will for your life, seeking to do what pleases Him. That’s scary for a lot of people. Becoming totally dependent upon Him. Some refuse. Remember the words of Joshua, “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh. 24:15) When you become a follower of Christ, you must pay a high price. It’s one thing to make a bold declaration. It’s another to live up to it. Saying it is a lot easier than doing it. Joshua made his declaration, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods.” (Josh. 24:16a) Israel pledged their allegiance to God, but it didn’t last long. Ju. 2:11-12a tell us, “Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals, and they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers.”  Wars are not won by people who make declarations. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not being fought by lawmakers, but by men and women in harm’s way on the ground. In the Lord’s Army, we find the same thing the colonists found; we’re having a hard time because there are so many that just don’t recognize the enemy.  “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12) Satan comes at us like a roaring lion and an angel of light. The battle is hard to win because some Christians are just like the Tories; they’re still loyal to the enemy and to sin.

Remember that a third of the colonists couldn’t care less? We’ve got some who are uninvolved – people who are content to let others fight the good fight. Jesus demands total, radical, and unswerving allegiance. “And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23-26) Our allegiance to Christ has got to be more than words.  “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.” (Matt. 7:21) “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.”  (Tit. 1:16) Why don’t Christians fight? We get in the way, our pride, our opinion, our desires, our comfort, our convenience, our will, our way. That’s why Jesus said we must pick up our cross, and deny ourselves daily in order to be his disciples. The church should be leading the battle. The church should be a place of hope for the hopeless. A place of joy despite circumstances. A place of peace beyond understanding. A place of love, forgiveness, healing and acceptance. A place of new beginnings. In Matt. 16:18 Jesus said, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”

One day we will stand before the Lord Jesus Christ and give an account of our lives. Will we be able to say our allegiance is to Jesus Christ and to Him alone?