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The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall

6 Feb

biggerYou can listen to the actual message here.

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

Take the time to read our passage for today found in Pro. 21:20-28.

We start off with some financial talk. “There is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise, but a foolish man swallows it up.” Believe it or not, this is a verse to support budgeting. Wise people are wise across the board while foolish people are foolish across the board. Remember the idle man from 19:15 suffers hunger and the sluggard from 20:4 doesn’t prepare his crops so he has nothing to harvest. Wisdom dictates you don’t spend what you don’t have. Foolishness dictates spend what you have and don’t worry about tomorrow. If you’ve got money in your pocket, spend it. That’s why there’s, “precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise.” Oil was an important commodity in Bible days. It could be used for a number of things. It was used for cooking, as fuel for lamps, it was part of grain offerings, was used for anointing, was used for sanctifying the priests in the temple, and was a symbol of wealth. The fool is foolish in all his activities. His desires are ungodly and unfruitful which leads right into the next verse. There is a misguided notion in America that everyone has the right to be happy. There is no such right afforded by the U.S. Constitution and no guarantee of happiness afforded by the Bible. The pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right granted by the Creator as recorded in the Declaration of Independence. I submit to you that when you pursue God, you will find what you are looking for.

Solomon tells us, “He who pursues righteousness and loyalty finds life, righteousness and honor.” I love the two verbs in this verse – pursue and find. Pursue means follow after or chase. When you chase righteousness – the character or quality of what is right in God’s eyes – you will find, “life, righteousness and honor.” It’s a trifecta of godly qualities. Life refers to the eternal life in God through Jesus Christ. In Matt. 5:6 Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” If you want satisfaction, chase Christ. I think happiness is a quality that can be achieved when you have the mind of Christ and see things through the eyes of God. Happiness is dependent upon circumstances, but when you have in your mind that God is in control, it allows you to focus on what is important and that is living a life of total and complete obedience to the King of eternity.

There’s no easy transition to the next verse. Solomon says, “A wise man scales the city of the mighty and brings down the stronghold in which they trust.” As we have seen before, wisdom trumps strength every time. When WWII ended and the United States entered the cold war, military strategy had to change to keep pace with the extraordinarily strong USSR. President Eisenhower instituted the 41 for Freedom missile submarine. Then in 1980, Ronald Reagan used the phrase, “Peace through Strength” during the campaign that would see him elected president. Mighty people think their city will protect them. When Joshua led the battle of Jericho, the walls came tumbling down. Jericho thought their walls would protect them, but when God is on your side, it’s doesn’t matter how strong the walls are. Throughout history, we’ve seen the mighty defeated by the wise. Build walls around the city and wise people developed the catapult. Line up your troops for battle and the wise people used guerrilla warfare. If you can grasp this concept and submit to a wise and good man, the strongest of the strong will be defeated.

And now the power of restraint. This is a principle we’ve seen six times before in Proverbs. “He who guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from troubles.” Guard means keep watch over. Think about keeping watch over your kids. You’ve got a protective eye on them to ensure no harm comes to them and to make sure no one takes them. Don’t let your mouth get you into trouble. Don’t let your words take you to places you don’t want to go. No, you don’t have to say anything and once the words leave your mouth, there is no turning back. Lots of damage can be caused by what you say. If your first instinct is to say something, hold off for a second let your mind catch up. When you think about this in a relational sense, more hurt and harm have been done by words than anything else. The next verse says, “Proud,” “Haughty,” “Scoffer,” are his names, who acts with insolent pride.” This goes hand in hand with the spoken word. Insolent means rude or disrespectful. It’s really hard to demonstrate these qualities without using words. These terms are not used in a favorable light. We could avoid all kinds of trouble if we’d just learn to keep our mouth shut.

Next, Solomon revisits the sluggard. “The desire of the sluggard puts him to death, for his hands refuse to work; all day long he is craving, while the righteous gives and does not hold back.” This is a really stark contrast. We have the poverty of the lazy versus the generosity of the righteous. Think back to 21:17, “He who loves pleasure will become a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not become rich.” Righteous people work diligently and give without holding back. The sluggard doesn’t want to work and that leads to death. It’s a theme presented over and over again. Sometimes we have a tendency to think that people who work hard want to keep everything for themselves. Solomon says not true. Sometimes people work hard so they are in a position to give back. Sometimes even when people aren’t in a position to give back, they give back anyway. The sluggard craves all day what he is not willing to work for and his craving will be unfulfilled.

I am certain you have encountered this next principle time and time again. You can’t fool God. People approach God the way they want to instead of how God has prescribed. You’ve likely heard people say that as long as they’re sincere, God will accept them. You’ve heard that a relationship with God is a personal issue. Solomon puts that to rest when he says, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination, how much more when he brings it with evil intent!” Let’s break this down. In Jewish culture, sacrifices were an important part of their lives. When they were offered by faith in repentance, God was greatly honored and pleased. When they were offered with impure motives, God detests that. Is. 1:11-17 says,

“What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” Says the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle; and I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. “When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? “Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and Sabbath, the calling of assemblies – I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. “I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them. “So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

Did you catch the severity in there? God has had enough. He takes no pleasure in their sacrifices and calls them worthless and an abomination. The God of eternal patience cannot, “Endure iniquity.” When they pray, God will hide His eyes even though they repeat their prayers over and over. Stop doing evil, start doing good. Don’t tell me you have an understanding with God, don’t tell me you and Him are good, don’t tell me the work you have done for Him. You will be evaluated just like the Chaldean king Belshazzar in Dan. 5 when Daniel interpreted the writing on the wall and concluded, “you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient.” No matter how holy you think your sacrifice is, God will not accept it and He really won’t accept it when brought with evil intent.

One last one for today. A false witness will perish, but the man who listens to the truth will speak forever.” We’ve seen this before in 6:19, 19:5, and 19:9. Don’t lie.

We began this morning talking about budgeting – don’t spend what you don’t have. The foolish man doesn’t think about tomorrow and what might be needed, he spends all he has. Righteous people pursue God and find life. Wisdom is the conqueror over strength. Be careful what you say and sometimes not saying anything is the best. Don’t be foolish enough to think that it doesn’t matter how you approach a holy and perfect God. He will not accept the sacrifices offered with evil intent.

The Depth of Wickedness in Man

30 Jan

pitYou can check out the podcast here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

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.

The Consequence of Evil

6 Jun

You can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we learned that the best way to obtain peace is to get along with everyone. That may not be the easiest thing, but as much as it’s up to you, be at peace with people. Love keeps no record of wrong doing so if you are wronged or feel you’ve been wronged, it’s better to let love cover it than it is to go around blabbing about how you’ve been wronged by humanity. It’s a lot easier to deal with wise people than with fools. Somebody that has understanding will get what you’re saying, but no matter how much talking you do, a fool just won’t get it. Rebellious people seek evil, but rest assured, judgment is coming. This morning, we look at some very vivid word pictures.

BearIn Pro. 17:12-15 Solomon says, “Let a man meet a bear robbed of her cubs, rather than a fool in his folly. He who returns evil for good, evil will not depart from his house. The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so abandon the quarrel before it breaks out. He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord.”

This is how bad it is. “Let a man meet a bear robbed of her cubs, rather than a fool in his folly.” Picture this in your mind. You’ve seen or heard about how protective a momma bear can be. Think of how protective you can be over your kids. There is a God given maternal instinct when it comes to their children. Someone messes with your kids, they have to deal with mom. That strong, intense, protective instinct comes from God. You take a cub away from momma bear and you’re liable to get your arm ripped off at the shoulder. Solomon is saying it’s better to go up against an angry momma bear than it is to deal with a fool. It’s better to put your life on the line than to engage in any type of discussion with a fool. Specifically, a “fool in his folly.” Folly means silliness. This verse does go hand in hand with v. 10. Solomon’s talking about dealing with the stubbornness and the wrongness of the fool. It is tiresome, burdensome, and draining to be around fools. A person that can take criticism and learn from it is much more approachable and can function significantly better in society. People that cannot take criticism or correction can cause chaos in society. You’ve probably dealt with them. The rules don’t apply to them whether it’s a no smoking area and they’re smoking or they’re parked in a no parking zone and you let them know. It’s better to deal with an angry bear than to deal with fools and if you’ve ever had opportunity to experience what I’m talking about; you’re nodding your head in affirmation.

Let’s talk about forgiveness. In verse 9, Solomon mentioned concealing a transgression is a demonstration of love. When you have that supernatural love in you because of your relationship with God through Christ, forgiveness should come easier and easier. Forgiveness does not have to be asked for to be given. “He who returns evil for good, evil will not depart from his house.” This goes hand in hand with v. 9. You have to ask yourself, what kind of person would take vengeance against a good deed? David showed Nabal kindness that Nabal repaid with evil. In fact, Nabal’s wife Abigail described him as a, “worthless man . . . Nabal is his name and folly is with him” (1 Sam. 25:25) It’s one thing to repay evil with evil and we’re not supposed to do that, but to repay good with evil is totally anti-Jesus. This is difficult for us to grasp because it seems so ludicrous that someone would get mad over a good deed. Are you familiar with the phrase, “No good deed goes unpunished?” David said in Ps 35:12, “They repay me evil for good, to the bereavement of my soul.” Where forgiveness is supposed to abound, Solomon says there are those that actually take offense against those that are doing good. This person will not only have zero friends, but he will be most miserable. The phrase, “Evil will not depart from his house,” gives us the indication that the punishment or judgment or whatever penalty comes as a result of opposing good will continue from generation to generation.

Put this on a t-shirt. Solomon has given us many t-shirt or meme worthy quotes and this one is a doozy. “The beginning of strife is like letting water out, so abandon the quarrel before it breaks out.” Great advice and here’s what it means. Have you ever been in a no win argument? No matter what you say, it won’t make a difference? Your words aren’t heard or are dismissed immediately? The person talking to you won’t let you get a work in edge wise? There’s a reason or excuse for everything you say? No responsibility is taken? If you’ve lived for any length of time, you likely have been on the receiving end of such a conversation; perhaps you were the giver. Figure out who these people are. One wrong word, a sentence taken out of context, or a look is all it will take to set this person off and then you’re in it. It’s like you’re on a round-a-bout and you can’t get off. The best thing to do is avoid it all together. In theory, these people should not exist in the church. Once again, I want to point out the greatest hurts and pains in my life have come from the hands of professing believers. I would like to hold out hope that as believers, we want to learn and grow and when people talk to us about whatever an issue might be, that we’re willing to listen and receive the correction that comes as a result of the Holy Spirit working. But that’s not really what Solomon is talking about here.

Those words are like the levies in New Orleans that began to let go as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Once the water started flowing, there was no containing it and the levies gave out. That’s what Solomon is talking about. So his guidance is to avoid those arguments before they start. How do I do that Pastor Ian? Great question. There are some great and not so great ways to make this happen. First, you need to recognize who these people are and what makes them tick. Believe it or not, you may have people in your life that really live to make life terribly miserable for you. There are really no good reasons for this except they most likely are really miserable themselves and cannot understand how you can maintain a good attitude in the midst of adversity. Second, maintain an attitude of prayer for people that you will come into contact with today. Use the opportunities God gives you to share the truth that has taken residence in your heart. Trust that God will give you whatever you need at the time you need it. Third, be patient! God can help you grow in this area. Fourth, don’t give up. Finally, if you think that staying home will help you avoid these kind of people, they’ll come knocking on your door or call you on the phone. This is part of our walk of faith. Now, if you have to deal with these people in a church context, that’s a different animal all together.

We finish today with a quick warning. “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord.” Is this a verse for today or what? We really are living in the day of the Judges: “Every man did what was right in his own eyes.” (Jud. 17:6) “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Is. 5:20) “Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or the righteous, for I will not acquit the guilty.” (Ex. 23:7) It’s like Solomon wrote this today. Our world has been turned upside down in many ways. The righteous are deemed intolerant and judgmental and the biblically defined wicked are not only given free reign, they’re actually praised as being champions of humanity. Don’t get freaked out by this! Understand that this is all allowed by God to serve His greater purpose. We’re still on a mission to share the love of Christ especially in these last days. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” (Matt. 5:11-13)

I’m assuming that you don’t just throw your opinion out there. I’m assuming that when people attack you or say mean things to you it’s because the love of Christ oozes from every pore of your body. I’m assuming when you interject into a conversation that you are coming from the perspective that the person you’re talking to just might not know something is biblically wrong. You might just be talking to someone that has a secular worldview; someone that listens to the media bias of today: someone that follows the ever changing morals and values of society. You’ve got to remember your audience. Jesus is not telling us to go be a champion against every non-biblical thing going on, but he is telling us to share the truths of God when given the opportunity and if people attack because of that, don’t sweat it – they’re attacking Jesus. I think a lot of people don’t want to listen to us when we share biblical truth is because they don’t see us living a holy life; I think there are a lot of people in the church today that don’t look and act any different than the general public.   And I’ve got the reason for that. Church has become a social organization where it’s something you do. Transformation is not taught or emulated in the pulpits. Discipleship is nearly non-existent and there are little to no expectations for church members and that’s if the church has members. One local church has partners which provides an indication of equality. The pastor is the same as the teacher is the same as the nursery worker is the same as the person who occasionally participates. A church like that is not functioning as a church. There must be a chain of command, there must be structure, there must be procedures and policies or else we fall into the same mindset that was in the day of the Judges, “Every man did what was right in his own eyes.” (Jud. 17:6)

Solomon gave us a great word picture about dealing with a fool. It’s better to deal with an angry momma bear than it is to deal with a fool. When you have the supernatural love of Christ, forgiveness should come easier and easier for us. Forgiveness does not mean that there won’t be consequences. Don’t repay evil for good. The best way to win an argument with a fool is to not start one. People that justify the actions of the wicked or condemn the actions of the righteous are both an abomination to the Lord.

Evil of a Different Kind

25 Apr

EvilCheck out the podcast here.

Last time we were in Proverbs, we learned that we are here on this planet to live our lives to their fullest for Christ. We are driven to work to exemplify the transformation that is not only possible, but should exist in us because of the work accomplished by Christ. Only people that are worthless seek to harm others or damage their reputation. Don’t allow yourself to get burned by the words of people that are valueless – and that is a challenging concept. Recognize the schemes of the devil. He wants us to live our lives apart from Christ and other Christ followers. He wants to destroy us and make us ineffective for Christ. Don’t be fooled by that. Don’t think the worst of other people. You like it when you get the benefit of the doubt and you should be willing to do the same for others. This morning, we’ll see evil portrayed again and where wisdom can generally be found.

Pro. 16:29-31 says, “A man of violence entices his neighbor and leads him in a way that is not good. He who winks his eyes does so to devise perverse things;
he who compresses his lips brings evil to pass. A gray head is a crown of glory;
it is found in the way of righteousness.”

They might be living close to you. If you live in a neighborhood and most of us do, the people Solomon warns us about may be living next door. “A man of violence entices his neighbor.” I think it’s important to identify just what kind of man Solomon is talking about. A man of violence is someone that uses physical force with the intent of bringing physical harm, damage, or death to another. The man of violence is a bully and I don’t like bullies. This is someone that will use violence against you to get you to do something he wants you to do. Bullies tend to pick on the weak; people that they think won’t or can’t defend themselves. Entice is an interesting word. It means to attract someone, usually to do something, by arousing hope, interest, or desire. This is the kind of guy that tries to get other people to turn to the same life he leads; he tries to lure them into a life that is contrary to God’s desires. At the beginning of this book Solomon said, “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.” (Pro. 1:10) The easy answer is to just say no.

You can apply this to peer pressure as well. Although violence isn’t often used to exert peer pressure, the application can be made. What I find really curious is that peer pressure is rarely used to exert pressure in a good way. Have you ever thought of that? That’s because people who want the best for others don’t typically use pressure to accomplish that mission. In a biblical context, we use things like prayer, love, compassion, and empathy to show people the hope that’s found in Jesus Christ. This man of violence uses his power to entice, “His neighbor and leads him in a way that is not good.” We’ve talked about the way before. It’s a metaphorical path that leads either to God or away from God. If you succumb to the pressures of the man of violence, you’ll place yourself on a path leading away from God. It’s a way that’s, “not good.” I don’t know how clearer Solomon can be. 2 Pet. 3:17 says, “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness.” Don’t let your guard down. Just because you are being led somewhere doesn’t mean you have to follow.

“He who winks his eyes does so to devise perverse things; he who compresses his lips brings evil to pass.” These are two outward facial expressions. It’s tough to control facial expressions; I see lots of them when I preach. Solomon is giving us some tips to identify this type of person. Have you ever had a conversation with someone that closes his eyes, or won’t look you in the eye? It can be a little off putting. This wink may confirm or signal something to a co-conspirator or accomplice. The word can also mean that the person is thinking, plotting, and scheming and this is the general meaning here. He’s devising, “perverse things.”  The meaning of the word perverse has been consistent throughout Proverbs. It is a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave unacceptably. Even outside of biblical boundaries, there is behavior that is not generally accepted in society. While the type of acceptable behavior seems to grow with each day, there are still things that are generally frowned upon and some things are downright disgusting and reprehensible. The, “compresses his lips” phrase is the other facial expression that confirms his twisted plans. He wants to bring, “evil to pass.” This is not the kind of person you want in your life. Oddly enough, there are followers of Christ that hold on to people that just aren’t good for them. Maybe it’s a desire to see them come to Christ, maybe it’s a desire to hold on to the past, maybe there is no choice because this person is a family member. If that’s the case, then we really need to heed Peter’s words when he said, “be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness.”

In what seems like another weird transition, Solomon talks about hair. “A gray head is a crown of glory.” In our image driven society, people seek to look younger. When was the last time you noticed someone actually color their hair gray? I just wanted to look older and wiser. I don’t think that happens too much. Generally, gray hair is found on people who are old. Children do not cause gray hair. Stress does not cause gray hair. Solomon knows why hair turns gray and now so do I. I did some research into the matter to find out the correlation between wisdom and gray hair and what I found out will rock your world. Scientists say that everyone’s hair will eventually turn gray and then white. The age at which you’ll see that first gray hair is largely determined by genetics. You’ll probably get your first strand of gray around the same age your parents and grandparents started to go gray. Smoking increases the rate of graying. Anemia, poor nutrition, insufficient B vitamins, and untreated thyroid conditions can also speed the rate of graying. The graying process has to do with the production of melanin, which is the same pigment in your skin. These pigment cells produce eumelanin which is brown and pheomelanin which is red. As those cells that produce melanin die with age, less and less pigment is deposited in the hair and it turns gray and eventually white.

Let me lay out some assumptions that will help us understand this “Crown of glory” Solomon refers to. Gray hair is part of the natural process as the body ages. Solomon assumes that as you age in Christ, you gain life experience, you gain biblical knowledge and understanding. This increase in biblical knowledge and understanding leads to wisdom. That wisdom prolongs life. Pro. 3:1-2, “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you.” As you get older, you’re supposed to get wiser. The older you are, the wiser you should be. Lev. 19:32 says, “You shall rise up before the gray headed and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.” Our culture generally does not do this. Here, old folks are often placed in nursing homes or assisted living centers. In other cultures, the aged are brought into the homes of the adult children. We should seek out wisdom from someone that is old. Older people provide a wealth of knowledge and experience. Learn from them! If old people are, “found in the way of righteousness, their age will be their honor. Old age is honorable and commands respect. Remember the verse from Leviticus I just read. There is a but. There’s always a but. If the old is found in wickedness, all bets are off. The crown of glory is forfeited. Honor is forfeited, but maintaining the path of righteousness is their crown.

We started off talking about a different kind of evil. Don’t allow yourself to succumb to peer pressure. Watch out for the neighbor that tries to lead you in a way that is not good. You should be able to recognize this guy because he winks his eyes and devises perverse plans. Be on guard, watch out, remain steadfast. As you pay attention, you’ll grow in knowledge and understanding which leads to wisdom which leads to longer life which leads to the development of gray hair which is the normal course of our spiritual walk with Christ. Gray hair is like wearing a crown so treat your elders with respect.

The Road to Success

14 Mar

MapYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we learned that power can lead to corruption and absolute power can lead to absolute corruption. Exercising biblical wisdom can placate the fury of kings. It’s great to find favor with earthly kings, but it’s far better to find favor with the King of kings. As Christ followers we have a responsibility to passionately follow Him who is the source of perfect wisdom. Biblical wisdom is essential in making godly decisions in our lives. When we utilize biblical wisdom, we’ll utilize the incredible power of God and avoid absolute corruption. This morning, Solomon gives us a road map with better directions that Siri or Google.

Proverbs 16:17-19. Says, “The highway of the upright is to depart from evil;
He who watches his way preserves his life. Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling. It is better to be humble in spirit with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud.”

Are you a map user? Most people like to know where they’re going. I recently took a drive with someone that still uses a Garmin GPS that mounts on the windshield. That technology was cutting edge 10 years ago. I still love looking at a paper map. If you have a smart phone, you have the technology that will prevent you from getting lost . . . if you use it. With your smart phone you can ask Google maps for directions and it will give you turn by turn instructions. You iPhone users can ask Siri (Speech Interpretation and Recognition Interface) and she will tell you exactly how to get where you’re going. The problem with this technology is it gives you a very limited screen to actually confirm your route. Sometimes you need to see the bigger picture. That’s why it’s sometimes better to break out that paper map. You can see the entire route. That’s what Solomon is saying here.   “The highway of the upright is to depart from evil.” If your view of the route is limited to a few miles of the roadway, you won’t see obstacles that might be in your way like toll roads or bridges. I know people that will not drive over bridges. Sometimes you need to pull back and see the whole road.

When you follow God’s road map, you will stay on the correct route and there will be no need to recalculate. That doesn’t mean there won’t be bumps, potholes, or bad weather. In reality, there won’t be detours either. The detours of our walk with Christ come as a result of our choices or the choices of others. When we choose to deviate from God’s directions, we get lost. We end up on a roundabout that we can’t navigate off of. In Des Plaines, we had a roundabout that was nicknamed suicide circle. When we deviate from God’s plan, we might end up on a toll road and we don’t have the money that allows us to continue on. When we decide to go our own way, we end up going the wrong way on a one-way street; we end up in the wrong lane to take an exit. Is. 35:8 says, “A highway will be there, a roadway, and it will be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it, but it will be for him who walks that way, and fools will not wander on it.” You notice Isaiah said fools don’t wander on the road. Sometimes you get lucky and find your way without a map, or you just happen to make a turn that puts you on the right road. Isaiah and Solomon both tell us to be intentional. We’ve been given the way to go, we just need to read the map and follow it. “The highway of the upright is to depart from evil; he who watches his way preserves his life.” When you depart from evil, you preserve your life. In 13:3 Solomon said, “The one who guards his mouth preserves his life.” Now he adds when you watch your way, you preserve your life. All the secrets of life are contained in God’s Word.

Now for one of the most recognized verses in Scripture. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” Lots of people can quote the first part of the verse and it has become a mantra of sorts for people to avoid the sin of pride. Pride is on the list of things the Lord hates. Does this verse really mean what it says? What other possible meaning could there be? We’ve looked at pride several times in this study and it always produces results that are contrary to godliness. When pride is present, dishonor and unrighteousness typically follow. We need to look at the next verse because they’re really connected even though they can stand alone. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling. It is better to be humble in spirit with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud.” There are several principles in the passage that we can apply individually, but the two verses tell us something we probably have not considered in the famous pride goes before destruction verse everyone likes to quote.

Solomon tells us there is a correlation between pride and robbery. Do you find that curious? In Georgia, a person commits the offense of robbery when, with intent to commit theft, he takes property of another from the person or the immediate presence of another: by use of force; by intimidation, by the use of threat or coercion, or by placing such person in fear of immediate serious bodily injury to himself or to another; or by sudden snatching. If convicted, you could spend up to 20 years in prison. If you rob a person 65 or older, you’ll get a minimum of five years in prison. Solomon was not familiar with Georgia law when he wrote this. For him, robbery includes anything taken that does not belong to you whether it’s from a person or a house or a garage or Wal-Mart or anywhere. So how does pride factor in? People that take from others generally are not concerned with the rightness or wrongness. Maybe they think they’re above the law, they think they won’t get caught and even if they do get caught, they’ll somehow get away with it. The very idea of taking something that does not belong to you shows the self-centeredness of that individual and the indifference toward others. They want something and they’re going to take it. When this is done, destruction will follow. When you study career criminals, you see this played out. What they were so careful to do, they no longer do and they leave evidence behind. They get away with something over and over and they get sloppy. They talk to their friends; they brag about their misdeeds. That arrogance or haughtiness will lead to stumbling. Again, “It’s better to be humble in spirit with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud.” Lowly means low in status or importance and has a real life application – it’s a contrast between the proud and the humble.  Ps. 138:6 says, “For though the Lord is exalted, yet He regards the lowly, but the haughty He knows from afar.” Lu. 1:51b, “He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.” In the grand scheme of things, who are we really? In the hugely popular book, A Purpose Driven Life, author Rick Warren nails it in the opening line: “It’s not about you.” It’s the issue we’re constantly facing, it’s the personal character trait that might just be the single most important factor keeping us from being who God wants us to be. It’s not about us and where we fit in, it’s all about God.

God has provided us with the latest, up to date, accurate road map that offers a guarantee on finding the destination . . . if we’ll just use it. Staying on God’s highway will enable you to depart from evil. It doesn’t mean evil will be eliminated from your life, but it won’t take hold of you because you evaluate everything from God’s perspective. Solomon tied the dreadful sin of pride with robbery – an angle you may not have previously looked at. The prosperity of the thief is short lived, so thievery is not even an option for the Christ follower. Society tells us life is all about us, but that’s a deviation from God’s plan. Life here on earth is all about God and life in eternity is all about God.

Can We All Get Along?

16 Feb

Get AlongYou can check out the podcast here.

Last week we saw some questions we all want answers to. God did not create the wicked, but did allow His creation to choose the path of disobedience and rebellion to become the antithesis of His design. Evil and wickedness are present in the world and God will use even that to gain glory. If your life is characterized by pride, you’re like rotting flesh and you will not be unpunished. God loved us so much that He gave us His Son Jesus Christ who atones for our sin. Truth and mercy kiss each other in the person of Christ. Since we have such reverence and love for God, we keep away from evil. All this is part of God’s curious creation where He is at the center. This morning if asked the question, “Can’t we all just get along?” Solomon tells us, yes we can.

Pro. 16:7 says, “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.”

Here’s a really good question for today. As the increasing stream of intolerance and hatred spread throughout society and in social and mainstream media, I think it’s a fair question to ask. Is it possible to get along with others? Even in venues where we agree for the most part, you still see divisions among people who claim to love one another. In Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth he said, “When you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it.” (1 Cor. 11:18) What I really love about this verse is notice that Paul says when you come together as a church. Paul says, “when” not if and not sometimes. This coming together is a regular part of the believer’s lives at Corinth. Believers meeting together under the umbrella of Jesus Christ so please don’t try and feed me any nonsense that you can be engaged in a vibrant, authentic relationship with Christ apart from the local church. So what if there isn’t one? Start making disciples.

Solomon says, “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, He makes even his enemies be at peace with him.” Pay careful attention to the pronouns here. Solomon is talking relationships between men. When a man walks with God, talks with God, communes with God, listens to God, awesome things happen. Solomon is literally saying, when your heart is together with God, then God can turn your foes into friends. Rom. 8:31 says, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” If you were around in 1991, you’ll remember the story of Rodney King. He became the poster child for police brutality when someone began videoing his encounter with police in Los Angeles. Four police officers were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force. All were acquitted except one officer on one charge and that sparked the famous Los Angeles riots of 1992 where 55 people were killed and over 2000 were injured. On May 1, 1992 as the riots were in their third day, reporters were asking Rodney King questions and he said, “People, I just want to say, can we all get along? Can we get along?” As long as there are people, there will be issues that cause division. Christians should be different in the process used to handle differences. We should all get along, but even Paul said, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (Rom. 12:18) It’s a conditional clause. Whatever you can do, be at peace with all men. Solomon is saying God can make it happen. God can cause men to change their mind.

We started off today asking the question, “Can’t we all just get along?” The answer is most definitely yes! When your ways are pleasing to the Lord, He’ll make even your enemies be at peace with you. We saw some questions we all want answers to. We learned about the importance of the Bible and knowing what it says.
Confrontation is not something that is fun, but is a necessity. The Apostle Paul talked of the importance of coming together and he assumed that it’s a regular occurrence. Be in church. Work things out. Get along with people. Love people.

When Worlds Collide

11 Feb

Worlds CollideI live in a small town, brought here by the Navy in 1994. I’ve been active in church and the faith community from the day we moved here. For the first time in nearly four years, two worlds I live in collided in a manner that I had not anticipated. Maybe you don’t know this, but I serve as a full time pastor and as well as a part-time police officer in my community. It’s not unusual for pastors to have a part-time job. Even when I was active duty in the Navy, I had a part-time job. I’ve had a side business since 1998 that specializes in handyman services and remodeling. I’ve worked in and on lots of houses here. I’ve re-sided and re-roofed houses, hung blinds in houses, fixed plumbing and electrical issues, installed cabinets, and can for the most part remember houses I’ve worked on as I drive through neighborhoods. I know pastors that work in offices, retail, restaurants, and a variety of non-ministry vocations to help pay the bills. 

My love of law enforcement goes way back to childhood. Adam-12, Cannon, Dragnet, Hawaii Five-O, The Streets of San Francisco, and Starsky and Hutch were regular programs I loved to watch. One of our neighbors growing up was Jack Whetstone, a Des Plaines police officer and very dear friend. He was patient, kind, and thrilled to talk with us kids as we swarmed him when he got home in his police car. When he became a motorcycle cop, well, we were over the moon. And that was before CHiPs. In 2012 I had an opportunity to go to the police academy. I spoke with our church elders and received permission from the church to go and graduated a few months later. At 49 years old, I was the second oldest in the two classes in the academy at the time. I’ve been serving with our local police department ever since. People have asked, how can you be a pastor and a cop? Isn’t that a conflict of interest? I guess it’s no more a conflict of interest than serving on a nuclear submarine capable of delivering more destruction with one missile than mankind has ever seen, or my ministry buddies that work at restaurants, or Best Buy, or Home Depot. Doesn’t everyone need to see a real life, in the flesh, authentic, passionate follower of Christ?  Doesn’t everyone deserve to hear the life changing power of the Gospel? I mean, there are sinners everywhere. Many pastors I know love working in the community because it affords them the opportunity to get out of the office, to mix and mingle, to grip and grin with people that might not visit their church. I can say I love working as a police officer. I can use the problem solving skills God gave me to help people in a real way. Some days it’s way easier than being in ministry.

In the church, I counsel lots of people I would consider to be “in crisis” that simply ignore good, biblical guidance and continue to do what ever they want to do. It can be very discouraging. If I see someone acting in a way that would bring reproach on them, their family, or more importantly, the Lord, I talk to them, challenge them, beseech them, pray for them and try all the other biblical things we’re supposed to do to help them be like Jesus, but they still have the choice to ignore the loving guidance and the biblical warnings. I hope people to that for me, too.

It’s different in the police world. I see someone breaking a traffic law, I can stop them and issue a citation. They’ll have to answer for that which they have been accused of. If they break the law, I can arrest them and take them to jail where once again, they will have to answer for their charges. If found guilty, there will be a monetary penalty and could spend some time in jail. I have the opportunity to start the wheels of justice in motion. That can be quite refreshing coming from a world where justice may not be served in the here and now. I have the discretion to exercise grace and mercy. I am a child of the King before all other things. No matter the situation I’m in, that reality is extraordinarily close to my heart and governs what I do.

Here comes the collision. As part of my personal community outreach, I volunteer as a Chaplain at our hospital. The Chaplain program at our hospital is more like a crisis ministry. I serve one week every couple of months as the on-call Chaplain. If an issue arises where a patient needs some spiritual help or guidance, the Chaplain on the roster gets the call to respond. I’ve been called a number of times and it’s rarely good. Most of the calls are generated from the emergency room and come after some sort of tragedy or life altering event.

This call was different. I got called to a patient’s room that wanted me to pray for her so I went. I knocked on the door and went into the hospital room and to my surprise, there were a number of people there keeping the patient company. When I’m called, it’s not normally like this. Often the Chaplain is called because there is little or no family support. As I knelt down next to the bed, I surveyed the people in the room and made eye contact with someone I knew. I’ve met people through church, through local events, through my time in the Navy, through my counseling ministry, through my business, as well as through police work. When they’re familiar to me, but I just can’t place them, I’ll normally ask, “Did we serve in the Navy together?” Or, “Have you visited our church?” I’m aware that I know the person, but sometimes I just can’t remember how I know the person. This person was different. I knew immediately. Without a doubt. Two days earlier, I secured an arrest warrant for this person. If you ever served in the Navy, there are words you never want to hear: COLLISION IMMINENT! Two worlds were getting ready to collide. Ministry world and police world on a collision course that just might turn out pretty ugly if I failed to exercise godly wisdom.

Thoughts began to race through my head about how best to fulfill my responsibility to God, the hospital and uphold my oath as a police officer. Here I was in a hospital room with a patient needing me as a servant of God while there was also a wanted fugitive in the room needing to be captured and held accountable for the crimes to which they are accused.

Is there a dilemma?

Not really. It was a pretty easy decision. I dove across the patient’s bed and tackled the fugitive. Ok, I didn’t do that and at my age, I likely would have ended up in the room next door.

When I looked at the individual, I said, “I know you, your name is ________.” The individual said, “No it’s not.” A woman in the room I later learned was the fugitive’s grandmother said, “Don’t lie to the preacher!” At this point, my fugitive got up and quickly left the room. I didn’t. I stayed with the patient that needed me.

Could I have done anything different? How many situations have you been in where you could have done something different to improve the outcome? Even in situations I’ve dealt with in ministry and law enforcement that ended well could have been handled better. There’s always room for improvement. I’m continuously critiquing myself to grow more like Christ. He’s continually convicting and transforming my heart to become like His. It’s a process that I am engaged in daily.

Are you wondering about the fugitive? I am too.

Good News for 2016

4 Jan

2016You can listen to the podcast here.

Rom. 10:13-15 says, “for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”

Notice the words in v.15, “Good news of good things.” I looked at what the Associated Press said were their top stories of 2015.  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 2015 according to AP.

  1. ISLAMIC STATE: A multinational coalition intensified ground and air attacks against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, including expanded roles for Western European countries worried about IS-backed terrorism. For its part, IS sought to demonstrate an expansive reach by its operatives and supporters, claiming to have carried out or inspired the bombing of a Russian airliner, attacks in Beirut and Paris, and the deadly shooting in San Bernardino, California.
  2. GAY MARRIAGE: Fifteen years after Vermont pioneered civil unions for same-sex couples, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in June enabling them to marry in all 50 states. Gay-rights activists heralded it as their movement’s biggest breakthrough, but there were flashes of disapproval. A county clerk in Kentucky, Kim Davis, spent a few days in jail after refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples in her jurisdiction.
  3. PARIS ATTACKS: The first attack came just a week into the New Year. Two brothers who called themselves members of al-Qaida barged into the offices of the satiric newspaper Charlie Hebdo, and later attacked a Jewish market, gunning down 17 people in all. Nov. 13 brought a far deadlier onslaught: Eight Islamic State militants killed 130 people in coordinated assaults around Paris. Targets included restaurants, bars and an indoor rock concert.
  4. MASS SHOOTINGS: Throughout the year, mass shootings brought grief to communities across the U.S. and deepened frustration over the failure to curtail them. There were 14 victims in San Bernardino. Nine blacks were killed by a white gunman at a Charleston, SC, church; a professor and eight students died at an Oregon community college. In Chattanooga, four Marines and a sailor were killed by a Kuwaiti-born engineer; three people, including a policeman, were shot dead at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado.
  5. BLACK DEATHS IN ENCOUNTERS WITH POLICE: In Baltimore, riots broke out after the death of Freddie Gray, a black man loaded into a van by police officers. In Chicago, Tulsa and North Charleston, SC, fatal police shootings of black men prompted resignations and criminal charges. The incidents gave fuel to the Black Lives Matter campaign, and prompted several investigations of policing practices.
  6. TERRORISM WORRIES: Fears about terrorism in the U.S. surged after a married couple in California – described by investigators as radicalized Muslims – carried out the attack in San Bernardino that killed 14 people. The rampage inflamed an already intense debate over whether to accommodate refugees from Syria, and prompted Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump to call for a ban on Muslims coming to the U.S.
  7. US ELECTION CAMPAIGN: A large and varied field of Republicans launched bids for the presidency, with billionaire Donald Trump moving out to an early lead in the polls and remaining there despite a series of polarizing statements. He helped attract record audiences for the GOP’s televised debates. In the Democratic race, Bernie Sanders surprised many with a strong challenge of Hillary Clinton, but she remained the solid front-runner.
  8. CLIMATE CHANGE: Negotiators from nearly 200 countries reached a first-of-its kind agreement in Paris on curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Many questions remain over enforcement and implementation of the accord. But elated supporters hailed it as a critical step toward averting the grim scenario of unchecked global warming.
  9. CHARLESTON CHURCH SHOOTING: A Bible study session at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, suddenly turned into carnage when a white gunman opened fire, killing nine blacks, including the pastor. The alleged killer’s affinity for the Confederate flag sparked debate over the role of Civil War symbols in today’s South. In less than a month, the flag was removed from the SC State House grounds.
  10. EUROPE’S MIGRANT CRISIS: Fleeing war and hardship, more than 1 million migrants and refugees flooded into Europe during the year, overwhelming national border guards and reception facilities. Hundreds are believed to have drowned; 71 others were found dead in an abandoned truck in Austria. The 28-nation European Union struggled to come up with an effective, unified response.

Those are just the top stories and maybe there’s one item that might be considered neutral. We typically focus only on bad news. I guess that’s all that’s fit to be printed or broadcast. When I get a phone call, there’s generally a crisis on the other end.

As Christians, we can always share the good news of who Jesus is. 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 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. He appeared and gave the disciples 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 have take place:

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 God, “Desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” In America, we have decided that sin is relative. There is no standard of conduct, but the Bible if 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 that doesn’t mean 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.” “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 to Christ, you can have a conversation with Him right now.

I’d like to see God’s people passionate about ministry. Is. 44:22 says, “I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud and your sins like a heavy mist. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.” We need to turn back to the Lord. Why? We have a tendency to take things for granted. The things of God become common place so we look for what is new, what is flashy. We’re looking to be entertained. I saw something on Facebook just yesterday from Jeff Foxworthy that said, “If your preacher needs smoke bombs, rock bands, theater lights, dramatic skits, and circus acts to keep people interested, you need a new preacher.” All the responsibility for our Christian walk falls on the pastor or preacher. Some people would have you believe that man does not exist for God’s benefit, but that God exists for man’s benefit. God becomes this genie in a bottle that is there when you need Him rather than the One who is worthy of our continuous worship. We are looking for God to serve us rather than for us to serve Him. A general commitment to Christ substitutes for repentance. Emotional feelings replace true worship.

We tend to be foolish. 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. We tend to be impatient which further separates us from God. 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 or what are you saying 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.

I’d like to see Jesus come back in 2016. 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?