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Sharing is Caring

10 Jul

You can watch and listen to the message here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Unlikely Leader

24 Apr

Check out the video here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Parent Trap

22 Feb

trapLast week, Solomon gave us some clues to identify a wicked man. He told us there is no one with the intelligence or smarts to go against God. Don’t think you can fight against God either – He will always win. Names can evoke a lot of emotion and God says there is power in the name of Jesus. In fact, having a good name in the community is better than riches. Rich or poor, everyone belongs to God in the sense that He is the Creator. Prudent people pay attention: fools do not. It’s good to be humble and recognize that whatever greatness you may have on this earth is because God has given it to you. The reward for humility is riches and they may or may not be material, but the reward is assuredly eternal life in the presence of God. This morning, we’ll look at some restated principles and clear up a verse that many people have used as a parenting mantra.

Take a look at our passage today found in Pro. 22:5-11.

Solomon has painted a picture of wickedness and foolishness throughout this book. He continues by saying, “Thorns and snares are in the way of the perverse; he who guards himself will be far from them.” Again, he’s speaking in generalities. The way of the wicked is problematic and leads nowhere. Don’t confuse short term gain for long term rewards. The crooked, foolish, and the wicked way are synonymous. It’s filled with problems, with road blocks, with hurdles and it’s never smooth. It is contrary to God’s way. Do you find yourself consistently tripping through life? If you are a follower of Christ, I assure you that while the path of righteousness is straight and narrow, there are bumps and detours along the way. We have no guarantee of an easy life, but if you find yourself frustrated, angry, depressed, discouraged, hopeless, and defeated, you might consider the path you’re on. When you are on the path of righteousness, Satan will do all he can to get you derailed. While we all may experience those moments of wandering, if you are on the path that God had prescribed for you, there will be joy, there will be hope, there will be fulfillment because you are doing what you are supposed to be doing. The brief moments of frustration or doubt will pass because you are maintaining your focus on pursuing Christ and He will give you what you need when you need it. What happens to you in this life does not define who you are. The experiences God allows do help shape you and mold you and give you unique perspectives in life to enable you to rest in God and help you minister to others. Don’t discount your experiences.

Here’s the main point for today and it’s called the parenting trap. Probably every parent at some point has heard this next verse. New parents are given this verse on pictures and plaques to set around the house. Older, well-meaning parents teach it to young parents and sometimes think if the verse is said enough if will come true. Saying verses over and over again with the hope that the verse will come true in your own life is not the intent of God speaking through His Word. Solomon tells us to, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” It would be awesome if every instruction we gave to our kids was understood and followed immediately. I have met parents over the years that actually believe their kids were perfect, or at least more perfect than other kids. This verse is tucked in between unrelated verses and seems awkwardly placed. Having children is one of the most blessed and challenging things that two people can do. I say two people because the conception of a child does require the input from a male and a female. It doesn’t matter if it occurs inside the womb or in a test tube. All life, every single time, is conceived by the power of God.

This verse is traditionally applied to parents, but the instruction also applies to anyone that has influence over any child . . . so that really means everyone. So, let’s break it down. Train means to teach a skill or behavior through regular practice. Athletes train for sporting events. Musicians practice. Coaches teach new skills. As a gymnast and a diver, I was always learning new skills and it generally involved pain of some sort as I learned to do whatever trick it was. The training Solomon is talking about has to do with, “The way he should go.” There are lots of things kids must learn. Reading, writing, arithmetic, biology, dressing themselves, etc. Every kid needs to learn basic life skills to function in society. That’s the responsibility of parents, but Solomon gives parents specific instruction about eternity.

“The way he should go” doesn’t mean finding their own way, but being taught THE way. In Eph. 6:4 Paul said, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” I find it really interesting that parents do what they can to get their kids in the best nursery or child care program and groom the kids from a young age to go to the best schools, or get the best coaches or teachers and are determined that the kids follow a particular path, but when it comes to God, they back off and say they want them to find their own way. That is utter nonsense. Parents must take an active role in teaching their kids about God. If you doubt what I’m saying, let’s turn over to Deut. 6. This is what we have to do with our kids. Don’t leave the responsibility and privilege to teach your children about God to other people. I’m glad to do it, but I have limited time with your kids. Solomon concludes his thought by saying, “Even when he is old he will not depart from it.” The “it” refers to, “the way he should go.” When the kid grows up, when he is older, he won’t depart from the teaching. There are parents that have diligently instructed their kids in the way only to have their kids choose the path that is not pleasing to God. This is the nature of many of the proverbs we have looked at. They are generalities and are not applicable to each and every situation out there. As a general rule, when parents intentionally include God in all that they do, the child remembers it because it was part of the DNA of the family. God wasn’t compartmentalized to Sundays only. The principles found in Scripture were lived out on a daily basis. Parenting isn’t a do as I say, not as I do endeavor. We must demonstrate by example what we expect out of our children. That is the gift of parenting, but it also represents a challenge to all of us.

This next one is a tried and proven fact. “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.” The rich and poor have a common bond in that they are all made by God, but as to the things of life, we see this ruling aspect every day. Those that have little will be in subjection to those that have much. There is an entire movement dedicated toward opposing the rich. According to the Occupy Wall Street website, their movement, “is fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations. The movement is inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and aims to fight back against the richest 1% of people that are writing the rules of an unfair global economy that is foreclosing on our future.” Right or wrong, good or bad, this is the principle Solomon is presenting.

The second half of the verse has been used a proof text prohibiting borrowing money. There is no such prohibition in Scripture, but the Bible does talk about caution when doing so. When you are indebted to someone, whether it be a bank, a title loan company or the local rent a center, you are their slave. You cannot get around it. You must pay back what you borrow. It is a whole lot easier to secure loans today than it was a couple of decades ago. You can get a loan from the comfort of your couch. People enter into a contract to borrow money and often don’t know what is in store for them. Did you look at the amortization schedule for the mortgage before you signed? You’ll see that the loan company gets its fees up front and that makes sense because they’re the ones taking the risk. There’s been pushes in recent years to forgive debt and it doesn’t matter whether its mortgage debt or student loan debt. For some reason, people secure a loan and then later determine that it’s not fair to have to pay back what they owe. It seems that people do not like being placed in bondage to others. This is the principle that Solomon’s talking about. It’s not good or bad, Solomon is simply stating fact. When you borrow money, you’re a slave to the lender.

Be careful what you sow. When you plant corn, you expect to reap corn. When you plant wheat, you expect to sow wheat. Whatever you sow, that’s what you’re supposed to reap. Solomon says, “He who sows iniquity, will reap vanity.” Vanity means trouble. If you sow iniquity or sin, you will reap trouble. “And the rod of his fury will perish.” This is talking about the man who sows iniquity. Rod is a symbol of power. When men rule with the thought of their own desires rather than the desires of people, the authority they possess will be stripped away.

We’ve seen the generosity of v. 9 before. And we’ve seen what to do with the scoffer from v. 10. And also, the relationship with a king in v. 11.

We started by looking at the way of the wicked. If you are continuously tripping through life, you might want to check the path you’re on. What happens in your life does not have to define who you are. We spent some time on the parenting trap and most parents will tell you that some of life’s biggest challenges result following the birth of their children. Take the time to instruct your kids about the way they should go. While there’s no prohibition against borrowing money, understand that the borrower becomes a slave to the lender. You will reap what you sow so be careful in what you choose to plant. We finished by quickly reviewing several principles already covered. My prayer is that you will really grasp this thing called wisdom as you continue your journey of faith in Christ.

A Fool’s Wisdom

14 Feb

foolYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week, talked about budgeting – don’t spend what you don’t have. The foolish man doesn’t think about tomorrow and what might be needed, he simply 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 sacrifices offered with evil intent. This morning, we’ll get some clues in identifying wickedness as well as seeing how foolish it is to go against God.

I hope you’ll take the time to read Pro. 21:29-22:4 so you know where we are.

We begin with a question. How can you spot a wicked man? Solomon says, “A wicked man displays a bold face, but as for the upright, he makes his way sure.” Bold face is not a likely description that people would use these days. It literally means makes firm with his face. It gives us the idea that the wicked man does not show anything on his face. He doesn’t blush, his face doesn’t get red when he’s angry. You can’t read this guy and he uses that to get his way.  But the upright or righteous man seeks God and determines to follow Him. Other versions translate that last phrase as, “gives thought to his ways.” That’s consistent with what we have seen in Proverbs, It’s not about following your own path, but about following the path God has set before you. When you truly seek God, that’s one and the same direction.

How smart is God? Solomon says, “There is no wisdom and no understanding and no counsel against the Lord.” I searched Google for the smartest people in the world and found a list of really smart people. I learned that the average IQ in America is between 90 and 100. Individuals with IQ scores between 160 and 165 are considered extraordinary geniuses, and those with scores of 145 to 179 are considered geniuses. The person with the highest IQ is Australian born Chinese American Terence Tao with a verified IQ of 230. If you stack up Terence’s smarts against God, you will come up dreadfully short. It is foolish and unwise to go against God. Even though there seems to be progress made in things that are anti-Christ, don’t let that fool you into thinking there is victory against God. There is no success when you go against God. People think they’re so smart and yet Solomon says, “There is no wisdom, no understanding and no counsel against the Lord.” Ps. 2:1-6 speaks to this pretty clearly. It’s no use to battle against the Lord.

Solomon goes on to say, “The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the Lord.” This is connected to the previous verse. The horse was used in battle, but before you go fighting, you have to make sure the horse is ready. The same holds true for foot soldiers and holds true in modern warfare. Remember the context in which this was written. We’re talking about Israel here. God was very involved with guiding Israel to battle. God can win without armies, but armies cannot win without God.

What’s in a name? I don’t know if this applies today, but back in the day, your reputation meant a lot. There is power in names. When I was in high school, if you heard that someone had a bad reputation, you would immediately draw some conclusions. It doesn’t matter when in history you are, you hear names that will evoke certain emotions. Most recently, you hear names like Trump or Clinton and it immediately brings out the worst in people. The name Jesus Christ has evoked much emotion over the course of history as well. People use the Lord’s name in jokes, in cursing others, or in ritualistic incantations. There is definitely power in a name and there is one name that is above all other names. Phil. 2:9-11 says, “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” That’s some real power!

“A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, favor is better than silver and gold.” Solomon uses his favorite writing style of contrasting two things. In this case, it’s the reputation of a good name and wealth. You’ve heard of name dropping? That goes off the principle Solomon is sharing. People drop names in hopes of getting out of trouble or gaining favor or impressing someone else. Just because you know someone, doesn’t really mean anything. The difference as we have already seen, is when you personally know Jesus Christ. How do you get that good name?        Follow wisdom. No matter what tax bracket you’re in, “The rich and poor have a common bond, the Lord is the maker of them all.” Solomon has gone to great lengths to draw parallels to wisdom and riches and poverty and foolishness. The bottom line is that God is still the Maker of them all. Job 34:19 referring to God says, “Who shows no partiality to princes nor regards the rich above the poor, for they all are the work of His hands?” Rich or poor, good or bad, wicked or righteous, the Lord is maker of everyone. This is really a blessing too. You don’t have to do anything to gain favor from God. 1 Tim. 2:5 reminds us, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Solomon continues by saying, “The prudent sees the evil and hides himself, but the naive go on, and are punished for it.” This is similar to what Solomon said back in Pro. 14:16: “A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is arrogant and careless.” Prudent means acting with or showing care and thought for the future. The person that thinks ahead can see the potential evil. It might not be wickedness or evil, it might be temptation. If you know you’re prone to spend money you don’t have, when you go shopping, make a list of things that you need to have and only buy those items. If you know you have a tendency to watch YouTube video after YouTube video, then you might want to set a time limit or avoid YouTube all together. If you find yourself getting sucked into Facebook and the time gets away from you, the prudent person establishes boundaries. That’s all that Solomon’s saying. Prudent people recognize the potential problems and take action to minimize the impact. “The naive go on, and are punished for it.” These are the people that want to go to the beach during a hurricane. These are the people that when the tornado siren goes off, they go outside to look at it. Don’t be that guy.

Here’s some generalities. The next verse cannot be applied to a specific individual, but is a generally applicable principle. “The reward of humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, honor and life.” We definitely see exceptions when we think of our brothers and sisters suffering for their faith all around the world. The guiding principle is humility. You’ve probably heard it said, “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.” (Muhammad Ali) So, let’s put humility in perspective. According to Google dictionary, humility is a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness. Humility is a part of God’s character and is a quality to emulate. Ja. 4:6 says, “But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  What is curious in Scripture is that we get to see both sides of God. Let me highlight a few examples.

“Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O Lord, and You exalt Yourself as head over all.” (1 Chron. 29:11)

“For the Lord Most High is to be feared, a great King over all the earth.” (Ps. 47:2)

“There is none like You, O Lord; You are great, and great is Your name in might.” (Jer. 10:6)

“I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God.” (Is. 45:5)

God is greater than everything else and we have already seen that at the very mention of His name, people will bow down yet there is another side to Him. Paul spoke of Christ’s meekness and gentleness. (2 Cor. 10:1) In Matt. 11:29, Jesus said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Speaking of Christ in Phil. 2:8, Paul said, “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Muhammad Ali would later say, “I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I really was the greatest.” There are great people in the world, but they don’t tell people how great they are; it’s is recognizable. The reward for true humility, “Are riches, honor and life.” These riches may not be financial riches. There lots of truly humble people that love Jesus and live in poverty. These riches are seen in the immeasurable grace and mercy we receive in this world. Followers of Christ are rewarded with eternal life through the covenant of grace.

Solomon gave us some clues on identifying a wicked man. He also told us there is no one with the intelligence or smarts to go against God. It’s no use to battle against God either. Names can evoke a lot of emotion and God says there is power in the name of Jesus. Having a good name in the community is better than riches. Rich or poor, everyone belongs to God in the sense that He is the Creator. Prudent people pay attention, but fools do not. It’s good to be humble and recognize that whatever greatness you may have on this earth is because God has given it to you. The riches may or may not be material, but the reward is assuredly eternal life in the presence of God.

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.

God is Always on the Throne

23 Jan

Check out the podcast here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rapid Fire Principles

9 Jan

rapid-fireYou can check out the podcast here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good News for 2017

3 Jan

2017Check out the audio version here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fascination of the Shepherds

19 Dec

angel-and-shepherdsCheck out the podcast here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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