The Persecution

Last week, Pastor Zane told us that Stephen was murdered for his faith at the hands of the people, yet he remained full of faith. Christlike to the end, he prayed forgiveness for the actions of the ignorant people. We see one man’s life ending and we were introduced to a young man named Saul whose story was just beginning. This morning, we’ll see what happens when a man full of self-righteousness and misaligned zeal goes on the offensive.

Take a couple of minutes and read Acts 8:1-8.

In Georgia, you can be charged with a crime simply because you knew it was going on. You can ask my buddy, Pastor Zane, for details because that’s what happened when he was convicted. We have Saul being in, “Hearty agreement with putting him to death.” The Council, led by the high priest, found Stephen guilty of the crimes to which he was falsely accused and drove him out of the city where he was stoned to death. While Saul agreed with putting Stephen to death, it had a profound effect on him as we’ll see later in Acts. This martyrdom of Stephen ushered in widespread attacks against Christians living in Jerusalem. “And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” When we read Scripture, we tend to think in periods of time, but all that we have been looking at the last several weeks occurred over a two-day period.

Stephen’s dead body was still warm when Satan went on the offensive against God’s holy plan for humanity. Every believer in Messiah was driven from the place most of them likely had lived their entire lives, and fled to places unfamiliar to them. They literally ran for their lives. Believers were scattered in the regions of Judea and in Samaria. Scattered mean to sow throughout. Now that’s pretty interesting. It’s the same word used when scattering seed. What happens when you scatter seed? It grows. The seed of the gospel left Jerusalem just as Jesus commanded in Matt. 28:19-20. But, the apostles remained in Jerusalem and we’ll see them mentioned again several times in Acts. Stephen is dead and, “Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentations over him.” This is not some misplaced parenthetical thought. These men took a real chance burying Stephen. Jewish law prohibited funerals for convicted criminals and Stephen was convicted of blasphemy and speaking against the temple and against the Law. They buried him, cried and wept loudly and beat their breasts.

It goes from bad to worse for believers. Saul, “Began ravaging the church, entering house after house, dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.” Ravage comes from the same word that is used to describe what lions, and tigers, and bears do to their prey. He was vicious in his attacks against believers. He burst into houses and was an equal opportunity destroyer dragging men and women out. Saul would stop at nothing. How he put them in prison, we don’t know, but remember how many people turned to Christ in the first six chapters. There were thousands in Jerusalem and just because Luke says they were scattered doesn’t mean that everyone got out safely. Imagine sitting down for a meal or to unwind and the door to your house is kicked in and before you can react, a man grabs you and literally drags you out. Don’t think Saul was by himself in this, there had to be others that were working with him to bring such widespread destruction on the church.

The narrative takes a startling turn here. In v. 4, Luke says, “Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.” Do not read this verse lightly. Understand what is going on. Family members, loved ones, friends, people they knew had been dragged off to prison or worse, and yet they preached the word. How can these believers, who are suffering such hardship, continue on the mission before them? I think it’s not only a fair question, but a stark contrast to how we react to adversity today. One of the seven men that the apostles chose to relieve them of the responsibility to feed the widows had been falsely accused, wrongfully convicted, and was stoned to death. These new believers who were forcefully driven from their homes fleeing for their lives went on doing the very thing that got Stephen killed. How can these things be? The only conclusion I can draw is that they truly believed that Jesus was the Messiah, that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of old, that Jesus was Emmanuel meaning God with us, that Jesus’ death paid the penalty for sin, that new life is found in Christ, that all hope is found in Christ, that Jesus is the avenue to reconcile a sinful people to a holy and perfect God. It seems to me that they genuinely loved the Lord and that love moved them to action – to tell other people about Jesus. It’s not enough to say you love Jesus. If there is no action, then your love is just words. You love your children? You work a job to support them, to provide a place to live, food on the table, clothes on their back. You scrimp and save to give your kids a chance for a better life than you had. All this is motivated by your love for them. You say you love Jesus, but why don’t you share what Jesus has done for you with people that may not know anything more than we celebrate His birth on December 25th?

These believers are scattered throughout the land and they preached the word. Luke calls out Philip who was one of the seven mentioned in Acts 6:5 as, “Being full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” Verse 5 says, “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them.” Samaria was the region northwest of Jerusalem and that’s where Philip ended up. The them refers to the people in the city. Philip took to heart the message that he heard and saw and wanted to share that with others. So, he begins by, “proclaiming Christ.” The Samaritans were largely considered half breeds by the Jews so they were neither Jew nor Gentile. Samaritan lineage goes back to the northern tribes of Israel when God divided the land to each tribe. The northern tribes were known as Israel and the southern tribes were Judah. Israel was taken captive by Assyria in 722 B.C., but not all the people were taken captive. Those that were still in the land intermarried with the native population and did things that were detestable to God like installing their own version of the high priest to conduct worship in the temples they built in the high places. Idolatry was widespread in Samaria. So, for Philip to begin ministry there is pretty incredible, but it wasn’t the first time a Samaritan would be shown the love of Christ. Remember the encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well?

Let’s take a quick look at Jo. 4:5-26. This is the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. V. 20 gives us some insight into the misguided notions the Samaritans have. She tells Jesus that her fathers worshiped on Mt. Gerizim, but the Jews say you have to worship at Jerusalem. Jesus then gives her the bombshell that there is coming a time that worship will not occur at a place. She tells Jesus that her people are looking for Messiah who is called Christ, but she doesn’t know that she is talking to the Messiah until Jesus reveals it. Jesus had to clear up some wrong teaching the woman received at some point. So, we fast forward to a time when all that Jesus said has been fulfilled. Remember that Philip is “proclaiming Christ” and for all the misunderstanding and idolatry in Samaria, the message Philip shared was exactly what was needed in that area. Luke says, “The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed.” The crowds paid attention to Philip and the message that he preached was confirmed by corresponding signs. Demons were cast out, the paralyzed and the lame were healed. Don’t put the cart before the horse here though. The gospel was preached and that’s what the people responded to. Miracles are great and awesome and they can provide a draw to the truth of Jesus, but they do not take the place of genuine faith in Christ. The miracles are not the point of this story – the gospel is the point of the story.

The conclusion: “There was much rejoicing in that city.” The gospel is the great cycle breaker. The unclean are made clean under Christ. The lame are healed under Christ. Half-breeds are adopted by God. People of questionable backgrounds are made new. Racism eliminated; hatred replaced by love. I believe it can still happen today. There was much rejoicing just as was promised in Lk. 2:10 when, “The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people.”

The good news really is for all people. It seems that the Samaritan people were ready to hear the life changing news of the gospel. Believe it or not, there are still people today that are waiting for the message. Be like Philip. Even in the midst of persecution and suffering, he proclaimed the Christ.

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The Green-Eyed Monster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing is Caring

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

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 Miracle of Easter

I’ve got big news: April the giraffe has given birth! Not only is the womb empty, the tomb is empty! Today, Easter is observed all over the world, but do we really understand this day that many people celebrate? Is it just another consumer holiday where we look forward to seeing everyone’s new outfits, finding eggs, and eating jelly beans, chocolate, and peeps? Maybe you enjoy Easter because it generally marks the beginning of Spring. I don’t want you to miss the miraculous and eternal significance of Easter. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, so let’s go back in time from the first Easter to a week or so earlier. As you’re turning to Luke 19:28, earlier in Luke 19, there is the miraculous transformation of Zaccheus; then there is the parable of the talents or minas and we come to what is called the triumphal entry.

Take a look at our passage from Luke 19:28-40.

Who is this Jesus? The name Jesus brings many thoughts to people’s minds.  Names are like that; they mean a lot. Sometimes nicknames are commonly associated with people and are instantaneously recognized. Old Blue Eyes – Frank Sinatra. The King of Pop – Michael Jackson. The King – Elvis. Bruce Springsteen was the Boss. Gordon Sumner is better known as Sting. Michael Jordan is known as Air Jordan. Our Secretary of Defense is James Mad Dog Mattis. There are the not so great people like Ivan the Terrible, Jack the Ripper, Bloody Mary, and Vlad the Impaler. Biblically we have John the Baptizer and Lydia the seller of purple. Few people call him Thomas without preceding it with doubting.

These descriptive names are no different for Jesus. In Matt. 1:21 an angel appeared to Joseph and told him, “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus means Jehovah is salvation. Jesus most often referred to Himself as the Son of Man. He is known as the Messiah. The Light of the world. The Prince of Peace. The bright and morning star. He is the alpha and the omega. He is the redeemer, the advocate, the bread of life. He is the power of God. He is the Lamb of God, the good shepherd, the high priest. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He is the resurrection and the life. That’s who Jesus is. This Jesus was loved by people from all walks of life. This is the Jesus that the prophet Micah said would come to rule Israel; One whose, “Goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” While loved and adored by the common people, this Jesus was despised by the religious groups of the day – the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Jesus upset the apple cart; He rocked the boat; He went against the flow, He said things that were different than what those religious people had been taught and what they believed. They called Jesus a blasphemer, they judged Jesus because He hung out with the less desirables; the tax collectors and sinners. They accused Him of violating the Sabbath because He encouraged His disciples to pick grain when they were hungry. They didn’t like this, in fact, “The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him.” (Luke 6:7) Jesus taught on the Sabbath, Jesus healed on the Sabbath.

So now we know who Jesus is, but why do we need Jesus? The religious crowd of the day despised Jesus because He threatened their power, their control, their desire to be elevated above others, their desire to be better than anyone else, their desire to control their own destiny, their desire and requirement for everyone to follow the Law. The Law was an interesting thing. Various religions and even denominations attempt to control people by requiring the strict following of a set of rules and regulations. Rom. 3:19-20 says,  Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”  Even though the Pharisees wanted everyone to keep the Law, they were powerless to keep it – all the Law did was show people they were law breakers. We need Jesus because no matter how good we think we are, the Bible says there is not a single person that is good.

The Bible is very clear about our need for redemption. We need redemption because according to Rom. 6:6 we are slaves to sin. Sin owns us, it is our master. Rom. 3:23 says, “All have sinned.” 1 Jo. 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.” Rom. 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.” What is sin? If we redefine what sin is, it’s easier to deal with. In our culture, we conform to the idea that personal feelings are the barometer of right and wrong, of morality and truth. We seek comfort and the least resistant path. We seek to please ourselves. We listen to so called “Christian teachers” or influential people who make us feel better about following our own path, about living in sin. Instead of calling people to repentance and authentic Christian living, these people refuse to call sin what God calls sin. We have a whole new generation of people that have succumbed to cultural pressure that it’s intolerant, judgmental, and unloving to declare God’s truth as absolute. I love Paul’s description of this found in Gal. 5:19-21. “The deeds of the flesh are evident.” Evident is from the word that mean plainly recognized. These are the things of the flesh – they are incompatible with a life that follows God. Left to our own devices, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

We know who Jesus is, and we know why we need Jesus, now what should we do with Jesus? In answering this very question to the Jews that gathered in the treasury at the temple in Jo. 8:34-36: “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. ‘The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.’”         There is freedom in Christ. It’s freedom from the penalty of sin, not from the consequences. God will not and cannot allow us to get away with sin, but don’t expect to see someone’s nose grow if they tell a lie. Our cure then, comes not by redefining sin or by avoiding it. Our cure comes by admitting our sin, turning from it and receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Easter is about hope, it’s about life; it’s about fulfilled promises; it’s about Jesus. Maybe you’re thinking, “I want to be free, how do I get this freedom?” To answer that question, we need to go again to the standard of truth. Remember that each of us is a sinner, we have all done wrong. Rom. 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As with any gift, you must accept it; just because it has your name on it does not make it yours until you receive it. Maybe you’re thinking that you need to try harder to be good and righteous. No, the answer to sin is not to try harder to avoid it or change who you are. No matter how hard you try, no matter how good you are, it’s not enough. Eph. 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Rom. 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Confess is a great word. It means the same thing as agree. In other words, when you confess to God your failure to meet His standard or admit your wrongdoings, you are agreeing with Him. Maybe you’re thinking God won’t accept me like I am. Pastor Ian if you only knew about me. Are you thinking, when I give up ___________, I will be good enough and then I will follow Christ. Here’s the good news: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) We don’t have to try harder because God knows that apart from Christ, we can do nothing. (Jo. 15:5) Rom. 10:13: “For ‘WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.’” It is a guarantee. Becoming a Christian is a choice; it is a decision only you can make for yourself. Being a Christian really means being a follower of Christ. God changes your heart, changes your attitude, and you joyfully want to follow Jesus. It’s not something you do begrudgingly. Being a follower of Christ gives you freedom! You are not a Christian because you live in America or because you attend church, or because you pray or read the Bible, or go to a Bible study. You are a Christian because you have made a decision to trust in what Christ did to pay the penalty for sin; you choose to follow Christ. Paul gives us this hope in Rom. 6:10-11, “For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” “To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (Jo. 1:12)

So how did we get to the point of death? What began just five or so days earlier as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt with people waving palm branches and expressing their adoration for this man from Galilee, all that adoration was overwhelmed by the crowds in Jerusalem that demanded His death by crucifixion. They got what they asked for and Jesus was sentenced to die on a cross for being found guilty of nothing. Jesus dies a horrible death on the cross and was buried in a tomb. The rest of the story is found in Luke 24:1-9. Easter is all about the penalty Jesus Christ paid to cover our sin debt. He shed His blood for you because of His incredible, unending, and unconditional love. He is not here because He is risen. Easter is all about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the new life that He can give you.

You have heard about who Jesus is and why we need Jesus. You have heard about what you should do with Jesus now there remains just one question. What will you do about what you know?

The Parent Trap

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

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.