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.

The Fright of the Shepherds

12 Dec

shepherdCheck out the audio version here.

Last week we reviewed the journey that Mary and Joseph took to get from Galilee to Bethlehem and why they had to make the trip. We saw what must have been a difficult birth process with only Joseph attending to Mary and what did he know? This was his first child too. We left Jesus in the manger all wrapped up in the swaddling cloths. Let’s keep going and see how the other characters responded to the birth of Christ.

Read over Luke 2:6-20 to get an idea of the context of the birth of Christ.

Luke tells us that there were, “Some shepherd staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.” The shepherds are always part of the story. I want you to put yourself in the place of the shepherds. How would you respond if, “The angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them?” Have you ever suddenly appeared to your spouse? Your kids? They screamed. Do you think the shepherds would have done anything different? Of course not because the text tells us, “They were terribly frightened.” They were scared out of their wits. Frightened is the Greek word phobeo. What’s really interesting is the shepherds of that day were generally not the most well respected, wonderful folks in town. Why the shepherds? Why not merchants? Why not the elders of the city? The shepherds were generally dishonest, dirty, and smelly people. The shepherds were out in the fields watching their flocks. It was dark and likely very quiet when all of a sudden, the angel appears.

The angel says, “Do not be afraid.” It’s a little late for that! They’ve just had the fright of their life and they’re already scared, but don’t you do this with your kids? They’re in their dark bedroom and they tell you they’re afraid and you tell them, “Don’t be afraid” and they’re supposed to respond by saying okay. The appearance of the angel is different. Your kids are afraid of what might be in the dark. The shepherds were afraid of what suddenly appeared out of the dark. You’d be scared too. The angel told the shepherds something very specific. “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The angel speaks directly to the shepherds so make this personal. The angel told the shepherds that the good news was for all people. That phrase good news is from the Greek word euangelizo where we get our English word evangelize. The good news is not only of Christ’s birth, but that there has been born a Savior and He is named. Don’t miss the fact that the Savior has been born for all people. All is an interesting word that means all, not a select number, not a few chosen ones, but all. A Savior has been born. In Matt. 1:21 an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and said, “She will bear a Son and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus is the Savior, the long awaited Messiah, our Deliverer, our Redeemer, He is Lord.

In case the shepherds doubted the message, the angel of the Lord told them there was a sign. Really get this in your mind. An angel appears out of thin air and tells the shepherds that the Savior, the One that had been prophesied from the beginning of humanity, the Savior that has been talked about for thousands of years has been born and then the angel tells them how they can find Jesus. He’s in the City of David – Bethlehem, and He’s wrapped up tightly in swaddling cloths, laying in a manger. This is a very specific description to eliminate any confusion in case there was another new born baby in the town. They were given specific instructions on how to find the One. It’s no mistake that the angel appears to these lowly shepherds. Isn’t that the message of hope that we all need? Jesus didn’t come to save the righteous. After Jesus grew up, He said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Lu. 5:32) The angel delivers the life changing news that had been prophesied about from the beginning of time and they get to be a part of it.

What is the collective response to this incredible announcement? “And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.” Here’s the same “suddenly” that we saw earlier. Without warning, the angel of the Lord is joined by his heavenly colleagues. Multitude comes from the same word as plethora. It was the hallelujah chorus. Hallelujah means praise Ye Yahweh. Many people think of Handel’s Messiah. Handel was actually inspired by Rev. 19, but it still works here. Imagine for a moment that you are a heavenly being and you’ve also been waiting for the Messiah, not for yourself, but to see the plan they knew of in Gen. 3:15 come to fruition. There was a boat load of heavenly beings and they were, “Saying, glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” I think it’s important to define the words we so casually say and sing this time of year. Glory comes from the word doxa which means splendor which means magnificence. When the angels said, “Glory to God in the highest” they were expressing God’s incredibleness, His awesomeness, His uniqueness, His majesticness, His greatness, and every other accolade you can attribute to a perfect, holy, righteous, all powerful being. In all of eternity there is none like Him and no one will ever be like Him.

“And on earth peace among men.” The only way to have true peace is to embrace Jesus as Savior. With Him, we can know true peace and it passes all understanding. That word peace means completeness or wholeness. Don’t overlook the significance of this message! If you don’t know Jesus, you cannot have peace. What the world defines as peace is not peace. Jesus provides the opportunity to be complete, to be restored to the relationship God designed for humanity, but it can only come through the gift that was found in the manger. Later in 19:38, Luke says, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And in Acts 10:36, “The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all).” When confronted with the reality of who God is and what He has done there is only one response and that is worship!

In this message, we focused on the shepherds and the angels and there’s a reason for that. The familiarity of this Christmas story shouldn’t prevent us from learning something new each time. 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. Stay tuned for the next installment as we’ll see how the shepherds went from frightened to fascinated.

What’s the Harm with Santa Claus?

7 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

SPOILER ALERT!       SPOILER ALERT!

 

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

Look at the characteristics of Santa.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas – The Characters

5 Dec

Check out the podcast here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking for a Fight

29 Nov

argueYou can download the podcast here.

The last time we were in Proverbs, we concluded our discussion of social drinking. While this issue can result in a draw as far as definitive direction, the question is not, “Can I drink socially, but why do I want to drink socially?” While you have the freedom to drink, it may not be profitable (1 Cor. 6:12) and may even contribute to the stumbling of others (Gal. 5:13). If you weren’t here for both parts, I encourage you to listen to the podcast or read my blog to catch up. This morning, we’ll see some rephrasing of principles we’ve already looked at and we’ll dive into the issue of trustworthiness.

Our passage today comes from Proverbs 20:2-8. I hope you’ll take time to read it as we start.

Solomon starts out with a very simple sentiment: don’t do this. Solomon says, “The terror of a king is like the growling of a lion; he who provokes him to anger forfeits his own life.” We’ve seen this in Pro. 16:14 when Solomon said, “The fury of a king is like messengers of death.” In Pro. 19:12, “The king’s wrath is like the roaring of a lion.” Kings hold life and death in their hands so don’t make them mad.

Here is another principle you may not have known was biblical. “Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, but any fool will quarrel.” There are people that will argue about the dumbest things. It seems some people are always looking for a fight. Never talk politics or religion at a party. People immediately ramp up with those topics. As time has gone on, people seem to ramp up about a lot of topics.  Who has the better sports team or sports conference. Designated hitter or not. What’s the better truck, Ford or Chevy? What’s the best school to go to. Who has the best coffee or doughnuts. The list goes on and on. It’s honorable to stay away from strife. Strife is angry or bitter disagreement or conflict. Some people think that you have to fight for your rights, you have to stand up for what you believe in because it’s all about you. Of course there are times when you need to stand up for yourself, but Solomon is talking about someone that loves to fight. Someone like this Solomon says is a fool. You might be thinking of someone right now that falls into this category. Don’t be so quick to ramp up and be in total defensive mode. Have a little grace; show a little mercy; demonstrate some kindness. After all, who do you represent? Remember that you are a child of God and your behavior matters. Take the attitude of Abram when he, “said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, nor between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers.” (Gen. 13:8) This is the let’s all get along mentality.

What about when that strife is in the church? That’s a whole different animal. Thankfully, we haven’t really experienced anything like this here at C4, but there are people in the church that fall into this category. There are churches where there is infighting about things that don’t really matter. The common denominator in each of these situations is people. One person tries to exert pressure, influence, or control over another. It can be the pastor, an elder, a deacon, a leader, or someone that has been there a long time. There are churches where nothing new is ever done. There are churches that have always done the same thing. I hope that we have bred a culture at C4 where there is an openness to new ideas, a desire to be more effective, and a goal of getting people involved in the decision making process. Remember Paul’s instruction to, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:32) We need to have a balance of mercy, grace, patience, correction, encouragement, and all the other attributes Paul and others talk about in our Christian walk.

We’ve seen the following principles before. “The sluggard does not plow after the autumn, so he begs during the harvest and has nothing.” He’s too lazy to work so he must resort to the generosity of others. A good question to ponder is when do you cross the line from generosity to enabling?

“A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water, but a man of understanding draws it out.” This verse isn’t talking about plans apart from God. This has more to do with discerning the real intent of a plan. Solomon gives us a metaphor about water. You have to have the right gear to explore deep water properly. You can’t dive into the ocean with a snorkel and expect to understand what lies at the bottom. That’s what Solomon is saying. It may take some digging to get to the real purpose of a plan. Over the years, people have made suggestions about things we need to do or should do at C4. My typical response goes one of two ways. Let me think about it or would you be willing to head that up. What is on the surface of a plan may not be what’s at the bottom of it. It takes some investigating; it takes some understanding and the only way to get understanding is to dig. That’s what Solomon is saying here. It takes some time to draw out the real reasons behind plans. This leads to the next topic.

What about loyalty? “Many a man proclaims his own loyalty, but who can find a trustworthy man?” There is a difference between a proclamation and reality. The true meaning of this verse doesn’t come across clearly, but there is a phrase that helps us out. It’s the phrase, “proclaims his own loyalty.” When you check out the cross references for this verse, it takes you to the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Matthew talks about the hypocrites who sound the trumpet when giving to the poor. (Matt. 6:2) Luke speaks of the Pharisee who prayed in the square thanking God that he wasn’t, “like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” (Lu. 18:11) There was a self-proclaimed loyalty to the things of God, but the reality was different.

True loyalty and character are very rare, especially these days. I can say all day long that I am loyal to something, but if there is no demonstration, am I really loyal? What are we loyal to these days? School, sports, extra-curricular activities, friends, recreation and the list goes on and on. I’ve gone over this before. It seems like we’re most loyal to the things that matter the least. This guy proclaims his own loyalty to God as is demonstrated by his activity, but when you really look at the life, there’s little evidence to support his claim. When Solomon asks the question, “Who can find a trustworthy man?”, I picture him saying the next verse in a nostalgic kind of way. It’s like he’s thinking back to a simpler time when a man’s word was his bond. “A righteous man who walks in his integrity – how blessed are his sons after him.” It’s a blessing to have a dad that is honorable, that demonstrates the character and qualities that honor God.

Let’s go back to the king. We have established quite easily I think, that Solomon was an incredibly wise man. How was he perceived by others? Was he respected by other world leaders? The Queen of Sheba heard about Solomon and had to check him out for herself. While the exact location of Sheba is not known, it is believed to be the area of the southern Arabian Peninsula and the eastern part of Ethiopia. 1 Ki. 10:1 says, “Now when the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to test him with difficult questions.” Solomon’s reputation was not confined to the land of Israel. The queen was no slouch herself. She came with camels, spices, and a lot of gold and precious stones. The Bible says, “She spoke with him about all that was in her heart.” Solomon had a reputation for wisdom and after talking with him, she concluded, “It was a true report which I heard in my own land about your words and your wisdom.” (1 Ki. 10:6) So when Solomon says, “A king who sits on the throne of justice dispenses all evil with his eyes,” he’s talking from personal experience. Isn’t that the kind of leader we want for our nation? Of course, we will not have perfect authority and leadership until Jesus take His rightful place. But it sure would be nice if we elected and sought leaders who hold to biblical values. It sure would be nice if we had believers that stood up and were vocal about biblical morality and truth, but that’s just not the way it works. We live in a world governed by sin and until the time comes when God says enough is enough, we live victoriously knowing the work God has done in us through the power of the Holy Spirit and the finished work of Christ. There’s more to being a good leader than sitting on a throne. No matter where you rule, or supervise, or manage, you need to learn to do so with grace, honor, and humility. The queen of Sheba concluded by saying, “Blessed be the Lord your God who delighted in you to set you on the throne of Israel; because the Lord loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness.” (1 Ki. 10:9)

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. Spend the time to ask the right questions. Loyalty and trustworthiness are qualities that are diminishing as we move through time. You become the person that God wants you to be. Finally, we sat the value of a godly king and the Queen of Sheba recognized that quality in Solomon.

My Liberty (Part 2)

14 Nov

You can check out the podcast here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Persecution in the Church

7 Nov

persecuteCheck out the podcast here.

How many have seen a submarine in the water? If you haven’t seen one in the drydock, you don’t have the big picture. Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church and many Christians don’t have the big picture regarding persecution. What is persecution? Where does is come from? Why does it happen? When will it end? These are questions we’ll answer this morning.

I hope you break out your Bible and read Jesus’ words in John 15:20-25.

So what’s the big picture? Jesus begins by saying, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’” He has told his disciples this truth already. He said the same exact thing back in John 13:16, “A slave is not greater than his master.”  Why does he repeat Himself? In 13:16 Jesus is talking about humility and service. In 15:20, He is talking about opposition and persecution. Jesus tells them to remember and makes a very troubling statement. “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” Remember that Jesus is talking to His disciples. In context, “You” refers to the disciples, but the persecution applies to anyone who is, or will become a disciple of Christ. What is the church made up of? Disciples of Christ. “They” refers to the world. Why all this opposition? Why all the hatred? “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.”  (Jo. 15:18) “Me” is a statement of reason for persecution. It’s not that the world doesn’t recognize Christ in us, opposition and persecution comes because they do recognize Jesus in us. 2 Tim. 3:12 reminds us, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Persecution is inevitable, but there is a caveat. It will come to those that truly want to live for Christ.

That’s the big picture of persecution. As Christians, we are associated with a real Savior. When you identify yourself with Jesus Christ, it implies a stand against the world – a life that is different and the difference is only explainable in terms of Jesus. If we are living consistent lives, our works and words will regularly contradict the lifestyles of those around us. Our work ethic, our language, our goals, our attitudes, our values set us apart. We should take to heart the admonition found in Eph. 5:11 where Paul says, “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them.” The integrity of our speech, our unwillingness to gossip or slander, our joy, our willingness to forgive – these character qualities will provoke opposition. We need to recognize why that opposition comes. It’s not necessarily what we do, it’s Who we represent. Jesus is emphatic in v. 20: “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” He provides the reason in v. 21 and says, “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake.”  Matt. 5:11 says, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.” These verses provide the church with perspective and reason. Persecution is linked to the person and work of Christ. How people respond to us, positively or negatively, is ultimately determined not by who we are, but who Jesus is.

Scripture provides us with a number of examples where the apostles and disciples suffered persecution because they identified with Jesus. Peter and John were imprisoned and told not to speak to people about Christ because too many people were becoming followers (Acts 4:1, 17). The other Apostles were thrown in jail (Acts 5:17). Stephen, “full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people” until Acts 7 where he is stoned to death for preaching the gospel. Great persecution of the church in Jerusalem began in Acts 8 where men and women were dragged out of their houses and thrown in jail led by a man named Saul. Herod killed James and imprisoned Peter (Acts 12:1). Paul speaks of numerous instances of persecution, particularly in Corinth, Ephesus, and Jerusalem.

During the period of the Roman Empire, persecution was widespread beginning with Nero about 60 AD. Roman historian Pliny described the Emperor Domitian (AD 81-96) as a, “Beast from hell who sat in its den, licking blood.” Trajan (AD 98-117) was the first emperor to persecute Christians fully distinct from Jews. Marcus Aurelius (AD 161–180) was convinced Christianity was a dangerous revolutionary force, preaching gross immoralities. Under Marcus, anti-Christian literature flourished for the first time. In 202, Septimius Severus issued an edict forbidding conversion to Judaism or Christianity. A great persecution followed especially in North Africa and Egypt. Decious became the first emperor to initiate an Empire-wide persecution of Christians. After executing Pope Fabian, he said, “I would far rather receive news of a rival to the throne than of another bishop of Rome.” Valerian blamed Christians for plague and civil unrest in the empire. In 257, he ordered clergy to sacrifice to the gods of the state. Diocletion (AD 303) ordered all Christian churches and books be destroyed and persecuted the church because of a fear of treachery, conspiracy, and secrecy. In order to maintain better control of the empire under Diocletion, the empire was divided into the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire which was also known as the Byzantine Empire Those two were ruled by Maxentius and Constantine. In 312, Constantine defeated Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge and became the sole emperor. Believing that Jesus Christ was responsible for his victory, Constantine enacted laws that mandates religious tolerance throughout the empire.

You might be thinking, “But that’s all in the first couple of centuries.” A boat captain is facing charges for an incident took place in December 2014 when he and his second in command severely beat six Christian refugees before throwing them overboard to their death. On August 28, 2016, 11 missionaries to Syria were crucified or beheaded. An Oct. 5, 2016 attack on a Kenyan church left six dead. On Oct. 11, 2016, eleven believers were arrested at a house church in Uzbekistan when officers barged in the flat representing KGB, counter terrorism unit, police, and other agencies. All equipment and phones were confiscated and a search is being conducted of those devices. If Bibles or other Christian literature is found they will be prosecuted further. ISIS claimed responsibility for a mass shooting on Oct. 12, 2016 that killed at least 18 worshippers at a shrine in the Afghan capital. And remember Michael and Julie, our own missionaries to central Asia were under surveillance and faced deportation for engaging in unidentified activity. These recent stories reflect most, if not all, of the first century reasons for persecution – suspicion, fear, religious and political strategy, and protection of old beliefs and customs. It’s not just physical persecution that occurs, but we now see social, psychological, economic, and legal persecution. It is the consistent moral standards that set us apart. You won’t make many friends when you take a stand.

We’ve seen the big picture of persecution, we’re associated with a real Savior, and finally we are called to a radical servant hood. The church may suffer for reasons other than persecution. Pride, politics, class, ignorance, distraction, fear, or apathy, but it is only really persecuted when this relationship with Jesus Christ comes into play. What we consider persecution in the West really isn’t persecution at all. Dictionary.com defines persecution as the act or practice of persecuting; especially, the infliction of loss, pain, or death for adherence to a particular creed or mode of worship. It is part of a radical servant hood. Real persecution comes with the spiritual territory of a real and vibrant walk with Christ. But wait, something isn’t quite right. If real, authentic Christianity includes persecution, then how come there are millions of quiet, godly people serving Christ all over the world with no hindrance and no opposition? Let’s go back to John. Why did they persecute Jesus? There are spiritual things going on that we cannot see. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day persecuted Him because of Who He said He was. In Jo. 10:30 Jesus said, “I and my father are one.” In Jo. 14:9 Jesus told Philip, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” Jesus was persecuted because he taught things the leaders considered subversive. It was dangerous; what Jesus taught undermined established religion; it went against the status quo. Remember Jo. 15:20 when Jesus said, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”  Peter said it this way, “If anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.”  (1 Pet. 4:16). The “if” clause expresses certainty, not probability. It is going to happen, expect nothing less. They did persecute Jesus so they will persecute people that are like Jesus and as long as there are people like Jesus, persecution will continue. The persecuted will always be with us. Paul told the Thessalonians, “We kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass.” (1 Thes. 3:4) Throughout the history of Christianity, the church has grown the fastest where persecution is the greatest.

So what now? As we’ve looked biblically at persecution, we need to overcome some misconceptions and shift paradigms that have produced a weak and anemic Christianity in the western world. First, we need to challenge the thinking of contemporary Christians that have a purely rational, two-dimensional worldview. Life in God is always more than flesh and blood. There is a spiritual dimension in the persecution of Christians, past and present. When you think about what you can’t see, the picture gets bigger. Persecution is never random, but is linked to a visible and real identity with Christ. Persecution is inevitable if the body of Christ is living in bold obedience to the Head of the Church.

Second, we must challenge the thinking of supporters and their role in the pastoral care of the persecuted church. The lessons from believers in extremes are invaluable to the present church on earth. They provide us with the costliest forms of discipleship known to Christianity. They enrich the whole body of Christ, but persecution also wounds the body. So, the unaffected parts (non-persecuted) are called on to minister to the affected (persecuted) parts of the body. We are a part of the big picture and must invest in their support.

Third, we need to teach persecution as integral to the gospel. We must enlarge and energize the support system for Christians facing persecution by educating and mobilizing the non-persecuted sections of the Church. Finally, we need to challenge the thinking of local churches and Christians that are involved in largely unimportant matters and help them recognize the big picture.

The church cannot forget its eternal purpose or be distracted with trivial matters. Just like the submarine on the water’s surface, you don’t see the whole picture and you’ll never appreciate the enormity of the boat. Persecuted Christians are radicals living in hard places sent to be our teachers. A man from Tajikistan asked Mia and Costel Oglice, “What will happen if I am not persecuted? What is wrong with me? I really want to live for the Lord.”  He has seen persecution first hand. This man is from the same place where Pastor Sergey Bassarab was killed in 2004. He was shot four times while praying in his church. His crime? Sharing Christ. What are you willing to do?

My Liberty (Part 1)

31 Oct

drinkCheck out the podcast here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rampant Laziness and Assault

17 Oct

lazyCheck out the podcast here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dare to Discipline

3 Oct

disciplineCheck out the podcast here.

Last week we acknowledged that child discipline is a very hot topic in our culture today. We’ve got people that tell us you have to spank your kids and others that say you shouldn’t spank. We’ve got people that tell us to let our kids find their own way and don’t discipline at all. Every child will exercise their free will at some point. Not every discipline style or technique works for every child so figure out what works for your child. For the experienced parents, help new parents. If you see an out of control kid somewhere, offer some help to a parent that might just be struggling with issues you don’t know about. Rules and policies are good to have; it teaches boundaries. The hope we have in our children turning out good diminishes from year to year. Take care to raise them while there is still hope. Don’t tolerate out of control anger. If you bail someone out that is frequently angry, you’ll do it over and over again. Let them bear the penalty for their behavior. This morning, Solomon reminds us of a very important principle.

Pro. 19:20-23 says, “Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days. Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord will stand. What is desirable in a man is his kindness, and it is better to be a poor man than a liar. The fear of the Lord leads to life, so that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil.”

Let’s do a quick review. “Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days.” One of the reasons people have a hard time going to others for advice or guidance is because they’ve already made up their mind and don’t want to hear anyone disagree with them. I have experienced this time and time again. Oh Pastor Ian, I need your help. What do I do in this situation? Well, based on what Scripture says, and based on my experience, it would be wisest to . . . . Then I get all the responses about why that particular solution would not work. By the power of God, I have been transformed by the inner workings of the Holy Spirit and my thinking is not of this world. I have cultivated a biblical worldview and that’s why many times, my guidance seems so out of place in our society. No matter what anyone throws at me, I pray that I will have the wisdom necessary to respond in the most biblically accurate, compassionate, loving, merciful manner that brings glory to God. If you’re willing to take the counsel of people that walk the walk of faith, that have persevered in difficult times, that have stayed the course regardless of circumstances; if you’re willing to listen and follow guidance, Solomon says, “You may be wise the rest of your days.”

If you want to be wise in the future, listen now. Surround yourself with people that will speak the truth into your lives, that will share their wisdom with you. It is not uncommon for me to get insight from people that I love, respect, and trust. It’s not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. I know my limits and I don’t think I’m a failure because I seek wisdom from godly people who have been where I have been. When you have a seeking kind of desire, when you find people that will give you biblical guidance, you will gain knowledge and understanding and we know that leads to wisdom.

This is really applicable today. “Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord will stand.” Do you remember back in Pro. 16:9 when Solomon said, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” Planning is one of the keys to success in life. If you’re smart, you plan out your finances so that you won’t spend more than you make. Businesses have marketing plans to attract new customers. In the Navy we had short and long range training plans to make sure we were ready to face anything. We need to plan for our daily living, but planning is important in your spiritual life too. Solomon is saying that men make plans to accomplish goals, but it is, “The Lord that directs his steps.” This ties in with the ways of a man’s heart. We have lots of verses regarding the leading and guiding of the Lord. Ps. 37:23 reminds us, “The steps of a man are established by the Lord, and He delights in his way.” We’re not talking about getting from one geographic place to another. People today spend a lot of time planning out their lives.

We have wedding planners, investment planners, health care planners, financial planners, fitness planners, and life coaches so this idea of planning should be nothing new to us. Solomon is talking about seeking God and fulfilling the plans He has for you. As I’ve said before, there’s nothing wrong with making plans for your life, but God must be considered before anything else. What will you do if and when God changes your plan? Will you be willing to submit yourself to God? Regarding worldly planning, Ja. 4:14-15 says, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” Are you afraid of the Lord’s will? I think it’s a valid question. Are you willing to accept His will for your life? Are you willing to trust the Lord’s plans for you? It’s easy to assume that when someone you love or respect makes plans, they must be godly. Attending church or small group or reading your Bible is no guarantee that the plans being made are godly plans.

There are “Many plans in a man’s heart, but the Lord’s counsel will stand.” Regardless of the plans we make, only what is allowed by God will occur. We have seen before in Proverbs that just because something happens does not mean it is God’s will. With all the planning and preparation we do engage in, a verse that puts our plans in perspective is found in Ps. 2:4, “He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them.” Contextually, this Psalm is talking about kings taking their stand and rulers making plans to come against the Lord’s anointed, but I think this is what happens when we come up with plans apart from the wisdom of God or those He puts in our path.

This next one is not all inclusive. “What is desirable in a man is his kindness, and it is better to be a poor man than a liar.” The real meaning of this verse doesn’t come across very clearly. The word translated desirable doesn’t mean a characteristic that is attractive in men although that may be true. The word here is a self-desire or something that a man wants for himself. It’s a way he wants to be; something he aspires to become. It is the intention to be good, kind, or loyal. It’s that desire to be kind that gives value to what the guy does. “It’s better to be a poor man than a liar.” Solomon has given us this principle before. Integrity is a character quality that cannot be taken away. Rich or poor in this world has no bearing on eternity. Everything you have here will remain here.

Here’s a familiar principle. “The fear of the Lord leads to life, so that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil.” Solomon is not saying you’ll never have trouble sleeping, he’s not saying evil will not cross your path at some point, but there’s an underlying principle. Fear, as in other places, is reverence for God. This reverence leads His children to live a life that glorifies Him. That can take a number of forms, but the bottom line is that your life must reflect the power of God. Each day you look more and more like Christ and less and less like your natural self. When you are focused on God, you have a tendency to let Him maintain control of the universe. Anxiousness can be a symptom of being a control freak. Don’t sweat what you cannot control. When things do happen in your life, you remember that God is in control. It’s tough to shut off your brain sometimes as you lie in your bed thinking. Have you ever been excited about how God will work something out? Have you ever been giddy about seeing God work in His time? That’s what Solomon is saying. You keep the main thing the main thing and let God work out all the difficult details.

I encourage you to read Rom. 8:31-39 that will really shed some light on this. Yes, bad things may happen in our lives, evil may cross our paths, but nothing can “separate us from the love of God.” Keep your focus on God and not on current circumstances. Before you think it, I know it can be difficult to do that in the face of such trying times. One way that will help you is to immerse yourself in God’s Word and see how the saints of old managed to stay true to God in the face of tremendous adversity.

Wisdom is not some elusive quality. You can develop wisdom by listening to the godly counsel of others. Counsel that has been developed from years of walking with God. A biblical worldview will lead to godliness for the rest of your days. Make intentional plans in your walk with God; He will reveal the path to take and be open to what He wants rather than what you want. Just because something seems good and right does not mean God wants you to do it. Being a follower of God does not mean nothing bad will ever happen in your life or the lives of those you love, but one thing is for sure. Circumstances must not dictate your love or devotion to God. God is God and He is in control no matter what life may look like at any given moment.