The Opposition

You can watch the video for this message here.

Last week, Pastor Mike told us that a large number of Jews and Gentiles responded to the Gospel message Paul preached in Iconium. But there were some unbelieving Jews that stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against Paul and his colleagues. Paul’s preaching divided the city with some supporting the Jews and some supporting the apostles. A plot was formed to stone our dear brothers and they fled for their lives, but they continued to preach the Gospel. This morning, our missionaries end up in Lystra and we pick up the story with Paul preaching the truth.

Our passage today comes from Acts 14:8-20. Grab your Bible and take a look at it.

The stage is set and the narrative picks up with Paul already in Lystra. We don’t see him entering the synagogue which leads many to conclude there was no synagogue in this Roman colony. Paul encounters a man that is described three ways. He, “had no strength in his feet.” He was, “lame from his mother’s womb.” He, “had never walked.” Just to make sure we all understand: this man never enjoyed getting from one place to another on his own. He relied on other people to help him. The man is sitting somewhere that he can hear Paul speaking, but we don’t know the setting in which this takes place. At some point, Paul looks out into the crowd and locks eyes with the man. The man was listening, he was paying attention to what Paul was saying. As Paul is gazing into the man’s eyes, he recognizes the lame man’s faith.

We throw that word around a lot in the church. Faith is belief to the extent of complete trust and reliance. We put our faith in many things. The government. Teachers, coaches, schools, police officers, doctors, the military, cars, and other people. We find it so easy to trust these people; we find it easy to trust organizations and businesses. Is our faith as strong when it comes to God as it is with our kid’s coaches and teachers? I’m not saying don’t trust these folks, but I think we often have blind faith in these people. I think it’s safe to paint with a broad brush and say in most cases, coaches and teachers and police officers and government officials can be trusted. We’ve got many teachers right here as part of our faith family and I assure you, they love your kids and have their best interests in mind.

Does our faith in God compare with our faith in humans? I think of all the times I’ve counseled with people that have been hurt by others. Relationships that have gone awry. Family members estranged refusing to talk with one another. Unresolved anger and bitterness in the workplace. Friends gossiping about friends. Time and time again, people let us down that rightfully causes us to mistrust others, but often we find ourselves drawn back into those painful situations. God has never been involved in a scandal. We don’t have anywhere in recorded history where He does not do what He says He will do. We have nowhere written where God acts based on impulse or whim. Why do we find it easy to trust others and so difficult to trust God?

Whatever Paul was saying resonated with this lame man and Paul recognized his, “faith to be made well.” This is the third time in Acts that we see lameness healed. Remember the lame man in Chapter 3 that was laid at the Gate Beautiful that was healed by Peter. Then there was Aeneas that had been paralyzed for eight years in Chapter 9 that was healed by Peter. The result for all three is the same: Paul says, “Stand upright to your feet.” The man, “leaped up and began to walk.” Do you find it curious that he didn’t have to learn to walk. No shakiness, no tentative steps, no falling down, no trying to catch his balance, he miraculously, “leaped up and began to walk.” The response of the people in Lystra differs dramatically from the healings I just mentioned. In Chapter 3, the people, “Were filled with wonder and amazement.” (Acts 3:10) In Chapter 9, the people, “Turned to the Lord.” (Acts 9:35) But here in Lystra, “they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.” Get the picture in your mind. The lame man is healed and the people raised their voices and began shouting. I’m sure there were looks of amazement, shock, awe, and wonder. They shout out in their native language, but there’s just one problem with that. Paul and Barnabas don’t speak Lycaonian. They didn’t know what was being said.

The people called, “Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.” Zeus is the legendary Greek god of the universe, ruler of the skies and the earth. The Greeks considered him the god of all natural phenomena; the personification of the laws of nature; the ruler of all things and the father of all gods. He had a Roman equivalent named Jupiter. Hermes was Zeus’ attendant and spokesman. Legend has it that he was the son of Zeus and Maia. His Roman equivalent was known as Mercury, the fleet of foot protector of travelers, thieves, and athletes that was able to move freely between the land of mortal and the land of the gods. Luke doesn’t say, but I bet the people began bowing down to Paul and Barnabas. I’m sure our Apostles thought the people’s response was strange, but they really began to understand when, “The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds.” The people witnessed the miraculous healing of the lame man and concluded that the gods have become like men and are standing right in front of them. The false, pagan priest of the pagan god Zeus comes from the pagan temple just outside the city and wants to offer pagan sacrifices to Paul who the pagan priest thought just had to be Hermes.

This action caused Paul and Barnabas such distress, “They tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.” In our day and age, we often treat important people differently than we treat common folk. We tend to fawn over stars and big-time athletes and often are excited just to get a glimpse of someone famous. Paul did not appreciate being treated like this. He and Barnabas tore their robes as a sign of great distress and opposition to this inappropriate demonstration by the people.

In Paul’s mind, everything is clear. He and Barnabas are simply on a journey telling people about Jesus and demonstrating His power as they have opportunity. The people mistakenly think they are gods and begin worshiping them. I can picture Paul waving his arms and screaming, “we’re just men like you, stop this!” Paul explains by saying, we “preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all this is in them.” That’s Paul’s explanation. We’re just guys sharing the message of the Gospel. They worship, “vain things.” Empty worship. Worthless worship. Idolatrous worship of gods who were not gods. Paul goes on to say, “In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” This is the first time in Acts that a group of people like this are addressed. They are totally pagan. They believe in many false gods so Paul had to start at the beginning. One fundamental aspect of Christianity is that there is one God. He told them they needed to turn from idols to a singular, living God. Any religion that will transform men into gods is worthless. This principle was likely very strange to these people.

Paul gives three main points in this mini-message. First, God is the Creator of all that lives in the sea and on land. Second, Paul tells them of God’s mercies with past generations. If people wanted to walk away, God allowed it. We’ll see this more clearly in Acts 17:30. There is an indication that people acted in ignorance, but now they should know better. Third, God left proof of who He is. He still provided the rain that allowed food to grow that produced fruitful seasons that the people could be satisfied. This concept would not be foreign to these people of Lystra. There were writers of the day that spoke of divine providence of the gods, but the idea of only one true God would have rocked their world. One God was the source of all things natural; one God was the source of all things from heaven, one God that left proof of His involvement in the world. “Even saying these things, with difficulty they restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.” As he’s speaking, the people are still thinking he and Barnabas are gods. It’s got to be frustrating for Paul. He’s telling them the truth of God, but they’re not picking it up. Paul is building a bridge between the creation and the Creator.   He’s trying to meet these people where they are. He’s trying to bring them to the place where they can know the one true God, but something interrupts his message.

Before Paul could proceed to the next phase of the message, “Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.” The religious left comes again against what God wants to do. Remember the Jews were jealous of the crowds at Pisidian Antioch that wanted to hear from Paul and Barnabas. Just a few weeks ago, we heard Pastor Zane tell us these same Jews, “incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district.” (Acts 13:50) Last week we saw large numbers of people turning to the Lord such that, “The Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the gentiles and embittered them against the brethren.” (Acts 14:2) The Jews have been pursuing Paul and Barnaba because of the success they’ve had in turning people from a religion to a relationship with Christ. The Jews from Antioch and Iconium won over the crowds and then stone Paul and leave him for dead. This is a mob and they have a mob mentality – even if not everyone participated. The people that just witnessed the miraculous healing of the lame man; the people that just wanted to worship Paul and Barnabas are turned against them and gathered stones. Why Barnabas was not given the same treatment is not known. In a stoning, large boulders, as big as someone can pick up are thrown at the person. Those stones are hurled at Paul and the crowd thinks he’s dead and drag him out of the city. In a miraculous turn of events, “While the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city.”

You cannot stop what God wants to accomplish. You might be able to delay it, but it’s not really a delay because all things work in God’s timing. Paul is stoned to death, but not death. Undeterred, “The next day, he went away with Barnabas to Derbe.” What will become of our missionary heroes? Will they receive the same treatment in Derbe as they did in Lystra? Join us next week as we continue to watch the incredible events of the early church unfold.

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Good News for 2017

2017Check out the audio version here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Hatred for Sin

HateYou can check out the podcast here.

Last week we learned about the scoundrel. We saw that wickedness and worthlessness are evident by a number of characteristics that should not be present in the life of an authentic believer. The scoundrel is always devising evil. This morning, we hit a passage of Scripture that might be familiar to you and is contrary to the message some “religious” people tout that God is only love.

Pro. 6:16-19 says, “There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.”

God is a hater. Okay, let’s qualify that. Can a loving and all powerful God hate something? Before we get into specifics, people who make the claim that God is only love have not studied the Bible. God has a nearly infinite list of awesome characteristics that we should strive to emulate. He is patient, kind, compassionate, empathetic, creative, understanding, decisive, dependable, generous, gentle, humble, strong, loyal, meek, just, balanced, truthful, wise, and totally awesome. We could go on and on.

So we come to this passage of seven things that God hates. This list is not all inclusive as we have other Scriptures listing additional things that God hates. Before we get to the list, let’s see how Solomon sets it up. “There are six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him.” Hate means an intense dislike for or a strong aversion towards something or someone. Abomination is more difficult to define and the best I can come up with is it means detestable or loathsome. Just because there is a list, do not assume that some sins are okay or not as bad as others. You may have heard sin broken up into mortal and venial sin. Venial sin is a lesser sin that is forgivable while mortal sin ruptures a person’s link with God’s saving grace. Don’t confuse this list of seven with the seven deadly sins. The seven deadly sins may lead to mortal sin. 1 Jo. 5:16-17 tells us, “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.” One denomination uses this passage in their statement of faith to justify the concept that some sins are more severe than others. I quote, “The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger.”

So let’s clear this up. Sin is sin in God’s eyes. Rom. 6:23a tells us that, “The wages of sin is death.” Sin leads to death. “If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 Jo. 1:8) God does not want us to sin, and He knows that we still have a sin nature and a natural desire to sin. That’s why He gives us the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit that enables us to overcome that nature. No sin is too great for God to forgive. Yes, the wages of sin is death – both spiritual and physical, BUT, “the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 6:23b)

So let’s check out the list. Remember biblical lists often are ordered in severity or importance. Sometimes the lists go from bad to worse and this is the case here. As we go through the list, look for the body parts mentioned that generally flow from the top of the head to the feet. Notice also that the first five refer to general moral characteristics such as pride, deceit, violence, etc. “Haughty eyes.” This phrase is also translated a proud look. Haughty means arrogantly superior or disdainful. It is a self importance and a putting oneself ahead of everyone and everything else. It is the exact opposite of the primary virtue we should have that Paul mentions in Eph. 4:2 when he says, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love.” Remember that, “God is opposed to the proud” according to Ja. 4:6. Solomon mentions pride numerous times throughout this book.

“A lying tongue.” All lies are sin. I would say this includes exaggeration, but not hyperbole. Saying you caught a 30 pound bass is when you caught nothing is a lie. Saying you’re so tired you could sleep for a year is hyperbole – an exaggeration used for effect and is not to be taken literally. Don’t lie – ever. Solomon is talking about a person that has no regard for truth, they consistently lie; they are habitual liars.

“And hands that shed innocent blood.” Innocent does not mean perfect in this passage, it means not guilty of a crime or offense. Solomon is describing a person who is prone to violence. Someone that would commit murder if the circumstances presented themselves. This describes someone that has little or no value for human life. They would engage in violence over a presumed wrong, someone always looking for a fight.

“A heart that devises wicked plans.”Always scheming or devising ways in which to gain an advantage over another person. Following the rules or laws is done when it’s convenient or serves a specific purpose. If the rules don’t meet those criteria, they’re ignored.

“Feet that run rapidly to evil.” This is an excitement or eagerness to sin. This is someone that evaluates the opportunity to sin. It’s someone that receives extra change and considers is good luck that he got away with something. The benefit is secondary. It’s like the speeder that gets a warning and not a citation. It’s not that no fine has to be paid although that’s good. The real joy comes from getting away with breaking the law. If you do some casual research into these characteristics, you’ll find they are consistent with sociopathic behavior. That’s not consistent with the godliness that is expected of authentic believers. All of us likely have committed one or more of these things that God hates, but before you get all antsy about this, Solomon is talking about consistent, habitual behavior.

Here’s the break out in the last two on the list. While each of the seven in the list are moral character flaws, the last two represent something a bit different. “A false witness who utters lies.”  Solomon already said in v. 17 that God hates, “a lying tongue.” This one is different. Literally, this is someone that lies under oath or in direct examination. Think about a courtroom. Lying under oath is called perjury which is punishable as a felony under the criminal code. Lying when you promise to tell the truth undermines the fabric of society. Finally, “And one who spreads strife among brothers.” Strife means angry or bitter disagreement or conflict. This can happen in the workplace, in the school, in your neighborhood, and in the church. This is an attempt to drive people apart. Some people aren’t happy unless they’re making other people unhappy. Some folks don’t know they’re unhappy until they’re told. I have seen this happen on more than one occasion in the church and even here at C4. The common thread is there is no desire for resolution or reconciliation. Someone gets upset and tries to get others upset too. If and when I hear of it, my practice is to make contact and see what I can do to resolve whatever perceived or real issue there is. I’m often told everything is fine, yet they separate themselves from the body. It’s rarely an individual thing. It affects the spouse, the kids, the person’s friends, others that know him; it affects relationships.

What is particularly troubling is that disagreement or conflict may occur in other facets of life like school, work, with coaches or players on a team, with neighbors, but rarely does that result in any change. A child can be bullied at school and the child continues to go. You can work for the worst boss in the world, but you continue to go to work. You can have a neighbor that complains about everything you do: they don’t like your kids, your pets, the way you park your car or your Christmas decorations, but you don’t move. Someone doesn’t speak to you at church and you quit. Someone doesn’t like your new profile picture and you quit. Yes, it does get that trivial in the church. We’ve become unwilling to be a people that work things out; that acknowledge people’s differences with understanding – we have unattainable expectations for everyone else and none for ourselves. This is a character flaw that God does not approve of.

God is indeed a God of love, but that doesn’t mean he loves everything. This list of Solomon’s is not all inclusive. God hates all sin, yet loves the one committing sin. We must learn to overcome the faults of others and love people regardless of what they do or do not do. We must love unconditionally and love people to lead them to an authentic and passionate relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ the Son.

Church Shopping?

ShoppingA Facebook friend recently posted that his family was in a new place and had begun week #1 of church shopping. It sounds innocuous enough, but I think there are some real underlying themes there that are overriding traditional church culture and is indicative of where we are in the church today.

While finding a church home is not as critical as other decisions, it’s not to be taken too lightly either. I’ve heard many people use this phrase and it gives an indication that if you keep shopping, you’ll find a better bargain. Have you ever scoured the internet or searched sale papers looking for the best deal for a purchase? As soon as you pull the trigger and buy or order the item, you see the same thing advertised at a better deal. Shopping can be really exciting and fun, but it can also be a real bummer.

Does God’s desire come into play or are we like an excited bride looking for the perfect dress for her wedding? Wedding dresses have become such big business that we now have reality TV shows that follow brides seeking that perfect dress. Tirelessly trudging from store to store with the idea that there is the perfect dress out there . . . you’ve just got to be willing to find it.

Well Captain Obvious, churches are not dresses. You’re right. But when we shop for a church, we convince ourselves that there are better deals, better bargains, and more choices if we just keep looking. I live in a military town and there is a fairly high rate of turnover with people transferring in and out. Unfortunately, God seems to be consulted a lot more frequently about a dress than He is about where to serve. It’s not a life ending choice . . . about the dress or a church. At our church I’ve heard from people’s own mouths that they’ve been looking for a church for years. I think the longest I’ve heard is five years of searching. It took less time to build the Golden Gate Bridge. Paul’s first missionary journey took less time. So did his second and third. What in the world are you looking for? People today are significantly more transitional then they used to be. It’s not unusual for someone not in the military to move every three or four years. Why do people delay in committing to a church? There it is . . . commitment. People are quicker to jump into relationships than they are a church. What if it’s the “wrong” church? What is a wrong church?

I’ve often said there are three things to look for in a church. When I say church, I’m referring to a New Testament church. I remember speaking at a church years ago discussing their future and I preached from Acts 2. I asked the question, “Are you functioning as a New Testament church?” The leader of the church, a 78 year old woman (that’s another story), told me, “No.” That church was dead, they knew it, but they didn’t care. Okay here are the three:

  1. Does the pastor preach biblically based messages?
  2. Does the church care about the community?
  3. Are the people mostly friendly?

There are a number of other benchmarks I would include (doctrine, theology, missions, vision, accountability, etc.), but if a church has these three, then you can enter into further discussion with the leadership about those other important areas. People have got to quit browsing the spiritual buffet to determine where God wants them. Oh, well church X has something for the kids, but church Y doesn’t so we’ll go to church X. In my own ears someone told me, “We’re looking for something for our kids, they’ve never even sat with us in church.” Huh? It doesn’t matter how awesome a church’s student group is if the pastor never preaches from the Bible.

Here’s the deal, if you’re looking for the perfect church: STOP! You’ll only mess it up by going there. Be intentional about plugging in. Take advantage of what is offered. Don’t wait to be asked to serve or participate. Time is short and eternity is long. Do what you can to show people the way there. Get in the game and live out your faith. Do not be a lone ranger Christian.

An All Too Familiar Trap

TrapYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week Solomon reminded his son of the familiar theme to pay attention and listen to his teachings. If he’ll learn to control his body – his ears, his eyes, his mouth, and his heart, then he’ll find health and more accurately, healing for his body. We’re talking eternal healing. Stay on the straight path Solomon says, and all your ways will be established. This morning, Solomon moves into a conversation few parents want to have with their kids, but is desperately needed.

We’ll be in Pro. 5:1-14 and it would be great for you to grab your Bible and follow along.

Solomon warns us to avoid the trap, but before he does that, he covers some very familiar ground. Pay attention to wisdom. Listen and understand. When these two things are done, “You may observe discretion and your lips may reserve knowledge.” This is typical of what the father has told the son in the previous four chapters, but then there’s a total shift. It comes without warning and seems strangely placed here. Before we get to that, I want you to know that everything we need to live a life of holiness and godliness can be found within the 66 books of Scripture. No topic is off limits. Granted, some topics are much clearer as we read them than others. In the area we find ourselves now in, the Bible gives us what I believe is distinct clarity. The person that fails to heed these warnings is in for a rude awakening. Don’t be under the misguided notion that what is done between consenting adults is inconsequential. As a church we need to lovingly confront those false ideas and stick with the truth. Don’t assume that nice, proper Christian people are not inundated with sexual temptations. Don’t think it’s inappropriate for me to talk about. Failing to inform the church about the expectation and importance of sexual purity would be a gross failure on my part as pastor of this church.

Solomon says, “For the lips of an adulteress drip honey and smoother than oil is her speech.” That’s quite the word picture. To be certain, Solomon wants his son to understand the danger this type of woman represents, not only to the son, but to the very foundation of the family. This warning is more descriptive than other Scriptures that simply say don’t commit adultery. God is not shy about telling it like it is and He knows there are strong sexual temptations in the world. I think this is interesting because Solomon takes the time to explain the rationale. That’s why this is so important. Adulteress literally means other woman so she is someone other than the wife. You’ve got to notice the temptation is not only in the sexual arena. She uses her speech to flatter the man. Men, be very wary of women that are quick with a complement, that tell you things that build your ego, that give you the idea that she tells you things your wife doesn’t tell you and somehow your wife is lacking. Before you know it, you’re thinking, “My wife sure doesn’t appreciate me like she does.” There’s a difference in an appropriate compliment and one that falls into the category Solomon is talking about. There’s a difference between, “That’s a nice shirt” and, “That’s a nice shirt, it really shows off your chest and arms.” Men, I submit to you that if any woman tells you something like this, run straight to your wife and tell her. That’s how the adulteress begins. She uses flattering speech to draw you in.

That’s the beginning so where does it end? The end of the road is always the same for the married man that engages in sexual immorality. “But in the end she is bitter wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.” It’s not a good place to be. The word wormwood is used nine times in the Bible – 8 in the O.T. and once in the N.T. in Revelation. Every time the word is used it represents a bitterness or sorrow. What appears to be an exciting secret shared between two people leads to a place no one wants to go. Look at vs. 5-6. That’s hardly the anticipated outcome. It’s not that she’s lost although that may be true. The idea conveyed here is that she is a deceiver; the path she promises will not only not come true, but the very opposite will happen. Remember what was said in Pro. 2:19: “None who go to her return again, nor do they reach the paths of life.” She is a predator, not a victim. It’s not just women, Ps. 55:21 says, “His speech was smoother than butter, but his heart was war; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords.” David was referring to the pattern of his enemies, those that sought to destroy him. This woman has no thought to life, has no ambition, no thoughts for tomorrow. She’s unstable and doesn’t even know it.

Repetition is the key so check out Solomon’s reiteration. He gives the familiar repetition when he says, Now then, my sons, listen to me and do not depart from the words of my mouth.” Now for emphasis he says, “Keep your way far from her and do not go near the door of her house.” Take an alternate route. The overarching idea is that if you give in to temptation, if you fulfill the desires of the flesh in this illicit manner, then consequences will come. Read vs. 9-10. The exact people referred to by the terms others, cruel one, strangers, and alien are not known. All the words are masculine so they don’t refer to the adulteress herself. It could refer to any number of men that may or may not include  the adulteress’s husband. You just can’t be sure. What we can be sure about is what’s going to happen to you. Read vs. 11-14. In context, groan is an inarticulate sound conveying deep pain and despair. That’s what’s going to happen at the final end. Is this the end of life when you have to stand before the Judgment Seat? We can’t be certain because Solomon uses the phrase, “flesh and body” rather than refer to the soul too.

As we continue to read, we get a bit more insight. The one that engages in this type of immoral relationship will eventually come to the conclusion that they should have heeded these great instructions. Not just the ones in this passage, but all those that come from the mouth of God. We see some hope though. Verse 14 says, “I was almost in utter ruin in the midst of the assembly and congregation.” We could view this as a public denouncement of behavior. If we identified the adulterers among the church, I’m absolutely certain we would be deemed intolerant, judgmental, cruel, and just plain mean. In the church, we need to be somewhere between The Scarlett Letter and pretending that it doesn’t happen. The Old Testament ruling for this is found in Deut. 22:22, “If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel.”

If we heed the warnings, cautions, commandments, and instructions of Solomon, we’ll have a far easier time staying on the right path. God never disciplines us for obedience. Maybe you find yourself in the midst of what Solomon is warning us about. There is hope. If you think you can never be forgiven or be used of God, think again. No sin is too great for God to forgive. Confess it and receive cleansing from Christ.

Giving May be the Best Barometer

BarometerYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we looked at the certain destruction and ruin the pursuit of riches brings. Instead of pursuing riches, we are to, “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.” The question that remains is what is your attitude about giving financially to the church? Is it a burden to you? Is it an obligation? Do you see it as a ministry to the saints? This morning we’ll look at something that folks may not want to hear about. In this passage from Paul, he repeatedly refers to giving as a gracious work.

In 2 Cor. 8:7-9 Paul says, “But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also. I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”

Paul begins by reminding them of how far the Lord had brought them in their Christian walk. Corinth had been known for its immorality. Temple prostitution was the norm. The people of Corinth took to listening to the wisdom of men. The Corinthians satisfied all their fleshly desires without condemnation until God intervened through Paul’s preaching. It had been a long journey, but they are growing in Christ. He says they abound. That word means exist in large numbers or amounts. He speaks of their faith, utterance (speech), knowledge, earnestness, and love. These are great qualities to have, but Paul doesn’t tell them they have arrived. They have yet to achieve perfection. Paul is looking at one aspect of their faith they need some help on, they need some guidance, they need some encouragement. He tells them, “See that you abound in this gracious work also.” Paul is talking about giving.

So often when we talk about money, we speak of affordability. Mortgage companies make a house payment affordable, credit card companies give you a minimum you must pay; you can pay on a new car for seven years; there are payment plans for court fines. When we think of the gracious work of giving in light of affordability, we miss the real point of giving. Giving is not about the haves and the have nots. We have been through this before, but maybe we still haven’t really grasped the opportunity and responsibility of giving. Perhaps you’ve convinced yourself that the Lord isn’t talking to you, that you are somehow exempt from this teaching.

I encourage you to take the time and read 2 Cor. 8:1-6. Let’s take a closer look at this example. Have you ever thought, “If I was rich then I’d be happy,” or “If this situation was gone, then I’d be happy.” When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, the Macedonians were in a state of, “Great ordeal of affliction.” Ordeal means a prolonged painful or horrific experience. Not only were they experiencing a great deal of affliction, but they were experiencing deep poverty. Deep means an extreme point on a scale of extent. It means exceedingly great or very very. Keep these definitions in mind and read v. 2 again. Did you see the contrast? Even though they were going through all this horrible stuff, they had an, “Abundance of joy” that was expressed, “In the wealth of their liberality.” Abundance means a very large quantity, plentiful. Christian joy has nothing to do with outward circumstances. For the Macedonians, joy + poverty + affliction = wealth. There is no banker in the world that can do math like that, but that’s how the equation works in the Kingdom of God.

To say that Paul was pleased with the Macedonian believers would be an understatement. He uses them as an example of what the grace of God does in the hearts of believers. He’s not playing one church off of another. It’s not a competition to raise more money. The amount is not what Paul is after; he’s after the attitude or the spirit behind the giving. The problem with that though, is the spirit is hard to measure. At the end of the year, we don’t give a record of the spirit of your giving; we give a record of the amount of your giving. There is no measuring stick for attitude. Paul was no dummy, he knew people and he knew how money can be a wall between us and the unstoppable power of God. Paul tells us the really incredible thing in vs. 3-4. They gave according to their ability and beyond. Their giving was not motivated because of a surplus; there was no surplus. They had deep poverty. Paul didn’t badger them for money. They gave of their own accord and not only that; they begged him for the chance to participate. It was because of the grace of God in v. 1 that they were not only able to give, but able to give beyond their ability. Paul is encouraging the believers at Corinth to excel in this area like they excel in the areas of faith, speech, knowledge, and earnestness.

Paul knows the Macedonians provided a practical example of giving, but v. 9 provides our ultimate example. Paul’s not talking about material wealth because that’s not consistent with the Macedonian example. So Paul must be talking about spiritual riches. Riches that cannot be taken away. Treasure in heaven. Christ became poor by submitting Himself to the cruel and humiliating death He suffered because of us.  2 Cor. 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” The 19th Century commentator Cornelius Lapide wrote, “Christ was made poor that we through His poverty might be rich. He took the form of a servant that we might regain liberty. He descended that we might be exalted. He was tempted that we might overcome. He was despised that He might fill us with glory. He died that we might be saved. He ascended, to draw to Himself those lying prostrate on the ground through sin’s stumbling block.”

Don’t think that if you’re a giver you can ignore the clear teaching of the rest of Scripture. We need to break out of the American church consumer mentality of what I can get from the church or what can the church do for me. As Christians, we need to be reminded that the church is the primary vehicle by which God accomplishes His work. We are not called to be lone rangers, but to partner together in a common goal to reach our community for Christ. You can’t use your service to the Lord as an excuse not to give. “I teach so I don’t have to give.” Etc. I encourage you to prayerfully consider this matter of stewardship in your life and ask God what you can do.

Monetary Foolishness

GreedYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last time we looked at worry and how it cripples many people in the church. Worry doesn’t indicate a loving concern for people or situations; worry results from a lack of faith or trust in God. This morning we’ll look at the principle of contentment and we’ll look at one thing that can cause unrest in the life of a Christian.

Take a close look at 1 Tim. 6:8-11.

Here’s a reminder. In v. 8 Paul reminds us that we should be content with food and clothing. Content comes from the word that means in a state of satisfaction or accept as adequate. In v. 9 Paul offers the contrast to contentment or satisfaction and that is someone who wants to get rich. I should point out that Paul is talking about someone who plans to get rich rather than what many of us say, “It sure would be nice to have some extra cash.” This is someone who is driven to achieve wealth. That’s his goal; that’s where his energy is directed; it is his motivation. V. 9 provides three adverse side effects to the desire to get rich. First, the desire to get rich leads to temptation. The desire lures people to do things they might not ordinarily do. Perhaps they’ll put money into a risky venture. Perhaps they’ll borrow money for a “sure thing.” Second, these people fall into a snare. They are like an animal that is trapped. The desire is materialistic. Third, once they’re trapped; ruin and destruction will follow. There is no way out, no way to be released, no escape. One writer equates this to material and spiritual disaster. This is a progressive destruction: temptation, snare, destruction. It’s all driven by foolish and harmful desires. It’s not driven by a desire to provide for family.

Here’s the explanation. Paul doesn’t leave us to wonder what he is talking about.  One of the most misquoted verses regarding money in the entire Bible is found in v. 10. Let me point out some obvious and some maybe not so obvious things from this verse. Money is not evil. It is the love of money that is the bottom line to all kinds of evil. Money is amoral.  It is not good or bad in itself. The love of money is not the cause for all evil in the world. The KJV translation is not consistent with the Greek here. It is wrong to say that the love of money leads to all evil. Ambition, lust, idolatry, and a host of other sin can certainly lead to a whole lot of evil. “Some by longing for it [money] have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Longing for money. Think Judas.  Think Ananias and Sapphira. They were driven by their love for money. That word pierced means make a hole with a sharp object like you would pierce a piece of meat to put on a spit. The idea is that longing for money will bring an all consuming grief to the individual. That’s why people who are consumed with money are never satisfied. There is never enough money. Remember the rich man who came to ask Jesus the question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” After Jesus answered the question, Mark 10:22 tells us the rich young ruler, “Was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.” We all have a choice. We can seek to obtain stuff or we seek Christ.  It is a choice each of us must make.

Don’t get Paul wrong. He is not against getting ahead in the workplace. Christians are to work hard in order to provide for their families. We should be model employees because of who we are in Christ. Christians must have a Kingdom mindset and be driven to glorify Christ in all that we do no matter where we are, no matter what the circumstances. To be true to the context of this passage, Paul was talking about materialism among the heretics in Ephesus. Materialism is a desire to possess stuff instead of a love for the God who made those things. According to Col. 3:5, being transformed by Christ tells us to,  “Consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” I agree with Paul and say that materialism and an authentic Christian life are not compatible.

So what’s a guy to do? That’s a valid question Paul answers in v. 11a. Timothy was commanded to flee. The word means run from danger. The danger of what Paul just talked about in vs. 9-10. It’s not just run away, Paul told him to, “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.” Timothy was to pursue or constantly strive for six Christian virtues. Pursue means to follow something in order to catch it. This isn’t some wild pipe dream Paul is talking about. Each of the qualities represents something Timothy must maintain to maximize the effectiveness of his ministry. Righteousness means doing what God requires, doing what is right. It reflects interaction with people. Godliness is the quality of being scrupulously observant of all the teachings of Christianity; practicing virtue and avoiding sin. This reflects our relationship with God. Faith and love reflect trust in God and goodwill toward others. Perseverance means to keep going, not giving up. Timothy will need gentleness to deal with the heretics, the false teachers, those that would deny the faith; those that don’t hold to sound doctrine.

Being a good steward is not about pursuing money and telling God how much you’ll give to the church. People whose life’s desire is to get rich, who are consumed with the pursuit of riches are destined for ruin and destruction. We are given instructions as to how Christians are supposed to act. The choice is whether or not to apply what we have learned from the Scriptures.