Redirection

Last week, Pastor Mike told us the apostles continued their work in Jerusalem. The Spirit of God was moving there and Simon, that misguided magician, believed in the power of God and was baptized and went with Phillip. Simon was continually amazed by what he saw, but thought he could purchase the power of the Holy Spirit. Peter rebuked Simon and encouraged him to repent of what was in his heart. We left with Simon asking Pete to pray for him not grasping the power of God. This morning, we’ll see what happens when you’re sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading.

I hope you’ll take the time to look at Acts 8:25-40.

We start with a Holy Spirit detour. How many of you are planners? Don’t you just hate it when you have everything all planned out and then something happens that causes you to change plans? Like Hurricane Irma? She messed up a lot of people’s plans. I had a haircut scheduled for the Wednesday after and it was cancelled. For many of us, Irma brought minor inconveniences, but for a lot of people in the Caribbean Islands and in south Florida, their lives were changed forever. I think we have all experienced the curve balls of life, but what about when the Holy Spirit redirects you? Acts 8:25 says, “So, when they had solemnly testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they started back to Jerusalem, and were preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.” The apostles were working their way back to Jerusalem and were sharing the truth of the Gospel as they went. There was no exclusivity in the message; it was available and applicable to all who would listen. Phillip began his ministry to the Samaritans in 8:5 and that mission was very fruitful.

Sometimes the best laid plans are changed. Remember Samaria is in the northern kingdom and the apostles are going back to Jerusalem. “But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.)” Instead of going to Jerusalem with the apostles, Philip is singled out for an individual mission. How do you respond when God changes your plan? Understand there’s a difference between God’s plan and your plan. Herein lies a real danger when you go around playing the “God is leading me card” to justify your scatterbrained plans. I know some people that God seems to be toying with. He tells them to do one thing, then He changes it a week later, only to change it again, and again. My God is not wishy washy.

I love how Philip responds to this change of plans. Luke tells us that Philip, “Got up and went.” Obedience. Nike faith. He just did it. I know what you’re thinking because I’ve heard it before: “If God would tell me things, if He’d speak to me then I’d do it.” God tells us to do things all the time that we ignore. Honor your mother and father. Give generously and sacrificially to the work of the Lord. Study your Bible. Share your faith, love people, pray for those in authority. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church. Be holy, be honest, be trustworthy. You see, God tells us a lot of things that we ignore or dismiss.        For most of us, a simple life of obedience is what God desires. There are people that God has called to a national or international platform to share the truth of Christ, but for most of us, loving God, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and living a life of obedience brings Him honor and glory and has God saying well done. So, Philip gets up and goes where God told him to go. Notice that there is no plan of action that the Spirit lays out, no guidance, no inkling of what God had in store for Philip – he is simply told to go. Philip heads down the desert road, the road that leads to Egypt.

As God’s timing would have it, Philip comes face to face with a guy that, “was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah.” Really get this in your mind. Philip is walking where God wanted him to go and because of his immediate obedience, he meets a man that is coming from Jerusalem where he worshiped. Luke gives us some pretty good details about this man. He was Ethiopian – a Gentile. He was a eunuch. In biblical days, slaves were sometimes castrated as young boys and then used as keepers of harems and the treasury. One Bible scholar says that eunuchs were particularly trustworthy and that’s why they were often put in charge of the treasury. This practice became so widespread that the term eunuch and treasurer became synonymous. I share this because it is likely this man is a physical eunuch because both terms are used. That’s important because the man had just come from Jerusalem where he worshiped so he was probably a convert to Judaism. Deut. 23:1 says, “No one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.”  He would have worshiped at the court of the Gentiles and not in the temple. This man is an official of Candace who is queen of the Ethiopians. Candace is to Ethiopia as Pharaoh is to Egypt. Candace is her title, not her name. This guy is in charge of all the queen’s treasure. He’s sitting in his chariot reading from the book of Isaiah.       So now you’re caught up on this Ethiopian eunuch.

“Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” Philip does and asks the guy, “Do you understand what you are reading.” Philip’s not being mean. In fact, the eunuch says, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me.” This is critical and I don’t want you to miss this. This man is reading Scripture through the lens of someone that does not understand Jesus, that has not embraced Messiah. He needs someone whose eyes have been opened to the truth to explain Scripture to him. 1 Cor. 2:14 says, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”

So what’s the point? The eunuch is reading from Is. 53:7-8. We know this passage is talking about the Messiah, but put yourself in the eunuch’s place. He does not understand the passage. It’s confusing to him. He knows what it says, but not who Isaiah is talking about. I can picture the excitement building in Philip and he is probably praying and asking that the Lord would give him the right words to say. So, he asks Philip, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” And there it is. The purpose for God sending Philip down this long and dusty road. Acts 8:35 says, “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.” Philip didn’t say, “Well Bub, here’s a pamphlet that will explain it.” He didn’t say, “I’ve got a great book that will help you.” He didn’t say, “Let me call Peter, he can explain this stuff really well.” He didn’t say, “Come back to Jerusalem, my small group is awesome and you can get your questions answered there.” Why am I telling you what Philip didn’t say? Because those are the things I hear people say in response to someone that is asking questions about Jesus. If you are a believer in the Messiah, you have the answers to the questions people are asking. So, you better be studied up, prayed up, and ready to tell people why you have hope. Don’t outsource your faith.

Philip opens his mouth and speaks on behalf of Jesus who is the Messiah. The Scripture the eunuch read from was the starting off point. “Beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.” What did Philip say in response to that question? Philip must have presented the Gospel in a way the eunuch understood. He must have covered sin and its penalty. He must have shared the virgin birth of Christ and why that’s important. He must have shared about the sinless life of Christ and how the sacrifice of Christ atoned for sin. Keep in mind that the eunuch was coming from the temple so he would understand sacrifice and atonement. Philip must have shared about Christ’s crucifixion, His shed blood, and His death. I’m certain he shared about Christ being in the tomb for three days and then being miraculously resurrected in fulfillment of the Scriptures. He must have shared about Christ walking the earth for 40 days before ascending to heaven. He must have shared all about what Christ had done in him and in his friends. He must have shared about the picture of baptism. How can I come to that conclusion? After a while, “the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” The eunuch understood; he got it and wanted to have what Philip had. You may or may not have v. 37 in your Bible. It does not appear in early manuscripts of Acts. It was probably added by a scribe at some point during copying to bring a conclusion to the eunuch’s conversion. With or without v. 37, the conclusion is the same. The eunuch heard the truth and responded to it. He wanted to be baptized as sign of his conversion.

The story takes a shocking turn here. The eunuch stops the chariot and he and Philip go down into the water where he is baptized. Like other places in the New Testament, baptism is by immersion. They come up out of the water and, “The Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.” Standing there dripping wet, Philip disappears right before the eunuch’s eyes. One second, Philip is there, and literally the next second he is not. That would freak people out today, but the eunuch? He went on his way rejoicing. “But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea.” Philip landed about 37 miles away and continued what he knew to do and that is preach the Gospel.

Philip surrendered to an unknown mission. God changed his plans to go back to Jerusalem and he was obedient. Because of his obedience, the Ethiopian eunuch was miraculously saved and became the first foreign convert in Scripture. The seed of the Gospel is carried to Africa. Philip’s ministry is really incredible. He began evangelizing the Samarians – a half-bred people despised by Jews. He shares with the crowds in Samaria and they responded. On the desert road, we see Philip engaged in personal evangelism – one on one. The message he shared was identical. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ – the good news of the Gospel. The expected response was the same: believe and be baptized. In all cases, the response to the Gospel brought joy and it should be the same for us today.

Advertisements

Persecution in the Church

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?

Homely Principles

AliceListen to the podcast here.

Last week we looked at the theme song for the fatalist. He sings, “Que Sera, Sera. Whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours, to see. Que Sera, Sera.” We discounted that sentiment with proof from the Bible. Jer. 29:11 reminded us, “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” God does have plans for you. Things don’t always make sense and God wants us to trust Him. During Paul’s second missionary journey, the Spirit of Jesus prevented him from preaching in Asia and from going to Bithynia. That doesn’t make sense to us, but trusting God should be an easy enough thing to do. We concluded with a question everyone must answer: what’s keeping me from totally trusting God? This morning, we check back in with some principles to follow in the home.

Proverbs 17:1-3 says, “Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it than a house full of feasting with strife. A servant who acts wisely will rule over a son who acts shamefully, and will share in the inheritance among brothers. The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests hearts.”

This seems a strange way to start a new chapter, but remember there were no chapter divisions in the original writings. Solomon says, “Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it than a house full of feasting with strife.” One of my favorite sandwiches is a French dip which you may be surprised to know was not developed in France. This wonderful sandwich is made up of thinly sliced roast beef piled on a French roll or baguette and served with a side of au jus. The sandwich is dipped in the au jus to soften the very crusty bread. That’s the picture Solomon is painting. In Ruth 2:14, “At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here, that you may eat of the bread and dip your piece of bread in the vinegar.” In Jo. 13:26, Jesus dipped a morsel and gave it to Judas. This was common practice then and we still do it today. It’s better to eat that crusty bread without any dipping sauce and have peace and tranquility around the house than it is to have all the food you want with strife. Remember in Pro. 15:17 Solomon said, “Better is a dish of vegetables where love is than a fattened ox served with hatred.” These comparisons go to show you how much better things can be if people would just get along. The word feasting here is also translated sacrifice. Meat was not often served in the typical family and when it was, it was generally in conjunction with the sacrificial systems in place at the time. Think about the most stressful times you’ve had in the home. Would you rather have peace and tranquility or a full belly? That’s exactly the comparison Solomon is making.

So who’s in charge? No one would argue that there is a special place for sons in the home, particularly first born sons. So when Solomon says, “A servant who acts wisely will rule over a son who acts shamefully, and will share in the inheritance among brothers,” is a somewhat confusing verse. I can’t help but think of Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey that served the Crowley family so faithfully. He was well loved and well respected. There have been lots of other well-loved servants, maids, and butlers. There was Hop Sing from Bonanza. Florence took care of the Jefferson’s. Geoffrey kept things lively for the fresh Prince. Mrs. Garrett kept tabs on Arnold and Willis on Diff’rent Strokes. Max was often there to save the day for Jonathan and Jennifer Hart. Of course without Alice, the Brady Bunch would not have been able to function. Being in the service of another doesn’t mean you have no value.

No one would argue that a son is more worthy than a servant. John 8:35 says, “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever.” But sometimes, a servant is wise and loving and is more of a blessing to the family than just doing work around the house. Often a life of service was looked down upon as if one couldn’t do anything else. A good servant, a wise servant was vital to the family structure back in the day. If you think service isn’t important anymore, remember how you feel if it takes a while to get your meal at a restaurant. Remember how you feel when you take your car back to the mechanic for the same issue. Solomon’s talking worth here. Just because someone is more worthy than another doesn’t negate the value of that person. In sports you have the most valuable player. They’re all valuable, but one was selected that stands out above the rest. Without all the players on a team, the MVP couldn’t get it done. Sometimes we have this idea that the longer you’ve been in a position, the more secure you are. People that cannot be held accountable sometimes show that in their performance and passion in the job. Solomon is presenting the idea that wisdom can and often trumps other qualities. Here the example is somewhat easy because he’s talking about a wise servant and a shameful son. That should be an easy comparison. That servant acts wisely; he manages the affairs of the house wisely. As a result, trust is developed and grows. Joseph reminds me of what Solomon is saying. If you remember the story of Joseph, I think he illustrates this principle pretty vividly. The servant that serves wisely is going to have a share in the inheritance.

Solomon now moves into testing. One of the most common forms of evaluation is a written or practical test. Tests help teachers or supervisors evaluate what a person knows or demonstrates the proficiency of a particular skill or skill set. We began this testing early in our scholastic careers and it continued on and on. It’s not just tests in school. To get a driving permit, you have to take a test. To get into college, you have to take a test. To get into the military, you have to take a test. To get into law enforcement or get hired at TRF, you have to take a test. It used to be that you had to take a blood test to get married. There are medical tests to diagnose health issues. For most testing, it’s not enough just to take the test, you have to pass it. Some tests have no passing grade, but you’re evaluated against a standard. Solomon says, “The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold.” Silver and gold are mined. You generally don’t look down and see a chunk of either one laying on the ground. The mining process is very labor intensive. In order to get silver or gold that has value, you need remove impurities. This process is called refinement. For us, removing impurities from our lives is still called refinement, but we’re not put into a furnace, we’re allowed to walk into the fires of life. The fires can come from a variety of sources. Work, school, friends, family: our own bad choices. Is. 48:10 says, “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” Nothing tests your faith more than adversity. No one ever said, “Golly, the Lord is so good to me, everything is going so awesome in my life, I doubt God loves me.” No one ever questions God when everything seems to be going their way.

Somewhere along the way, we got bad information. For some reason, many people think that when adversity comes, or when a tragedy occurs, or some crisis arises that somehow God is punishing them or has abandoned them. It probably won’t surprise you when I say I think this is because we don’t know what the Bible says. I mentioned Joseph earlier. The Bible records no sin in Joseph’s life although we know he did sin based on Rom. 3:23. Horrible things happened to him. There are a number of people in Scripture that refute the idea that only good things happen to God’s people. Cain killed Abel because his sacrifice was acceptable to God. John the Baptizer was put in prison in Matt. 14 because he spoke out against Herod’s relationship with Herodias. John was later beheaded at her request. Zechariah was murdered between the temple and the altar. (Matt. 23:35) Stephen was stoned to death in Acts 7. As we so often mention, there are people undergoing intense persecution and trials because of their faith. The trials of our faith are allowed by God to refine and purify us. 1 Pet. 1:7 says, “So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Faith that isn’t tested cannot found to be firm, cannot be established, cannot be proven. You say you have faith and you haven’t had to rely on faith and faith alone? “The Lord tests hearts.” The seat of emotion. The essence of who you are. The center of your being. This is what God tests. He’s not as concerned with your SAT score as He is with your heart score.

How is your home life? Is God the center and there’s peace or is there weeping and gnashing of teeth? It’s much better to be at peace and be hungry than to have all you want with stress. There’s no shame in serving others, in fact one of Jesus’ purposes was to give us examples of serving others. A wise servant has more worth than a shameful son, but that doesn’t mean the son is worthless. How do you fare in God’s heart tests? Are you hoping to get a participation trophy or to be graded on the curve? Or are you allowing the trials of life to refine and purify as you trust in God’s glorious plans for you?

My Way

My WayCheck out the podcast here.

Last week Solomon told us to acknowledge the Creator and grow fat on the good news that is available because of Jesus Christ. All of us need to listen up and learn. Listen to those wonderful, godly, authentic people God had put in you path. Acknowledge who God is and what He has done in your life and watch what He will do in you and through you. That’s how we become a positive light in our homes, our neighborhoods, and our communities. This morning, we’ll see how making plans work when you don’t consult God.

Pro. 16:1-3 says, “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives. Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established.”

This is an odd way to start. “The plans of the heart belong to man.” As we have often said, the heart is the seat of emotion, it is at the epicenter of who we are. There were no chapter divisions in the original manuscripts of Scripture so this is connected with chapter 15. The idea is that when you formulate plans on your own without giving consideration to what God would have you to do, they are your own. When your heart is knit with God’s, the plans you intend to formulate are evaluated in light of Scripture, are bathed in prayer, and they’re formed from a biblical worldview. What’s really neat about this is that Solomon is talking about two different perspectives of the same thing. Men make plans and it’s assumed that they are biblical, godly, holy, etc. Man does that, but it is God that gives man the ability to formulate those words into persuasive and challenging speech. Matt. 10:19 says, “But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say.” Many of us are hesitant to offer words to anyone because we’re afraid we won’t know what to say or even that we’ll say something dumb or something that will drive a person farther away from God. To all of that I say nonsense. Not only do we have Scripture that tells us so, but I have experienced the truth of Scripture on more occasions than I could possibly remember. If you always go into a situation knowing exactly how to handle it, know exactly what to say and how to say it, well why do we need to rely on God? One of the most defining Christ like characteristics we can demonstrate is our speech. Whether it’s electronic through Facebook, Twitter, or some other social media or if it’s in one on one conversation. We must not and cannot compartmentalize our faith. Either our faith is going to guide us and transform us or it is dead. It simply comes down to a matter of trust.

Will you choose to trust that God will give you what you need when you need it? If you will take that one step of faith, I guarantee that God will come through for you. One caveat here . . . we’re talking spiritual matters. If you don’t study for a test, I’m not saying that God will magically give you the answer to pass. There is an understanding that we’ve done the work we need to do. We’ve studied the Scriptures, we’re engaged in an actual relationship with Christ, we are being sanctified each and every day, our faith is active and alive. The Apostle Paul compared our faith to a race so if you think about training for a sporting event, how successful do you think you’d be in competing in a marathon if you didn’t have a rigorous training schedule? Somehow in our walk of faith, we think it’ll be different. Lots of people think they can have an effective relationship with Christ if they read their Bible once in a while or pray once in a while or attend church once in a while. Nonsense. Even naturally talented people have to do their part.

This is a tough one. “All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight.” This sure is a verse for today. In the time of the judges, everyone did what was right in their own eyes. (Jud. 21:25) I think we’ve even moved a bit farther away from this. Not only are people doing what is right in their own eyes, but they want to impart their ideals on others. It seems people are no longer content to have their own opinions; there are people that want you to change your opinion and if you don’t, you’re deemed the intolerant one. When people evaluate themselves against no standard or a shifting standard, then all is okay. When you consider your ways, you’ll likely conclude that all is well, that whatever you’re doing is okay. “But the Lord weighs the motives.” It can look good on the outside, but it’s what’s in the heart that matters. Remember the heart is the seat of emotion. You might be able to convince yourself or others of the reasons why you do what you do, but the Lord knows the real deal. Heb. 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” That’s just one reason why we need to be in the Word each and every day. Do you want to know why you do the things you do? Get in the Word and let it reveal truth to you. We should be like David when he cried out, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” (Ps. 139:23-24)

Here’s one of the best things to do when you don’t know what to do. Solomon says, “Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established.” This verse literally means, roll onto Yahweh your works. That’s a bit strange for us to consider in modern English. It’s connected with the preceding verses. When you consider all the activities you’re engaged in; the overarching goal should be worshiping God. Under the umbrella of worship is prayer; reading, meditating, studying, and memorizing God’s Word; giving, evangelizing, singing praises to God, discipling, teaching, and all the other spiritual activities we engage in all fall under the umbrella of worship which I can summarize as obedience to God. Submit everything you do to God first. It’s okay to have goals and ambitions, but consult God first. Don’t have your life all planned out and then inform God of how it’s going to be. Just because something is a good opportunity does not mean God wants you to take it. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean God wants you to quit. Here’s the progression. You submit yourself to God, you tell Him what you plan on doing and let Him evaluate it. A really cool thing happens when you’re in synch with God. The plans you come up with are really His. God has supernaturally infused His will within you.

It’s interesting to me that people actually think there is a non-spiritual or non-Christian aspect to their lives. How can you possibly separate yourself from Christ? Why would you want to? That great invitation hymn says, “All to Jesus I surrender, all to Him I freely give; I will ever love and trust Him, in His presence daily live. I surrender all, I surrender all. All to Thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all.” The second verse says, “All to Jesus I surrender, humbly at His feet I bow, worldly pleasures all forsaken; take me, Jesus, take me now.” There is no conditional surrender: either you’re surrendered or you’re not. Think about who you’re surrendering your life to. Sometimes it seems people are more willing to surrender themselves to the government or the world’s systems. You’re surrendering yourself to the King of kings and the Lord of lords. You’re placing yourself under the authority of the strong Son of the living God. You’re placing yourself under the authority of the One that created the heavens and the earth and all that it contains. You’re placing yourself under the authority of the One that gave His only Son so that you might have life. Commit yourself to God and watch how He transforms your plans and goals and ambitions.

It’s easy to conclude that our plans are good and right, but do we consider God’s plan? It’s a really good idea to step back and see eternity’s plan from God’s perspective. A great way to evaluate your plans is to use Scripture. God evaluates plans based on motive and His sight is perfect. Just because something is a good idea doesn’t mean God wants you to be engaged in it. Just because you’re presented with a good opportunity doesn’t mean that God wants you to take advantage of it. When you’re in a vibrant, daily, engaged relationship with God through His Son, His plans become your plans.

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

FearYou can catch the podcast here.

Last week we answered the question about evil triumphing. It won’t. We saw that it’s more profitable to actually work than it is to talk about working. Just because to don’t get a paycheck for your work doesn’t mean that it is not beneficial or profitable. Telling the truth about Jesus Christ can save people from an eternity in hell. Take the opportunities God provides for you to share the love and truth of Jesus. This morning, Solomon issues a very ominous warning.

I hope you’ll grab your Bible and read our passage for today found in Pro. 14:26-31.

How about some more fear? Solomon says, “In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence, and his children will have refuge.” What kind of fear is he talking about? In his first inaugural address in 1933 FDR said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” FDR was saying don’t live in what if land. Don’t be afraid of the unknown. Although many folks remember that phrase, if you look at the whole sentence, it becomes even more applicable. “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Solomon has talked about fear before, and it’s not the same as FDR’s fear. In Pro. 3:7 he said, “Fear the Lord and turn away from evil.” In 3:25 he said, “Do not be afraid with sudden fear.” We’ll see in 19:23 that, “The fear of the Lord leads to life.” Remember way back to 1:7 to set the whole book of wisdom up, Solomon said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Solomon is talking about reverence. Reverence means to stand in awe, or have a deep respect for someone or something. As a professing believer, he’s not telling us to be afraid like we’re always looking over our shoulder or we’re cowering in fear. It’s an incredible awe over who God is and what He has accomplished in all that He has done and continues to do in our life and in the lives of those around us. It’s a humbling awareness that He loves us and gave Himself for us, that He cares about us, that He wants to be a part of our lives, that He wants us to recognize Him for who He really is. In Matt. 10:28 Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” That reverence leads to strong confidence and trust in God and His Son.

It still amazes me that people of faith don’t have blind trust in Christ. They exercise blind trust in other facets of life, but with God, somehow conclusions are drawn that maybe He doesn’t know what’s going on or that He doesn’t care, or we think He won’t answer our prayers. We have trouble letting go and that’s the root cause. Many folks wouldn’t admit it, but they’re control freaks. What they can’t control freaks them out and frustrates them and leads to panic stricken confusion. I picture God saying, “Come on, I’m here, I haven’t left you, I know what’s going on, I love you, I have plans for you to prosper. Won’t you just trust me?” We must stand on the confession of who Jesus is. He is our protector, our provider, our redeemer, our hope, our passion, our purpose, our assurance, our strong tower, our comfort, our counselor, our righteousness, our healer. He is the Messiah, the Savior, the strong Son of the living God: He is Jesus!

That fear or reverence, “Is a fountain of life, that one may avoid the snares of death.” Fountain gives us the idea of unending satisfaction for the soul. The fountain will never dry up. Jesus said, If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” (Jo. 7:37-38) The only way to have that everlasting fountain is to accept the well head that is Jesus Christ. Solomon is saying what he already said Pro. 13:14: “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, to turn aside from the snares of death.” Jesus saves you from death. Likely not physical death, but spiritual death. We are spiritually alive in Jesus.

Next is a verse that needs little explanation. “In a multitude of people is a king’s glory, but in the dearth of people is a prince’s ruin.” If a king has a large kingdom, that generally means he rules well. People want to live in that kingdom and be afforded the protection, safety, and prosperity that comes along with it. The conquering of other lands was not Solomon’s highest priority. During Solomon’s reign, “Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance; they were eating and drinking and rejoicing.”  (1 Ki. 4:20) Without providing for the people, what good is a prince? That’s what he’s talking about here.

Our next set of verses could change your life. In 14:17 Solomon said, “A quick tempered man acts foolishly.” That’s the hot head kind of guy. Now he talks about the mellow guy, “He who is slow to anger has great understanding.” I’m thinking it’s because he actually listens to what’s going on and processes the information. The quick tempered guy just gets mad fast and that causes him to act foolishly. Solomon is now talking about someone that is slow to be offended. He knows how to excuse other people’s faults and he understands that he is not without faults. He is not easily provoked. It’s not that he can’t get riled up, it’s that his patience is great, his understanding is great, and his wisdom is great. That’s why he’s slow to anger. He can get mad, but he chooses to follow wisdom instead. Think about it this way: do you want to be around someone that is going to flip out, or someone that is going to maintain a steady demeanor regardless of the circumstances? Gal. 5:22 says that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit so as believers, we don’t get the luxury to say, “I can’t help it.”

The quick tempered guy? Solomon says he, “Exalts folly” Solomon goes on to say there is a physical benefit to remaining calm. “A tranquil heart is life to the body.” Tranquil means free from disturbance or calm. You want to see what someone is made out of, put them in a stressful or tense situation. When the heart is healthy both morally and physically, the benefit spreads throughout the body. It’s not that this person is stress free; it’s just that he’s learned how to respond and react to that stress. You’ve heard people that say they’re stressed out? It’s used as a justification for all kinds of behavior. “But passion is rottenness to the bones.” Rottenness means suffering from decay. This seems quite strange. I’m passionate about many things. Studying God’s Word. Discipleship. Passion here means envy or jealousy. Jealousy is like a disease that will destroy you from the inside out.

Here’s some random thoughts. Verse 31 says, He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him.This is a little bit different than what he said in v. 20-21. Oppress means to keep in subjection and hardship. Being poor does not mean being evil or wicked any more than being wealthy means you have God’s blessing on you. Here Solomon says if you take advantage of, or wrong someone that is poor, watch out. How can we put this in a modern context? Remember a couple of weeks ago I said it’s difficult to define what poor really is. So are there people that prey upon people of lesser means? Think about rent to own places. Think about payday lenders. Think about title loan places. These types of establishments target people they can take advantage of. The rent to own places foster the mentality that you can have it all and they’re willing to let you have it . . . or at least rent it. A local rental center currently offers a 50 inch TV for $64.99 a month. When you read the fine print it says: “Total Monthly Payment: $64.99 + $6.49 (for ASP) = $71.48/month (plus tax) • Total Cost of Ownership: $71.48 x 24 Months = $1,715.52 (plus tax) which equals $1835.61. That same TV retails for $797.99. If you saved for it, you could buy it outright in just over a year. Solomon is warning those types of people to not take advantage of the poor or oppress them. “He who is gracious to the needy honors Him.” How can you be gracious to the needy? Take the time to read Matt. 25:34-40. When you help care for those in need, it honors God. It reflects God’s glory, His mercy, His compassion, and His provision.

Having a healthy fear or reverence for God is a result of understanding who God really is. We stand in awe at who He is and have a deep trust in Him because of His character, His love, and His qualities. We stand amazed in His presence simply because He is. Don’t be quick tempered; be slow to anger. Understand people’s faults and extend grace. Ps. 103:17 says, “But the lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children.”

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.

No Regrets

No RegretYou can check out the podcast here.

If we think about our lives even for just a moment, we’ll think of things we could have done differently; things we shouldn’t have done, decisions we’d like a do over on. I call it what if land and it’s not a good place to be. The Apostle Paul provides us some excellent insight in his letter to the Philippians. This letter differs in some respects from any of Paul’s other letters. It contains less logic and more of the heart. His letter to the Romans has incredible logic. His letters to the Corinthians rebuked certain prevalent sins. Galatians rebukes a dangerous heresy that threatened the welfare of the Galatian churches. Ephesians unfolds the mystery of God in reference to the Gentiles. This letter is the outpouring of the love towards one of the most affectionate and faithful of all congregations which he had planted. The church at Philippi was founded in A.D. 50 or 51 (Acts 16). On his second missionary journey, Paul, led by a vision at Troas, crossed into Europe, landed at Neapolis and went directly to Philippi. Why Philippi?  It was “a leading city of the district of Macedonia.” (Acts 16:12) It is interesting to note that this was the first church planted in Europe.

Take a careful look at the incredible words of Phil. 3:1-14.

Paul begins with what is not the Way. He starts by this third chapter by telling the church what the way is not. Religious ceremonies are not the way. Paul was, “circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.”  (Phil 3:5-6) If anybody had a heritage to brag about it was Paul. He met all the religious requirements of a good Jew. “Circumcised the eighth day.” In strict compliance with the Law. “Of the nation of Israel.” He could trace his lineage as far back as any Jew. “From the tribe of Benjamin.” Remember that the tribe of Benjamin and the tribe of Judah were the only two tribes not to revolt under the leadership of Jeroboam and maintained their allegiance to God. The tribe of Benjamin was physically located next to the temple. “A Hebrew of Hebrews.” He belonged to a tribe that was as honorable as any other, and that had its location near the very center of religious influence; both of his parents were Jewish with no mixture of Gentile blood. Not one of his ancestors had been a proselyte, or of Gentile extraction. Paul says he was entitled to all the advantages which could be derived from it. “A Pharisee.” The Pharisees strictly adhered to every letter of the law. “So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem.” (Acts 26:4) If religion could save anyone, it certainly would have saved Paul. “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law.” He was zealous in his persecution of the church who he thought was in great error in doctrine. As a Jew and a Pharisee, he believed righteousness was found in the Law.

Notice how Paul introduces his religion to the Philippians: “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” (Phil 3:2-3) Look at the warnings. Dogs – the greatest insult you could give someone. The Jews called the heathen dogs, and Islam calls Jews and Christians by the same name. The term dog also is used to identify a person that is shameless, impudent, malignant, snarling, dissatisfied, and contentious. Evil workers. Probably the same people Paul considered dogs – Jews who taught that religion saved you. False circumcision – from the Greek word meaning to mutilate. These dogs and false teachers were not truly circumcised. True circumcision comes after salvation as a sign of obedience; it does not cause salvation. But Paul says, “For we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” (Phil 3:3) We are the circumcision. We worship God the only way one can worship God – in Spirit. We rejoice in Christ Jesus and place no confidence in the flesh.

What is the way to God? You’ve got to look at verses 7-11 to find out. All things were loss except the knowledge of Christ Knowledge in this verse is the Greek word gnosis. This is head knowledge. Anything he had mentally. His seven religious credentials. In v. 8 Paul says, “I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” “Suffered the loss” comes from a Greek word that means to willingly give up. Paul gave up “all things.” Anything thing that someone might depend on for salvation: works, religion, heritage, earthly favor, position. Paul considered it rubbish. Rubbish comes from the word that means excrement. Just as you rid your body of waste, Paul wanted to rid himself all of the earthly advantages and Jewish privileges as a means of obtaining salvation. Why?  Look at what Paul says: “That I may gain Christ.”

In verses 9 and 10, Paul speaks of his own righteousness which comes from the Law. Paul wants the righteousness of Christ which can only come through faith. What is faith? Faith comes from the Greek word pistis meaning a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom of God. “That I may know him.” This is a different know. This is from the Greek word meaning to know and understand. Paul wants to know Christ so he could share in His sufferings and be conformed to His death. This knowledge or understanding of Christ’s sufferings is obtained by experiencing the daily challenges and needs of ministry that will draw us closer to Christ. Sharing in the Lord’s sufferings will bring you into a more meaningful and intimate relationship with Christ. Comfortable or conformed unto death has a double meaning here. Just as Jesus died because of the sin of the world, Paul is dying more and more to sin in his daily life. Remember that Paul is in prison as he writes and is prepared to die for Christ if that is what’s necessary.

In v. 11 Paul desires to attain the resurrection of the dead. In v. 12 he denies that he has attained it. The word “attained” means to have arrived at the goal and won the prize, but without having as yet received it. Paul knows Christ, but not to the fullest extent possible. He has experienced God’s power, but not to the degree he desires. He has been made like Jesus in His death, but Paul can still die to sin and self. Paul walks in newness of life, but there is still room for improvement. Paul didn’t think he arrived after 25 years of serving the Lord, so we shouldn’t either. In verse 13 Paul says, “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.” Notice that Paul forgets those things that are in the past. The wrongs you have done. The sins you have committed. The things you should have done, but never did. The things Satan tells you cannot be forgiven. Put all of them behind you and forget them. In his pursuit to know Christ, Paul refuses to let guilt drag him down and doesn’t rest on past accomplishments. We don’t sail on yesterday’s wind. He’s pressing toward the mark. What is the mark? The mark is contained in vs. 10 and 11. Be like minded with Paul because his thinking comes from the Lord.  If you don’t think like Paul, the Lord will reveal it to you.

Are you living in the past or allowing Christ to renew and refresh you? Are you repeating mistakes or sins of the past? Rom. 8:1 reminds us, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”