Tag Archives: Faith

Persecution in the Church

7 Nov

persecuteCheck out the podcast here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homely Principles

9 May

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

1 Feb

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

21 Sep

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?

13 Jan

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

29 Dec

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.”

Spiritual Persecution

3 Nov

persecution-pin1

You can listen to the podcast here.

Today we observe the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted church or IDOP. 100 million of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world are persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. Why does God allow persecution? Why is the church growing fastest in countries where persecution is most severe?

The book of Acts opens with the very last moments of Christ’s physical presence on earth. Jesus gave His apostles one last instruction to witness to the city of Jerusalem, the area of Judea and Samaria and even to the ends of the earth and then Jesus was, “lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:9) And so the apostles did just that. The early church was growing by huge numbers. Peter preached his very first message at Pentecost where 3000 souls recognized Jesus as the Messiah. Those 3000 people didn’t know any better and so they began, “continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)

Over the next couple of chapters in Acts we see something extraordinary take place. Opposition began to grow against this loving bunch of guys that walked and lived by faith in a passionate, authentic way. Peter had just healed the lame man and he, the lame man, and the apostles went together to Herod’s temple and find themselves inundated by the people in the portico of Solomon. Peter gives his second message where 5000 men were saved. The priests, the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees were, “greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” (Acts 4:2) As a result, these religious leaders toss Peter and his colleagues into jail. They hold a trial and question Peter as to what authority he had to speak of such things. Peter lays it on them by answering the question of the ages by concluding that, “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given my men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) The apostles were released with the warning that they would not preach in the name of Jesus again.

A short while later, perhaps the next day or two, we find Peter and the apostles back at the portico of Solomon teaching in the name of Jesus, the very thing they were told not to do. Back to jail they go for the night, but this night would be different. An angel of the Lord opens the gates of the prison and tells them to go back to the temple and teach the whole message of this life. They arrived back at the temple about daybreak and began to teach. That brings us to our passage in Acts 5:27-42. I hope you’ll take the time to read this great passage.

To be sure, biblical persecution results because of our position in Christ. For those of us that follow Jesus, can we expect persecution? 2 Tim. 3:12 says, “Indeed all who desire to live godly will be persecuted.” While we may not suffer the same type of persecution here as in those top 50 countries, I think our persecution may take a different form. Satan is our enemy, our adversary and he knows and understands how things work. Our enemy can use most anything as a trip wire to get our focus away from God. Satan is not so concerned with lost people. He seeks to destroy you, to deceive you, to discourage you. Why? When people watch us, we serve as an example of Jesus Christ in the flesh. We are not Christ, but we have His DNA. While I believe the tortuous persecution will come to these United States, for now religious persecution is not tolerated . . . unless you’re a Christian. The church has taken a defensive position and has fallen back on her heals under cultural screams of intolerance and judgment. In America I believe we are spiritually persecuted. We’re told by society how we’re supposed to act and many Christians have become introverted in their faith. We become unwitting pawns in Satan’s plan.

The enemy of Jesus Christ is real. I think one of the top attacks of the enemy is confusing us with things that aren’t bad in themselves, but they misprioritze life even if for a moment. How does he do this? He attacks us. He is on the offensive. He attacks our marriages, one of the principle foundations of society. He attacks relationships pitting friends against friends. He leads us to think about ourselves rather than others. We are deceived about the truth because we form opinions of  the Bible without ever looking at the Bible. When C4 first started in 2007, our leadership was committed to keeping things simple. Some of us were particularly weary of church busyness so we committed to not have activities and things every day or night of the week. Christians were so busy with church activities that there wasn’t an abundance of time to do actual ministry. Now it seems that we’re too busy for church. We have the freedom to worship the One and only true God and yet we fall in the trap of our enemy. We’ve bought the lie that we can have casual, shallow associations with believers. We’ve bought the lie that we don’t need the fellowship the early believers had. They were together continuously and we find it nearly impossible to spend an hour or two a week with believers.

I think we’re persecuted with the mind games of the devil. At least our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world can see the tools Satan uses against them. Those that oppress and persecute are visible. The enemy can be seen. Christians are fighting among themselves and attacking one another when Satan is the enemy! The world desperately needs to see the power of God that was evident in Peter’s life in us. The world needs to see that we’re confident in Christ, that we’re bold in Christ, and most of all that we’re loving in Christ. After the disciples were flogged in Acts 5:40, we come to vs. 41-42:

“So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”

In their time of greatest need, they continued in what they knew; they were not deterred. The time we’re supposed to draw close to Christ, we actually withdraw and blame God for abandoning us in our time of need. The principles of prayer, trust, hope that once grounded us in faith are cast aside and traded for doubt, anxiety, and fear.

These all fall right into our enemy’s plan. Shifting the focus from God to ourselves and we’re lost in a sea of despair with no way out. Will you allow your circumstances to control your faith? Or will you allow the power of Christ to shine in your life regardless of what’s going on? We often ask the question, if faced with adversity, would you deny Christ? That’s a difficult question to answer and probably the wrong one to ask. Maybe a better question is, if faced with life, would you deny Christ? Isn’t that, in essence, what we do when we abandon the fundamental principles of the faith?

Giving May be the Best Barometer

2 Jun

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.

Don’t Worry, Be . . . .

12 May

WorryYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we looked at the location of our riches. Wherever our treasures are located, our heart will be there too. If our treasures are stored up on earth, that’s where our mind will be focused. If we have a Kingdom mindset, our actions here will allow Jesus to store our treasure where He is, and nobody can mess with that treasure. This morning we’re going to look at the “acceptable” sin in the church that I believe affects more people than ever and no one is talking about it – until now.

Take the time and read Matt. 6:25-34.

Why worry? Matthew begins this passage by saying, “For this reason.” This reason is v. 24. As we saw last time, wherever your treasure is, that’s where your heart is. It is a deception of Satan that you can serve wealth and the Lord. Worry is the key word in this passage occurring 6 times. It comes from the word that means to feel troubled over actual or potential difficulties. Therein lies the key. It is to feel troubled or anxious. We often equate worry with love or concern. We use it as an excuse for the real problem – lack of trust in God. Prov. 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” If you trust in God, worry is useless. Remember all this is coming on the heels of Jesus talking about storing up treasure in heaven instead of on earth. He is showing us that it is foolish to put our trust, our confidence, our hope in something that quickly fades; in something that is not eternal.

Let’s keep it on context. Jesus is still talking about the same topic. He consistently speaks in Scripture about providing for the basic needs of life. We have established in past weeks that these are food and clothing – that’s it. It’s not a cell phone or computer. It’s not a new car or 80 inch TV. He is not obligated to provide you with your dream home – an oxymoron in itself. He’s not talking about college or retirement. He’s talking about food and clothing.

You want proof? Look at v. 26. This is a rhetorical question. “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns.” When you consider birds, they don’t do anything but rely on what nature provides – what God provides. No matter how hard they work, birds still need God to provide. God has given us the ability to plant and grow food, the birds can’t do that. Aren’t you worth more than the birds? We are the only creature that was created in God’s image. We are the only creature that can have a relationship with and fellowship with God. We are the only creature that God loved enough to send His Son to die for us. Why are you worried about clothes? Look at the lilies of the field in v. 28-29. These lilies are not purposefully planted in a garden. They don’t toil or spin. This likely refers to the primary occupations of the day. Working in the field and making fabric for clothing. The lilies do even less than the birds yet Solomon in all his glory, never surpassed the beauty of the flowers. Look at v. 30. Again this is more proof of God’s matchless love for humanity. He takes care of the birds, He takes care of the flowers that are growing one day and tossed into a furnace to be used as fuel the next. Jesus wraps it up by saying, “You of little faith.” That’s really the conclusion, but v. 27 asks another question we must consider in the light of what we know, “Who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” God provides day in and day out and yet we still worry. Read vs. 31-32. These are clear instructions. The contrast again is between disciples of Christ and Gentiles. Gentiles try to “do” to get to God. Matt. 6:7-8 says, “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Don’t be like the Gentiles.

Here’s the mandate. V. 33 offers the contrast that so many of us miss in our lives. It says, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.” We are to seek first the Kingdom of God. The people that Jesus is speaking to are not doing this. That’s why they’re worried. If self preservation is your top priority, then God’s Kingdom is not. When our priorities regarding treasures in heaven and on earth are lined up properly, God will provide. It is a conditional clause. When our goals are self serving, God’s not obligated.  In v. 34 Jesus comes back full circle to the beginning of His discussion from v. 25. The challenge is to depend on God daily, just like He said in the Lord ’s Prayer: “Give us this day, our daily bread.”  Don’t worry about tomorrow.

Worry is sin. It indicates a lack of faith. God will take care of His children. We need to let go and trust that He will, but we need to establish priorities that match His.

Have Mercy!

10 Mar

MercyYou can listen to this message here.

Last week Jude gave us an odd mandate to anxiously wait. It seems a contradiction, but we must eagerly anticipate Jesus’ coming and look forward to the mercy He will extend to us on that day. We don’t quit or give up. We persevere in the faith. This morning, we see our involvement in the church and in the community.

Jude 22-23 says, “And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.”

Jude offers up an assumption. We all know it can be dangerous to assume things. Jude assumes that his readers are actively engaged in following Christ. He believes them to be authentic believers. He warned them of the dangers of false teachers and hypocrites and those that would teach things contrary to the foundation laid by the Apostles. This letter is their wake up call and it should be ours too. That’s why I have encouraged you to read this letter every day.

There are three groups of people Jude refers to in these two verses and we’ll look at them one at a time. This is yet another example of Jude’s love for things in three. Before we look at each group, remember the Apostles predicted that the creepers would come.  It wasn’t surprising and ultimately does not pose a threat to THE faith that was handed down to the saints. The Christian faith is not preserved because we refute those that contradict, although that’s necessary and appropriate. Our faith is preserved because God is on the throne, because Jesus is alive and well! The Christian faith is preserved because God is revealed in His Son. The faith is preserved because we continue to build ourselves up, we pray in the Holy Spirit, and we anxiously await His return. In addition to the waiting in v. 21, he tells them in v. 22, “And have mercy on some, who are doubting.” Doubt is a feeling of uncertainty or a lack of conviction. Remember Thomas was gently rebuked by Jesus because he doubted. Some seem to be plagued by doubt more than others. I admit it can be frustrating to deal with people that are doubters. There are some instances that doubting is justified. I doubt that the Bears will make it to the Super Bowl next year. That lack of conviction comes because they have a lousy quarterback and an even worse defense. But that’s not the kind of doubt Jude is talking about. He’s talking about people that doubt as a result of the creepers. When you are taught something over and over and then discover something to the contrary, you will tend to doubt. Maybe you doubt your own understanding, maybe you doubt the teacher. With that in mind, I have found that it is much more difficult to persuade me away from the things I have discovered for myself.

Remember the purpose of this letter from v. 4. When someone in church or Christian leadership tells you something contrary to what you know, what you’ve learned, or something contrary to what is accepted by most people, you may question their motives. Remember Rob Bell and his book Love Wins? There was uproar because Bell’s teaching was so contrary to orthodox Christianity. In this case, Jude is saying cut the doubters some slack. Of the three groups, theses people were the least affected by the teaching of the creepers. The word doubt here can also be translated wavering and gives us the idea that there was some disputing going on. Perhaps these folks argued with the creepers when they denied Jesus as master and turned the grace of God into licentiousness. At the very least, there was enough in what the creepers said to cause this group to waver in their understanding.

The next group is a bit more serious. They are in more danger from the teaching of the creepers. It looks like they have fallen under the false teaching of the creepers so we are to, “Save others, snatching them out of the fire.” These people are in danger of the fire perhaps because they have embraced the notion of turning grace into license. This refers to the judgment that is coming. Fire is a common aspect of judgment. It’s used in numerous places in Scripture referring to hell. We are to snatch them out of the fire. Snatch comes from the word that means seize suddenly. We take such quick action, they don’t even realize it. I wish it were as easy as tackling someone, but the meaning Jude is conveying is deeper than that. If you see someone in danger, you quickly act to save their life because there is still hope.

For our final group Jude says, “And on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” This group of people are those in the most danger of eternal punishment. Even though these people are engaged in sin, Jude says have mercy. No matter what, we demonstrate the mercies of God that are renewed each and every day in our lives. We exercise mercy to those that are deeply entrenched in sin, but we do it with fear. We are not invincible, not bullet proof. We tread carefully, “hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” Now that’s a strange image. Some think this is an illusion to Zech. 3:3 referring to Joshua, Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel.” The word “filthy” here refers to excrement. Joshua was not wearing dirty clothing. Jude is thinking of the ceremonial cleanliness requirements of the high priests. The idea is that if you are ceremonially clean and you touch something unclean, you then become unclean. You cannot transfer cleanliness. Jude is saying when you show mercy to that one in sin, be careful that they do not contaminate you. The flesh Jude mentions refers to sin. Be careful that the mercy you demonstrate is not twisted into acceptance of sin.

Jude’s letter is a nice balance between showing love and mercy while maintaining standards of purity and righteousness. Demonstrating love for the sinner doesn’t mean you agree with all they do. At the same time, just because you voice your conviction about what is right and pure and true doesn’t mean you’re a bigot,  racist, homophobe, or all around mean person. If your best friend is lost, there is something spiritually wrong with that. I have seen too many people that have the idea that they’re going to save someone only to be dragged down to a place they said they’d never go. Yes we must and should love people regardless of where they are, but we must be cautious. With God’s help, you can strike the balance needed to influence people for Christ.