Tag Archives: Obedience

God is Always on the Throne

23 Jan

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Last week, we covered a lot of ground. We started by looking at the parental relationship and the implications of being a bad child. Solomon spoke of being a virtuous king and the responsibility that comes when you’re the one determining punishment. We saw some important aspects of our relationship with the Lord. I encourage you to conduct a critical self-evaluation of your faith and also suggest you ask someone you love and trust to provide you with some feedback regarding your walk of faith. This morning, we’re going to look at who is ultimately in charge.

Our passage today comes from Pro. 21:1-9. I hope you’ll take the time to read it.

throneSo, who’s in charge? That’s a great question that many people ask, particularly in times of national or international crisis. Solomon reminds us that, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” What’s that really mean? Are we all just puppets in a crazy game controlled by God? The answer lies in the very difficult concept of God’s sovereignty. I really believe that if you take God out of the equation, life would implode. It is God who keeps everything in motion. In Is. 46:10 God said, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.”

Ultimately, God’s purpose will always be accomplished. Don’t confuse sovereignty with God’s will. When we consider the model prayer offered by Jesus in Matt. 6, He prayed that God’s, “will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s will is not always accomplished here. One significant example is people dying without receiving the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. 2 Pet. 3:9 tells us that God is, “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” So, what can be gained by people dying apart from Christ? I can honestly say I don’t know. God uses everything at His disposal to accomplish His ultimate goals. He often uses you and me to accomplish it. That is the privilege of free will. God wants us to choose to do His will just like you want your kids to choose to do what’s right instead of forcing them to. Sometimes you might use enticements or rewards for your kids to do what you want. You supervisors and managers will sometimes do the same thing – a bonus or time off. But it really does your heart good to see people do what’s right because it’s the right thing and they choose to do what is right. When you consider a higher plain, God will lead and guide people to do what will ultimately accomplish His plan. For us, it’s spending eternity with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I don’t know what lies beyond that and does it really matter?

 We saw God’s way, now look at man’s way. “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts.” Back in Pro. 16:2 Solomon said, “All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives.”  There’s not much difference in the two verses. Evaluating the motives of people can be very difficult. I confess that I sometimes am not a good discerner of people. I tend to believe what people say at face value, but I do learn to read them. When you consider motives, you can do the right thing for the right reason, the right thing for the wrong reason, and you can do the wrong thing for the right reason. Does that sound like gibberish? Let me give you some examples to help you understand. Here’s the right thing for the wrong reason. You financially support the work of the ministry because you can take a tax deduction. Your kids are good and obedient all day so they gain favor to go out that night. You volunteer to teach a class so everyone sees how smart you are.  What about the wrong thing for the right reason? You steal food to feed your family. You lie to someone to avoid hurting their feelings. You withhold the truth from someone so you don’t alienate them. The best and wisest thing to do is the right thing for the right reason. You give to the work of the ministry knowing that ministry costs money and God has blessed you with financial resources. You speak the truth in love regardless of the consequences knowing that truth sets people free. That’s where God wants us. If you’re not sure, pray like David when he said, “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)

This leads right into the next verse. “To do righteousness and justice is desired by the Lord more than sacrifice.” When I read this verse, I immediately thought about Samuel and Saul. In 1 Sam. 15, the prophet Samuel was sent to anoint Saul as king of Israel. Samuel gave Saul this command from the Lord: “Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” (1 Sam. 15:3) Those instructions are clear. So, Saul got together his troops and went to battle and defeated the Amalekites. The Bible says, “But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were not willing to destroy them utterly; but everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.” (1 Sam. 15:9) Saul is the king of Israel and blamed the people for his disobedience. The conclusion is found in 1 Sam. 15:22-28 that tells us by one act of disobedience, Saul is stripped of his throne. Obedience is the utmost and highest principle in the Bible. As I often say, everything we do can be placed securely under the umbrella of obedience. Giving, prayer, Bible reading and study, serving God and others, as well as a boatload of other commands and principles in Scripture.

Let’s review some principles already covered. “Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, is sin.” Don’t be proud or your torch will be snuffed out. “The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.” The way to gain advantage in this world is to work hard. The word diligent means careful and conscientious in one’s work. The assumption is that the work is not sinful and the hard work puts you in a favorable position. If you’re hasty: that is, you cut corners, take the easy way instead of the right way – you’ll come to poverty. “The acquisition of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death.” Dishonesty and fraud get you nowhere. Cheating is stealing whether it’s knowledge or material goods. “The violence of the wicked will drag them away, because they refuse to act with justice.” This verse is tied to the previous one. Solomon is talking about the violence that the wicked use against others. The violence they engage in will come right back to them. “The way of a guilty man is crooked, but as for the pure, his conduct is upright.” It’s a contrast between the guilty/wicked and the godly/pure. Evil people do evil things. Righteous people do righteous things. The only power in us to do what is good, right, holy, and pure comes because God has granted us the power of the Holy Spirit when we accept the gift of His one and only Son. When we go back to Genesis, we learn that. “The Lord said to Noah, “Enter the ark, you and all your household, for you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time.” (Gen. 7:1) Noah was righteous and that’s why he was spared.

Let’s spend some time on the next one. Solomon says, “It is better to live in a corner of a roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.” He makes a comparison between two things. Living in a relatively uncomfortable place at peace or living in a comfortable place with an uncomfortable situation. No one lives on a roof, right? In biblical times, the roof of a dwelling was typically flat and often served many purposes. In 1 Sam. 9:25, “Samuel spoke with Saul on the roof.” In 2 Sam. 11:2, David walked around the roof where he saw a beautiful woman bathing. In Ps. 102:7, David was, “like a lonely bird on a housetop.” In Acts 10:9, “Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray.” The roof was a great location for prayer, meditation, meetings, and was sometimes used as a place to sleep.

It’s better to be on that rooftop than it is with a contentious woman. Just what is a contentious woman? This woman is quarrelsome, prone to argue, disagreeable, and is no fun to be around. What does she argue about? Anything and everything. She fights against everything done. She is desperate to be the boss, to be in charge and to control everything that happens in the home. If the man tries to exercise his authority, she gets all the more contentious. He finds it more comfortable to retreat to the roof. As we have seen, Proverbs is a book of wisdom and perhaps this is the wisest thing for the man to do. Go to the roof where he won’t be tempted to engage in her contentions. Little is accomplished by arguing with someone that will not hear the other side, will not listen to reason, and will not accept what they consider defeat. I can imagine that it’s difficult living with some spouses. I know that some people come from dysfunctional homes where the love of God was not prevalent. I know it may be tough to be at home because of what you have to deal with. Wisdom dictates the best course of action. You still need to be the man that God has called you to be. Have you loved your wife unconditionally? Have you demonstrated it? A dedicated time of earnest prayer away from the fussing and fighting is better to do than quit. Too many people take the easier road and that’s to give up. I’ve heard a ton of reasons why not holding true to the marriage covenant is the only course of action. When you say, “I do,” that’s a very serious commitment that should only be broken by death.

Don’t take the road that Adam took when he blamed Eve. Take responsibility for the relationship as the one that is in authority. And don’t what if: what if she won’t follow? What if she leaves me? I assure you that God understands what you’re going through and He understands the seriousness of the marriage covenant. We just saw in 21:1: “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” When God told Abraham that Sarah was to have a baby and she overheard and then laughed, God asked, “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14) It really comes down to a matter of trust and no one ever said it was easy, fun, or would change overnight, but don’t exclude the power of God from the equation. Waiting on God to move and work in people’s lives is tough, especially when they’re in your own home or family.

We are privileged to play a part in God’s plan for humanity. Whatever that role may be, we’re part of getting accomplished what God wants to accomplish. Our motives should be pure and holy as we seek to fulfill the purpose He has for our lives. Do right in all facets of life because it’s the right thing to do. Be obedient to His leading, but line His leading up with Scripture. God’s not wishy washy, so don’t you be either. We quickly covered a number of principles for daily living that we’ve seen before in Proverbs. It’s best to be honest always. We closed out with a very difficult relationship. If the woman in your life is contentious, show her the unconditional love of Christ. If you’re the contentious woman, I pray that you would allow the power of God to transform your life because He is always on the throne.

Dealing with Heavenly and Earthly Relationships

16 Jan

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Last week, we began by asking the rhetorical question, who is without sin? The cleansing we enjoy is not because of anything we have done, but because of what Jesus did. Youngsters say what comes to mind because they haven’t developed the ability to hide their motives. We looked at a number of principles for daily, principled living for the home, the job, and at church. This morning, we’ll finish up this chapter by looking at some important relationships.

Our passage for today is found in Pro. 20:20-30 and I hope you take the time to read it.

We start with a relationship that everyone has. Not everyone may have children, but everyone has parents. “He who curses his father or his mother, his lamp will go out in time of darkness.” Ex. 20:12 says, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” Under the Law, cursing your parents was a capital offense; it was punishable by death. That seems pretty harsh by today’s standards. Rebellious kids can be extraordinarily draining on parents. When this occurs, the lamp will go out. We’re not talking literally, we’re talking metaphorically. In Survivor, when you’re voted out, they snuff your torch signifying your death in the game. This is the illusion Solomon is giving us. When it’s dark out, you need a lamp to see. If you’re rebellious to your parents, you are metaphorically put in the dark.

“An inheritance gained hurriedly at the beginning will not be blessed in the end.” If your mind is drawn to the prodigal son, you’re on the right track. This verse is connected to the previous verse about parents. Inheritances typically come from the parents and sometimes the worst thing you can do for your kids is give them money or possessions they don’t have to earn. There’s nothing wrong with providing for your children in the future, but the kids shouldn’t expect it. And most certainly, they shouldn’t demand it early. That’s what the prodigal did in Luke 15. In Lu. 15:12, the son says, “Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.” The son leaves and, “squandered his estate on loose living.” (Lu. 15:13) Easy money does not guarantee financial stability.

Our next relationship involves the Lord. “Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the Lord, and He will save you.” Paul repeated this in Rom. 12:17-19, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” Paul quotes Deut. 32:35. The Lord will take care of you and will fight your battles on your behalf, but don’t assume that your enemies will be struck down. We’ve got to keep Paul’s command in the forefront of our mind when dealing with people that provide us with challenges. As much at it is up to you, be at peace with all men. Do what you can to foster peace: do what you can to be kind and loving, patient and compassionate. If people don’t respond the way you think they ought to, so what? It’s not on you. Don’t think you’ve always got to be the one looking out for yourself. Many times, He puts someone in the path that will fight on your behalf, but it’s still God working.

“Differing weights are an abomination to the Lord, and a false scale is not good.” We saw this exact principle in 20:10 and way back in 11:1.Don’t be dishonest in your business dealings.

“Man’s steps are ordained by the Lord, how then can man understand his way?” I’d like to spend a bit of time here to talk about some important principles that many people discount. Keep in mind that Solomon said in 19:21, “Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord will stand.” And back in Pro. 16:9 when Solomon said, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” In everything we do, we have a necessary dependence on God. That is not a bad thing. Our understanding of what goes on around us is severely limited. We can only see so far and we rarely understand or consider the impact our actions have on others. When you talk about God’s sovereignty, there is a tendency to become fatalistic. Whatever happens, happens, and that’s the way God wants it. We become like little puppets controlled by God. I think that’s the wrong way to look at life. Of course, we should have a desire to follow God’s will and I believe He has a purpose for us to fulfill. I don’t think it’s necessarily to have a global impact or somehow accomplish incredible things for Christ. I think for most of us, a simple life of passionate, zealous, and complete obedience will accomplish much for the Kingdom of God.

We often cannot comprehend what God is accomplishing behind the scenes of life and we would be foolish to think that it doesn’t matter. Humanity has free will, but God is the One that connects the ties that bind us together to accomplish His will. While I can assuredly say that not everyone follows God, everyone does play a part in fulfilling God’s will. God knows all the variables; He knows everything that can and or will change; He knows how the weather affects us, how people affect us; He knows all that and He is still the One that controls the universe. The fatalist says that nothing I do will change what will happen. Not true. Follow God and watch Him work in you and through you. I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if my parents had not divorced; I wonder if my dad had not changed companies that led us to SC; I wonder what would have been if I went to Carolina instead of Winthrop. I wonder if I had not joined the Navy or only served for six years; I wonder if Kari and I had not married. I could go on and on, but God knew the decisions I would make that affected not just my life, but the lives of all the people in the last 53 years that I affected and those lives that affected me; good or bad, positive or negative. Don’t underestimate the impact you can have through God.

“It is a trap for a man to say rashly, “It is holy!” And after the vows to make inquiry.” This is a strangely worded verse has been interpreted several different ways. When taken in light of Eccl. 5:4-6 and Pro. 18:7, it seems the best interpretation is don’t make promises you cannot keep. It doesn’t matter if it’s a promise to God, although that one is really bad, or promises to a person that you either cannot keep or do not intend to keep. A common occurrence these days is saying you’re going to do something and in the back of your mind it’s true unless anything else comes up. One of the troubling things to me is how quick people are to let go of commitments they have made. It can be as simple as a child agreeing to clean their room and then doesn’t or being a member of a church committing to participate and support the body and then allowing that commitment to be superseded by other things. There truly are few people that can be relied upon.

Let’s shift over to royalty. Back when kings ruled the land, part of their responsibility was to mete out justice. This is handled by judges today and this is the angle I’m coming from. “A wise king winnows the wicked, and drives the threshing wheel over them.” Winnows means scatter. Wisdom dictates that you separate criminals so they cannot devise evil schemes against people. It’s a great idea, but we put criminals together. One of the best places to learn how to commit crime is in jail or prison. We don’t do a great job of rehabilitating criminals that are incarcerated. Here’s a good question: is that what prisons are for? I submit to you that jail and prison are a place to go to pay the debt owed to society for the crime that has been committed. “Driving the threshing wheel” over someone gives further evidence to support a separation. The threshing wheel was used to separate grain from the chaff. A common form of the threshing wheel consisted of a couple of wooden planks that had several rollers attached underneath that were fitted with iron teeth. The thresher sat on the planks that were pulled by a team of oxen. As the threshing wheel rolled, the iron teeth would separate the grain. If you picture the threshing wheel rolling over a man, you can imagine the damage that might occur – even death. Our constitution protects people from cruel or unusual punishment so this method of punishment would obviously not be used here. Solomon is telling us that it takes a wise judge to mete out the proper punishment. I’ve got to remind you that biblical wisdom comes from God. The wise ruler must distinguish between the godless and the good and also has to use discernment in determining the punishment required.

The next verse is a really beautiful depiction of Christ’s love. “The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the innermost parts of his being.” When you look at God’s design for humanity, this makes perfect sense. Each of us has life breathed into our soul by God. Every human conceived, whether that life was actually born or not, was created by the power of God. Rom. 1:20 tells us that God put in us a desire to know Him. Humans are the only segment of God’s creation created in the image of God. We are created in God’s image with the ability to think and understand. In 1 Cor. 2:11, Paul said, “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.” The spirit of man is an illusion to our conscience which has been designed in us by our Creator.

Solomon mentions two virtues of a good king. “Loyalty and truth preserve the king, and he upholds his throne by righteousness.” Loyalty and righteousness come from the same Hebrew word which means covenant loyalty. Loyalty means a strong feeling of support or allegiance. In context, Solomon is talking about a mutual loyalty between the king and his kingdom. By application, you can see the far reaching implications of loyalty. I’ll ask the question, what are you loyal to? Certainly, family comes to mind. There are people loyal to their jobs, sometimes at the expense of loyalty to their families. Given that we’ve just finished the college football season, we saw a lot of people very loyal to their teams. When it comes to your loyalty to God, how is that demonstrated? If we keep the meaning of loyalty in mind, can you demonstrate a strong feeling of support or allegiance to God if you don’t pray, read or study your Bible? What about not participating in the things of the church? I often wonder how someone can say they pray and read their Bible faithfully yet don’t participate in church. Coming to church every week is included in that, but I’m talking about a daily loyalty to God because He is worthy of our loyalty.

“The glory of young men is their strength, and the honor of old men is their gray hair.” Young men tend to rely on strength while older men tend to rely on wisdom. I’m not as strong as I used to be, but I’m a whole lot wiser than I used to be, and that’s not to say that I have my wisdom tank filled.

Finally, “Stripes that wound scour away evil, and strokes reach the innermost parts.” This is still talking about kings and punishment. Stripes refer to actual punishment inflicted as a result of a wrongdoing. “Strokes reach the innermost being” refers back to verse 27.

I know we’ve covered a lot of ground today. We started by looking at the parental relationship and the implications of being a bad child. Solomon spoke of being a virtuous king and the responsibility that comes with punishment. We saw some important aspects of our relationship with the Lord. I encourage you to conduct a critical self-evaluation of your faith. Ask someone you love and trust to provide you with some feedback.

Smooth Sailing . . . For Some

4 May

smooth-sailingYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week Solomon told us God is more concerned with your character than your comfort. Solomon called out corrupt business practices and pride. We must avoid these not only because it leads to dishonor, but also because those qualities cannot be part of our character make up as a follower of Christ. The righteousness we have through Christ will deliver us into eternity with Christ and death will not harm us. This morning, Solomon tells us the key to ironing out our path.

I encourage you to take the time and read our passage for today found in Pro. 11:5-14.

Where does responsibility rest? That’s a great question to ask. It’s a question that fewer and fewer people are willing to answer. It seems that few people are willing to take responsibility for their actions. We’re a blaming society where we know one thing is for sure – it’s not my fault. It’s always the other guy’s fault. We hear things like,

If she would have been a better wife, I wouldn’t have . . .
If he wouldn’t make me so mad I wouldn’t . . .
If my boss paid me more I wouldn’t have to cheat on my taxes.

 You even hear people making excuses for others. He couldn’t help it, he comes from a broken home. He couldn’t help it, he has an anger issue. Where does the responsibility rest? Solomon tells us the answer. “The righteousness of the blameless will smooth his way, but the wicked will fall by his own wickedness.” Righteous people do what is right in God’s eyes and that’s what smooths the path. This is a general principle that generally happens. Even when the path is rocky, the righteousness imparted on the believer because of who he is in Christ enables that person to be blameless. Blameless can mean perfect, but that’s not the meaning here. Blameless means innocent of wrongdoing. There really are instances of ignorance, you just didn’t know, but you don’t follow that with, it’s not my fault, someone should have told me. That attitude demonstrates irresponsibility. Righteous people do not put themselves in situations where they can be compromised. They make wise choices. Their best friends are not people with opposite values and ethics. They surround themselves with people that will hold them accountable, that will tell them the truth in love; that will help them stay on the godly path. These people exemplify the principle Solomon told us about back in Pro. 3:6, “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

Maybe you’ve heard the saying God helps those that help themselves. The reality is that God has expectations for us, but He is the One that is working unseen to carve out your path, the One that evaluates everything in your life to see if it fits in with His plan. The key element to a straight path, is in the first part of that verse. Don’t expect smooth paths when you don’t acknowledge Him in all your ways. Don’t expect smooth sailing when you make a decision apart from God and then inform Him what’s going to happen. Don’t expect smooth sailing when you’re disobedient. For the wicked person, he, “will fall by his own wickedness.” The wicked have no one to blame but themselves, but they don’t take responsibility for their actions. The decisions they make directly impact their outcome. The principles they follow lead to their demise. Their code or lack of code causes their downfall. They alone are responsible. Verse 6 says the same thing as verse 5, but uses different words. 

So what happens when a wicked man dies? It’s a question people have asked over the ages. Solomon says, “When a wicked man dies, his expectation will perish, and the hope of strong men perished.” Everything that guy put his confidence in for the future vanishes. What he thought would get him to his goals, did not. He thought operating his business in whatever way necessary to get ahead would bring him success. He thought his riches would carry him through. He thought making himself number one was the way to go. All those expectations gone. Sometimes you might think: it sure seems like the wicked do get ahead in life. Those that are unkind, untrustworthy, unloving, unethical, immoral: it sometimes seems like they prosper. We must look at our world through God’s eyes. Those that have lofty positions here on earth do not transfer to eternity. Remember the rich man and Lazarus I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. The rich man had it all on earth, but Lazarus had nothing. In eternity, the roles are reversed. The wicked think they have it going on, but at least in death, the playing field is leveled and a just and holy God makes things right. The righteous are delivered from trouble and the wicked takes his place. I know there is a huge temptation to pray that God will make His justice swift and visible, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out like that. We’ve got to understand that He is working things out for our good, for His good, for His glory, for His plan, for His purpose and He is under no obligation to let us in on that plan!

Probably all of us in here understand the power of words. We’ve talked about it over and over yet Solomon sees the need to one again remind us of the way the wicked uses speech. “With his mouth the godless man destroys his neighbor.” Sticks and stones the saying goes, but that’s not what Solomon means here. In light if what we have seen to this point, it could mean actual words, but when you take it with the other verses, it seems more likely Solomon is referring to false accusations. You’ve heard that fences make good neighbors because there is often trouble between neighbors. It seems like there’s one on every street. He’s the one that always has a problem with one neighbor or another. He says things about them that are not true, he has little to no integrity. “But through knowledge the righteous will be delivered.” This is a slander versus integrity issue. I know it’s difficult to hear things about you that are false and our natural inclination is to try and counteract those false statements. If people know you, they’ll typically default to what they know. This is a generality. I have been on the receiving end of people believing lies about me and I have had the fortune to have people defend me. The people that believe lies pushed aside what they knew about me, what they’ve seen demonstrated in my life, what they knew to be against my character and believed something that simply wasn’t true. Remember the first half of verse 6. Deliverance from these difficult situations comes through righteousness because that’s who we are in Christ. 

Does the good guy always win? Verses 10-11 convey the same idea so we’ll look at them together. Why does the city rejoice with the righteous? Because an intrinsic characteristic of righteous people is they share good fortune with others. They are not self centered or selfish. On the other hand, “When the wicked perish, there is joyful shouting.” All you have to do is check out some YouTube videos to see this in real life. We don’t like seeing someone being taken advantage of or bullied. Who can forget the joy in the streets when that statue of Saddam Hussein came down in 2003. We like it when judgment comes . . . to others.

Check out vs. 12-13. This is a reiteration of the principle that fools are loose with their lips and wise people know when to keep silent. A talebearer is a gossip. It’s someone that is a constant talker and I think it’s fair to say that this person is always in someone else’s business. They generally can’t be trusted to maintain confidentiality. Sometimes it’s under the guise of, “I told so and so because I was really concerned about you.” Confidence is confidence and there are only rare exceptions to this rule. The word conceal can have a negative connotation. Here is means discretion. Just because there is knowledge, does not mean it needs to come out. I’ve heard people say really mean or unkind things and offer the caveat that it’s the truth. Just because something is true does not mean it needs to be said. There is much wisdom in silence. Solomon has said it before.

Now perhaps one of the most important principles in Scripture. “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory.” KJV translates it, “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” Counselor means the ability to steer or pilot. It is someone qualified or trained to give guidance on personal, social, psychological, or spiritual matters. It does not mean the random stranger at Walmart. It does not mean the person that will tell you what you want to hear. It is not anyone that starts off with, “Whatever makes you happy. . .” It doesn’t mean continuously asking people until you get the answer you want. It doesn’t mean avoiding people that will tell you the truth either or avoiding people that you know will disagree with you because deep down, you know what you are seeking isn’t the wisest thing to do in the current circumstances. I can’t tell you how many people have informed me of a decision they have made in their spiritual walk of faith or regarding church and never one time talked to me. On the other hand, just because you think you can offer guidance does not mean you can. If you do not have a fundamental understanding of God’s Word, you may not be ready to offer guidance, but you can pray for that person. I have not experienced everything that you may be going through, but that does not mean I cannot give you wise, biblical counsel. Solomon is not just talking biblical guidance here either. There are people around you that can offer life guidance too. People that have expertise in areas like car or home repair, investing, relationships, they can recommend a good book or a good school, day care, or medical professional. You were not intended to go it alone. Some believe this principle also applies to government with the idea that a government that has checks and balances built into it is far superior to governments led by a single ruler.

Cities rejoice at the good fortune of righteous people and God makes sure that the wicked perish for their wickedness. That’s why we need to convey the message of redemption through Jesus Christ. Seek wise biblical advice from God’s Word and those that He has placed in your life after all, two godly heads are better than one. If you want smooth sailing in your life, you must follow the principles of Scripture. That’s not a guarantee that there won’t be storms or treacherous waves, crises, or tragedies, but you’ll have the confidence to know that God will help you through.

Remember . . . . Again

4 Aug

RememberYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we learned that wisdom is a protector, a deliverer, and provides a safety net as we walk the tight rope of life. Biblical wisdom is a great friend to have; we just need to pursue her while she can be found. This morning, Solomon gives us the conclusion to that giant conditional clause as he warned his son about the dangers encountered from people that don’t walk with God.

Pro. 3:1-4 says, My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity. Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.”

Repetition is always a key in Bible ready and study. Anytime we see a word or phrase repeated in Scripture, we need to pay attention to it. If God takes the time to repeat Himself, we need to understand what He’s saying. Solomon repeats the same principle he gave to his son back in 1:8 and in 2:1-2. Here’s his first reminder. “Do not forget my teaching.” Our lives are filled with reminders. I use Google calendar for my appointments and it sends me email, text, and pop up reminders of meetings and events on my calendar so I don’t forget. I need reminders because my mind is human and I tend to forget things. We put reminders on the fridge and write notes to ourselves and do all sorts of things so we don’t forget. What’s funny though is we don’t seem to forget the things we really want to remember. “Do not forget my teaching,” Solomon says, “But let your heart keep my commandments.” Whatever you need to do to remember, do it.

It is fairly easy to lose a skill you have if you don’t practice it. We have practice for all kinds of things. Sports. Musical instruments. Drill teams. We do these things to maintain the skill set we have and also to improve. We can and should do the same thing with the commands and instructions of God. Solomon is telling his son to transfer the head knowledge he has and get it into his heart. Get the teaching of God to the innermost core of his being. Whatever is in your heart will naturally pour out of you. Ps. 119:11, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” When God is in your heart, that’s what should come out when you’re squeezed.

Solomon tells his son that when he gets God’s word in his heart, “Length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you.” As we progress through Proverbs, we’ll see this formula for long life. It’s reminiscent of Deuteronomy. Deut. 8:11, “Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today.” Obedience brings reward – it is as simple as that. But, we aren’t obedient to be blessed or rewarded, we’re obedient because it’s the right thing to do and it pleases God. That being said, I am not prepared to say that if you’re presented with a decision and as you think about it and determine to do what is right or pleasing to God in order to get a reward or blessing is necessarily wrong. When you treasure God’s Word in your heart, the formulaic response to life is for God to come out. In our walk with Christ, if you reduce decisions down to reward versus punishment, I think you’ll be on the right track. You do it with your kids, don’t you? If you tell your child to do some task and you say, if you do that, I’ll give you a cookie. Aren’t you rewarding the child because they were obedient? Over time, you expect the right behavior because they have been taught and know what’s expected of them. You wouldn’t give a cookie to your teenager for picking up his toys, would you? Obedience leads to peace – a quietness of the heart, calm, tranquil, at rest.

Now Solomon gives some instructions for dealing with people. Verse 3 say, “Do not let kindness and truth leave you.” This is a great reminder of how we are supposed to be. Kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. Paul said, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:32) It’s not conditional which means we always maintain kindness and truth. It’s not dependent upon the situation, not dependent upon the people you’re dealing with. We are to, “Bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.” Add this to v. 1 and we really get the sense that this is an internal quality we are to have. Willful control of your actions is great, but when you are totally submitted to the authority of Christ, your innermost being is filled with the love of Christ. Paul said it beautifully in 2 Cor. 3:3, “Being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

What’s the result? God smiles. When these things are ingrained in us, the godly outcome is that we will find, “Favor and good repute in the sight of God and in man.” What is better than that? God’s favor falls on us. Favor means approval or liking. God likes what we do and smiles down on us. God being pleased is good enough, but look what else happens. Favor comes from man as well. You’ve heard me often say, do things to please God and let Him work everything else out. Seek to please God first.

All this comes because God’s Word is in our hearts. His teachings and principles, and commands are part of our makeup, our part of our DNA. Ps. 119:93 says, “I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have revived me.” God’s Word will nurture you, it will sustain you, it will bless you as long as you take the time to remember.

Wisdom Speaks

7 Jul

SpeakYou can listen or download the podcast here.

Last week Solomon concluded his introductory warning by telling his son to be careful who is friends are. One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. This morning, a concept speaks to us for the first time in this book as Solomon utilizes personification.

Grab your Bible and read Proverbs 1:20-33.

We begin with wisdom’s appeal to listeners. The easiest and most utilized excuse for wrong doing is ignorance. We see it all over. Someone commits some form of wrong or evil behavior and the conclusion is they just didn’t know any better. That may be true for some people, but you cannot make a blanket statement that ignorance is justification. Wisdom is in the noisy streets and at the entrance to the cities. Wisdom is not something elusive. She’s not like some wise old sage that you have to climb a mountain in order to get her insight. She is out there trying to make her voice heard. She roams the streets shouting for all to hear. She’s looking for someone to teach, someone that will take her up on her incredible insight. All we have to do is open up God’s Word and we find wisdom.

In v. 22, wisdom speaks about three types of people. Remember the naïve one are simple minded. This verse gives us an indication that they don’t have to stay that way. They love being the way they are. They’re sort of like the kid that doesn’t want to go to school because they know everything they need to know. The scoffers just love to scoff. They ridicule the things of God, the ways of God and any who will choose to follow God. Scoffers come in many forms and look like ordinary people. Sometimes they’re subtle like when they lovingly say, “God wouldn’t want you to live like this.” Sometimes they’re more overt by denying the authority of God’s Word. And of course, the list would not be complete without the fool. The word used here is not quite as strong as the word used in v. 7. This guy rejects wisdom and has become morally insensitive. He is so occupied with the things of the world that the things of God are of no concern to him. We’ll see in later chapters that this type of person is a source of grief to his parents. According to chapter 26, you can’t talk sense to a fool because he’s a fool. Talking to a fool is a waste of time. Ps. 1:1 “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!” It’s difficult to determine when to let go of a person like this. If your face is blue, it’s probably time.

Look at wisdom’s guidance. Wisdom issues a pretty clear directive to the people she’s screaming to. It’s never too late to, “Turn to my reproof” she says in v. 23. The ignorant can learn, the scoffers can cease their scoffing, the fool can gain knowledge.   She says, “Behold, I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you.” She’ll do this in any way she can. Ignorance is not bliss and is no excuse or rationale to act in a manner that is inconsistent with God. God is extraordinarily patient with us and with those that rebel against Him, but there will come a day when He has had all he can take. Wisdom called, and you refused. Wisdom stretched out her hand, but you refused to grab hold of her. You neglected all of her counsel, instruction, and correction. You have passed the point of no return. As a result of this, wisdom takes on some very realistic qualities that would be deemed judgmental, hurtful, and just plain offensive. Look at vs. 26-27. These are hard words. Laugh and mock at your calamity? What kind of loving God does that? The kind of loving God that declares there is judgment for sin. The kind of loving God that has standards and holds people accountable for those standards. The kind of loving God that has preserved His Word so we can learn, grow, and be transformed by its power. The kind of loving God that puts wonderful, godly, passionate, and authentic people in our paths to instruct, train, and guide us. Don’t blame God when you’re falling without a parachute. Don’t blame God when you’re sinking in an ocean without a life ring. This sounds incredibly harsh, doesn’t it?

Don’t be shocked, they know their folly. There will come a time when a person realizes all of the truth that has been thrown at them. There is the saying better late than never, but that doesn’t apply here. If you reject wisdom’s cries, judgment comes. It seems too often people only want help when they’re experiencing the consequences for their actions. That’s what is happening here. It’s like people are told over and over, “Don’t do that.” “That’s not a wise decision.” “Be careful.” “You can’t afford that.” “He (or she) is no good for you.” All of those warnings are dismissed and low and behold the consequences arrive and the naïve ones, the scoffers, and the fool cries out, “Help! Help!”

Wisdom responds in vs. 28-30. They’ll call, but there is no answer. They’ll go looking, but wisdom will not be found. Why? Because when there was plenty of time to be proactive, these people chose to be carefree, chose to be complacent, chose to be clueless. They chose to ignore God. And so their consequence is found in vs. 31-32.

The voice of wisdom is the voice of God. 1 Cor. 1:30 says, “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.” There is a but at the end and it represents a vivid contrast. Verse 33 says, “But he who listens to me shall live securely and will be at ease from the dread of evil.” As we eagerly and patiently wait for Christ to return, we are the voice of Christ as we share His power and His redemption. We become the voice of wisdom, because we have the power of Christ in our lives. We don’t hide our light under a basket; we lift it high for all to see.

How to be Useful

14 Jan

Peter's BoatYou can listen to the podcast here.

Most people want to find purpose for their lives. Few people intentionally squander their life on foolish and trivial pursuits. Most Christians would say that they want to make investments that will make an eternal difference. Most would say they want to be involved, make a difference, but what steps are we taking to bring that dream into reality? If you want to make a difference, you need to allow change to come about in your life before you can move on.

Take a look at Luke 5:1-11.

This is a story of obedience. Simon was no different than us. He was trying to make a living. Trying to do what he thought he should. He had been out on the Sea of Galilee all night fishing. He returned from his fishing trip with nothing more than a dirty net. It is hard work being a fisherman, and Simon returned empty handed. He and the other fisherman stretched out their nets on the beach to clean out the sea weed, shells, barnacles, and all the other stuff that was picked up during the night. Simon was probably thinking about the next trip hoping that it would be more profitable.

This area of the Sea of Galilee is a beautiful place. The white sandy beach slopes up from the cool blue water into a hill around the cove that forms a natural amphitheater. Plants and wildlife flourish there. People in the area can grow anything because of the temperate climate. As Simon and the other fishermen were putting their freshly cleaned nets onto their boats, they heard what must have been a dull roar coming from the west. A crowd of people was coming toward him being led by a man that Simon recognized as Jesus. This was not their first meeting. In Luke 4:39, Jesus was at Simon’s house healing his mother-in-law’s high fever. Verse 1 says, “ . . . the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the Word of God.” They got close to hear the Word preached. It wasn’t a concert, but the Word of God. It wasn’t the latest, new, and improved fancy, shmancy program. Remember that at age 12, Christ was able to teach the teachers. He was able to captivate people with His words. He brought the Scriptures to life. His message was articulate and relevant. The people were inspired and moved by His message so much that He was pushed to the water’s edge.

Where was Simon? He and his buddies were in their boats watching. Jesus looks at the crowd and at the boats, and gets on Simon’s boat and asks him to “put out a little way from the land.”  Why had Jesus come to this cove at this time of the morning? Jesus wanted to see Simon. Jesus wanted Simon to hear this message. As Simon sat there, Jesus finishes His teaching and tells Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”  This was instruction to Simon alone. Notice that Jesus is not suggesting obedience; He is demanding it. Simon says, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.” Notice what Simon didn’t say. He didn’t say, “Jesus, don’t tell me how to fish.  I’m a professional.” He didn’t say, “Jesus, stick to preaching and let me do the fishing.  I know the best fishing holes on this pond.” He didn’t say, “Everybody knows that nighttime is the best time for catching fish on the Sea of Galilee.  And the best fishing is in the shallow water along the Sea’s edge, not in the deep water.” Simon didn’t ask any questions. He didn’t listen to his feelings. I’m sure he was dog-tired after fishing all night. Simon simply obeyed. Jesus was still teaching, but I don’t know if Simon caught on. It was a lesson on obedience; a lesson of purpose. This lesson was to test Simon’s usefulness; to see if he had what it took to make a difference. What was the result of Simon’s obedience? The catch was so large that Simon had to call his partners for help because the amount of fish in the nests was causing the boat to sink. Simon throws himself Jesus’ feet and says, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Notice Simon uses the word Lord. In v. 5 Simon used Master, but now uses Lord. Master simply means superintendent, but Lord is from the word that means Messiah. Simon knew.

So how do we move past uselessness to get to usefulness? There are truths and insights in this account that will help us to move to a place of usefulness; to make a difference in our world; to find purpose. The ticket to freedom is obedience. We think we know all there is to know about freedom. We want to believe that we are a liberated people. We think freedom means making our own decisions, avoiding the rules, changing the rules, even breaking the rules. People tell us, “Think for yourself, do what is right for you.” For the Christian, freedom comes through yielding our will to God and obeying His rules. Jesus summed this up by saying, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (Jo. 14:15) Obedience to Christ and His words is one of the most distinguishing marks of a Christian. For Simon, Jesus is not suggesting obedience; He demands it. You cannot be a follower of Christ without being obedient.

Obedience demands action. Listening never substitutes for action. Simon heard the message of Jesus.  He was a captive audience. But Jesus wanted Simon to do more than simply listen. He wanted him to act. James says, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (Ja. 1:22) Simon sat in the boat with Jesus and listened to His words. Simon believed in Him and it was time to act. Obedience is faith in action. It is taking the promises and provisions of Christ’s words into obedient behavior that manifests itself in service. Jesus didn’t say, “Believe in Me,” and leave it at that. He said over and over again, “Follow Me.”  In essence Jesus is saying, “Don’t just say you believe me, don’t just say you know me, don’t just say ‘I love you,’ follow me.” Peter Lord former pastor of the Park Avenue Baptist church in Titusville, FL said, “What I believe I do and the rest is just religious talk.”

Obedience calls for doing things that may not make sense. Simon was comfortable fishing at night along the shore line.  To launch out into the deep during the day is another story – that took a step of faith. Most people live in the shallow waters. They simply exist on a superficial level. There’s little depth to their lives because they’re content to just play around the edge, never going out into deeper water. Why?  Because it’s safer in shallow water. Out in the deep water there might be waves, ships, sea monsters. They might get in trouble so they’ll just stay back where it’s safe and comfortable. God’s call to obedience involves risks, involves potential failure in the eyes of others; involves faith. Only those people who are willing to follow the Lord’s lead ever really make a difference.

There was nothing logical to Simon about going out in the open sea and fishing again. It didn’t make sense. Some would say it’s dumb, but Jesus told Simon to go and the key to the whole story is when Simon says, “ . . . but I will do as You say and let down the nets.” (Lu. 5:5) The most powerful test of obedience is to do those things that don’t make sense simply because Jesus says so. Obedience in the little things leads to opportunities in the big things. The fact is that Simon obeyed Jesus. Simon obeyed when Jesus asked to use his boat for a pulpit. Simon obeyed when Jesus asked him to launch out into the deep. Because Simon obeyed, he was in a position to be used by God. Many people want to do something really big for God, to find their “ministry calling” but aren’t obeying God where they are. I think this is where most people are. We’re doing what people consider the menial and behind-the-scene tasks. If we won’t be obedient in the little things, why would God use us in the big things of life. The reality is that if we’re not finding purpose in where we are, what we’re doing now, then we’re not going to make a difference for God anywhere.

What’s keeping you from obeying? There is one object that is present throughout this story. It was the boat. The boat was at the water’s edge. Jesus preached from the boat. The miraculous catch of fish happened on the boat. Simon recognized Jesus as Messiah on the boat. Yet in the end, Simon pulls the boat to the shore and leaves it behind to follow Jesus. The boat represents Simon’s livelihood, his business, his security, his peace of mind, his future. Simon made his boat available to Jesus, and Jesus used Simon’s business as a platform for ministry. We tend to separate the secular from the spiritual. We try to partition off our Christianity from our career. But, Simon’s boat was what was keeping him from a life of total and complete obedience. His boat and what it represents was preventing him from living a fully devoted life of obedience. What about you? What’s your boat? What’s keeping you from a life of usefulness? What is standing between you and a life of obedience? What’s preventing you from making a difference for eternity sake?

Christmas Perfection

26 Nov

Check out the podcast here.

Last week we were reminded that Immanuel is God with us. We were challenged to tear down the idolatry of commercialism and consumerism and to expect a miracle. This morning we’ll get a reality check as we seek out perfection at Christmas.

The great gospel of Luke 1:30-31, 34 says, “The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’”

In the classic Christmas movie “Jingle all the Way”, Howard Langston attempted to make the season just right for his son. Howard, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, was a procrastinator and tended to put his job ahead of his family. All his son Jaime wanted for Christmas was the Turbo Man action figure and Howard promised him there would be one under the tree. Turbo Man was the hottest gift of the year and every kid wanted one too. Of course it was Christmas Eve before Howard thought about the gift. Howard was trying to make Christmas perfect for his son. To make things worse, his neighbor Tim played by Phil Hartman looked like he had planned for the perfect Christmas. He had a picturesque house filled with decorations and all the presents neatly wrapped beneath the tree. The search for that perfect gift – that perfect Christmas – led to a frenzied search mission to find Turbo Man that included fights, deception, theft, burglary, racketeering, assault, police obstruction, as well as numerous violations of traffic laws. And of course, what Christmas movie would be complete without the perfect neighbor making a play for our main character’s wife? Howard tried to make Christmas perfect, but the reality is there is no such thing. For many people, Christmas is a reminder of heartache, tragedy, and suffering. Clever marketing and Victorian Christmas traditions have replaced the biblical principle of Immanuel – God with us.

Today we have a sanitized nativity scene. Our nativity scenes often portray the parents lovingly looking down over the holy Child lying in a hay lined cradle, not a manger. In our pursuit of the perfect Christmas, we forget that Mary and Joseph were spending the night in barn – a place where animals live. Where there are animals, there’s poop. Where there’s poop, there’s insects, and smell. There was no medical treatment available and Joseph was the only support Mary had and if he’s like most of us first time dads, he didn’t have a single clue. We want this clean, picture perfect nativity with no complications, no heartache, and no trouble. We have this idea that if we sincerely love God then He will grant us serenity now. No fuss, no muss in our dainty, clean, sanitized, Christian lives.

Luke tells us it was anything but perfect, anything but simple. Lu. 1:26 tells us it was the sixth month of Mary’s pregnancy before any answer to her dilemma was made evident. “Do not be afraid, Mary,” the angel tells her in Lu. 1:30. Easy for the angel to say. Mary faces an unwanted teen pregnancy. This was different from pregnancies today. She had never been with a man. It’s easier for us to understand because we know how it ends. How easy would it have been for her parents? Joseph? The town’s people? Put yourself in Mary’s shoes; she knew the truth that no one else knew. The angel says, “Greetings, favored one. The Lord is with you.” This is where it starts for all of us. We are favored because of God’s great love; His unconditional sacrificial love. This is where Christmas begins. Not just that Christ came, but that He is still here.

Mary was favored, not perfect. It’s hard for us to comprehend unconditional love. God wants a relationship with you even if you’ve been naughty or nice. Why? Because you are highly favored. It’s easy to understand when you consider your children. You favor your kids over someone else’s kids simply because they’re yours. It doesn’t have to do with their abilities, or their aptitude, or what they look like. You favor them because they’re yours. It’s the same way with God. The favor He shows you is because of Him, not you. Being favored does not mean bad things won’t happen. Look at Mary again. As far as relationships, she had done right; had kept herself pure and she finds herself with child. Interestingly enough, nothing is mentioned of Mary’s righteousness. Even after the angel’s explanation, Mary is left asking, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Lu. 1:34) I’m pretty certain the theological implications of the baby she carried were not fully realized for some time. How many of us have been in similar situations of uncertainty where we are called on to exercise our faith? You have done all you can to remain true and pure and faithful to God and then that suddenly hits.

Think about Mary’s emotional frame of mind. God’s favor would bring a significant measure of pain and suffering to her life. We read about this miracle of life knowing that the stone was rolled away and the tomb was found empty. We look at this event through the sanitized lens of knowledge. Mary didn’t have the luxury of knowing. She shares the story with her fiancé who would obviously put her away certain she is lying after all; he had never seen or heard of any virgin becoming pregnant. She faces death by stoning for the sin of adultery. The walk of faith provides no guarantees for a neat and orderly life free from life’s suddenlies. Nowhere in Scripture does it say everything that happens to us will make sense. As a result of Jesus’ birth, King Herod ordered the execution of all male babies under two. Hebrews 11 is known as the hall of faith. Stories of great faith abound in this chapter.      What are the results of this great faith? Abel was murdered. Noah suffered 120 years of ridicule and the earth was destroyed by a flood. Abraham was ordered to sacrifice his only son. In fact, I encourage you to take the time and read Heb 11:35-12:2. How about Paul? Surely he escaped problems. Look at 2 Cor. 11:24-27 and you’ll see what he endured for the cause of Christ. Paul warned Timothy that even a desire to live godly will bring persecution. (2 Tim. 3:12)

Do any of us really count the cost of an authentic relationship with Christ when we choose Him? In his book The Present Future Reggie McNeal concluded that, “church culture in North America is now a vestige of the original movement, an institutional expression of religion that is in part a civil religion and in part a club where religious people can hang out with other people whose politics, worldview, and lifestyle match theirs.” We have rewritten the original Christmas story of pain, suffering, and loneliness to one of unrealistic perfection with a hint of cinnamon and ginger. Mary asked, “How can this be?” The angel provides the answer in Lu. 1:35, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” After that triumphant declaration – silence. No bells and whistles, no warm gooey feeling, just silence. In that silence, I wonder if doubt crept in? We can face the same thing. The Holy Spirit is with you always and particularly in life’s suddenly moments.

When we seek perfection where it does not exist, we’ll be left feeling empty and unfulfilled. We want a “G” rated Christian life in an “R” rated world. Why did God choose Mary? Look at what she said in 1:38, “And Mary said, ‘Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.” When faced with this seemingly impossible situation, Mary chose to trust and obey. May it be the same for us.

The Response

13 Feb

You can listen to the podcast here.

Last week as Jonah prayed to God from the belly of that fish, he realized what he must do. He was undone by his circumstances, at the end of his rope and cried out to God and God heard his cries. Jonah determined to look to the temple even though he believed he had been expelled from God’s sight. It’s never too late to turn from sin to God, but that doesn’t mean you’ll escape the consequences. Jonah realized this and knew that, “Salvation is from the Lord.” It wasn’t too late for Jonah. Let’s see why.

Jonah 2:10-3:2 says, “Then the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land. Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.”

Maybe Jonah thought all was lost, but God’s not finished. God is still in control of the fish and gives it one final instruction. Three days and three nights Jonah was inside that smelly, disgusting prison of his own making. It took a miraculous intervention from God to save Jonah and to get his attention. What will it take for you or for me to follow God? Have you ever prayed for a second chance? You find yourself in a place of hopelessness because you didn’t pray and now you wonder: will God give me a second chance if I pray? When that second chance is given, what will you do with it? For three days and nights Jonah wallowed around in the stomach of the fish praying, likely praying as he never had before. After Jonah prays and acknowledges that God is the author of salvation and that he needs to be obedient, the God of the universe that controls all things speaks to the fish, And it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.” The fish being fully obedient, responds the only way he can. The fish vomits. That’s an unusual word. It means eject matter from the stomach through the mouth. In Hebrew it’s used only to arouse disgust. The fish is probably happy to get rid of Jonah. Remember in 1:13 the Bible tells us that the sailors, “Rowed desperately to return to land” so it is likely they were fairly close. There is so much that is not said in these verses. How far did Jonah fly when the fish projectile vomited him? Did he kiss the sand? Was he grateful to God for His salvation? From the fish? From hell?

And so God speaks . . . again. “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time.” A second time. Don’t think casually about this. Second chances are not always given. We don’t know the time frame between hitting the sand and the word coming to Jonah again. Did he kick himself for not obeying the first time? Isn’t that what we do a lot of the time? We beat ourselves up because of sin, we lament over our inadequacies, we convince ourselves that God doesn’t want us, that He can’t use us. Jonah was in the belly of a fish because of disobedience, rebellion, and faithlessness. Jonah thought in terms of “I” and not of God. But the good news is that God forgave and re-commissioned Jonah. We’ll be quick to jump on Jonah and say he didn’t deserve a second chance, but guess what? He didn’t deserve his first chance either. None of us are deserving of what God chooses to do in us, through us, or for us. We don’t deserve to be part of His plan, to be part of His eternity. Not everyone gets a second chance. Adam didn’t get one. Neither did Cain. Or the lying prophet in 1 Kings 13. Or Ananias and Sapphira. Or Judas. The reality is that sometimes God does give us a second or third or fourth or however many chances He chooses. Our hearts should be filled with thanksgiving and awe when we do get a second chance. But it’s always best to listen the first time.

God calls out, “Jonah!” I wonder if Jonah was relieved? Sometimes when I mess up or I’m disobedient, I wonder if God’s grace is still going to be poured out on me. I wonder if God gets tired of forgiving me. That’s the marvel of God’s grace. I don’t deserve it. God chooses to lavishly pour His grace on me. Was Jonah sickened over his disobedience? I know when God chooses to use me after I fail in some way, I’m relieved.

God is very clear the second time just as He was very clear the first time. Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.” The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. Jonah got the message, “Go to Nineveh.” This time he would listen. This time he would follow God’s command. Jonah’s way didn’t work. Notice there is no condemnation for Jonah’s actions. I think Jonah understood what was going on. The word that came to Jonah was a familiar sound in Jonah’s ears. The second time God spoke though, is just a bit different than the first time. The first time God spoke to Jonah, he was told to cry out against Nineveh. This second time Jonah is told to, proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.It looks like Jonah forfeited the privilege to speak from his heart. That’s still not a bad deal. These orders were specific, but there’s something here that Jonah was guaranteed. He would receive directly from God the message that should be proclaimed. God’s revelation would continue and that’s a big burden lifted off of Jonah’s shoulders.

Even though he hated the Assyrians, he was a prophet. That may sound contrary, but Jonah was having a hard time getting passed his past. This is great encouragement to us. No matter your past or your present, God can and wants to use you. No matter what you have done, no matter your attitude, when you approach God in humility having agreed with Him regarding your sin and ask for forgiveness, you have the confidence that your sins are forgiven. The slate is washed clean. But it’s not enough just to be sorry. Matt. 3:8 says, “Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” For many people today, we’re sorry but there are no corresponding acts of service to the Lord. Don’t misunderstand; forgiveness is not dependent upon doing something. Service results from a repentant heart. For Jonah it meant responding to God’s second call to go to Nineveh.

What will you do with God’s second chance? Jonah had a good twenty-day walk ahead of him to get to Nineveh. Go and preach. It’s the same message that was given to the disciples. Our instructions are the same. Brother Andrew reminds us, “You cannot spell Gospel or God without first spelling Go.” So go. Go to your family, your friends, your neighbors and proclaim the same message that God gave to Jonah. Jesus loves you. Jesus died for you so you could live for Him.

Faith, It’s What’s for Life (Part 2)

7 Nov

You can listen to the podcast for this message here. Once again, thanks to Skip Heitzig for the heart of this message.

Last week we began to look at how God tested Abraham’s faith. If you want biblical faith, it must be tested and Abraham’s faith was tested. God told him to sacrifice his one and only son, but Abraham knew that the promises of God hinged on Isaac being alive and that presented a problem for him. Are you willing to give up what is most precious to you for God if He requires it? That’s how you know if your faith is real.

Take a look at the exciting story of Abraham and Isaac in Gen. 22:1-19.

Last week we saw that this was a real test and now look at how Abraham’s faith was triumphant. Check out v. 3. It’s interesting to read what’s not there. Nothing is mentioned about Abraham’s feelings. Feelings have become such a big deal, that they sometimes become the focal point of our lives. We want to feel good – medicines for everything. Elective plastic surgeries are soaring. We feel tired or depressed or sad and we don’t feel like doing anything – so we don’t. Abraham must have been torn up over what God had commanded him to do. Maybe it’s so obvious as to what Abraham must have been feeling, that there was no need to write it. I’m sure Abraham didn’t sleep at all wrestling with what he must do. I’m sure he asked the obvious questions, “Why now, why this, why Isaac?” Abraham rose early and got things ready. He got the donkey ready, got a couple of his young men to help, racked out Isaac and split some wood. After getting everything ready, they journeyed for three days and arrived at the place that God told Abraham to go. It gets really exciting here. Look at v. 5. Did you catch that last phrase? “We will worship and return to you.” How could Abraham make such a statement? At some point during his sleepless nights, Abraham believed, trusted, and reached a decision. When things don’t make sense, you stick to what you know about the character of God. God has never lied and can be completely trusted. Abraham had been walking with God a long time. God has been a friend. God has been a loving and compassionate God. God’s never been irrational or inconsistent. Abraham chooses to trust.

Abraham states, “We’ll be back.” How can he emphatically state that? We’ll let Scripture interpret Scripture. Hebrews 11 is what is known as the Hall of Faith. Heb. 11:17-19 tells us about Abraham. V. 19 tells us that Abraham “considered.” This is a great word. It comes from the word that means calculated, logically and mathematically concluded. It means Abraham figured it out. Abraham, “Considered that God is able.” Able literally means having the power, skill, or means to do something and that’s what Abraham concluded. So Abraham has to be thinking: God promised I would have a son and Isaac is standing right here. My son must live in order for God’s promises to be fulfilled. God’s promises of making a great nation from me, Messiah will come, all the nations will be blessed because of me. God is trustworthy; if Isaac doesn’t live, God is a liar. God’s never lied, but I have a command to sacrifice Isaac so when I do this thing, God must raise him from the dead because of His character, because of the nature of His qualities. God is faithful so somehow Isaac will live.

So now you find yourself in a similar situation, probably not similar but a very difficult and trying situation. You’re wondering is this something God wants me to do? It doesn’t make sense; it is illogical. I don’t know why God would want me to do that. We calculate, we compute; we analyze the situation based on what we know the character of God to be; on the power of God to be, and we come to a conclusion based on what we know about God and that conclusion must be that God will work it out. Abraham did just that and concluded that this situation would work out. The process was not known, but the conclusion was. The procedure was unsure, but the calculation was conclusive – God would work it out.

Look what Abraham’s sacrifice becomes. Abraham says in v. 5, “We will worship.” He became pre-occupied with God. When we’re in the middle of a trial or test, when the temperature of that trial rises, it’s easy to get pre-occupied with the temperature; with the circumstance of the trial. If we can shift away from the circumstances and get pre-occupied with God, we will survive. If we are pre-occupied with the circumstances, we become discourage, depressed, and defeated. We tend to dwell on the circumstances and never even look at the Lord, but we must focus on God. Each of us has an Isaac. At some point God may require a sacrifice. This isn’t a one-time deal. Throughout our lives, God may periodically require sacrifices. I don’t know where or when, but the trial will come. God is asking, “Are you willing? Do I have your heart?” Our society has become incredible sophisticated, but even with all of our technology, manufacturers of fine jewelry still make jewelry the same way they have for centuries. You cannot purify precious metals without fire. When the metal is put in a crucible, it melts. The impurities rise to the top and are skimmed off leaving pure metal. After the purification, the metal remains dull. In order for it to shine, it must be buffed and polished. That process requires grit and friction and it can take a while. Peter sums it up by saying, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 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.” (1 Pet. 1:6-7) Throughout the trial God asks, “Will you trust me for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, no matter what might happen?” Or will you quit? Quitting is not faith.

I am not much for poetry, but an anonymous writer penned the following:

When God wants to drill a man
And thrill a man
And skill a man,
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!
How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How he hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!
How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses
And with every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out-
God knows what He’s about!

Some of you are experiencing the hammering and the pain of testing. God is making you stronger.

Abraham’s faith was tested, his faith was triumphant and his faith was a type. Back in Heb. 11:19 it says Abraham, “received him back as a type.” Type comes from the Greek word parabole. It means parable, figure, comparison. Abraham’s experience was comparable to an event that would change the world. For years, preachers and teachers of God’s Word have compared Abraham’s trial to Jesus at Calvary. Gen. 22:2 says, “Take your son, your only son.” Some of you may be thinking, what about Ishmael? A point of correction from last week’s message. The “lad” mentioned in 21:20 refers to Ishmael not Isaac. Ishmael was the child of the flesh; Isaac was the child of promise. Sarah’s handmaiden Hagar and her son Ishmael were cast out into the wilderness. In essence, Isaac was the only son of Abraham. “Take your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah.” Interestingly, this is the first occurrence of the word love in Scripture and it has to do with sacrifice. Love means action. Jesus reminds us in Jo.14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And I’ll add, even if they don’t make sense. If you love me prove it. Abraham was told to go to the land of Moriah which is what we know as Jerusalem. We know the temple is there and that’s where Israel’s sacrifices were offered. Jerusalem sits atop Mt. Moriah and just outside of the walls of Jerusalem, the peak of the mountain is known as Golgotha, the place of the skull. It was at that place that, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering.” Verse 4 tells us, “On the third day.” Verse 6 tells us that the wood for the burnt offering was laid on Isaac. Remember that Heb. 11:19 said that Isaac was a type – a comparison.

The comparison stops here. Abraham did not sacrifice his only son that he loved at Calvary, but God did. God provided a ram in the thickets for Abraham and that ram was a substitute for Isaac. Remember Paul’s motto that we should adopt for our lives? His goal was to, “Know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” (Phil 3:10) You cannot experience the power of the resurrection until you endure the fellowship of His sufferings. Abraham endured the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings as he walked the three day’s journey to Moriah. As Abraham raised his hand to slay Isaac in v. 10, heaven must have been watching in amazement and thinking, “Man, look at how much Abraham loves God.” I am certain that as we fast forward to Calvary, heaven said, “Look how much God loves mankind.”

Are you being tested? It’s hard. Will you trust God for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health until death do you part? Tests come not because God doesn’t love you, but because He does love you. Tests come so you can grow stronger, so you can flourish, so you can live.

Faith, It’s What’s for Life (Part 1)

31 Oct

You can listen to the podcast here.

On our way to NC last week, I heard a message from Skip Heitzig that really spoke to my heart. It captured the essence of what I have been going through lately and from what people have been sharing with me, you’re going through the same things so I decided you needed to hear it too. When Kari and I got married, we recited vows to one another. We promised to love one another for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, until death do we part.

As I’ve performed numerous wedding ceremonies, I’ve asked couples to say the same type of vows. When I’ve said, please repeat after me, I wonder how many people only hear better, richer, in health. Those are the good things about marriage. There’s not a concern in the world; their future’s so bright they need to wear sunglasses. There’s little to no thought about the worse, the poor, the sickness. We say these vows because we don’t know what the future holds. Then life happens that cause strain on the relationship. Perhaps it’s issues with finances, perhaps it’s problems with relatives; maybe children come on the scene earlier than planned. The vows mean no matter what happens, we’re together. I’ll trust in you and you can trust in me. The result of these stresses is that the lifespan of marriage has gotten shorter – the commitment has gotten shallower, now about about 8 years in America. Faith in God can be like that. It can be a shallow commitment, short lived, a passing love. As long as everything is going good and right and in your favor, God is great, but as soon as life happens the shallowness of faith is revealed and the question becomes, “God where are you?” and that’s not true faith. Maybe you’re thinking of someone like this. Maybe you’re like this.

How do you know your faith is any good? You test it. How do you know if your knowledge is good? You test it. How do you know your car is safe? Test it. How do you know a medication is safe? You test it. Is faith any different? No. If your faith is real, it will stand up to any test. True faith will get stronger even in the middle of testing. That’s why God allows it to be tested – to show us where we are, He already knows. Best selling Christian author Ann Kiemel describes faith as, “Jumping out of an airplane at 30,000 feet without a parachute knowing that God will catch you. If He doesn’t, you splatter.” She adds, “But how do you know unless you jump?” Therein lies the difficulty for a lot of us. We want to know, but we don’t want to jump. We all recognize that trials are coming. Someone (I don’t know who) once said, “You’ve just gone through a trial, you’re getting ready for a trial, or you’re in a trial.” Maybe your mind is drawn to that great verse where James tells us to, “Consider it all joy my brethren when you encounter various trials.” (Ja. 1:2) That’s the reality, but to have joy? Look how James finishes the passage, “Knowing that the testing or your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

I really want you to read Gen. 22:1-19. It is vital to understanding faith.

This was a real test. We know it was a test because the text says, “God tested Abraham.” Test comes from the Hebrew word that means to prove the value or worth of something by putting it through adversity and hardship. If you’re using the KJV, you’ll see the word is translated tempt. There is a big difference between tempt and test. James 1:13 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” Satan tempts; God tests. Satan tempts you to bring out the worst in you. God tests you to bring out the best. Satan tempts you to make you fall. God tests you so that you will stand firm. So how do you know if you are being tempted or tested because it’s not always easy? It really doesn’t matter because your character is what should shine through. Think about Joseph. He was thrown into a pit by his brothers then sold into slavery to the Midianites who then sold him to Potiphar. In Potiphar’s house he was falsely accused of rape. We don’t see Joseph wringing his hands asking is this from God or from Satan? It doesn’t matter. We see that as the whole affair played out Joseph concludes, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” (Gen. 50:20) This is God at His best working things out. The 8:28 principle, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28)

For Abraham this was a test. Verse 1 tells us it was a test from God. For all of our sophistication in modern society, for all of our theological wisdom, we find it difficult to believe that God is a testing God. We like to think of God as that all loving, all caring God that is there to make us happy, to make us feel good about ourselves and testing does not fit that pattern. In fact, entire doctrines have been built around this idea. Strong men and women of faith don’t experience pain or suffering; heartaches or hardships. I just don’t see that when I study God’s Word. This was not a quiz; this was a big time test for Abraham. The essential truth in this is that if you want biblical faith – growing faith – it needs to be tested. Everyone here would love to be giants of the faith, but the only way for your faith to grow and get stronger is to test it; to put it through the fire of adversity and affliction. It won’t grow by going to the latest faith conference, by reading the latest bestselling book or the most popular blog sites, or by taking a class, but by experiencing – first hand – hardships and difficulties. At the very least, Gen. 22 teaches us that in the midst of trials, in the midst of suffering and pain, faith is enough to get you through it. Notice the first phrase in v. 1, “It came about after these things.” Even the beginning inductive Bible study student will ask himself, what things? There was a period of time between Chapter 21 and 22. The test did not come about right after Isaac was born. 21:8 mentions Isaac being weaned. 21:34 tells us that Abraham sojourned or hung out in the land of the Philistines for many days. So how old was Isaac in Chapter 22? Opinions vary from one Bible scholar to the next. Most agree that he was a teenager, maybe 14. They were your typical Jewish family. I’m sure they went on picnics, played games, worked together. I wonder if Isaac ever wondered why his parents were so much older than his friend’s. Did he ever ask why they were so old? It would bring up a great story to share. So God lays out the test in v. 2. This was really tough. God knew how special Isaac was to Abraham and Sarah. The future rests on Isaac. The nation of Israel rests on Isaac. The promise rests on Isaac.

So Abraham is faced with a dilemma. God’s promises depend on Isaac being alive; God’s command involves Isaac’s death. Does God contradict Himself? Please do not misunderstand the point of the test. The issue here is not human sacrifice. The issue is the love of God vs. the love of a son. The issue raises the question, are you willing to give up something you love for God? Are you willing to give up what is most precious to you for God if He requires it? Jesus said in Matt. 10:37, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” We all have our Isaac; that area of our life that is most precious to us; the area that we hold on to telling God everything is Yours, except that. What happens when God comes to you in that very area because he wants to strengthen you? Maybe it’s where you live. Maybe it’s your occupation. Maybe it’s a relationship. Whatever it might be, are you willing to grow stronger in your faith? Faith that is not tested is not faith at all.

Abraham’s faith was tested. Until you’re willing to fully and completely trust God in all things, you will not be the person God wants you to be. Next week we’ll see exactly what happened in the exciting conclusion to Abraham’s test. This coming week I encourage you to pray for the Isaacs of your life. Are you willing to do what God requires of you?