Looking for a Fight

argueYou can download the podcast here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wise man stays away from strife, but the fool argues about things that don’t matter. Don’t allow yourself to be baited into an argument. There are fights to fight, but this isn’t what Solomon is talking about. He’s talking about nonsensical arguments where you’re wasting breath. Be mindful of the plans others have or present to you. They may not be what they appear. Spend the time to ask the right questions. Loyalty and trustworthiness are qualities that are diminishing as we move through time. You become the person that God wants you to be. Finally, we sat the value of a godly king and the Queen of Sheba recognized that quality in Solomon.

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No Regrets

No RegretYou can check out the podcast here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Religion versus Relationship

Religion

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Last time we were in stewardship, we looked at the results of true repentance. We saw that repentance really should affect our values and our stewardship. This morning we’re going to look at a story that is told in each of the synoptic gospels. It is a story of a young man that has become known as the rich young ruler.

Mark 10:17-23 says,

 “As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!”

Here’s the setting. Mark begins in v. 17 by reminding us that Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. Some Pharisees just questioned Jesus about divorce in vs. 2-9. The disciples had follow up questions about divorce in vs. 10-12. And in vs. 13-16 we see Jesus scolding the disciples because they tried to keep the little children from coming to Him. All this to set up a somewhat strange encounter.

We see three unusual things in v. 17. “A man ran up to Him.”  Matt. 19:20 calls him young. Matt. 19:22 says he owned a lot of property so he was likely rich. Luke 18:18 calls him a ruler. That’s where we get the rich young ruler. In that culture, men did not run so it is very unusual that a man of his stature would run to Jesus. The rich young ruler, “Knelt before Him.” Again, something unusual for a ruler to kneel before someone else. Here we have a ruler of people, someone considered important; someone who owns a lot of stuff, kneeling before Jesus. The rich young ruler addresses Jesus as “Good Teacher.” In the Jewish way of thinking, only God is good and it would be quite unusual to attribute this quality to someone other than God.

1 Chr. 16:34, “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
2 Chr. 5:13, “He indeed is good for His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
Ezra 3:11, “They sang, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, saying, “For He is good, for His lovingkindness is upon Israel forever.”
Ps. 118:1, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;  For His lovingkindness is everlasting.”

Bible experts are divided on whether the rich young ruler was flattering Jesus or paying Him respect. So now the stage is set for the rich young ruler to ask Jesus a question. Here’s the question. The young man continues in his unusual fashion and asks in v. 17, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The question is unusual because the Jews would have said, “You follow the Law.” This has been the question that has been asked throughout the ages with a variety of answers. When you consider the context of the passage, it’s a fairly reasonable question for the young ruler to ask. Given what we know about this young man, it is likely he inherited his wealth rather than working for it. Perhaps this young man had heard Jesus’ teaching about the coming Kingdom. At the very least, he recognized who Jesus was. Before Jesus answers the question, He asks a question of His own: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Don’t think Jesus is denying who He is. He said in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” Jesus is simply establishing that God is the ultimate example of goodness.

Jesus points out some facts in v. 19. Jesus clearly has the upper hand being omniscient. Jesus says the ruler knows the commandments, but what exactly does that mean? The word know here means to understand or grasp. All Jesus is saying is that, yes indeed the rich young ruler knows the commandments. Remember for the Jews, they equated keeping the Law with salvation. It got really bad in Galatia and Paul told them in Gal. 3:21, “Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.” The commandments Jesus mentioned are 6, 7, 8, 9 and 5. The 10th Commandment is do not covet.  The “do not defraud” is not part of the Ten Commandments. Fraud is a practical example of covetousness and a special temptation of the rich. You notice that the commandments Jesus mentioned deal with relationships of people to each other. Obedience to these provides evidence of obedience to the other commandments –  the ones dealing with the relationships of human beings to God.

Here’s the answer. The rich young ruler offers an astounding answer in v. 20. The parallel account in Matt. 19:20 is more revealing where the young man says, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” He recognized that eternal life wasn’t a matter of keeping the letter of the Law. Jesus didn’t dispute the answer and, “felt a love for him” in v. 21. Here again Christ’s unconditional love is revealed. No matter where you are, or what you are doing, Jesus loves you. Even if you think yourself righteous apart from Christ, He loves you. Matt.19:21, “Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” The one thing the man lacked was poverty. Jesus offers a way out. Sell your stuff. Give it to the poor. Doing that would remove what was keeping the rich man from entering into a relationship with the One that could grant eternal life. Jesus was telling him to get rid of the distractions and be a follower. For this rich young man, riches were his god and that violates the 1st Commandment that says, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Ex. 20:3) The rich man silently responds in v. 22. We find Jesus’ conclusion to the story in v. 23.

A man is not saved by giving away his possessions. He becomes a Christian when he is willing to renounce anything that stands between himself and Christ. Riches make being a disciple difficult but the rewards of discipleship are worth more than material possessions. In the New American Commentary, James brooks writes, “The call is not to poverty but to discipleship, which takes many forms. Discipleship, however, is costly. It involves sacrifice. It involves obedience. It involves following the example of Jesus.”

A Tale of Two Men

TransformationYou can listen to the podcast here.

This time of year brings about lots of changes. The trees get new leaves, the flowers bloom, and the grass comes back to life. Our students took a break from school and eagerly await summer vacation. Is this what Easter has become in our culture? Is it just another day, another time of year that bridges the gap to something better? If Easter represents the risen Christ, what significance does that hold for us today?

We are in an age where simple profession of faith has replaced transformation. Churches seek the right mix of charismatic leaders to draw the crowds. Find the right mix of musicians, creative teams, and speakers and it doesn’t even have to be a Christian church. Elaborate, high energy worship services filled with emotion seem to draw the bigger crowds and people look around and conclude, “God must be doing something here.” In order to more effectively understand Easter, we need to go back in time. Does the resurrected Christ represent the same thing today as it did back in the first century? For many people in our culture, Easter is part of the semi-annual pilgrimage to church. For others, it represents the culmination of the truth that was foretold from the beginning of time. The church was growing dramatically in the first century and continues to grow at a rapid rate in countries where it is most dangerous to be a follower. I want to look at a first century man that was considered extraordinarily religious, yet was not a Christian.

This is a tale of two people. Stephen was an example of Christ like behavior and our story picks up as his life is ending. I hope you’ll take the time to look up the Scripture references. Look at Acts 7:51-57. Stephen was brought before the religious leaders of the day. They were the Sanhedrin, the elders, and the scribes and he was brought before them because of his testimony of Christ. He told them the truth about the history of Israel telling the leaders about Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and David. They had received the law yet did not keep it. This was total hypocrisy and when Stephen pointed this fact out, they became outraged. So outraged that they took him outside the city and began stoning him where we focus on a man whose story is just beginning.

Look at Acts 7:58-60. Who is this cruel, wicked, evil, heartless man that was so opposed to Stephen that he just stood there? His name was Saul. Stephen and Saul were polar opposites. Stephen is full of the Holy Spirit and Saul is without the Spirit. But Saul is more than an innocent bystander. Keep reading Acts 8:1-3. There was no coercion for Saul, he heartily agreed with what was happening. Heartily means loudly vigorous and cheerful. Think cheering like at a sporting event. The persecution of the church in Jerusalem began that day at the hands of Saul forcing Christians to scatter and Saul begins, “ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.” Ravaging means to cause extensive damage, to devastate. Saul wasn’t content to do this in public settings; no he went in people’s homes and dragged them out and it didn’t matter if they were men or women, he was an equal opportunity hater. To say that he was evil incarnate might be an understatement. But something happened in his life that would change the course of his life and change the course for humanity. Read some more from Acts 9:1-22.

Saul is an example of a total life make over. I want to compare his life prior to Christ with his life following his decision to follow Christ. The key for Saul was written in v. 18, “And he got up and was baptized.” We have to understand the biblical meaning of this word. It wasn’t just that he got put under the water. Biblical baptism comes after a change of mind and heart. It is the outward demonstration of what happened in Saul’s heart. It was a miracle. When you look at Saul’s life, there was a complete and total transformation that could only be attributed to the power of the Spirit of God. Look what happened immediately following Saul’s baptism. Read Acts 9:19b-22. Saul went from destroying Christians to preaching the risen Christ. What he was saying so upset the religious crowd – the Jews – that they developed a plot to kill him. The tables are now turned on Saul. The hunter now becomes the hunted.

In order to protect him, look what happens in Acts 9:26-30. We don’t hear anything about Saul until Acts 11 when Barnabas was sent to get him in Tarsus. Are you thinking, that’s just two chapters over? Even though it’s just two chapters, those two chapters represent about 14 years. Another year passes before the Bible calls this man Paul in Acts13:9. We don’t know all that went on in those silent years of Paul’s life, but I’m sure he knew firsthand the meaning behind 1 Cor. 2:14 as he wrote, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” We often think that Saul got saved, God changed his name to Paul and he packed his bags and began his first missionary journey. That just isn’t so. There was a period of years where he must have studied the Scriptures with fresh insight and renewed vigor. We know he taught some and shared the Gospel during that time. He was preparing for ministry during the time he was engaged in ministry. We do get insight that God had big plans for Paul from Acts 9:15, but for about 15 years, Paul did what he could where he could. Paul had a lot of baggage and I’m sure people had their doubts about his authenticity. This is evident in his later writings. Paul mentions his turnaround I his letters to the Corinthians, the Galatians, the Philippians, and to Timothy.

There was such a radical transformation in Paul’s life that after his first recorded sermon (which was off the cuff) in Acts 13, the people begged him to speak again the following Sabbath. Look at Acts 13:42-44. That kind of turnaround can only be attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul went from being a persecutor of the church to one that was persecuted because of his faith. Why should we expect less of modern day people that are indwelt by the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead that we celebrate today? One last passage from Phil. 3:3-6. You see, Saul was very religious, but had no relationship with Christ. His attempts to get to God were fruitless because Jesus said, I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (Jo. 14:6) That’s the key to get to God. Saul resisted Jesus for the same reason we resist Jesus. We think we can make it on our own. We think we make the rules, we think we’re doing good and right in our own eyes. Easter is about the resurrection. 1 Cor. 15:17 says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” Easter is about acknowledging what Christ did on our behalf and trusting that His words are true.

The teaching of Jesus was countercultural and it still is. We talk about self sufficiency and Christ speaks of total dependence. Living authentically for Christ is the best way to show others He is alive. Saul was a religious zealot, Paul considered himself the chiefest of sinners. That can only be accomplished through the work of a holy and perfect God. We don’t see a period where he did nothing for Jesus, we don’t see a period where he was too busy to serve, too busy to study, pray, or be with fellow believers. We don’t see where he ever quit or gave up when things got hard or didn’t go as expected. For all the incredible things Paul did through the power of God, his main purpose in life, his main goal is found in Phil. 3:7-11. It should be our goal too.

Does Conversion Mean Change?

ArrowYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we looked at the parable of the minas. We learned that Jesus will hold us accountable for stewardship; He’ll reward faithfulness and judge disobedience. Every one of us, every child of God is to do God’s business until He comes back. This morning we’ll ask the question “When a person genuinely turns to the Lord, should that change their approach to money?” In what ways does a real relationship with God impact our values?

I encourage you to take the time and turn to Luke 3:10-14.

Here’s the back story. John has come on the scene and is preaching in the area of the Jordan River. We need to take a look at John’s view of salvation. To keep it in context, Lu. 3:3 says, “And he [John] came in to all the district around the Jordan preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.” Repentance literally means change of mind. For John, salvation meant change and it should mean change for us too. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Cor. 5:17) John preached about turning away from sin and to God. This change is not only possible when you have a relationship with Christ, it is expected.

In v. 7, John calls a group of people vipers. That seems pretty harsh given his message of forgiveness in Christ. Vipers are poisonous. You need to stay away from poisonous  snakes. They are dangerous. John is really asking them, “Who told you that getting baptized will protect you from the coming wrath?” John’s implied answer is, “Not me!” He is addressing insincere converts, people who have a salvation that is in words only. Maybe they’re caught up in emotion.  Maybe they’re friends are doing it. Maybe they’re out to get something. The real reason these vipers are coming is not stated, but John is very clear about why he speaks about a, “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” according to v. 3. Verse 8 tells the story: “Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.” There are certain things that must happen following true conversion. Baptism and holy living go hand in hand. Baptism is the outward expression of what occurred inside.

It has become far too simple in the church today. People claim to know Jesus Christ, yet there is no change in their lives. Salvation involves a total change of mindset, life, and direction. John says to, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” Lu. 6:43-45 says, “For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” Back in Lu. 3:8 John says, “Do not begin to say ‘We have Abraham as our father.’” In Jo. 8:37 Jesus said, “I know that you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you.” In other words, if there is no repentance, it doesn’t matter who your daddy is. John brings this sobering line of reasoning to a close by saying, “Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Lu. 3:9)

John goes on to provide some practical instructions. In v. 10 the crowds ask John, “Then what shall we do?” John told them that real repentance brings forth good fruit that result from a change of heart. Don’t think John is talking about a salvation based on works. To demonstrate that, John says in v. 11, “The man who has two tunics is to share with him that has none, and he who has food is to do likewise.” Clothing and food are consistent with 1 Tim. 6:8 that we saw in part 1 of this series. This instruction is consistent with O.T. teachings found in Job, Isaiah, and Ezekiel. Any real faith must have social concern for the poor and unfortunate. Caring for the poor among us is a common theme in Luke’s writings. Lu. 6:30, “Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.” Lu. 12:33, “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys.” Lu. 18:22, “When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Repentance results in change. According to Luke, this change should involve possessions.

The tax collectors ask John the same question in v. 12, What shall we do?”     This is really interesting. Being a tax collector was synonymous with sin. Regarding church discipline in Matt. 18:17, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Jesus compared someone unrepentant with a tax collector. The gospel message is not just for some people. People say God can’t or won’t save me because of  . . . . you fill in the blank. Tax collectors were some of the most despised people in the community. Their testimony in a court of law wouldn’t be accepted. These tax collectors were Jews that worked for the Roman government; they collected more than was owed. We would call them thieves, but even thieves can repent. What are they to do? “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to” (Lu. 3:13) Notice they didn’t have to quit their job, just become honest.

The final group, the soldiers ask John, “And what about us? What shall we do?” These soldiers were likely Jews who signed up for military service or were conscripted by the government. They received little pay, but could force people to give them money. John says, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.” Like the tax collectors, the soldiers were charged to become honest.

 

What’s this all mean? According to John, repentance is not confined to religious acts or private life. True repentance impacts your work; it impacts your private and public life.

Therefore, true repentance impacts your stewardship. No matter who you are, you are to share what you have with others. No matter who you are, you’re to be honest in your business and private dealings. That’s the power of Christ’s transformation of the heart.

Peter’s Science Lesson

ScienceYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week Peter told us that mockers would come. People that follow after their own sensuality and criticized the return of Jesus Christ. This morning, Peter explains to us what happens when mockers (and really anyone) hold to a view that maintains that God is not involved in the day to day lives of humanity and the affairs of His creation.

2 Peter 3:5-7 says, “For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”

Peter offers three arguments to support God’s creation. I love the way Peter quickly reviews Genesis. “When they maintain this” refers back to v. 4. This is the worldview that God is a hands off God; that He set the world in motion and then stepped away. The premise of the mockers is a contradictory statement in itself. Gen. 1:2 says, “The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” When God created the world, it was uninhabitable for man, beasts, and plants. Are you wondering why God created a world that couldn’t sustain life? He did it to show His level of care and concern for His ultimate creation. He would use His creation to point men to Him. Rom. 1:20 says, For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” If it wasn’t for God’s involvement after the world was created, we couldn’t be here. That’s why Peter reminds us of the words of the prophets and apostles. When we forget what they wrote, say in Genesis, you come up with all sorts of nonsense like the big bang theory, atheistic or theistic evolution, the gap theory and so on.

When you read the words of the holy prophets and the apostles, you’ve got to remember your science classes. The 1st Law of Thermodynamics states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed only altered in form. The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics states that things left on their own will tend toward more disorder, entropy increases. I tell you this because it’s consistent with Scripture and contradicts the very argument the mockers are making. If it weren’t for God’s continual involvement, the world would naturally tend to chaos and disorder. Bill Nye the Science Guy said, “If we raise a generation of students who don’t believe in the process of science, who think everything that we’ve come to know about nature and the universe can be dismissed by a few sentences translated into English from some ancient text, you’re not going to continue to innovate.” A recent YouGov poll revealed that 37% believe God created us in our present form. But most Amercans fall into the same belief system as the mockers. 21% of Americans believe in strict evolution. 25% believe God controlled the evolution process. To that I say nonsense. It was nonsense to mathematician Blaise Pascal, to astronomer Johannes Kepler, chemist Robert Boyle, physicist Isaac Newton, and mathematical physicist Lord Kelvin all who staunchly believed in a biblical creation and are credited with developing modern science. How much time and money could we save if we simply remembered the words of the holy prophets and apostles? When these mockers maintain that unbiblical account of the world, “It escapes their notice.” The phrase literally means to forget or lose sight of its significance. When you deny a literal creation, you deny the significance of God’s love, care, and involvement in His creation.

How did the earth happen? It didn’t just happen. In his first argument Peter says, “By the word of God, the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water.” The mockers believed in creation, but their thoughts and conclusions following that were wrong. On the History Channel show Mountain Men, the narrator stated the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains were once the same size, but 100 million years of erosion had worn down the Appalachians – I wonder why the Rockies didn’t erode. Ps. 33:6, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host.” Heb. 11:3, “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.” The phrase, “Was formed out of water and by water” is an interesting one. If we go back to Gen. 1:2, we’re reminded that, “The Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” Without God’s involvement, earth was in chaos and disorder. As we learned from the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, things just can’t get organized on their own. So look what happens in vs. 6-10. All this was accomplished by God speaking.

Peter continues his debunking of the mockers who say God is hands off. God was involved at the beginning and continues to be involved. Out of the water and back into the water is the essence of Peter’s second argument. Through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.” Peter mentioned the flood in the last chapter and he mentions it again here. For a time reference, the flood occurred about 1320 years after Adam died. The waters in which the dry land was formed and the land that was flooded both occurred through God’s word. The flood was not just the most cataclysmic natural disaster ever known, it was judgment from God because the wickedness of man was great. God is not a hands off God – He will always judge evil.

Peter’s third argument is about what is coming. But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” False teachers may be here with their false teaching and mockers may be here doing their mocking, but the Word of God is true. Judgment is coming because God is involved. God does care about humanity and part of that caring is giving people every opportunity to repent and turn to Him before judgment comes. The judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah was limited to those cities. Even the flood affected only the earth. This future judgment will be like creation; it will affect the heavens and the earth. It will be accomplished by the power of God’s word. But it won’t be accomplished with water. God will use fire because of His promise in Gen. 9. The rainbows we see are a reminder of this promise. Destruction is being held at bay by the power of God. Remember things will move to disorder without God’s involvement. The fire of God’s judgment against the ungodly is coming.

What does this have to do with you? You can be ready with an answer for people that say God doesn’t care what goes on here. He does care, and we have to trust that He has His finger on the pulse of all humanity. We need to tell people the hope that we have. We need to tell people the answer they need to hear. We need to live by what we know.

Godly Math

MathCheck out the podcast here.

Last week we saw some sweet promises of God that enable us to partake in God’s divine nature. We have escaped the corruption of this world and we have been granted everything we need pertaining to life and godliness. This morning we’re going to study some arithmetic in a message called godly math.

2 Pet. 1:5-7 says, Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.”

Here’s why I’ve called this godly math. This passage is directly linked to vs. 3-4 where Peter said, “Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” Peter challenges believers to live a life that reflects the godliness of Christ because we have the sweet promises of God. We have the divine power of God and it would be a grave mistake to dismiss the call to holy living as legalism. We are to be holy because Christ is holy. We are called by God’s glory and excellence to holy living, holy behavior, a holy lifestyle. The holiness God expects is grounded in the finished work of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross. We are saved by grace through faith. Grace comes first – godliness comes after. When you attempt godliness without that grace, salvation is reduced to works and true godliness never materializes. That being said, we do have a responsibility to, “Apply all diligence.” Godly character doesn’t just happen. You don’t get it by sitting back and waiting. You must work at it.

So what is our responsibility? Peter makes the assumption that you are a child of God. You made the decision to be a follower of Christ and as a result, you are  called a Christian. In Acts 11:26, “The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.” What’s significant about this is that they were called Christians. They didn’t come up with that name on their own. The community saw them, saw their actions, their lifestyle, and concluded they were followers of Christ. People outside of the church – lost people – know how Christians are supposed to act. Not to be saved, but because we are saved. Don’t live your life in a manner that would cause people to make the false conclusion that there is no God. Peter offers a list of Christian virtues or high moral standards. The chain of virtues begins with faith. It’s the same faith Peter mentioned in v. 1. Faith recognizes what God did for us through the work of Christ. It is a personal faith. All the godly virtues in this Christian life are rooted in faith, in trusting God for everything. So you start with faith and now add, “moral excellence.” Outstanding goodness. Remember the excellence Peter mentioned in v. 3? It comes from the same word that is used to describe what God calls believers to. He provides what you need. So when moral excellence is demonstrated, it can attributed to God.

To your moral excellence add, “knowledge.” In his first letter, Peter spent significant time combating the false ideas of the Gnostics that claimed knowledge was the ultimate enlightenment. Peter refuted that idea and clearly stated that our behavior must reflect our God. The Gnostic’s knowledge didn’t result in a change in behavior. They were ever learning, but never came to the truth. (2 Tim. 3:7) Knowledge must be present and increasing in your life. The writer of Hebrews says, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” (Heb. 5:12) Paul puts it like this in 1 Cor. 14:20, “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.” As you mature in Christ, you should be getting more and more knowledgeable. Pro. 15:14 says, “The mind of the intelligent seeks knowledge, but the mouth of fools feeds on folly.”

Now let’s add some, “self control.” Paul said you received self control as a fruit of the Spirit in Gal. 5:23 so you have it. In his first letter Peter said, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance.” (1 Pet. 1:14) The idea is you are able to control your sinful desires. The thought that it doesn’t matter what you do because we are under grace and not the Law is absolute nonsense.

Add some, “perseverance.” Or we could call it endurance. Paul mentions this quality at least eight times. It’s mentioned in Hebrews, James, and Revelation as well. It’s the don’t give up and don’t quit quality. Isn’t it interesting how people who really can’t sing think all those professionals don’t know what they’re talking about and so they’re going to keep going and make it big to show them up? Isn’t it funny to see how parents will make their kids keep going when they want to quit dance, or scouts, or sports, or some club they committed to? But these same people won’t pray because they tried it once and it didn’t work. These same people won’t go to church because the last time they went, no one spoke to them. These are the same people that won’t share Jesus with their family member because they did that once and the world wasn’t transformed. Christianity is a lifelong marathon not a sprint. Hey discouraged Christian, keep going!

Add some, “godliness.” This shouldn’t be too tough because, “His divine power has granted us everything pertaining to life and godliness.” Even though we have been given everything for godliness, we still must pursue it. Godliness refers to living a life that is like God. I like to call this quality authenticity. It’s a common theme throughout the New Testament.

Add, “brotherly kindness” in the mix. This is the love believers are supposed to demonstrate toward one another. This is the kind of love common in the family of God. That’s why moving to a new location is easier for us. We find a local church and we have a readymade family. Now the culmination that sets us apart from everyone else is, “love.” The mark of a real faith is love. In Gal. 5:6 Paul said, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.” Jesus said love is the second greatest commandment next to loving God.

Are these qualities present in your life? Are you growing in Christ or stagnant in your faith? Peter’s assumption is that they are working and developing and demonstrated in our lives. Let’s not just talk about loving God and others, let’s actually demonstrate in a consistent manner.