God is Always on the Throne

Check out the podcast here.

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.

Advertisements

I Did It My Way

Frank

Check out the podcast here.

Last week Solomon talked about sacrifice. There are prescribed methods to sacrifice laid out in the Old Testament that have far reaching implications in the New Testament and for us today. The sacrifices of the wicked are not pleasing to God because they’re simply going through the motions of sacrifice without a transformed heart. We’re to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to the Lord. This morning, Solomon talks more about the wicked and how they really are and he minces no words.

Proverbs 15:9-11 says, The way of the wicked is an abomination to the LordBut He loves one who pursues righteousness.  Grievous punishment is for him who forsakes the way; he who hates reproof will die. Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord, How much more the hearts of men!”

Let’s get right to it. Solomon is a pretty straight forward guy when he says, “The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but He loves one who pursues righteousness.” This seems totally contrary to those people, even in the church, that says God loves everyone and He just wants us happy. In this verse, we have a very clear contrast in how God feels about two groups of people. Last week we focused on the sacrifices of the wicked and didn’t spend any time on how God viewed those sacrifices. It’s not that the sacrifices weren’t the right ones necessarily; it’s because they were offered as outward gestures only. It’s like putting a band-aid on an infected cut. You’ve got to treat the infection.

Abomination is a tough word to define, but it conveys the idea of rotting flesh. Think about food left in a refrigerator for a few weeks with no power.       Think about fish carcasses left in a cooler. Think about meat left outside in the sun or road kill that has maggots crawling all in it. The odor is overpowering and so thick you can taste it. Now you’re getting a sense of what abomination means. “The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord.” The way indicates lifestyle, habits, outside actions, and inner thoughts. This is who they are and that’s why they are an abomination. It’s not that God doesn’t love them as a person. So you’re asking how can such harsh words be spoken by Solomon on behalf of God? Do your kids ever do anything that is detestable to you? Have they ever acted in a manner contrary to your rules? Have they ever been disobedient? Thoughtless? Careless? Have they ever done something their own way instead of the way you prescribed? Of course you still love them. We wrongly conclude that just because God hates something, that somehow contradicts His love. Paul said in Rom. 5:8, But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners,  Christ died for us.” The only way to be set free from wickedness is through the power of the Holy Spirit through salvation. The wicked do it their way and that is not acceptable to God.

There is an important principle I don’t want you to miss. The contrast to the wicked is that God, “loves one who pursues righteousness.” Pursue means follow after. There is an understanding by the writers of Scripture that when you pursue righteousness, you will grow more and more like Christ. That righteousness will get noticed by God and by people following God. Let me tell you about two men from the olden days: one named Paul and the other named Timothy. When you look at how they met in Lystra, it’s pretty exciting. There are people that believe Paul led Timothy to the Lord, but Scripture doesn’t support that. Acts 16:1-2 says, “Paul also came to Derbe and Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium.” The brethren of Lystra, the followers of Christ, spoke well of Timothy – he was already a disciple; a follower of Christ. That’s why Paul wanted Timothy to go with him as he continued his second missionary journey. Then in his first letter to Timothy, Paul gives him instructions for what to do because he will be left in Ephesus as Paul makes his way to Macedonia. As Paul gets to chapter six, he goes into some character qualities that are not consistent with the way of Christ. In 1 Tim 6:11 Paul says, “But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.” Pursue is an action word. Timothy is ordered to pursue, to run after, to seek after those godly characteristics with the idea that you will get increasingly closer to the goal. It’s a non-stop activity. In Phil. 3:13 Paul said, “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.” Paul wrote those words about 30 years after his conversion to Christ. We have a mindset that everything should come quickly. Paul was still reaching forward, was still pursuing, was not quitting even after decades of faithful service to Christ. God loves that quality in us. He loves when we keep going. He loves how we get more and more like His one and only Son.

There is a but. While God loves those that pursue righteousness because the idea is you are running after Jesus, there is an alternate reality for many people. “Grievous punishment is for him who forsakes the way; he who hates reproof will die.” Notice who the punishment is reserved for. He expects us to pursue righteousness, but these people are forsaking the way. Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matt. 7:13-14) Few people will find the way. There are many reasons for that and ultimately, the choice is an individual choice. I wonder if we put as much effort into persuading people to live for Christ as we did to persuade people to vote for a certain candidate, how would our communities change? I wonder if we put as much effort into our relationship with Christ as we did our jobs, how would our community change? I wonder if we put as much effort into our walk with Christ as we did anything else on this earth, how would our lives be different and also, how would the lives of those around us be different? Few people find the way of Jesus because we have professing believers not living for Jesus. Yes, everyone has a decision to make, but Solomon is saying the, “grievous punishment is for those that forsake the way.” That means they must know what the way is, they just don’t want anything to do with it. When you point it out, the wicked hate it. God wants a relationship with everyone and as Peter says, The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9)

While that is true, there will be people – many people – that reject the truth of Jesus Christ. “Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord.” It would be easy to conclude that Solomon is talking about the destination of the wicked and at first glance that’s what I thought. We’ve got to look at this in the context of the chapter. Sheol is a Hebrew word to identify the place of the dead whether righteous or wicked. Job 26:6 says, “Naked is Sheol before Him, and Abaddon has no covering.” Solomon is saying that God knows what’s going on in every corner of every place. There are no limits to His presence; nothing is hidden from Him. Since this is true, Solomon concludes, “How much more the hearts of men!” The heart is the seat of emotion, the center of our being, and the source of what comes out in our life. Matt. 15:19, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” You can’t fool God.

Everything about the wicked is a stench to God. Of course God wants everyone to come to the conclusion that He is the only way and choose to follow Him. His ways are right and holy and pure, but time is running out. There is a time coming that will be too late, where the choice made is an eternal choice. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thes. 4:16-18)

You can do it your way and spend eternity separated from Him or do it His way and spend eternity with Him. It seems like it’s an easy choice.

Sacrificial Death and Life

LambYou can check out the podcast here.

Last week Solomon said discipline helps us get back on the correct path. Fools reject that correction. When you’re being corrected, regardless of your age, look for God in that correction. The treasures of God don’t always equate to money so don’t be fooled into thinking wealth equals righteousness or poverty equals wickedness. Solomon said one of the greatest legacies we can leave is to have used the opportunities God provided to share the truth of who He is and how much He loves people. That’s called discipleship and should be at the forefront of your mind. This morning, Solomon talks about sacrifice.

We’ll only look at one incredible verse found in Pro. 15:8 that says, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is His delight.”

Good intentions mean nothing. Americans are a pretty charitable group of people. We have national programs to enable us to easily give to our favorite charities. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Combined Federal Campaign. In 2014, Americans gave $358.38 billion to charity. That equates to $2974 per household. Is that what Solomon is talking about in this verse? He says, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is His delight.” This verse is a lot deeper than it appears at first glance. We have two people contrasted here: the wicked and the upright. Sacrifice depends on what’s going on in the heart. Mindless sacrifice is not what God wants. You’ve heard me talk about the principle of first mention in Scripture. When we look at the first usage of the word worship in Scripture, we go all the way back to Genesis. Gen. 22 tells the account of Abraham’s test from God. I encourage you to take a look at the story in Gen. 22:1-5. If you think Abraham didn’t intend to actually sacrifice his son, Heb. 11:19 says, “He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead.”

Sacrifices were an extremely important part of worship for the Jewish people. There was a whole system of sacrifices to atone for the sins of the people. While there were several occasions to offer sacrifices; the two general types were animal or non-animal. Hands were laid on the sacrifice for the one needing atonement, whether it was for an individual, family, or a nation. When an animal was sacrificed, the animal always died as a part of the sacrifice.  We saw Abraham offering a sacrifice of a ram following the test with Isaac. After Jacob worked out his differences with Laban, he offered a sacrifice to God. As time went on, sacrifices were to be made by priests and only in the temple. The process in which sacrifices were made were extremely specific. I want you to read Lev. 1. Did you see the detail in the procedure? God is very specific in how we are to offer sacrifices. As part of the sacrificial system, the offering became the guilty party and the sacrifice atoned for the sin. Atone means at one. In other words, because of the sacrifice, the guilty was made at one with God at the expense of the sacrifice. Sometimes sacrifices don’t turn out so well because of the attitude in which they are offered. Jer. 6:20, “For what purpose does frankincense come to Me from Sheba and the sweet cane from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable and your sacrifices are not pleasing to Me.” Amos 5:22, “Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings,  I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings.” Hosea 6:6, “For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” The people had to approach God in the manner God set forth, not in their own way.

So what’s the implication for today? After the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., the Jewish people were in a quandary and remain so to this day because there is no place to offer atonement for the people. But something happened prior to 70 A.D. that changed the course of history. When the Apostle John was baptizing in the Jordan, he saw Jesus walking toward him and declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jo. 1:29) Jesus Christ was the ultimate sacrifice to redeem mankind. Heb. 9:11-12 says, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” Christ’s sacrifice made us at one with God for eternity. We no longer need to make sacrifices because the sacrifice of Christ is complete. Heb. 9:27-28, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without  reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.” That’s why we don’t need a physical temple to conduct sacrifices. According to Matt. 27:51 following Jesus’ death on the cross, “The veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” The place where only the High Priest could go was now removed. Paul asked this question to the believers in Corinth, Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20)

So what is Solomon talking about? When Solomon talks about the sacrifice of the wicked, he’s talking about external sacrifice. He’s talking about going through the motions without a heart that is at one with God. In Rom. 12:1 Paul says, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service of worship.” The word for sacrifice is the same word used to describe animal sacrifices. That sacrifice has to be acceptable to God. That means it must be done the way God expects it to be done. We cannot approach God in sacrifice – in worship – the way we want to approach God. Ps. 51:17 says, The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” In the days of ritual sacrifice, the sacrifice was totally and completely consumed by fire. Since God established the method and manner in which sacrifices were offered and Paul says we’re to be a living sacrifice, shouldn’t we, therefore, be consumed by God? Shouldn’t we be consumed by Jesus Christ?   In Paul’s thinking, that’s what’s reasonable which means well pleased. God expects us to be consumed by Him. The wicked sacrifice on the outside only. The wicked do not adhere to the prescribed method of sacrifice. “The prayer of the upright is His delight.” That’s what’s in the heart. God wants authenticity in our walk of faith.     

When Saul was king of Israel, he was told by God’s prophet to, “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) Verse 9 goes on to say, “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.” Remember God is very particular when it comes to following what He says. 1 Sam. 15:22, “Samuel said, “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.” The wicked do things they want to do because they are wicked. You cannot approach a holy and perfect God the way you want to. He has laid out His expectations for us in His Word.

All we have to do is follow it. You cannot sacrifice in the manner you prescribe and ignore what God demands. Too many people in the church are simply going through the motions without the consuming power of Christ and to God that is an abomination. So a fair question is, do you approach God in the manner that is convenient for you, or do you approach God in the manner He prescribes?

The Effectiveness of Christ’s Death (Part 1)

In previous verses Peter has given specific behavior characteristics that Christians are to exemplify, he has told us how to behave under persecution, and he has provided some practical applications. Remember that Peter wants us to act in a godly manner regardless of the circumstances so that people will be drawn to us and ask us why we have hope. In this morning’s passage, Peter continues his instructions on how to act in adversity.

Take a look at 1 Pet. 3:16-20.

Peter begins by telling us to stay pure. Specifically, “Keep a good conscious.” Conscious literally means the judgment of the mind respecting right and wrong; or the judgment which the mind passes on the morality or immorality of its own actions, when it instantly approves or condemns them. Some may call that conscious a moral sense. By nature every man approves or condemns his own acts. Today we have what is called moral relativism. This is the idea that there are no absolutes when it comes to morality; there is no standard. What is wrong for you may or may not be wrong for someone else. In the world today, there are people that would influence you to depart from what we know is the truth.

In describing her view on morality, the President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America once stated, “…teaching morality doesn’t mean imposing my moral values on others. It means sharing wisdom, giving reasons for believing as I do – and then trusting others to think and judge for themselves.”  She claims to be morally neutral, yet her message is clearly intended to influence the thinking of others… an intention that is not, in fact, neutral. In a 2002 Fox News column, Bill O’Reilly asked “Why is it wrong to be right?”  In his article, O’Reilly cited a Zogby poll regarding what is being taught in American universities.  Studies indicate 75% of American college professors currently teach that there is no such thing as right and wrong.  Rather, they treat the questions of good and evil as relative to “individual values and cultural diversity.”  The problem with this, according to O’Reilly, is that “they see the world not as it is, but as they want it to be.”

So many Christians follow these departures because they don’t know the truth. Some would argue that there can be no absolute truth. Some would argue that the Bible is not relevant for today, not accurate, not applicable for today’s complex society. Our cultural standard says it’s okay to take the life of an unborn child. Society says that deviant behavior is the result of a broken home or a dysfunctional   family. Some would say only parts of the Bible are true, that there are many fables contained within it. According to George Barna, 46% of all born again Christians believe that Satan is not real, but is only a symbol of evil. 37% of born agains believe you can be good enough to get to heaven. 35% of Non-evangelical born agains (oxymoron) align themselves with the republican party while 42% percent call themselves Democrats. We have become a church that does not know the truth, does not embrace the truth, and does not live the truth. Remember these sobering words of the prophet Isaiah, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”  (Is. 5:20)

Peter finishes v. 16 by saying, “Keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.” Notice that he doesn’t say “If” he says, “in the thing in which you are slandered.”  Peter is saying it’s going to happen.  People will speak evil against you. Slander is not a good word.  In no context can it mean anything but ugly, mean, and hateful. Slander is an untruthful oral (spoken) statement about a person that harms the person’s reputation or standing in the community. Slander is always a lie.  Someone who would slander you does it with the intention of causing damage to your reputation. No one likes to be talked to or treated in a disrespectful manner, but people will say things to you because of what you stand for. Matt. 5:11 says, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.” Luke 6:26 says, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.” Look at Peter’s expectation for us.  “. . . those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.” Peter expects Christians to act in a certain manner. Remember vs. 8-9 that he just spoke? Those that “revile (assail with abusive language) your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.” They may see that they have misunderstood your conduct and regret that they have treated you as they have. We should expect, if we are faithful and true, that even our enemies will appreciate our motives, and do us justice. They may accuse you of insincerity, hypocrisy, dishonesty, or anything else, but the time will come when they will see their error and do you justice. Don’t focus on what they appear to be getting away with. The Psalmist provides some comfort in Ps. 37:5-13. I hope you’ll take time to read it and let the peace of the Scriptures wash over you.

We need to stay pure and we need to stay focused. Peter writes in v. 17, “For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.” It is better, more advantageous, to suffer when we do right.  Peter is talking in the context of doing right in Christ. There is no honor in suffering for doing wrong. You cannot claim the glories of the Lord when you are punished for doing wrong. Sometimes we suffer or are persecuted for doing what is right. This is what Peter is talking about. When you take a stand on the truth and suffer some type of ill consequences, Peter says it is better. There are effects accomplished by affliction that can be achieved in no other way. Some of the happiest results on the soul of a Christian, some of the strongest character traits are the direct result of trials we endure. What doesn’t kill us will make us stronger. James says is this way, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” (Ja. 1:12) Could the Lord give us a life free from pain, suffering, affliction, hardship, trials, and temptations? Sure He could, but how would that help us to relate to people who suffer? How would our faith grow stronger?

The hope we have is found in Jesus Christ. I hope you’ll turn to Him for your comfort and your peace.

The Lord’s Supper

You can listen to the podcast for this message here.

I encourage you to read Ps. 51:1-17 that details how David responded when Nathan confronted him about his sin. He was horrified at what he had done and begged God to cleanse him. Sometimes I believe we take for granted what God did through Christ for us. Sin is a horrible thing that separates us from God. Romans 6 is an incredibly foundational truth for us that are followers of Christ. Before we made the decision to be a follower of Christ, we were slaves to sin. One of the keys for this present day is found in verse 6. We are no longer slaves to sin. We were slaves to sin, but Jesus Christ has freed us from sin’s bondage. We should be actively engaged in serving Christ.

The Lord’s Supper is very significant on our lives and the life of the church. “And they continued steadfastly in the … breaking of bread.” (Acts 2:42) In the early days of the church the breaking of bread was part of a regular meal. Since then it has come to be known as the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. The importance of the Lord’s Supper should never be overestimated. It declares our fundamental beliefs about Christ and His church. It is not only a service of celebration, but of consecration. We not only celebrate the life, death, resurrection, and return of the Savior, but we dedicate ourselves afresh as we identify with the body He gave and the blood He shed, symbolized by the bread and the juice. 2 Cor. 13:5 says, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you unless indeed you fail the test?” Paul says test yourselves. This test is specific. It’s a test to see if you are in the faith. There’s a test for that? The only way to pass a knowledge test is to demonstrate your knowledge. Does your life reflect the glory of the Lord? Is there evidence in your life to demonstrate that you are an authentic child of God? Participating in the Lord’s Supper is reserved for those that have made a decision to be a follower of Christ. There is no minimum age, but I would encourage parents to use this as an opportunity to teach younger ones.

The most common passage used outside of the gospels is found in 1 Corinthians 11:23-34. Just before saying this, Paul was talking about unity in the church. There were some divisions in the church between the haves and the have nots. Some who were better off would partake of the supper and perhaps others that were not so well off weren’t able to eat. That’s why in v. 22 Paul said, “Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink?” In this passage Paul uses a phrase that troubles many people.  It is, “eats in an unworthy manner” in v. 27. We can’t take this phrase alone; we must take it in context with the rest of the passage. It’s connected to the but in v. 28. There is no expectation of perfection . . . only examination. It’s a balance. If we really evaluate ourselves based on Christ’s standard, none of us is worthy to partake in the Lord’s Supper. That’s why we don’t partake in our own power, but in the power of what Christ did for us. We approach God because of the sacrifice Christ made on our behalf. This supper is to remember that sacrifice.

The Leaders who Missed Christmas

You can listen to the podcast for this message here.

Here we are in the Christmas season again. I wonder how many will miss the reason we celebrate Christmas? Even Christians who are pressed to the max with school parties, work parties, church parties, neighborhood parties, decorating, baking, and shopping for presents are prone to miss Christmas. In the classic movie A Christmas Carol, we find the tyrannical and unlovable business owner Scrooge complaining every step of the way because poor Bob Cratchet wants half a day off on Christmas. If the story was written toady, the roles would likely be reversed. We would see Scrooge looking forward to Christmas because as a business owner, he would see profits rise. He’d begin advertising before Halloween and offer ridiculous store hours on Black Friday maybe even opening at midnight. Maybe the story would follow how Bob Cratchet developed his complex shopping plan camped out hoping to find those trendy, state of the art gifts for his kids. He probably scanned the 102 million results found on Google by searching Black Friday 2011. Bob would come to despise the Christmas music that begins just after Halloween. Scrooge would love Christmas, Bob Cratchet? Not so much. In the ever increasing commercialism and materialism that is Christmas, can we change the pattern? Do you want to?

Missing Christmas is nothing new. Since the very first Christmas 2000 years ago, people looking for the real meaning of Christmas missed it. In the first century, the Temple was one of the busiest religious centers on the planet. Sacrifices were constantly being offered on behalf of people’s sin. Priests, worshipers, and the religious crowd were ever present. The religious crowd sat around and “discussed” the finer points of the Law. They evaluated the 613 rules they supposed people ought to follow as they interpreted the Law. Somewhat different form the 10 that came down with Moses from Mt. Sinai. They read from and memorized the Torah, they talked about the prophets. They looked for the Messiah. Messiah is born just about 5 miles from where all these religious leaders were. He was born in Bethlehem and not a single Jewish leader made it to the manger. Jesus was laying in the manger for just over a week and probably no one came to see this little boy.

So let’s look at the story that occurs eight days after Jesus was born. Grab your Bible and read Luke 2:21-38. According to Jewish law, male babies are taken to the Temple on the 8th day and circumcised because He was born under the law according to Gal. 4:4. Mary and Joseph take baby Jesus to the Temple. The reason for Christmas is taken to the Temple, the very place you’d expect to find Messiah. Christmas nearly comes and goes from the Temple just like it comes and goes for many people today. There were two people at the Temple that day however, that were eagerly anticipating Christmas. The religious leaders at the time who earnestly searched for Messiah did not find Him. Even as Messiah hung on the cross 33 years later, the leaders looking for mankind’s deliverer missed Him. How could anything good come out of Nazareth after all? (Jo. 1:46) How can people miss something so obvious? How could they miss something that is apparently so obvious to us? If we were in Jerusalem that day, we would see the hustle and bustle of Temple life. We’d see the steady stream of religious people doing religious things. We’d smell the smells of the sacrifices, hear the animals, hear people laughing and crying – we’d see all the activity. We’d see people so consumed with life and they’d miss Christmas because they were just too busy. These leaders would remain busy for the next 33 years. They missed the miracles, the teaching, the love, the authenticity, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension. The religious leaders were so busy doing God’s work that they missed the most important work God ever did for mankind. They had the Law, the prophets, the very Word of God and yet they missed what all of these things pointed to.

It’s not a stretch when we consider what the holiday season has become. Children so excited about what they will receive that they can barely get to sleep on Christmas Eve. Sleep doesn’t last long as many families are awakened by their children in the wee hours of the morning to open presents giving little to no thoughts as to why they’re getting gifts. Christmas has been replaced with consumerism and materialism, with the rush to find a bargain on an item we don’t really need. It shouldn’t shock you to know that few people know the real reason for Christmas. We’ve lost the simplicity of the manger, of the shepherds that were watching their flocks by night. I wonder if we should spend some time in the Temple looking for Christmas.

Did everyone miss Christmas? If we were flies on the wall in the Temple mount, we’d notice two people. The first is a man named Simeon. The second is a woman named Anna. The Pharisees and the Sadducees and most of the religious leaders of the day missed Christmas. I want to focus on these two people that give us some clues on how to avoid missing Christmas. If you want to find Christmas, you must be willing to wait. Simeon is described as, “righteous and devout.” He was upright, just, and God-fearing. He was, “looking for the consolation Israel.” The Messiah was born of very humble beginnings. He didn’t come as the religious leaders thought He would come. The Christ child did not come as royalty, he didn’t come as a major league political figure. He came as a baby, born of a virgin.

Look at Luke 1:68-75. Simeon waited. Luke 2:26 tells us that, “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” Simeon was apparently an old man that had been looking for that consolation of Israel for a long time. He waited because the Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not see death until he saw Christmas. Luke 2:28-32 says, “Then he [Simeon] took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, ‘Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Your people Israel.’” Can you imagine waiting for something for so long and then holding Salvation in your arms? Simeon offers a blessing to Mary and Joseph and then disappears from the pages of Scripture.

Then we come to Anna. 84 years old and she spent all of her time in the Temple area. She served, “Night and day with fastings and prayers.” Compare her to the religious leaders who argued the finer points of the Law, offered a life time of sacrifices and yet still missed the sacrifice for all life. The priests were engaged in continual sacrifices for the people. When you look at God’s design for the Temple, you’ll find the lamp stand, the table of showbread, the basin, the alter – all the materials needed to make sacrifices to God. Did you ever notice that there aren’t any chairs? There was always sacrifices to make; never time to sit. Heb. 10:11-12 tells us, “Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD.” The priests were so busy making sacrifices for the people that they missed the sacrifice made for them. Many people in today’s church have bought the same lie that the priests of old did. Busyness equates to spiritual maturity and that is just not true. Simeon and Anna were purposed to find Christmas – to find Messiah, the Christ Child, the consolation of Israel, the redemption of Israel. They waited – they were patient. What part of Christmas today is patient? Is it the packed shopping centers and the traffic jams? Is it the pushing and the shoving in the lines to get into the stores at midnight on Thanksgiving Day? Is it the after Christmas sales that now begin before Christmas?

What will you do to avoid missing Christmas? How will you reconnect with the original Christmas? You’ve heard of the still, small voice of God? I wonder how well you can hear that in a crowded mall? I encourage you at some point very soon, get alone with God and listen to Him – and wait until you hear Him. If you want to embrace what that first Christmas was like, you’re going to have to wait like Simeon and Anna did. And it doesn’t matter if everyone around you misses it.

You must trust that God will keep His promises. Simeon waited a lifetime to see God’s promise. When he saw Jesus, Simeon knew the promise had been kept. Anna waited decades. It’s significant to note that she was a prophetess. That means as she waited for the redemption of Israel, she told others about the Christ. I’m sure that included telling people of the promises of God. The promises that include telling people that God will never leave you nor forsake you. That is comforting considering that Christmas is one of the most stressful times of the year. Maybe this holiday season will be filled with new normals. A new marriage. New babies. Maybe your children were married this past year. Maybe this is the first year without that loved one. We can stand on the promises that God will not leave you; He will be with you to help you as you go through this time of year. Contrary to popular opinion, this time of year produces 40% fewer suicides than at other times. He will be there with you, will you trust Him?

You must be willing to proclaim what God has done. Simeon and Anna never considered keeping the good news to themselves. Simeon tells Mary and Joseph what Jesus’ future holds. As soon as she saw the child Anna, “Came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Don’t neglect to tell people what God has done in you.

At the center of Christmas is this gift that has been prepared for you. Don’t miss the gift of God among the gifts of men. Don’t miss the center of Christmas and that is the Christ child that was sent to save mankind from themselves. God willingly sent Jesus just for you. He came as the King of kings and the leaders of His days missed Him. Don’t miss Christmas this year.

Faith, It’s What’s for Life (Part 2)

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.