Tag Archives: Worship

Timing is Everything

11 Jan

TimingListen to the podcast here.

When we were last in Proverbs before Thanksgiving, Solomon told us to seek guidance from others. Seek answers from God and get good counsel to confirm it. If something is weighing heavily on you and you think it’s from God, speak with someone that will provide you with solid, biblical, godly, and timely guidance from Scripture. There is rarely anything God gives us that must begin immediately. It took God six days to create the heavens and the earth and all that is within it. Paul spent years walking around Asia and Europe to get the message of Jesus out to the Gentiles and it took more than a century for Noah to build a boat. This morning, Solomon gives us several principles that stand alone.

Take the time to read Pro. 15:23-26.

There is a time and a place to speak. We’ve said before that not everything needs to be said and what does need to be said doesn’t necessarily need to be said right now. Solomon starts by saying, “A man has joy in an apt answer, and how delightful is a timely word.” This is definitely a feel good verse. It’s a verse suitable to put on a bumper sticker, Facebook meme, or e-card. But good things said can be off putting when they’re spoken at the wrong time. The wise person knows when to say that good word and when to remain silent. Notice that the perspective is from the giver of the good and timely words. We saw in the last Proverbs message that we should seek wise counsel and it’s from the perspective of receiving that counsel and the joy of getting good guidance. Here Solomon is talking about the blessing of giving that good guidance. It’s not a prideful thing in order for us to confirm how awesome we are. People sometimes come to me for advice and counsel. I know I give good advice because I just tell folks what the Bible says. I try to be persuasive, convincing, and confident in the words I say and it gives me joy and a good feeling that people are listening to the Bible. I get great joy in knowing that the Word is alive and able to help people that need its comfort, guidance, wise counsel, and all the other tangible things that come from within its living pages. You have that same opportunity to give the life changing bread of life!

Here’s another meme worthy quote. “The path of life leads upward for the wise that he may keep away from Sheol below.” The path of life is the same as the way is the same as the gate is the same as the road is the same as the highway. They’re all different ways of saying stay on the path that leads to righteousness. Stay on the path that leads to the Promised Land. Stay on the road that leads to eternity with God. The wise individual knows the dangers that lurk just off the path. When you stay on the path, you will keep away from Sheol, the place of the dead which lies below. Paul said, For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 3:20) He also said, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” (Col. 3:1) Too often we think of earth as our eternal home and all our efforts are used to secure heaven on earth which just can’t happen.

Don’t be filled with pride. Solomon says, “The Lord will tear down the house of the proud.” There is a difference in parental pride and personal pride. Speaking to Jesus in Lu. 3:22 God said, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” That’s the idea of parental pride – it’s a delight or satisfaction in your children. Of course that can spill over fairly easily into personal pride when we think our kids are better than everyone else’s kids. It’s typically manifested in statements like, “My child would never do that.” Solomon is talking about an elevated sense of self-worth. It’s a theme repeated often in Scripture. Pride is the principle that it’s all about me. Ps. 34:3 says, “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.” God is at the pinnacle of humanity; He is at the top of everything and does not take a back seat to anything that we consider important. When you magnify yourself over the Lord, you set yourself up in opposition to the first commandment that says, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Ex. 20:3) That’s what pride is, right? It’s the idea of self-centeredness. It’s the idea that the world revolves around you. Over and over God says, “It’s all about Me.” That’s what the first commandment is about.       That’s why we have a commandment against idolatry. The house of the proud will come crashing down. Maybe not physically, but that also might be true. God will do what He must to get people to acknowledge that He is what the universe revolves around. There is coming a day where everyone will recognize Jesus for who He is. “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:9-11)

The house of the proud will be destroyed, “But He will establish the boundary of the widow.” Being a widow in Scripture is not always glamorous. There are special provisions given to widows because their primary source of support is gone. The church is supposed to, “Honor widows who are widows indeed.” (1 Tim. 5:3) For all the effort and work that goes into accumulating things here, all will be lost, but the boundary of the widow? God will expand her territory and take care of those that are oppressed and afflicted.

I want to hit one more principle. “Evil plans are an abomination to the Lord.” Remember abomination conveys the idea of rotting flesh. Those plans don’t have to come to fruition for God to be displeased. We’ve seen this before. Back in Pro. 6:18, having, “A heart that devises wicked plans,” is in the list of things God hates. Remember the heart is the seat of emotion. What comes out of the mouth reveals what’s inside the heart. When wickedness resides in the heart, evil thoughts and darkness result. When Jesus is in the heart, righteousness and goodness reside there. Because what’s in the heart flows out, the result is Jesus. “Pleasant words are pure.” By definition, goodness and righteousness are there because of Jesus and His working in your life. Jesus being Lord of your life leads to pleasant thoughts, which leads to pleasant words, which leads to pleasing Jesus and many of the people that cross your path. David said, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.” (Ps.19:14)

It’s good to be back in Proverbs. Be sensitive to when it’s best to talk and when it’s best to remain silent. Words used at the right time in the right place can bring great comfort and joy to others. Keep on the path of righteousness, don’t be prideful, and check your plans with God before putting them into play.

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Sacrificial Death and Life

19 Oct

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 Savior’s Sign

1 Dec

Virgin BirthYou can listen to the podcast for this message here.

He is considered one of the greatest men of God from the olden days. He was a counselor to kings and a writer whose O.T. book is quoted more often in the New Testament than any other except the book of Psalms. When Jesus preached His first sermon, He preached out of a passage from this man’s writings. His calling from God is one of the most beautiful pictures in Scripture. “In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.’ And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.” (Is. 6:1-4) This man would be inspired to say things about the Lord so incredible that it boggles our mind. is name is Isaiah and he is a prophet.

Isaiah 7:10-17 is a familiar passage to people in and out of the church and I encourage you to get your Bible and read this incredible passage for yourself.

You’ve heard the saying, desperate times call for desperate measures? This passage comes just after Isaiah answers the call of God in 6:1-4. Isaiah finds himself right in the middle of some pretty intense political action. Isaiah 7:1-2 sets the stage for us. At some point in our lives, every one of us will face desperate times. Circumstances present themselves that may bring us to the edge of despair where there seem to be few options and time is running out. In this passage I want you so see some things that put Judah’s king Ahaz on the edge of despair. Ahaz was an unstable man. He had a godly father and grandfather, but he did not follow in their footsteps. Having godly relatives is no guarantee of godly children. Unless a child personally chooses to enter into a biblical relationship with God through Christ, he will leave that home one day without the tools necessary to face the world.

I don’t know everything about Ahaz, but this much is clear. His life can be summed up as recorded in 2 Kings 16:2, “Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and he did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD his God, as his father David had done.” He is not in a wilderness period and he is not sowing his wild oats. He did not do what is right in God’s eyes. Ahaz is probably in his early twenties and he is confronted with a very serious national crisis, but he doesn’t possess the life experience or spiritual resources necessary to effectively handle it. To make a really long story short, Assyria and the northern kingdom of Israel joined forces to invade the southern kingdom of Judah. Against the guidance of God’s prophets, Israel formed an alliance with Assyria in an effort to defend against what they knew was coming from Assyria. It was a, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em scenario. It was Assyria’s practice to invade and conquer neighboring countries and take the people prisoner. Assyria’s  goal was to invade Judah and get rid of king Ahaz. Verse 2 tells us “His heart and the hearts of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind.” So what’s a king to do? Godly kings seek wise counsel from God and then there is Ahaz. Ahaz was foolish. 2 Kings 17 indicate that Ahaz is going to try and form his own alliance independent of Assyria and Israel only his alliance won’t be against Assyria, it would be with Assyria. Ahaz is planning to buy off Assyria to save himself. You can feel the desperation in Ahaz’s reasoning. So it is with this information that we find the prophet Isaiah called to go talk to king Ahaz in 7:3. Let’s see how this is set up in 7:3-9.

The actual reality is that God always comes through. How many times has God used seemingly incidental things to remind us that He is right there? He is involved in our lives even if we can’t see exactly what He is doing. Here is Ahaz looking over the water supply lines of Judah. Isaiah and his son Shear-jashub walk up to Ahaz. Hebrew names carried a lot of significance. Isaiah means Jehovah has saved. Shear-jashub means a remnant shall return. Standing right in front of Ahaz are reminders of who God is and that He will preserve His people. Remember that Ahaz’s father and grandfather were godly men. God is always bigger than your problems and your fears. In the face of certain defeat, look at what God says through Isaiah in v. 4, “Take care and be calm, have no fear and do not be fainthearted.” God is saying don’t look for a way out, but look for a way through your difficult situation. 1 Cor. 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” Do you believe that no situation is too hard for God? For Ahaz, God was trying to show him that his trust must be placed in the One that can handle the problem. V. 9 says, “If you will not believe, you surely shall not last.” Faith, that strong conviction in what you cannot see often stands in the way of God accomplishing what He wants to accomplish. If you do not stand firm, you will fall. God was trying to get Ahaz to believe. To walk by faith, not by sight. To be a follower of God first, then a king.

This is a good time for a miracle. It is at this moment that something incredible takes place. Vs. 10-11 says, “Then the Lord spoke again to Ahaz saying, ‘Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven.’” Isaiah was there to speak to the king on behalf of God and Ahaz doesn’t want to listen; all he can think about is the Assyrian army. Ask whatever you want – no limit. “I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD.” Now Ahaz gets all spiritual on Isaiah. He is conveniently forgetting what is going on in Judah: idolatry, human sacrifices, asheroth pole worship, Baal worship. The reality is that Ahaz had already made up his mind and nothing Isaiah said or did would convince him to trust God. Are we like that? Do we seek guidance and counsel from the Scriptures, or do we avoid it because we’ve already made up our minds as to what we will do.

Here is the moment set apart for Isaiah. He turns from the king and begins to speak to the crowd that had gathered. The story continues in vs. 13-14, “Then he said, “Listen now O house of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well? Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call his name Immanuel.” It is God that gives the sign. He doesn’t send an angel or a prophet – God Himself sees to it.

What is the meaning of the sign? This sign is meant to get our attention. V. 13 starts with “Listen now.” Pay attention to what is coming. This sign proves that God can do whatever He wants to do. Sign means a signal or a distinguishing mark. It is something that is obvious, something that will stand out. This sign involves the birth of a son after an impossible pregnancy. A virgin will conceive. Isaiah tells everyone that at some point a woman will conceive a child that simply cannot be explained.  When you see that, that is God’s handiwork. This sign means that God is coming in the flesh. His name is Immanuel meaning God with us. God will be with us in the flesh. He will dwell among us. We will see and experience His glory. 700 hundred years later, that sign was realized. A young woman named Mary was engaged to a guy named Joseph. An angel appeared and told her what to expect. Luke 1:31 records the words of the prophet, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.”

If God can cause a woman to conceive in a miraculous manner, why do you doubt that He can take care of you? The birth of Immanuel, God with us, served as a sign for people desperate to see God working. When all seems hopeless to us, God already has a plan in place, has already set the process in motion. Before you even realized you need Him, He is already there. Sometimes it takes being in the pit of despair to see the hope of a Savior. Immanuel means God with us, not God might be here one day if you’re really good.

Good News for 2014

6 Jan

2014

You can listen to the podcast here.

Rom. 10:13-15 says, “for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”

Notice the words in v.15, “Good news of good things.”

As has become my habit, I looked at what the Associated Press said were their top stories of 2013. There were some items that people will consider good news and other items not so good. Maybe some would consider it all bad. Without further comment,

Here are the top news stories of 2013 according to AP.

1. HEALTH CARE OVERHAUL: The White House had hoped the Oct. 1 launch of open enrollment would be a showcase for the upside of Obama’s much-debated overhaul. Instead, the website became a symbol of dysfunction, providing Republicans and late-night comics with ammunition, and worrying the president’s Democratic allies. The site gradually improved, but a wave of cancellation notices from insurers undercut Obama’s oft-repeated promise that people who liked their existing coverage could keep it.

2. BOSTON MARATHON BOMBING: In seconds, a scene of celebration transformed into one of carnage, as two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in April. Three people were killed and more than 260 injured, including at least 16 who lost limbs. Authorities soon identified two suspects — 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died in a shootout with police, and his brother, Dzhokhar, 20, who faces multiple charges, including 17 that carry a possible death penalty. Though jolted by the bombings and a subsequent lockdown, the city rallied under the slogan “Boston Strong.”

3. VATICAN CHANGEOVER: Pope Benedict XVI stunned Catholics around the world with his announcement in February that he would resign. The cardinal elected to succeed him, soon known as Pope Francis, proceeded to captivate many Catholics and non-Catholics alike with a new tone of openness, modesty and tolerance. Without challenging core church doctrine, he suggested it was time to rethink policy on divorce, focus more on serving the poor, and devote less rhetoric to condemnations of gay marriage and abortion.

4. DIVIDED CONGRESS: Opinion polls showed Congress with historically low approval ratings, and the key reason was seemingly intractable partisan conflict. Among the consequences were the harsh automatic spending curbs known as sequestration, the partial shutdown of the government in October, and bitterness in the Senate after the Democrats used their majority to reduce the Republicans’ ability to stall presidential nominations via filibusters.

5. NSA SPYING: The ripple effect continues, seven months after the world learned of Edward Snowden. The former NSA analyst leaked vast troves of secret documents detailing NSA surveillance operations, including programs that collected Americans’ phone records and eavesdropped on allied leaders. After a stay in Hong Kong, Snowden spent a month in Moscow’s airport before obtaining asylum in Russia. The leaks have roiled diplomacy, triggered lawsuits and calls for reform, and prompted warnings that terrorists could benefit from the disclosures.

6. GAY MARRIAGE: Capping decades of activism, the gay-rights movement won a monumental victory in June in the form of two Supreme Court decisions. One cleared the way for ending a ban on same-sex marriages in California, the most populous state. The other struck down a 1996 law passed by Congress that banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages. In subsequent months, Hawaii, Illinois and New Mexico boosted the number of states allowing gay marriage to 17.

7. NELSON MANDELA: A freedom fighter, a political prisoner, a statesman revered for preaching reconciliation in a nation torn by racial strife. Nelson Mandela was all that and more — the icon of the anti-apartheid movement and South Africa’s first black president. With his death at the age of 95, his compatriots, world leaders and countless other admirers mourned the loss of a one-of-a-kind hero.

8. PHILIPPINES TYPHOON: There were dire warnings beforehand, but the toll wreaked by Typhoon Haiyan was still stunning in its scope after it struck on Nov. 8. More than 6,000 people died; hundreds more remain missing. The typhoon damaged or destroyed the homes of more than 16 million people, with rebuilding expected to take years.

9. SYRIA: The death toll mounted inexorably, past 120,000, as Syria’s nearly 3-year-old civil warfare raged on with no signs of resolution. The government of Bashar Assad did agree to eliminate its chemical weapons, but prospects for peace talks were complicated by infighting among anti-government rebels. Nearly 9 million Syrians have been uprooted from their homes, with many of them seeking refuge abroad.

10. MISSING WOMEN FOUND: The call for help came on May 6, and the revelations that followed were gripping and grim. A former bus driver, Ariel Castro, had abducted three women from the streets of Cleveland from 2002 to 2004 when they were 14, 16 and 20. He periodically kept them chained, restricted access to food and toilets, and repeatedly raped and assaulted them until their escape. Castro pleaded guilty to multiple charges, and in September, faced with life in prison, hanged himself in his cell.

Those are just the top stories and much of it is bad news. That’s the problem, we thrive on bad news. As Christians, we’ve got the news that is always good. It’s good that Jesus came to earth, lived a sinless life, and shed His blood on the cross at Calvary. It’s good Jesus died, but three days later conquered death and rose from the grave and was seen by the multitudes. It’s good that Jesus ascended to heaven where He sits at the rights hand of the Father making intercession for us.

Jesus said, “Because I live, you shall live also.”

As we think about the New Year, there’s going to be negative things or bad news that will be recognized at the end of the year. As Christians, let’s not focus on the bad or negative, let’s focus on the positive. Good news should be what God’s people think about.  When we get to the end of next year I am sure there will be several things as we look back in reflection that we can truly say were, “good news of good things.”

As I look forward to the coming year, I think of several things that I would like to have take place: I’d like to see people truly give their life to Christ. It’s clear that this is what God wants: 1 Tim. 2:4 says, “Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” In America, we have decided that sin is relative. There is no standard of conduct, but the Bible if very clear that we have a sin problem. Rom. 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Is. 64:6 says, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” But that doesn’t mean God has given up on us. God draws us to Him through the power of the Spirit. Jo. 6:44 says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” God made a way through Christ. 2 Cor. 5:21 says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” We have been justified in Christ: we are declared righteous based on the merits of Jesus. We have been sanctified: Christ’s righteousness is applied to each of us every single day.  It’s our responsibility to make sure that everyone knows they’re welcome at the foot of the cross. Jo. 6:37 says, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” “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) “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  (Jo. 3:16) You don’t have to be a certain way to get Christ, come as you are.

I’d like to see God’s people passionate about ministry. Is. 44:22 says, “I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud and your sins like a heavy mist. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.” We need to turn back to the Lord. Why? We have a tendency to take things for granted. The things of God become common place so we look for what is new, what is flashy. There must be something better, something new and improved. We’re looking to be entertained. Some people would have you believe that man does not exist for God’s benefit, but that God exists for man’s benefit. God becomes this great provider in the sky rather than the One who is worthy of our worship. We are looking for God to serve us rather than for us to serve Him. A general commitment to Christ substitutes for repentance. Simple profession replaces transformation. Emotional feelings replace true worship. We tend to be foolish. Matt. 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” To put anything above the Lord is foolish, but we do it all the time. I think few people would admit that, but our actions speak louder than our words. I’d like to see people get more involved in the opportunities we have here. We tend to be impatient which further separates us from God. Fewer and fewer people are willing to work hard. Fewer and fewer people make themselves available to do the hard, stressful, and emotionally draining work of the ministry. Fewer and fewer people are willing to persevere. We have become social media Christians. We’ll post that we’re praying for people, post Scripture, retweet Christian articles, but that’s the extent of it.

I’d like God’s people resist Satan. James says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  (Ja. 4:7) We cannot resist the devil in our own strength. We must first submit ourselves to God. Then we can stand against Satan in the strength and might of the Lord Himself. Resist his destructive plans. Satan is a destroyer. He will try to destroy your home, your church relationship, your testimony, etc. Once you say yes to Satan, it becomes easier the next time, and easier. Satan’s way is never good, but unfortunately, even Christians don’t see his subtlety.

Finally, I’d like to see Jesus come back in 2014. Phil. 3:20 says, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus promised in Jo. 14:3, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” We’re too attached to this temporary home. We work to have things that will pass away. We spend the majority of our time on things that have no bearing on eternity.

What do you want to hear and see by the end of next year? How many will you share Christ with? How will you serve the Lord by serving others? Who will you invest your time in? Who will you make yourself available to? How much better will you know Christ? How much will you grow? How will your faith be strengthened? Will you live the life of holiness God has called you to live? How authentic will you be?

Divine Power

4 Feb

LightningYou can listen to the podcast for this message here.

Last week we kicked off our study in Peter’s second letter. We saw he writes to Gentiles in the first century around 60-65 A.D. Peter identified himself as a slave and an apostle. He reminded us that we are one in Christ because of His righteousness. This morning, let’s look at the incredible power of God.

Peter writes in 2 Pet. 1:2-3, Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 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.”

Peter offers up a nice greeting and says nearly the same thing as he did in 1 Pet. 1:2. The assumption is that his readers have grace and peace. They have saving faith by grace that gives all Christians equal standing with God through Jesus. We have peace as a fruit of the Spirit given at salvation to all who have received God’s righteousness as Peter mentioned in v. 1. Grace and peace are multiplied through knowing God and Jesus Christ our Lord. In verse 1 Peter used the phrase God and Savior. Now he says God and of Jesus Christ – two people which is a more typical greeting in Scripture. This is not just head knowledge, but knowledge that evokes change, knowledge that transforms. What good is knowledge that results only in knowledge? That’s why we’ve all taken examinations of one form or another. There must be intellectual knowledge, but there must also be personal and relational knowledge. Intellectual knowledge should lead to a heart knowledge. There’s a difference between knowing someone and having a relationship with someone. Just because someone is your friend on Facebook does not mean you are best friends.

Knowledge is critical to Peter. In his first letter, he spent time refuting the Gnostics that concluded knowledge was the be all to end all. As long as you had the knowledge, that was all you needed. Peter said no, he said that knowledge must be reflected in behavior. The Gnostics believed it didn’t matter how you live as long as you were enlightened with knowledge. I half think that’s where people in the church are today. They have the knowledge of right and wrong, of good and bad, but it doesn’t lead to a change of behavior. It doesn’t lead to transformation.    The knowledge that supposedly led to a conversion experience doesn’t have any effect on an individual. We have churches full of Gnostics that think just having knowledge is good enough. Knowledge doesn’t do anything, but people are convinced that Jesus is their friend and they’re going to heaven. This knowledge of Jesus brings a multiplication of grace and peace. That’s the only way to be growing in Christ. You gain knowledge by studying – that same way you gain knowledge about anything. You want to grow in Christ? Get to know Him. How do you get to know Him? Read His story, hang with people who want to know Him, who want to be like Christ. The time for talk is gone. Jesus is looking for servants who will actually follow Him. Hosea 4:6 says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.”  Are you thinking, “Hey, that doesn’t apply to me, I’m not a priest.” The first phrase is the tip off. God is talking about His people being destroyed because of a lack of knowledge. And He’s talking about a rejection of knowledge. Ignorance and rebellion lead to destruction.

We have everything we need. Peter tells us, “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness.” These resources are available to us simply by knowing God. If you know God, then you have everything you need for a life that is pleasing to God. Peter’s call to godliness is rooted in and secured by God’s grace. Without grace, there would be no faith. Without faith, it’s impossible to please God. Salvation comes by grace through faith. Confused? Don’t be. It is God that is the initiator of the relationship. He supplies what we need through His power. If He expects us to have it, He gives it to us. The life Peter refers to is eternal life and comes from the Greek word zoe. Godliness is linked to life because you can’t have godliness without having eternal life. You can’t have eternal life without the transforming power of Christ. Paul warned Timothy about this when he said there were men that held, “To a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; avoid such men as these.” (2 Tim. 3:5) If you really have eternal life, it will change your life here on earth. The godliness we may display is not because of us, it’s because of God. The source of godliness is His divine power. When we start to think in terms of what we do, we tend to get high and mighty which leads to a judgmental attitude.

One caution in Peter’s message, there is a qualifier. We have everything from God’s divine power, “Through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” Everything needed for eternal life is rooted in the knowledge of Christ. Salvation is not an emotional decision. Don’t get me wrong, there are emotions involved, but when salvation is purely emotional and those emotions fade, we’re often left dazed and confused. Maybe you wonder why there is no power in your life. Maybe you wonder why you can’t change, why you’re still the same person you’ve always been. I can tell you it’s not from a lack of God’s power. Eternal life stems first from a knowledge of who the Christ is.      John 17:3, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” First knowledge, then conversion, then transformation. The transformation continues from conversion until death. Glory and excellence point to the same thing. Those that God saves are called by Christ as we understand His love and His forgiveness. This knowledge leads us to make a decision to follow Christ. The decision to follow Christ lead believers to be morally transformed by God’s inexplicable grace. This is one of Peter’s central themes and one of my defining phrases for Christianity. If you are a child of God, your life better reflect His glory. If you think you can live your life any way you feel like, you’re deceived and you’re hurting the cause of Christ. 2 Cor. 4:6, “For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

Those who truly are called by Christ have seen and experienced Christ’s glory and His excellence and will live a life of godliness. The life of the Christian still residing on earth will be lived as an example Christ’s transforming power.

Faith, It’s What’s for Life (Part 2)

7 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith, It’s What’s for Life (Part 1)

31 Oct

You can listen to the podcast here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Franchise Churches?

24 Jan

We all know about franchises. We see the sign and immediately know we’ll get the same kind of food or service at that place no matter where in the world it is. It can be a food chain, a dry cleaner, a bank, a tire store, or just about anything else you can imagine. Think McDonald’s. Think Starbucks. Think Pizza Hut. Think Tire Kingdom. While traveling in Romania several years ago, we saw a McDonald’s and had to stop and enjoy a quarter-pounder with cheese. It tasted exactly like it does here in the states. I’ve had Starbucks in the Bahamas, London, and Brussels, and it’s the same as I get at my local Starbucks. That’s what you expect; that’s what makes it a successful franchise.

There seems to be a growing trend in the American Church today to establish franchise churches. You have the mother church that opens another “campus” or an additional location and uses the same name, but tags on a location identifier like north, south, east, west, downtown, uptown, midtown, university, central, etc. Is this church planting or church expanding? Is there a problem with this method? Is it biblical? Good questions.

There is no short answer. There are many church planting “formulas,” but there is no “right” way to plant a church. What works in Atlanta may not work in rural Nebraska. So as I asked earlier, is a franchise church really considered a church plant? When you consider how the Apostle Paul planted churches, you don’t see him using this method. He used the same basic process everywhere he went. He went to the synagogue to speak to the religious leaders then he went to where the people were hanging out and told them about the death burial, and resurrection of Christ and what that all meant for eternity’s sake. No fancy lighting, no building, no worship team, not much of anything really except the power of God. Does that work today? Well . . . the power of God has not diminished, but that power doesn’t seem to impress people that live in such an advanced technological age. So we adapt our methods, but hopefully not the message, to meet the ever changing demands of the people we are trying to reach.

Now back to the question. A franchise church does make sense. You plant a church in some location that has that familiar church name or pastor’s name and viola, big crowds at the launch service. There may be a live band to have some pumped up energized worship and then the people watch the sermon on a TV or big screen and it’s called a church. There are some things that I wonder about. Is there local leadership? Is the goal to get unchurched Christians there or to reach the lost? Is there a way to effectively equip and encourage these people as part of a local body? Is there accountability? Is there evangelism?  Is it really a church?

When you think about the fellowship John mentions in his first letter to the church, a group of people meeting together would certainly qualify if they have fellowship with the Father and the Son. Therefore we could call it a church. But I’m not sure if that’s what franchise churches do. The Church’s primary mission is to make disciples according to Matt. 28:19. If there is no method in place to do that, at the very least, the church is not functioning as it should. A group of people meeting together do not a church make. There must be leadership; discipleship, teaching, and equipping. You cannot have a church without a shepherd. The churches you hear about that are without a pastor for several years really trouble me, but that’s another blog post. Back to the question. If a franchise church has no desire to reach the lost, instead opting for the America form of evangelism (“Hey, you want to come to church?”) then I would classify them as a social club. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with social clubs . . . just don’t call it a church. Now we have churches launching internet churches. Come on, really?

I love when churches do something in the community to reach the lost, to demonstrate the love of Christ, to disciple members of the body. Churches must be outward focused rather than inward leaning. If you can pack the house because of a “big Christian name,” then I say go for, but don’t let it stop there. Let’s plant churches that have a desire to make disciples.

Cool Greek Verb Tense, No Really

31 Aug

I had the privilege of teaching the importance of Greek verb tense as it relates to the proper interpretation of difficult bible passages in a class called “Contextual Principles” at this past weekend’s Inductive Bible Study Training conducted by In Worship at Mt. Hebron Church in Mobile, AL. Before you read on, please understand I am no Greek scholar and these are basic principles I gleaned from research I conducted to prepare for teaching this subject. A great resource is Kay Arthur’s book, How to Study Your Bible: The Lasting Rewards of the Inductive Method available here. Another great resource is Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study New Testament available here.

Understanding Greek verbs is instrumental in the proper interpretation and application of Scripture. Since verbs express action, they are often the most significant elements in the expression of thought and are key to understanding what the author is trying to say. Greek verbs tend to clearly show who is doing the action, whether as a command or suggestion, whether the passage is speaking of reality or possibility. The major features of Greek verbs are known as the mood, tense, and voice.

Tense shows the kind of action and points to a time of occurrence relative to the time of utterance. English has only past and non-past forms and uses non-past forms to indicate future time as well as present time. Greek indicative verbs can point to three different times: past, present or future. In considering tenses, you need to understand the aspects of verbs too. Aspect is the characteristic of a verb indicating how the user regards its degree of completion or result (beginning, duration, repetition, achievement, permanent effect, etc.), but not relative to the time of utterance. Greek verbs identify actions or states as having one of three different degrees of completion or result: ongoing, completed (with continuing results) and simple occurrence (completed but not marked as to whether the results are continuing). Thanks to this site for putting all this info in one place.

Tense-aspect: an indicative verb form in Greek must express both time and aspect. Three possible times and three possible aspects yield a grid of nine possible tense-aspect combinations. The seven named grammatical tenses of Greek are really tense-aspect combinations in the indicative, covering eight of the nine possibilities.

Tense
Past Present Future
Aspect Ongoing Action Imperfect Present Future
Simple/Unmarked

Occurrence

Aorist None Future
Completed with Continuing Results Pluperfect Perfect Future Perfect

So what does all this mean? When observing the text of Scripture, a proper understanding of verbs is essential to proper interpretation and application. Unless you understand verb tense, your interpretation may not be accurate.

Let’s look at some examples. In the difficult passage of Rom. 7:14-25 we need to consider the relationship between a believer of Jesus Christ and sin. Paul had just written in Rom. 5:20 that, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” And he asks in Rom. 6:1, “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may abound?” Here’s where you need to understand about tense. Present tense is a linear action, one that is ongoing. Sin (Strong’s #266) here is a noun and is defined as missing the true goal and scope in life; offense in relation to God with the resultant guilt. The key word here though is not sin, but continue. Continue (Strong’s #1961) is a present (or future depending on the resource) tense verb that means persist in an activity or process. Present (future) tense indicates that it is occurring now. So Paul asks the rhetorical question in v. 2, “How shall we who died [past tense] to sin still live [present tense] in it?”

Let’s look at 1 John.  First in 1 John 2:1. “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Both uses of the word sin(s) are verbs that are in the aorist tense. That means it is a one-time event from the past.

Look now at 1 John 3:9. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” There are a couple of key verbs here.  Born is in the perfect tense indicating a completed action with continuing results: “born of God.” Practice is the present tense indicating this is occurring now. Sin is a present tense verb. Born is in the perfect tense again. From the New American Commentary, “The life of the child who has been born of God is marked by the purity and righteousness of the One whom he follows. The child of God does not live a life of habitual sin because (1) the seed of God remains in him, and (2) he has been born of God. Although the Christian still falls prey to sinful acts, John insists that it is impossible for sin to become a believer’s pattern of life.” The conclusion from this verse indicates that no one who is a child a God can continually, or habitually engage in sin. There is no such thing as a Christian “wilderness period.” Maybe you’re familiar with the term back-sliding. It’s a made up doctrine for people that are habitually engaged in sin to make themselves feel better about what they’re doing. It is not consistent with the teaching of John and Paul.

Back in Romans 7:14. “For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.” Sold is in the perfect tense meaning an event that occurred in the past with continuing results. Paul is not talking about himself. He understood and wants us to understand that a real, true, born-again Christian does not practice sin as a habit of his life. There is a marked difference between one time sin (aorist tense) and habitual sin (present tense).

Isn’t it interesting that we don’t often hear it taught like this? That’s why we let Scripture interpret Scripture. That’s why studying Greek verb tense is important to correct interpretation of Scripture.

Michael Jackson and Worship

7 Jul

JackoI’ve waited long enough. Today is the day Michael Jackson will be buried. Los Angeles is bracing for the flood of people flocking to be near the the funeral for the King of Pop.  1.6 million people registered to receive free tickets to the funeral with nearly 9000 people “winning” tickets. Amazing. A British Airways spokesman is calling this America’s version of Princess Diana.

As I think about Michael Jackson, I am amazed that people from all walks of life have immortalized him. Some are calling him a saint. Many worship him. Some are overcome with grief. The other day, I spoke with a young man who said when he heard the news, he almost passed out. This kid was like 12 years old! I don’t get it. When did we start worshiping people? If you think worship is too strong a word, you are wrong. We worship, idolize, revere, honor, and praise people that are in the national spotlight. We stand in line for hours just to get a glimpse of someone famous. Why? We have a deep seated desire to be people of worship. Unfortunately, our worship is often misplaced.

God is a jealous God and He doesn’t want us to worship anyone but Him. That should be easy because there is no one worthy of our worship except the One that created the heavens and the earth, created all that is, created all that is good, and lovely, and perfect. The Bible is clear about how to worship God. We are to worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24) The idol worship of Michael Jackson and other celebrities is clearly defined as sin. In fact, most of Israel’s problems in the Old Testament were rooted in idolatry. Like Israel, most of our problems are rooted in idolatry. We put things in place of God and devote the majority of our time in honor of those things. I’m not talking about a little statue that we bow down before. I’m talking about sports, music, jobs, friends, activities, etc. that take the place of worshiping God and spending time getting to know Him better and growing in Him. None of those things are bad in themselves, but we make them idols when we pursue them in place of pursuing God.

There are people out there and in the church that can tell you every album Michael Jackson made, all his top songs, and all his awards, but can’t give you any attribute or characteristic of God. People can rattle off the Superbowl winners from the last ten years and tell you the top ten batting averages in the major league and tell you who’s on the college football top 25, but can’t quote a single verse from the Bible. Something’s wrong with that.

Michael Jackson could sing. He could dance. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging the talent he had and admiring that talent. Same thing goes for athletes and other entertainers. Did you see the last set of the men’s finals at Wimbledon? That was some incredible tennis, but I am not going to slobber all over myself if Andy Roddick comes into my office. Should we mourn Jacko’s passing? There’s nothing wrong with that, but there are lots of people that die everyday with no fanfare, no public mourning, and no news coverage. These people are your friends and family. These are people that you will miss. Michael’s death so shocked the world, that the deaths of Karl Mauldin, Farah Fawcett, Fred Travalena, and Billy Mays went nearly unnoticed yet they all occurred in the same week.

This is a good time to evaluate what will happen to you after you die. Where will you spend eternity? For many people, peaceful rest after death is not going to happen.