Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Ready to Give an Answer:

I Peter 3:15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; (NASB)

In my previous post, I discussed the importance of doctrine-in addition to the emphasis which should be placed on obedience. This post will somewhat overlap my prior comments. The first epistle of Peter deals a good bit about the sufferings we are likely to experience as a Christian. Any true minister of the gospel will give you the good news along with the bad. We expect as much from our doctors don't we? If there is something gravely wrong that needs correction ,we wouldn't want them to sugarcoat the issue and ignore what otherwise might be a fixable problem. In many cases, the key to medical treatment for illness lies in the arena of early detection. Very few of us would prefer that our physician (after detecting an abnormality that could be treated and eradicated) lie to us and say "there's nothing wrong with you-you're the picture of health"....only to die of that condition months later. For some perhaps this type of ignorance is blissful, but I dare say the majority of us would opt for gentle honesty. Conversely, most people expect the exact opposite from pastors. Although death is certain... "it is appointed unto man once to die...after this the judgement"...many would much rather ignore this fact and go on and die in willful ignorance.

In light of the sufferings of this Christian life, Peter instructs his readers (including us) how we ought to respond to them. I won't go into all of the instructions on dealing with suffering (I would encourage you to read chapter 2 of this epistle which speaks of walking "in His steps") , but I do want to address the notion of giving a "defense" of the gospel. The greek word translated as defense here (in the KJV it is translated "answer") is "Apologia" from which we get our theological term "apologetic(s)". We should not think of this in terms of saying "I'm sorry" but rather giving a sound, reasonable, defense for why we believe as we do. The scripture says we are to do this with gentleness and reverence as opposed to a haughty, confrontational method. I can almost guarantee you that if you confront an agnostic/atheist with a "just the facts ma'am" approach then you are destined to fail. Paul says that the truth must be preached in love (Ephesians 4:15). Also keep in mind that people are rarely convinced by mere human argument (in fact, many are very adept at arguing their own positions and some know the bible better than many Christians unfortunately). Jesus said that it takes a new birth in order to see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3). He also very clearly says that "no man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him.." (John 6:44).

Any effort to make a defense without the help of the Holy Spirit is severely limited (at best). If you will remember when Jesus instructed His disciples as to how they should respond when brought before rulers, He did not tell them to get out a Greek lexicon but rather He gave these instructions:

Mark 13:11 But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.

Of course this is no substitute for being prepared by rightly dividing the word of truth and by careful study of scripture. The Holy Spirit will often bring to our remembrance the things which we have heard and studied from God's word. Being a pastor gives me a unique perspective on these types of things, but I'm often astounded that people in my own church have no idea what they believe and why they believe it (despite hearing numerous sermons and participating in bible studies). In light of the suffering that we are destined and called to receive, being able to think through and intelligently explain the great truths of the faith will bring us (and others) great comfort in times of trouble. As I wrote in earlier articles "do you understand what you're reading?" and "the importance of doctrine", I ask you the question today- are you able to give a defense for your faith with gentleness and reverance?

Blessings in Him,

Thursday, October 20, 2005

"The Importance of Doctrine"

I Timothy 4:16 Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee. (KJV)
I Timothy 4:16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. (NASB)
I Timothy 4:16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (NIV)

As many of you know, I'm a big fan of parallel reading of the scriptures. Sometimes things come out more clearly when you read a verse in several English translations. Each of these effectively capture the importance of keeping our doctrine straight (as well as our lives). Notice first that we are to "take heed" "pay close attention", or "watch" both of these areas closely. I'm always amazed and appalled at the careless attitude many Christians (and ministers I might add) take towards doctrine. If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone in the church say "it's only doctrine- belief in Christ is the main thing." While the point is duly noted that without Christ there is no access to God, I think it is a tremendous insult to say that God's word to the church is of little or no value. Whether we like it or not- doctrine is in the bible- and it is for our edification, exhortation, and instruction!

Paul says we are to continue (or perservere) in the doctrines of scripture. We live in an hour of tremendous deception within the ranks of Christendom. Unity is placed at a premium, sensitivity to those who don't know Christ, and positive affirmation. All of those things have their place, but doctrine and behavior should be placed at a premium. After all, what we believe about Christ determines where we will spend eternity. Many believe that a man named Christ walked the earth, but not everyone believes that He is who He says He is (the Way, the Truth, the Life). Whether we would admit it or not, our doctrinal beliefs will affect how we behave. There is always an intrinsic link between belief and behavior (remember James says "faith without works is dead"). Paul speaks twice in Romans about the "obedience of faith" (interestingly enough they are found in the first and last chapters of a book dealing with the issue of justification by faith-I find it fascinating that Paul framed this book between these two sayings). Those who believe Christ could come at any moment will live their lives differently from those who have no expectation of His return (just count some time how many references there are to "watch" for His appearance). Those who believe in a rigid determinism will be tempted to pray less or put forth less effort from a practical standpoint because after all "everything's foreordained...therefore no need to pray."

We live in an hour of great doctrinal apostacy. Jesus Himself (when speaking about the signs of His return) said in the Olivet discourse "take heed that no man deceive you." Paul warned Timothy that the last days would be marked by "seducing spirits and doctrines of devils." Peter warned of false teachers who would "promise liberty, but they themselves are the servants of corruption." Jude warned of men ordained for the last days who would creep in and turn the grace of God into lasciviousness. But we also live in a day of great personal apostacy. Paul warned the Thessalonians about a "great falling away" in the last days and that many would "depart from the faith" (I Timothy 4-both doctrinal AND moral apostacy). That's why Paul told Timothy not only to watch his doctrine...but his life! Paul told the Corinthians that he must "keep under his body" lest that by any means-after he had preached to others -he HIMSELF would be a castaway!

We have become so conditioned to never question anything that we often neglect careful examination of our lives and doctrine. I realize this is somewhat of a heavy post today, but I think we would do well to take an inventory of what we believe, what we are teaching others, and how we are behaving. Eternal souls hang in the balance- Paul said that by watching our lives and doctrine closely that we will both save ourselves and those who hear us. A sobering truth- but truth indeed. I'll leave you with a famous writing by Matthew Simpson called "the preacher":

"His throne is the pulpit; he stands in Christ's stead; his message is the word of God; around him are immortal souls; the Saviour, unseen, is beside him; the Holy Spirit broods over the congregation; angels gaze upon the scene, and heaven and hell await the issue. What associations, and what vast responsibility! "

Monday, October 17, 2005

"All things are yours"

I Corinthians 3:21 So then let no one boast in men For all things belong to you, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, 23 and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God. (NASB)

All things are mine? What an interesting statement! I don't consider myself an authority on the letters to the Corinthians but I have always been fascinated with them. Although these guys seemed to have more problems than the average church, Paul spends a lot of time teaching them theological concepts. Thanks to them, we have a wonderful resource on spiritual gifts, marital relations, resurrection, love, and matters of conscience...just to name a few. Today I want to focus on this phrase "all things are yours." Chapter 3 deals largely with the partisan attitude displayed at Corinth. Some were "opposed to one" and "for another." (not unlike what we see today in our denominational circles). It seems Paul was always trying to stretch their narrow thinking (remember in another place he asked them "know ye not that we shall judge angels?"). Just like the Corinthians, it seems that we are forever missing the forest for the trees.

The devil loves to isolate us emotionally, and make us believe that we are out on an island somewhere (spiritually speaking). The truth however, is that we are citizens of the Heavenly Jerusalem, we are ambassadors for Christ, we are heirs and joint-heirs with Jesus! Regardless of denominational affiliation, geography, or demographics, we are all (if we're born again) members of the body of Christ. I believe one reason many ministers and Christians struggle is because they don't view themselves as being part of a much bigger picture. Some never think beyond their local church, or their neighborhood. Envy and strife are almost always the result of small thinking. We have been conditioned to believe that another person's success means our failure. We find it difficult to rejoice in the victories of others, and we feel isolated in our struggles.

Regardless of who you are or where you came from, all men and women struggle with the common temptations of man. None of us are exempt, and there is "no new thing under the sun." The Corinthians obviously didn't get the big picture that "all things" belonged to them. There was no need so shun Paul and embrace Cephas (Peter) ...or vice-versa. All of Christ's ministers and children are brethren and God uses us all in different ways. Wouldn't life be boring if we were all the same? To use an analogy from the sports world...there's no "I" in "T.E.A.M." We face a common enemy and we are soldiers in the same army. The ministry of Paul complimented the ministries of Peter and Apollos. So the next time you feel like opportunity has passed you by or that your life would be so much better "if only....". Take a deep breath, relax, and remember that all things are yours if you belong to Christ!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Honeycombs and Bitter things

Proverbs 27:7 A satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb, But to a hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet. (NKJV)

I just finished eating lunch at one my favorite fast-food spots (yes, I know fast food is bad for you...but I'm cutting back....I promise!). As I sat down to my meal and blessed the food, I pondered upon this verse from the Proverbs. As I often do in public places, I found myself looking around at different people and wondering where they stand as far as eternity is concerned. It seems like everyone is going at a break-neck pace, rushing around, talking on cellphones, and in a hurry to go nowhere (of course I was eating rather quickly too so I could make it back to work before my lunch hour expired- so I hope that doesn't make me a hypocrite).

I remembered the years before I was saved. It seemed like there was always something out there that glittered brightly- always some promise of fulfillment from the next big "thing." Then sadly, dissapointment would settle in as I accomplished the goal or acquired the toy- only to find out that it really only brought temporary pleasure. Jesus said that "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God." How right He is! Even Christians find themselves with insatiable appetites. I always know that I'm in trouble when I become obsessive about material things or personal ambitions. The satisfied soul can say (with Paul) "I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content" (Phillipians 4:11).

But to the hungry soul.....every bitter thing is sweet. Isn't it amazing how the devil can make even the filthiest things seem appealing when our soul is starved from the presence of God? I'm convinced that many men (and women) find themselves in places of compromise-not because they are vile and wicked people-but because they have failed to keep their souls fed with the manna from heaven. As the old hymn beautifully illustrates...when we "turn our eyes upon Jesus" the things of this world will grow "strangely dim." I ask you today- Are you full spiritually? Are you allowing Christ to fill your vessel with the oil of gladness and wells of living water? Or do you find yourself looking at every bitter thing as a potential delight.

Some things to muse on today.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Consider What I Say

2 Tim 2: 4 No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. 5 And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6 The hard-working farmer must be first to partake of the crops.7 Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things. (NKJ)

This passage comes from what we commonly refer to as one of the "pastoral epistles" (I Tim, II Tim, & Titus). With that in mind, my target audience for this particular devotion are my brethren in ministry. This is NOT to say that this passage doesn't have universal application (and I hope for all the laymen reading this that you will glean from it as well)-however I want to encourage and exhort my fellow ministers. This book was written at a rather dark time in Paul's life. Not long before he would find his way to Nero's chopping block. This context makes what Paul says to young Timothy all the more powerful. How often do we face discouragement, weariness, and emotional distress, all the while soaking in our own mire of suffering? Paul could have easily found the time to feel sorry for himself (after all, you can't get much more pitiful than penning the words "all men forsook me" {II Tim 4:16} ). Nevertheless, he spent this precious time to pour into his young protege'.

He gives him 3 analogies to consider. First off, he reminds Timothy that a soldier cannot be bogged down with civilian affairs. Although we live in this world, our calling is a Divine mandate. Our business and citizenship is from above....our empowerment from the very Spirit of God! Let us never allow the affairs of this life (whether they be the everyday rituals of church business, or the anxieties and cares of this world) to interfere with the most important things in life. Sometimes we get so caught up in our "struggles" that we forget the words of Paul which state "for our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (II Cor 4:17) (KJV)

The next allegory deals with an athlete striving for a crown-he will not win the prize unless he plays by the rules. There are no shortcuts to successful ministry , despite our religious impatience. Some may place personal ambition above integrity, but God is much more interested in our character than in our accomplishments. Paul said this to the Corinthian church:

1 Cor 9:27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (NIV)

Finally, Paul uses the analogy of a farmer. Ministry is hard work.....period! Some mistakenly enter the ministry because they feel it would be easier than manual labor. Such men are merely hirelings-they are not truly called of God. Many are frustrated with the lack of results and fruit, but refuse to own up to their own laziness- the bible says that whatever we do for the Lord, we should "work at it with all your heart" (Col 3:23). God is not mocked- whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap! And we must not be weary in well-doing (I know a lot of burned-out and tired ministers and my heart goes out to them) for in due season we shall reap.....IF we faint not! To carry the lesson of the farmer one step further in closing- we must understand that ultimately the results are up to God.

1 Cor 3:6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (NIV)

To all my ministerial colleagues (regardless of denominational affiliation)- I love you and appreciate you. I hope that you are encouraged as you read this. I hope that you will indeed take Paul's instructions and meditate upon these great truths. Hang in there Brethren- the world (and the church) desparately needs you in this hour-now more than ever.

2 Tim 2:7 Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things.(NKJ)

Much love in Him,

† Henry

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Do you know?

I'm not sure how many sports fans out there who read this blog, but if you're familiar with the ESPN show called "Sportscenter" then you are aware of a segment on this show called "Did you know?" This segment usually contains a piece of trivia from sports history (usually something that happened on that particular date in history). I thought it might be interesting to share a parallel to this theme from the Bible. Numerous times we find the phrase "Know ye not?" or "Do you not know?" in the New Testament. The implication is that there are certain fundamental truths that we should be well aware of. I thought that it would be interesting for me to test your understanding of some of these biblical truths. Hopefully you will pass the test with flying colors! Let's begin the test by seeing if you truly know these things. I'll be quoting from the KJV because I like the way the phrase "know ye not" rolls off the tongue.

Mark 4:13 And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?

Jesus says that the parable of the sower is a foundational pillar of the faith. Everyone in the world fits within the categories of the 4 types of soil that Jesus described.

Romans 6:3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?

So many Christians still don't understand that when they got saved- old things passed away, and ALL things have become new. The old man was buried with Christ and we are no longer "sinners" but saints.

Romans 6:16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?

Paul uses the image of slavery to describe the bondage of sin. Christ said that "no man can serve two masters." If sin is our master.....then we are saying that Christ is not. Regardless of what popular preachers may say, sin still leads to death, and obedience leads to righteousness.

I Corinthians 3:16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

Sadly, many still don't understand this truth. They think that the "temple" of God (or the "church" for that matter) is a building with stained-glass windows and a steeple. It's cliche' but I'm going to say it anyway- in the Old Testament, God had a temple for His people- in the New Testament, God has a people for His temple!

I Corinthians 5:6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?

All it takes is ONE gossip to destroy a church family. All it takes is ONE act of immorality to destroy a man or woman's reputation. All it takes is a little bit of sin to destroy the annointing upon a congregation.

I Corinthians 6:3 Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?

Some Christians do not realize the magnitude of the authority and responsibility that will be given to us in the eternal Kingdom of God. The church at Corinth couldn't handle judgements on the smallest matters- Paul told them their thinking was too small-one day the world would be judged by them!

I Corinthians 6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind

Again, we have many today who still believe (and teach unfortunately) that sin is a way of life for the believer-some even go as far as to say that drunkards and sexually immoral people will be admitted into the kingdom. Paul goes on in this chapter to let them know that all things are not permissable for Kingdom heirs.

I Corinthians 6:15 Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. 6:16 What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh.

Did you know that if you're a Christian- wherever you go....Jesus goes! That is a sobering thought indeed. I wonder how many of us stop to think of how our behaviors affect Christ or grieve His Holy Spirit?

I Corinthians 6:19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

Again, we are the temple of God- and furthermore...when we got saved- we gave up "our rights." Some Christians act as if they are calling the shots- the truth is that we no longer belong to ourselves!

I Corinthians 9:24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain

If we're going to win the race with patience and "endure unto the end" then we are going to have to run the race "lawfully" and within the boundaries that God has set forth, keeping our bodies in subjection just like the athletes.

James 4:4 Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God

Those who call for godly separation from the world are often mocked (granted, I'm not talking about withdrawing from society or becoming a Pharisee/Sadducee, monk, etc.) and ridiculed. But the fact remains that God will become the enemy of anyone who seeks to be in harmony with "the world" and all of it's various pleasures and systems. Never forget that satan is the "god of this world" (II Cor 4:4).

Well, that's the end of this part of the examination- how did you score?


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Why are you laughing?

Genesis 18:12 Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?" 13 And the LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, saying, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old? 14"Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son." 15 Sarah denied it however, saying, "I did not laugh"; for she was afraid. And He said, "No, but you did laugh." (NASB)

I think we can all relate (at least to some degree) to the story of Sarah and Abraham. Most of us have some issues in our prayer life that have yet to come to fulfillment. They may not be as extreme as a hundred year old man fathering a child, but they are issues that require faith and perserverance nonetheless. This incident in Genesis takes place after over 24 years have passed and the promise has yet to come to fruition. Abraham was 75 years old when the Lord first spoke to him (Gen 12:4). At age 86, Hagar bore him Ishmael (Gen 16:16). At age 99 we pick up at this story.

We look at this story and we find it humorous. But, how many of us have waited for so long for God's promises that now even the thought of our prayer ever being answered seems like a joke? If the Lord were to come to you today and tell you that you were on the brink of receiving the answer to the long-awaited promise what would you do? Honestly, you and I might be tempted to laugh....or even worse to scoff! (God forbid)

Sarah was embarrassed (not to mention scared to death) that the Lord heard her laughing (laughing to herself I might add). God knows that we get discouraged and sometimes we lose heart, but He is still asking the question "Is anything too difficult for the Lord?" The answer of course, is an emphatic "NO"

Dear Brother/Sister in the Lord- don't lose heart today. What God has promised you He is more than able to perform. A day with the Lord is as a thousand years. You may have waited for days, weeks, or even 25 years but God has not forgotten His promise to you. We have assurance that in "due season" we will reap...if we faint not! Don't give up- you might be on the verge of your breakthrough.


Monday, October 03, 2005

Lessons From Bethesda

John 5:6 When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? (KJV)

As I studied for my sermon this past Sunday morning, I made a few observations from which (I believe) we can all glean some practical truth. First of all, we see that this group of afflicted individuals (the KJV called them "impotent folk") had enough sense to gather around a place where the miraculous frequently happened. I am always amazed at the level of spirituality the world is willing to display-meanwhile we sit in church and deny (or ignore) the possibility of God's power flowing among (and even through) us. The world will read horror-scopes, use tarot cards, carry good luck charms , and the like. They do this because they believe in an unseen "force" greater than themselves which guides the universe. Christianity is by nature, a religion of great power (no other religion can boast of resurrection power) and yet we seem either ashamed or ignorant of this truth. Thank God the folks at Bethesda knew where to go to get their needs met. Pastors and laypersons let me ask you a your church a spiritual "Bethesda"? A place where the hurting can come and find healing?

Next, I observed that although there were a "great multitude" of impotent folk laying around Bethesda....Jesus took note of one man (not unlike the Samaritan woman at the well). I believe we must never underestimate the power of one. We often think of meeting the needs of the multitudes but we minimize the importance of meeting the need(s) of an individual. Consider the contribution of Ananias (no not the bad guy Ananias-husband of Saphira but another one) in the book of Acts. Jesus appeared to him and told him to go minister to one person....the apostle Paul. I don't know much else of Ananias' ministry or how many multitudes he may or may not have preached to, but I think it would be hard to top the experience of laying hands on the great Apostle to the Gentiles!

Next, I observe what seems to be an absurd question...."wilt thou be made whole?" What do you mean by that Lord? "I've been waiting on my healing for 38 years" (I'm trying to fill in some of the blanks here). It almost seems like Jesus is telling us that we've been too comfortable with our dysfunctions! There is a certain peace that comes with the familiar. Some of us have been dysfunctional so long, we can't imagine what life would be like as a "whole" person. I've heard that many people who have been institutionalized for many years (such as those incarcerated in prison) ...if they ever are released....will do something that will put them right back into prison (or the hospital)...because there is a certain safety with "the familiar." Some things God has been dealing with us for years to get rid of, but we keep holding on and we wonder why things aren't getting any's time to wake-up!

Next, I notice the excuses provided by the man...."I have no put me in the pool"...."another steps down before me." Doesn't this sound like us? We are forever making excuses as to why we never get deliverance (in saying this, I'm not promoting a health & wealth gospel that proports that no Christian will ever be sick..I'm speaking primarily from a spiritual context). Why is it we often feel we need a mediator to get us into the presence of God ("I have no man...") ? And why does it seem like someone else always gets the breakthrough before us? ("another steps down before me..") Go back and read the story of Jairus' daughter again and take special note that the woman with the "issue of blood" gets her breakthrough and the child dies while Jesus is on His way to heal her.

Christ didn't even discuss the man's perceived limitations- He merely told him to do what (must have) seemed like the impossible..."rise, take up thy bed and walk". I wonder how many times we say that we're "waiting on God"....and the truth is that He is waiting for us to take a step of faith? (probably more than we would like to admit).

Of course the man carries the thing that used to carry him (the bed) and the religious order of the day are upset. We should always expect that those who are "of the flesh" will persecute those after the Spirit. Finally, Jesus searches out the man and says these famous words "sin no more lest a worse thing come unto thee." That sounds like a good title for another sermon doesn't it? How many people do you know who are playing a dangerous game of roulette with their souls?

These are my thoughts today-may the Lord bless you as you meditate upon His Word!