Thursday, August 31, 2006

Want To Know The Will Of God?

I Thessalonians 4:3 For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: (KJV)

I Thess 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; (NASB)

I'm sure most of you knew where I was heading with the "want to know God's will?" introduction. I'm amazed that everywhere I go, this is a sincere question that believers struggle with. For the most part (and I realize it varies among many) the issues revolve around the particulars of life- who should I marry?- should I take that job?-what type of ministry is God calling me to?-should I sell my home?- and the list goes on. Admittedly there are times when I don't know what to do or where to go, and I strive in prayer and ask the Lord for direction.

But more and more I am learning that God wants obedience from me in the generic sense of His will, before He will speak to me in specific terminology. Why would He be obligated to tell me anything hidden, when I haven't taken the time to obey the revealed? There are several very explicit passages in the Scriptures which tell us in no uncertain terms...the will of God. We've been looking a lot at Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians so I thought this would be a great example. God is concerned for every believer to walk in sexual purity.

Sexual immorality is not a new problem. There is in fact, "no new thing under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9). But it is a big problem- and one we cannot ignore. We are warned over and over throughout the pages of Scripture that the sexually immoral will not inherit the Kingdom of God (I Cor 6:9, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:5-6, Colossians 3:5-6, Hebrews 13:4, Revelation 21:8) . Although we cannot claim that immorality is only a 21st century concern, we also cannot deny that the temptations and traps of sexual immorality are pervading the atmosphere in these last days. I could post statistic after statistic showing the epidemic that internet pornography has become, but I doubt that would shock any of you reading this. Almost all literature, television, and advertisements use sexuality (almost always forbidden or immoral) as a means to promote their products. I recently read a movie review in which all of the critics gave a movie a bad review because of its "PG" rating. It was a love story, and they were greatly disappointed that there wasn't more sexual interaction between the two main characters (who weren't married by the way).

Today you may be reading this and in the grip of sexual temptation, or perhaps are already in the pit of immorality. There is a remedy dear friends. It is not mere will-power, or determination- but it is the grace of God! No, I don't mean a "greasy" grace that allows one to wallow in sin, but rather a grace that empowers us to deny ungodliness (or as the NIV translates Titus 2:12 to "say NO") and worldy lusts and live godly in this present world. Come now to the throne of grace, to obtain mercy- and to find grace to help in your time of need! (Heb 4:16) Later on, we will look at Paul's prayer for sanctification of the whole being of the believer (I Thess 5:23-24). He closes with these words:

"5:24 Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it. "

Thankfully God has provided every tool we need for godly living (II Peter 1:3). So today, if you are in a desperate struggle to know the will of God for something specific- do a quick self-examination and make sure you are walking in the will of God in those ways He has clearly revealed. Especially in this all-important manner of sexual purity. I know I said we were going to cover this in a later blog (Lord willing), but I'd like to close in agreement with Paul's prayer:

I Thess 5:23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (KJV)

Until next time....

Friday, August 25, 2006

Nothing shall offend them...

Psalm 119:165 Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.

I'd like to deviate today from my series of blogs on First Thessalonians and comment about this verse. I'm not sure if this is a symptom of the age we live in, or if it's an age-old problem (probably both)- but people love to get offended. The word translated as "offended" in the New Testament is most often the Greek word "Skandalizo" (from which our English word scandalize comes from). When we think of the word "offence", we typically think of one's feelings being hurt. Surely this is one sense of the meaning of the word. But a word study will reveal that it carries a much deeper meaning and implication. Let me post the definition from Strong's concordance:

1. to put a stumbling block or impediment in the way, upon which another may trip and fall,
metaph. to offend
a. to entice to sin
b. to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey
1. to cause to fall away
2. to be offended in one, i.e. to see in another what I disapprove of and what hinders

me from acknowledging his authority
3. to cause one to judge unfavourably or unjustly of another
c. since one who stumbles or whose foot gets entangled feels annoyed
1. to cause one displeasure at a thing
2. to make indignant
3. to be displeased, indignant

Now without unpacking all of those definitions, we still can see that the term has some serious implications. This post today is not about the problem of offence, but rather the remedy. The cure for offence is loving the Word of God. This is a liberating truth! The more we study, meditate, and apply the Word of God- the less apt we will be to be offended, or to cause offense.

Praise God for the Word!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Word is Working in You!

I Thessalonians 2:13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe

In the previous post, I spoke about the fact that Paul said God was a witness (as were the Thessalonians) to the holy conduct of him and his fellow-workers. This is truly an amazing and a humbling statement. One that should cause each one of us to examine our own testimony and conduct/conversation before God and man. This is purely my opinion here, but I believe there is a cause and effect relationship here between this and the previous verses. The Thessalonians received the Word as it was (and is) in Truth- the Word of God. I believe that the things we have mentioned earlier (the fact that the gospel came not in "word" only, but in power, in the Holy Spirit and much assurance- the fact that it produced a radical transformation in their lives, turning from idols to serve God- and the fact that the men who brought this gospel behaved and conducted themselves in a godly manner- all helped the Thessalonians to receive the message as the very Words of God- which they are!

Something I really like about this passage is that it shows the Word not only produces initial repentance and conversion, but it continues to work in those who believe! The Scriptures teach that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. We never get to a place in life where we don't need the Word. And why would we want to live without it anyway? This passage teaches us that God's Word is active and alive and working in us. The book of Hebrews says that Scripture is "quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword." The Word of God has everything we need to live an abundant Christian life. It is not merely a collection of writings by religious men, but it is God Himself communicating with His Creation. Many people in this world are seemingly on a quest to "find God." They are searching for something deep and meaningful, and a way to connect with a "higher power". How awesome it is that God has revealed Himself to us in ways we can understand. Truly we cannot comprehend the vastness and the greatness of God with our human senses and faculties. But, by looking at the pages of Scripture, we can know exactly the attributes of God that He wants to communicate to us. If you want to know what God is like- look at Jesus. After all, He made this claim Himself:

John 14:9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?

So remember, when you live in the Word and continue in it- it is working in you!

Until next time...

Monday, August 21, 2006

Can I Get A Witness?

I Thessalonians 2:10 Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe: (KJV)

If you've been following my recent blogs, you know that we've been looking at the first epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians. I have been spending considerable time reading, studying, and meditating on this particular letter. I encourage each of you to do this very same thing. The epistle is relatively short and very easy to read in one sitting. As you begin to read over and over again, certain themes will become evident. One of my main observations about this book, is that it deals largely with character- both of the recipients of the letter, and of those who carried the gospel to them.

In my last entry, I talked about the dramatic conversion and lifestyle change (i.e. that important little word "repentance" that seems to be absent from many pulpits today) of the believers there. They turned from idols to serve the Living and True God. In today's verse we see that Paul makes an appeal to them based on the conduct of him and his fellow-laborers. It's one thing to call for a human testimony, but quite another to call for Divine validation of his ministry and lifestyle.

This is not a condemnatory post at all today, but I would like for you (and me) to consider Paul's appeal. Could we honestly call God to the "witness stand" as a character witness on our behalf? Paul confidently asserted that he behaved himself in a manner of holiness and righteousness. He even says that they were "unblameable"-no one could level any charge against them. We often lament at the lack of conversions in our own ministry and personal witnessing efforts. Granted, we are merely seed-throwers and water-boys in the grand scheme of things- the results are clearly up to God (I Cor 3:6). But I wonder how much more convincing our appeals would be if we lived the kinds of lives that Paul and his partners lived. One thing is sure, God will one Day make manifest the hidden motivations of the heart.

In previous verses in this chapter (2:5) Paul makes it clear that his preaching was not motivated by greed or covetousness. I could spend all day on that point, but I'm going to leave off for now.

Until next time....

Thursday, August 17, 2006

We need not to speak any thing!

I Thessalonians 1:8 For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing. 9 For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God;

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of preaching. In fact, the scripture plainly states that God has chosen "the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" (I Cor 1:21). But there is something to be said about lifestyle evangelism as a complement to good, sound, biblical preaching. In fact, Jesus said that we should let our "light so shine before men, that they may see" our good works and glorify the Heavenly Father (Matt 5:16). All too often, people aren't willing to hear about what we're preaching, because what we're doing speaks so much louder in their ears.

Paul commends the Christians in Thessalonica because their testimony was solid. He says that the word of the Lord "sounded out" from them throughout the region. Was it because all of them were fiery preachers pounding on pulpits? (Perhaps....we really couldn't speak particularly of their preaching efforts from this passage) In this instance, it was the radical change in lifestyle that caused God's Word to spread rapidly throughout the land. People were amazed and took notice because the Thessalonians "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God." We can talk all day long, but it's hard to argue with a transformed life. That's why I personally believe that one of the most effective ways to witness to unbelievers is to share how God has transformed my life. But that method only has force if there is some visible, tangible change in my life.

Paul told the Corinthians that those in Christ are a new creation and "old things have passed away." People are much more willing to follow and imitate that which they have seen. If you really want to see revival in your area, make sure that those around you can see the difference that Christ has made in your life. When people can see the difference in you, then they will be much more apt to hear what you have to say. Or perhaps, like the Thessalonians....there won't be a need to speak any thing!

Until next time....

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Not in "word" only....

I Thessalonians 1:5 For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake

In my personal devotions, I'm doing a study of the first epistle to the Thessalonians. Perhaps I will post some observations as I survey the book in the coming days...we'll see. This book has a strong emphasis on the character of those who carry the gospel and those who name the name of Christ. In other words, there is a strong emphasis on practical holiness and obedience. Much discussion revolving around the Pauline epistles deals with grace and justification by faith, but this epistle deals largely with the issue of sanctification. With that in mind, let me post a few introductory thoughts today about this epistle.

Paul tells this group of believers that they can know of their election by God because of their response to the message preached to them. The message they heard and saw was not in word only. I fear that in our modern age of expository preaching and teaching, we don't see the need for a visible manifestation of God's power. Cessationism (the theory that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased to operate in the church after the closing of the canon) has firmly entrenched itself in the hearts and pulpits of the post-modern church. Paul warned Timothy in the last days, that men would have a form of godliness, but denying its power (II Tim 3:5).

We read in Mark 16:20 that the apostles went everywhere preaching the Word after the resurrection, and the Lord confirmed the Word with "signs following." In this same sense, Paul is communicating this idea to the Thessalonians. There is a danger in following signs and neglecting the Word. But there is also a danger in denying the power of God and insisting on "words" only. Paul told the Corinthians (who obviously loved knowledge, wisdom, and fair speeches) that his preaching was not with "enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power (I Cor 2:4)."

Paul was confident that his message had been received with deep conviction (the KJV translates as "much assurance") and that their manner of lifestyle was clearly evident. What we really need today, is powerful preaching of the Word of God, accompanied by a powerful anointing of the Holy Spirit, producing deep conviction, and backed-up by a lifestyle consistant with what we are preaching. Later on in the letter, Paul calls God as a witness to the lifestyle of holiness and obedience that he lived....there is no doubt in my mind that he had the goods. He sure set the bar high didn't he?

Until next time....

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Yielding...but to who?

Romans 6:19 I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness

Yield (Definition):

1. a. To give forth by or as if by a natural process, especially by cultivation: a field that yields
many bushels of corn.
b. To furnish as return for effort or investment; be productive of: an investment that yields

high percentages.

2. a. To give over possession of, as in deference or defeat; surrender.
b. To give up (an advantage, for example) to another; concede

Every day we make decisions to yield. We can yield to our selfish (fleshly/carnal) appetites which lead to destruction, or we can yield to God. There are many who view salvation by grace (rightly so) but view sanctification as by works of the flesh (human effort). Romans 6 is a powerful teaching on the believer's victory against and over sin. I encourage you to read the whole chapter, memorize it, and hide it deep into your heart and spiritual mind. Just as salvation is by grace through faith, the work of sanctification is also by grace through faith. It is not produced by mere human effort or will-power, but by yielding to a Higher power (in this case- the power of the Holy Spirit of God). It is difficult for us to yield because we like to be in control, but we must yield to the Lord if we are ever to experience the fruit of the Spirit in our lives in a practical level.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Do you study the Bible?

II Timothy 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (KJV)

This blog is very much a work-in-progress, even though I've been trying my hand at it for the better part of a year now. I'm not making any promises (some may say I have commitment issues, I simply say I'm too busy....) but I would like to make more of an effort to keep this blog a bit more updated. In doing so, I'm going to attempt to cut down on the length (hopefully not the substance) of my posts. I suppose this sounds trite and cliche' but, in all honesty, I really hope that in some small way I can encourage, edify, and exhort (I love alliteration-can you tell?) you to a deeper walk with God as you read over my shoulder and read me thinking out loud.

With that in mind, I ask you (and myself) the question today- do you study the bible? No, I'm not talking about devotional reading, which is definitely important. I'm talking about a systematic study of the bible. I'm a pastor, so as a member of the "clergy" this is expected of me by my peers and congregation. But I believe it is also God's desire for every believer in Christ. Granted, not everyone is going to be fluent in Koine Greek, but there are ample enough (and free I might add) resources available to every Christian to help them in their study of the Word. The Bible is not some random collection of 66 books. It is a Divinely inspired (God-breathed) Word, orchestrated by the most Wise and awesome Creator of the universe. God is not a God of confusion or disorder (I Cor 14:33) and I think we owe it to Him (and ourselves) to approach His Word with at least as much attention to detail as we would give our secular pursuits, hobbies, and interests.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Avoiding Controversies?

This post is going to be a little funny (I hope), a little serious, and perhaps even controversial. My friend and fellow-blogger Barbara over at Tidbits and Treasures recently posted on a topic entitled Influence or Edification that really got me to thinking. Some of the most popular blogs in the blogosphere are those that engage in controversial debate on a regular basis. There are certain topics within Christendom which have a polarizing effect. We tend to be very passionate about truths which we hold to be self-evident (as well we should I suppose).

The Apostle Paul warned/exhorted his ministerial proteges Timothy and Titus to avoid controversies. Let's look at a few of the passages that shape this thought: I'll add my personal comments in italics

I Timothy 1:4 Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions (personal note here:Many translations substitute the word "questions" with the words controversies or disputes), rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.

I Timothy 6:4 He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words,(Again, some translations use the phrases "controversies, disputes, and arguments) whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings

Titus 3:9 But avoid foolish questions (disputes, controversies), and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.

There is a temptation which we all (and especially ministers) face and that is to go off on the proverbial "rabbit trail". Most heated debates and arguments, while sometimes can prove intellectually stimulating and envigorating, do nothing to further the cause of Christ. If you have spent any amount of time reading Christian blogs or internet forums, you will quickly notice that we are a divided group of people. Quite frankly, there are some very controversial topics that relate to Christian issues.

My point today is not that we should all hold hands and practice "groupthink" as it pertains to our faith. There is no doubt in my mind that the Apostle Paul was very opinionated and passionate about what he believed. His instructions to Timothy and Titus were not to abandon their theological convictions nor to tolerate false doctrine (in fact, Paul gives Timothy a charge to rebuke those preaching false doctrine I Timothy 1:3), but rather not to waste their time, efforts, and energies on debates with those who merely like to argue to hear themselves speak (and trust me, there are a boatload of them out there with a penchant for this very thing!).

The funny thing about most debates is that people already have their minds made up anyway. Have I convinced you to avoid controversies and foolish questions? :)

Until next time....