Thursday, December 11, 2008
Today, I just wanted to say that I love Christmas. Oh no, I don't love all the commercialization, the stress, or the insistence of the local radio stations to begin playing carols in October. But I do love the whole idea of Christmas. Yes, I know, I know...it's not in the bible and it's not one of the Jewish feasts mentioned in the Old Testament (don't forget the NT commands us not to judge one another in the observance of feast days and such). But the great thing about Christmas for me; besides getting to preach about the incarnation and the virgin birth (two topics that are normally reserved for December....but I digress) is that people tend to think about doing nice things for other people during the holidays.
One of the teachings of Jesus that Luke recorded in Acts (but not in the Gospels...just in case you're ever playing bible trivia or get a shot at being on Jeopardy) is that it is truly more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).
Sunday, August 24, 2008
In the OT, King Saul became enraged when he heard those singing "Saul has killed his thousands, David his ten thousands". I believe habits & vices have claimed their thousands, but offense has slain its ten thousands. Offense is one of the greatest weapons in the arsenal of the enemy- because it is primarily a "sin of the spirit" (i.e., it can go visually undetected unlike some other sins), it is all the more deadly. Coupled with the deadly sin of pride, this duo will not only spiritually destroy us, but will allow us to believe we are justified in our state of being offended. Allow me to share a few examples from scripture as an exhortation to us all today.
From the Old Testament, I'll use the illustration of Job. Now some faith teachers will dogmatically tell you that it was Job's lack of faith that brought his calamity upon him. But an honest reading of the text will reveal that it was indeed God's idea to try Job. God remarked that Job was a perfect and upright man and allowed Satan to afflict him. Now Satan's accusation against Job was that he merely served God for the "benefits". Satan felt that if he could apply pressure at the right points, he could cause Job to cave. Job's wife verbalized Satan's strategy when she said "curse God and die"(Job 2:9b). We have the benefit of hindsight that shows us God was there all along beholding Job's misery, and that He actually started the whole process (I know some Word of Faith teachers will part ways with me on that, but I believe the bible backs up this view). Now in the end, God has pity on Job and reminds him of His sovereignty. Some would say the motto of the book is "sometimes bad things happen to good people". No doubt this is an oversimplification of the book of Job, but there is certainly a truth in this. Many people struggle with the idea of "why did God allow this to happen?" Job struggled with it too. I believe if you will perservere like Job, God will reveal to you as well that His plans and purposes are greater than you can ever imagine.
How about a NT example? Let's look at John the Baptist (briefly). For a season, John had the premier ministry in Israel. He was drawing tremendous crowds and seeing tremendous results in his ministerial efforts. Even the religious elite were coming out to see what was all the fuss with this prophet with strange clothing and strange diet. John the Baptist had the unique blessing of baptizing Jesus Christ in water- seeing the Holy Spirit descend upon Him, and hearing the voice of the Father confirming Jesus' Sonship. John also says "he must increase, I must decrease." John also says "behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world". But fast-forward a little and something astonishing happens.
John the Baptist takes a stand against adultery. As a result he is imprisoned (and would later be beheaded at the request of another). It is at this point that he asks a very surprising question. He sends two of his disciples to Jesus and says (and I am paraphrasing here) "are you the one we were looking for, or should we look for another"? (the actual passage is found in Matthew chapter 11- I encourage you to prayerfully read it for yourself) Jesus makes the statement in Matt 11:6 "blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me"- some translations are even more emphatic and say "who does not fall away on account of me". So we see even a spirit-filled prophetic voice like John the Baptist was not immune from the test of offense. How much more should we be on guard against this insidious beast!
I have dealt primarily with offense towards God, because it is so prevalent, but the bible warns against a spirit of offense towards our fellow man as well. Peter warns that our prayers can be hindered if we harbor an offense against our spouse (I Peter 3:7). Jesus teaches that one of the conditions of our receiving forgiveness on a daily basis is our willingness to forgive others (Matt 6:14-15). Jesus also frames one of the great discourses on mountain-moving faith (Mark 11:22-26) within the context of having a forgiving heart. You may claim to have the kind of faith that will curse trees and cause them to wither, but a heart of offense will short-circuit that power!
There are a myriad of reasons why we allow offense to overcome us. This blog entry is not an attempt to trivialize any suffering or hardship you may have endured or are enduring at the present time. I have learned that trials and suffering are no big deal....when they are happening to someone else!!! But it's entirely different when we are the ones going through difficult circumstances. We are often offended by other Christians because our expectations are so high. We reason that "they should know better". Sometimes our offenses are because we think so highly of ourselves. We have an entitlement mentality that says "don't they know who I am?" "how could they treat me like that after all I've done for them?".
Offenses will come. And like my fortune-cookie words of wisdom indicate- there will be plenty of opportunities in our lifetime to become offended. We cannot control the behavior or others, or force believers to live out a Christian ethic in all of their dealings. But we can control how we respond to adversity. Sometimes the hurt is so deep that we experience, that it will take a Divine intervention to get through it. If you are one of those people today who are suffering with what seems like a hurt you cannot get past- let me encourage you. With men, it may be impossible- but not with God- for with God ALL things are possible! The same grace that is there to forgive you of your sins will empower you to forgive the sins of others. It may not be easy, but it is the only way.
Much love in Him- until next time my friends....
Thursday, July 24, 2008
1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.
2 Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
3 For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.
4 But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.
5 For every man shall bear his own burden. (KJV)
There is so much that could be said about this passage, but since I'm not preaching this text (and this is only a blog...not a novel), let's deal specifically with the phrase in verse one "ye which are spiritual". Immediately, one might ask "who are the spiritual people in the body of Christ?". Using purely subjective methods, we might draw our own conclusions. Perhaps the spiritual are those who are the most demonstrative in times of praise and worship. Could it be those who say "Amen" in response to the eloquence and force of the preacher's words? Or maybe one who is especially gifted in the area of prophecy?
Well, theoretically, all of those could be possible answers, but a better method of evaluation is context. Did Paul make any remarks near or around chapter 6, that might indicate to us who the spiritual truly are? Well, if we back up just a few verses, we find this discourse which might give us a good indicator of who the "spiritual" are. Let's take a look:
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
24 And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
26 Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another. (KJV)
So by using the tool of context (a word that simply means "with the text"), we see that Paul addresses who the spiritual truly are. It has little to do with the criteria I listed earlier. Instead, the "spiritual" are those who demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit, and those who do so in humility and without an envious attitude. So an objective look at spirituality (at least in this context) shows that character defines who the spiritual are, and thus makes them qualified to participate in the ministry of restoration.
We may not always have a clear contextual argument to help us understand a questionable phrase or passage, but it's always a good practice to see if the answer is close by, before jumping to conclusions or producing subjective interpretations based on faulty premises.
Until next time....
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Ok, now that we've got some of the white-collar stuff out of the way, let's look at a brief example today in closing. Let's take a verse like Psalm 115:17 as an example that presents a simple challenge in interpretation.
17 The dead praise not the LORD, neither any that go down into silence.(KJV)
Well, if we take a wooden, literal approach to this text, then one might come to the exegetical (there's one of those big words again) conclusion that people who die lose their ability to praise God in eternity. Using this method of interpretation, we might imagine Heaven as a kind of public library where the saints do not mutter a word, and perhaps even the angels whisper to keep from making any commotion. Of course, I drew a rather silly conclusion to try and engage and amuse you as a reader of this blog. But on a more serious note- I wonder how many would take a text like this (standing alone without the support of other scriptures) and use it as a support for a doctrine like "soul-sleep" (i.e., the idea that a person who dies goes into a spiritual coma until the day of the Resurrection)? So you see, it's not hard for something which seems rather benign in terms of interpretation to become serious.
Perhaps if this were the only text we had regarding the dead and their activities, the wooden-literal approach to interpreting this text would be favorable. However, we have the benefit of many other Scriptures which describe the activities of the saints (I'll just deal with the saints in this blog for sake of time) in Heaven. The book of Revelation, in particular, describes the activities of those who have been martyred for Jesus, and they are anything but silent! This illustrates the absolute necessity of allowing scripture to interpret scripture. That means that an obscure text which seems to have a strange meaning must always be intrepreted in light of the other scriptures which deal with the same subject. As with most things in life, there may be some exceptions, and some situations where we don't have a multiplicity of other examples to draw inferences from. But as a general rule, this principle will serve you and I well in our personal bible study.
That's all for today...more soon!
Monday, June 23, 2008
We are currently conducting our annual VBS at our church (that's "Vacation Bible School" for all you folks living under the proverbial rock). The theme for this year's VBS is "Game Day", with most of the materials containing a sports motif. Many are surprised to learn how many terms from athletic contests are within the pages of the bible. Today, I want to focus on the word translated as "overcome" in our English bibles. The Greek word is nikao (nik-ah'-o) and it is defined as the following:
"To conquer, overcome, prevail, get the victory"
Every promise of life and blessing in the book of Revelation is made to the "overcomers". The fact that the bible uses this terminology should give us some healthy indication of what we should expect as normative of the Christian life. Despite all of the admonitions and warnings in scripture about the struggles of life, followers of Christ still stand amazed at the difficulties that they face on a daily basis. Opponents are easily identified in athletic games. Whether it is two opposing individuals or teams, the contestants are easily recognizable. It's not always that easy in the walk of faith.
Sometimes we stand squarely against demonic powers. Ephesians chapter 6 outlines the invisible armies of darkness that stand ready to oppose and "wrestle" with us at every turn. Other times, we struggle with our own doubts or fears. Sometimes the opponent is disguised as an unhealthy appetite for the things of this present world. Regardless of the face(s) of the opponent, we have no other option but to prevail. Admittedly, I'm a lover of stories that contain epic battles between good and evil. The greatest and most appealing are usually those in which the "good guy" must overcome insurmountable odds and defeat a physically superior foe with sheer will-power, faith, and determination.
I think we fail to realize that we are in a contest because our opponents are invisible. An ungodly attitude doesn't always come at you like a powerful left hook to the jaw. A soul-warring habit doesn't always stand squarely in front of you like a boxer in the ring. But that doesn't mean it's any less of a real and valid contest, where the stakes are life-or-death. Paul said in I Corinthians 9 that he doesn't run aimlessly or fight as one beating (or boxing) the air. Whatever opponent(s) you are facing today, remember that your victory is found in the person of Jesus.
33 "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." (NKJ)
Friday, March 21, 2008
This brings me to my point today. Many will commemorate "Good Friday" today without giving any real thought to the meaning behind it. Some employers will give employees the day off, many children will be on holiday from school responsibilities, and others will see it as merely a kickoff to spring break. Good Friday is good, but not because some get a vacation day. Good Friday is good, because it is the day in which God demonstrated His love for mankind in a very tangible way. The Apostle Paul told the Romans in very plain terms the ramifications of Good Friday:
Rom 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (NKJ)
This is the message of Good Friday. There was nothing "good" about it for Jesus Christ. For Jesus, this is a scriptural account of Good Friday found from the prophet Isaiah:
Isa 53:3 He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; he was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4 Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. (NKJ)
He suffered and died to procure the salvation of mankind, and ensure that they could spend eternity in Heaven with Him one day. So I pose the question to all who read this blog today- have you considered where you will spend eternity? There is a popular expression briefly summarized this way..."you only live once". Unfortunately, though popular, it’s false. Humanity will live forever because God created us as eternal beings. There are two possible destinations for man when he leaves this world. For those who follow Jesus Christ, they will spend eternity with Him and experience joy, contentment, and fulfillment that the human mind has never comprehended. It will be a real, literal place- not just floating around, eating marshmallow clouds, and playing harps- this is a mischaracterization of Heaven. Heaven and the New Earth will be real and tangible just like the Earth you live on now is. There will be real people, real cities, real bodies to live in (remember that Jesus ate fish, was recognizable, had a flesh & bone body that Thomas touched after His resurrection), and plenty of activities to participate in (far beyond the scope of harp-playing, despite how appealing that may be to some).
Consequently, the bible also speaks of a place called Hell. It is not simply a place of annihilation, nor will it be the proverbial picnic that the world portrays. It is a place of torment. It is a place of separation- from God, happiness, hope, and basically anything that is desirable. Jesus described hell as a place where "the worm never dies". Jesus told a story of a rich man in hell, and remarkably, one of the main concerns of this rich man was this- that none of his friends and family also go there. That’s right- those in hell are not looking for company- they are actually hoping that someone will warn their beloved friends and family not to come there! What a sobering thought.
That brings me to conclusion. Many have never heard "The Gospel" (literally, the Good News). That’s right- the Gospel is Good News. It is not a message of condemnation. Jesus did not come to the world to condemn the world, but to save it! But in order to be saved, one must repent and believe the Gospel. What is the Gospel you ask? Rather than give you some pre-packed Christianese answer, let me just quote the words of Paul:
1 Cor 15:1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you-- unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, (NKJ)
So on this Good Friday, have you considered how much God loves you? Are you still trying to be a "good person" (which is a myth) so that God will perhaps grant you entrance into Heaven when you die? Remember the Scripture I posted earlier that stated that Jesus died for us while "we were still yet sinners"? What would really make this the best Good Friday ever for you is to call on the name of the Lord who loves you. If you have any questions about how to appropriate this, give me a shout- I would be glad to pray with you and help!
Thursday, March 20, 2008
This proverb always brings a smile to my face. If you're like me, there's probably a friend or family member who is always ready to analyze your latest purchase. My favorite response is the typical "you should have bought that at (insert store name here), because you could have saved two dollars". Some seem to really take bargain finding to another level altogether- willing to drive an extra ten miles to save an additional $0.50.
The "buyer" in the proverb above goes a step further. In his negotiating (reminds me of the typical "yard-sale" negotiator), he deliberately portrays the goods in question as worthless or of low quality, in order to gain an advantage and procure a discount. His duplicity is evident for when he has "gone his way" he boasts of his bargaining skills and the great product he has gotten as "a steal".
I love a good deal as much as the next guy. There is no sin in taking advantage of a good deal when you run across one. I understand that (most) vendors are in business to make a profit. I don't have a problem with that. Obviously some sellers may have extravagent mark-ups in their pricing which might appear to justify the aforementioned practice. But let's resist the temptation to convey their goods as faulty or defective in order to get the best deals. We may go our way boasting of the purchase, but is God smiling down on us?
Friday, March 14, 2008
I preached a sermon on this at our church a little less than a year ago, taking a different angle than many would have. I preached it from the perspective of "church". I speak with countless pastors who unfortunately lament to me "pastoring would be great if it didn't involve working with people". While I certainly do understand the cry behind such a statement, it also indicates a problem with our thinking. I would be lying to you if I said that being a pastor at times didn't "get on my nerves". Not because I don't care about people, but because people frequently ignore biblical counsel in favor of their own solutions to life's problems. To be completely fair, some pastors (yes even me!) have difficulty implementing their own biblical strategies to the complexities of life.
Many imagine and fantasize about a "clean crib" (any reference to the modern term "crib" for a person's residence is purely coincidental here...). There are many parents who can't wait for an "empty nest". Perhaps there are pastors like the anonymous friends above who dream of having a trouble-free congregation of one family (the pastor's own family that is...). The only problem with that line of thinking, is that there is "much increase by the strength of the ox". Yes, children can be loud, rude, messy, obnoxious, selfish, insensitive, ....ok you get the picture. But they are also a wonderful delight. For every mom or dad who counts down the days to an empty nest, there are two more who wish their kids would come running to the door to greet them when they get home from work.
True, ministry (and in particular pastoring) can be difficult at times due to personality conflicts. But much can be accomplished when the saints of God gather together and unite for common goals. God created us for community. One of the first recorded words we have from God in Genesis concern man's need for companionship and help. Yes, if there is an ox in the crib....you can count on the floor getting messy! I don't think many live with the impression that there is the "perfect" church- postmodern thinking has pretty much destroyed this mythical entity. But still people are surprised that church and ministry can be messy at times. Leaders lock horns over issues, congregations are divided about the direction that leadership is taking. But at the end of the day, we need one another.
Your ability to lead is not measured in terms of getting everyone to agree with you or to fit into some type of paradigm that you have adopted. But real strength of character and leadership is displayed when you can influence others even when they may have some disagreements with your methodology. Real leaders are able to make the most out of a bad situation and earn the respect of those who disagree with them. I didn't intend for this post to be about leadership per se, but perhaps that's the direction that God wanted to take it.
Have a great weekend!
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
We live in a society that values those who "have the most toys" and those who are popular. Countless television programs and publications are devoted to following every minute detail of the lives of celebrities. The Christian community is not much different, as we have our own celebrities and much-imitated personalities. Certainly godly influence is virtuous, and even the apostle Paul declared "follow me as I follow Christ". But I don't think Paul envisioned having "groupies" who parroted his words and tried to emulate his mannerisms, style of dress, and so on. It always makes me a little sad when I see that a really good Bible teacher or talented musician begins to receive mainstream acceptance. It's not that I don't want them to prosper, or that I want the message of the Gospel to be stifled in any way- it's just that notoriety has a way of ruining even the best of intentions.
Today's Proverb says that it's better to be a "nobody" with a servant than some big-name who lacks sufficient bread. I wonder how many people are envied with a passion, and yet they would do anything to trade places with a "nobody"? Probably more than you might think. The celebrity who has spent a great portion of his life trying to "make it big" then spends the rest of his time trying "to live a normal life" once he achieves it. The tabloids refuse him any privacy or sense of normalcy in his life. And often the perceived wealth that people have is really not wealth at all.
I'm reminded of a recent television commercial which depicted a man riding on his lawn mower in front of a lavish-looking home in a prominent community. Smiling as he rode along his 2 acres on his John Deere, he proclaimed "I'm in debt up to my eyeballs." It humorously (but honestly) portrayed the "American Dream". There is nothing wrong with success in business, and even the bible states that God will prosper those who labor and are generous. But let's not fall into the trap of wanting to be a "somebody" by worldly standards. Remember Jesus made Himself of "no reputation" when He was on the earth. I can't think of a better model to follow!
Until next time....
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
We don't deal as much with primitive means to determine weights and measurements. However, the principles of ethical behavior (or the lack thereof) are still the same. Abomination may seem like a rather harsh term to use for the practice of shady business dealings, but that's the way God feels about such. We're coming up on the dreaded tax deadline here in the States. Granted, I don't enjoy taxes any more than the next guy. But, yet there will be countless numbers of people who employ (pun intended) false balances in order to gain an advantage over "Caesar".
Can you put a price tag on your integrity? It has been said many times by secular humanists that "every man has his price". Jesus asked the question that demands an answer- what will a man give in exchange for his soul? I can assure you that no amount of profit is worth eternal loss. Just as dishonest business practices are an abomination in the sight of God, ethical dealings in commerce bring delight to the heart of God. Yes, God is actually pleased when we place a premium upon integrity and justice in our dealings with our fellow man.
Until next time....
Monday, March 10, 2008
Prov 10:19 In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.(KJV)
Now that's a mouthful isn't it? (pun intended) I'm not sure who coined this phrase (I think it was Abraham Lincoln), but there is one that goes something like this: "better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt". Perhaps Abraham (or the true author of the quote) borrowed his wisdom from the Proverbs. Whenever there are a multitude of words, sin never seems to be far behind. Rare is the church that doesn't have to decry the sin of gossip on a regular basis.
Ever notice that in any given courtroom situation, that the more a person says on the witness stand, the more they seem to incriminate themselves? Precisely the reason that law enforcement uses the phrase "you have the right to remain silent". The bible says that we will be much better off if we exercise that God-given right of silence. True, there will be some willing to part company with you, but that's ok.....where there is no talebearer...the strife ceases!!!
Thursday, February 28, 2008
But I believe Jesus gave us the greatest clue as to how deliverance/freedom can be obtained and maintained in John's gospel.
John 8:31-Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."(NKJ)
Freedom is essentially rooted in good theology, and faith based on biblical principles. Of course it is possible for one's theology to be completlely orthodox, and yet in practice he/she may not be free (i.e. "in bondage"). So this is not merely a mental (or even verbal for my WoF friends) agreement with the bible, but it is the place to start. Most of Paul's letters follow the same format; heavy on theology in the front end- heavy on the practical ("working out") on the back end. He is intentional with this method- we must be grounded in truth, before we can expect radical freedom and obedience.
Jesus declared that it is the Truth that sets us free. The Word of God is critical in every phase of the Christian life. It takes the seed of the Word of God for us to hear the truth. We are then born-again (according to Peter) by the "incorruptable" seed of the Word of God. We grow by the "sincere milk of the Word". Our faith continues to grow because "faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God". Our discernment grows as we transition from milk to meat, training our senses to discern between good & evil (and soul & spirit). The Word is the agent of our sanctification in practical terms (Jesus said "sanctify them through thy Truth- thy Word is truth"). Our freedom and deliverance and continued discipleship are also contingent upon the Word of God.
Perhaps more later....
Sunday, January 06, 2008
I feel that if I take the time to write something, it should be at least minutely inspirational and uplifting, or perhaps lead you to deeper pontification or self-examination. Honestly, I haven't felt many of those moments lately, so I have spared those in cyberspace the agony of reading my uninspiring entries (until now that is....). I've probably lost some readers due to my absence (shucks...who can blame 'em?), but I have to prioritize my life, and quite frankly...blogging has been very low on my list of priorities.
I apologize if I have let you down in any way. It's awfully presumptuous of me to think anyone actually receives a blessing from reading these entries, but you never know who is reading over your shoulders. So for those who perhaps faithfully read my blog in the past, please accept my sincere apology for not offering fresh content. Right now I am re-evaluating many things in my life, and trying to simplify as much as possible. Therefore, I'm not going to make any promises (as I have impulsively done before) to "do better" when it comes to regular blogging in 2008.
Instead, I'm going to resolve to blog only as I feel I have something substantial to offer. I earnestly covet your prayers as I strive to the best husband, father, Christian, and pastor in this new year. That may mean less time for activities like blogging, internet forums, and the like- but I'm approaching this year without any preconceived notions. Thanks for all of the support over the years and for those who have read but never "wrote back" to tell me so. Even without your feedback, your readership has been (and is) appreciated.
All the best!