Thursday, September 30, 2010

Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged

When you preach against sin and for righteous living, there are many attacks one faces.  I have experienced it as I am sure many others have as well.  We are called judgmental and hypocritical among other things.  The lines usually used are "judge not lest ye be judged" or "take the plank out of your own eye."  Unfortunately, those verses are misinterpreted by those who want to continue to live in their sin.  They think that telling a teacher that they are not perfect excuses their own shortcomings before the Lord.  Today I want to address that passage in Scripture and hopefully share its proper interpretation. 
"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you." Matthew 7:1-2 NKJV
This passage is not about judging actions, it is about condemning people.  Teaching against sin is not judging anyone, but judging actions that we are supposed to oppose as the church of Christ.  It is also not about judging a type of person.  If a teacher says "fornicators shall not inherit the kingdom of God.", that preacher is not judging anyone in particular but that teacher is sharing what is clearly stated in the Bible.  Fornicators judge themselves by practicing their sin in the face of God's Word.  We are called to call each other out on our sins.  We are called to preach against sin from Moses in Leviticus to the prophets to Jesus and John the Baptist in the Gospels and to Paul in the epistles.  It is absolutely 100% clear in Scripture by dictate and example that we are to preach against sin. 
'You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him." Leviticus 19:17
One of them, a prophet of their own, said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith Titus 1:12-13 NKJV
We are clearly called to preach against sin.  Even more, we are called to not accept sin in our midst as a church.  While we are to give a sinning brother or sister a chance for repentance and restoration, we are to remove that person from the church if they refuse that opportunity. 
I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner— not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore "put away from yourselves the evil person."  1 Corinthians 5:9-13 NKJV
While we are not to condemn people, we are to condemn actions.  An unrepentant brother is not judged by us, but by himself when he refuses that opportunity to repent.  The sin we allow to continue in our church is the cancer that is killing our church.  We need to confront those living in sin in our midst and allow them to repent or cast them out.  That is not being judgmental, that is being obedient to the Word of God. 

Let's get back to what Jesus said in Matthew warning us about being judged to the same measure that we judge others.  This statement is also a positive.  Sometimes our actions do need to be judged by others.  I speak out against many kinds of sin in this blog, and if anyone sees any of that in my life I would hope that I would be reminded of what the Word of God says regarding my actions.  In the same measure that I speak out against the sins in the lives of others, I desire others to call me out for anything in my life that I may come to struggle with.  We should all have that desire.  We all need to be accountable to one another.  We all need to accept others calling out sin in our lives so that we may repent. 
Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. James 5:16 NKJV
Here we are called to confess our sins to one another.  This is not as a means to salvation of forgiveness already granted by God, but so that we can be held accountable to one another.  It is easier to sin secretly than it is when others call you out and question you about it. 
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble."  1 Peter 5:5 NKJV
We need to be submissive and humble when we are confronted about our sins. All too often we become defensive (and sometimes even offensive) when confronted.  We need to be accountable to one another. 

Jesus continues in Matthew with the other saying that people like to use when confronted regarding their sin:
"And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." Matthew 7:3-5 NKJV
This is not saying not to confront anyone about their sin, it is saying to make sure you do so not as a hypocrite.  You can not go to someone and speak to them about being faithful to their wives while your mistress is hanging on your arm.  That is what Jesus is saying.  We are to examine ourselves and put away the sin in our own lives before confronting others about their sin.  It's not that we are not to help our brother with the speck in his eye, we are just to remove the plank in our own eye first.  We need to make sure we are not struggling with something that we are speaking out against. 

And so if we are called to be submissive to one another and confess our sins to one another and speak out against sin in the lives of each other, we see from Matthew 7:3-5 that we are to make sure we are living rightly.  Our obedience in keeping sin out of the body of Christ starts with us repenting of the sin in our own lives.  That brings me back to a point that I make time and time again on this site.  Righteous living is essential for living a victorious life in Christ and we all need to ask God to show us those areas He wants to work on and allow that work to happen.  It is essential for us as individual Christians and essential for the church as a whole.  If sin gets into your life and you are part of a church, you are bringing sin into the church.  And what happens when sin gets into the church?  God answers that through Paul when addressing the Corinthian church and how it was allowing sin to remain in their church.  Here is what the Word says:
Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?  1 Corinthians 5:6 NKJV
The sin we bring into the body of Christ infects the whole church.  And just like when an infection enters our physical bodies, our bodies need to react to it.  If there is no reaction to an infection in our physical bodies or in the spiritual body of Christ, that body will get sick and eventually that body may die.  Sin can kill a church. 

And so we need to ask God to deal with our sins, to remove them from us and from our church.  We are called to stand up against sin, but we can not if we are caught up in it.  We are called to hold each other to account, but we can not if we are caught up in sin.  We need to confront our bothers and sisters in the Lord if they are caught up in sin, but we can not if we are caught up ourselves.  And when someone comes to us about our own sin, we need to accept that humbly.  Lashing out about judging others or planks in their eyes has nothing to do with the sin in your life.  Even in that example I spoke of earlier where a man comes to you with a mistress on his arm to talk to you about your adultery, your place is not to use his sin to justify yours.  Your adultery is still sin regardless of the condition of the messenger.  In fact, just as he has to deal with the plank in his eye, you need to deal with the speck in yours to clearly see his plank.  In other words, responding to an accusation of sin in your own life with a charge of sin in the messenger's makes you just as guilty.  If you judge your accuser for sin when he is right in his accusation, you are judging yourself as well.  Humble yourself and allow God to work in you.  Humble yourself and God will raise you up.  Humble yourself, and you will find that grace and forgiveness you need. 
The ear that hears the rebukes of life Will abide among the wise. He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, But he who heeds rebuke gets understanding. The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom, And before honor is humility. Proverbs 15:31-33 NKJV 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Who Deserves Jesus

There are many people in the world and in history who have done heinous things.  We know the history of such bloodthirsty rulers like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin and how millions were killed at their direction.  We also know stories today of people who have done horrible things like murder and rape, even of young children.  Their actions rightly raise up feelings of righteous anger for the plight of their victims and rightly cry out for justice for their actions.  Many in the world and unfortunately many in the church even cheer for their damnation.  We relish the thought of eternal punishment for their crimes.  While earthly justice even to the point of capital punishment is appropriate for the most heinous of criminals, God does not desire that anyone should perish eternally.  There is no person who can out-sin God's grace if that person would come to Christ.  Some people feel that some people are so bad they do not deserve salvation.  Unfortunately, those people miss the whole point of why Jesus died on the cross.  The points I want to make today is that no one deserves salvation and that while all are unworthy, all are also welcome to come to the cross. 
"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." John 3:14-16 NKJV
"Whoever" means whoever.  There is no qualifier.  There is no limit.  Anyone can come to Christ and be saved from their sins.  Anyone is anyone and includes everyone.  Jesus did not limit his invitation to those who would only sin to a certain amount.  We can not say that Jesus' invitation is not open to someone when Jesus Himself says it is open to everyone. 

Now some may say that God can harden someone's heart to not accept Jesus.  While that may be true, we have no way of know how or when God hardens someone's heart. How or why God would harden someone's heart is something wholly under the authority and knowledge of God.  It is never our place to ask God to harden someone's heart.  Furthermore, His hardening of someone's heart is a result of someone hardening their hearts against God.  Again, we can not pray for someone's heart to be hardened so that they can not be saved as it goes against God's will.
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.  2 Peter 3:9 NKJV
Again "all" means all.  God desires that all should come to repentance.  If God desires all to come to repentance, then God desires whatever person you feel is too far gone or sinned way to badly to be saved to come to Him and repent.  You are praying against God's desires when you pray for anyone to be damned. 

We must recognize that Jesus died for all sins.
"Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation"— because they said, "He has an unclean spirit."  Mark 3:28-30 NKJV
Again we see the work "all."  Jesus says that all sins would be forgiven save one.  That one sin is the rejection of that forgiveness for all the other sins.  In other words, the only way to not be saved is to reject salvation.  The only way to not receive God's gift of grace is the refuse that gift.  Otherwise, all sins will be forgiven.  Again, "all" means all.  There are no exceptions other than rejection of that grace.

To think that God's grace has limits is to put limits on God and to believe that the work of Christ is somehow incomplete. Jesus died on the cross as complete payment for the sins of mankind.  We can not put limits on the payment he made. We must believe that Jesus died for all to believe that he died for any.  I say that because if you can question whether the sins of one person can be forgiven, you call into question every man's sin.  No one is without sin and considering our sins are ultimately against God, who are we to say which one is better or worse than any other?  Furthermore, if we believe that murder is unforgivable then how do we have confidence in our own salvation?  We, as Christians, sin while knowing that our sin is sending Christ to the cross.  Have any of us not sinned since we were saved? Have not any of us even planned sin since we were saved?  Can we then say we are not guilty of murder when we plan to commit an act that we know sent Jesus to the cross?  If God would judge the murder of an imperfect man eternally, then how much more would God judge one who sent His only begotten and perfect son to His death on the cross?  If murder is unpardonable, then each of us who are saved are unpardonable for what we do that we know sent His Son to the cross.  There is no sin so heinous that is not covered by the blood of Jesus other than not accepting that gift.

And we see now that the grace of God is open to all, now let us address who deserves that free gift.  The answer is simple, none of us do.  The Bible is clear that we are all unworthy.
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  Romans 3:23 NKJV
We have all sinned.  We all fall short of God's standards. 
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23 NKJV
We all deserve eternal damnation for our sins.  But note the contrast here.  We all have sinned (Romans 3:23), we all deserve damnation (Romans 6:23a), but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23b).  We sin, we deserve, but God gifts us eternal life through Jesus.  We see that God's gift is not dependent on us or our actions.  it is dependent on God.  We can not out-sin God because our gift of salvation is premised on the generosity of God, not the heinousness of our sin.  Praise be to God!    Praise God that we rely on God's goodness for our salvation, not our pitiful attempts at righteousness.  We did nothing, God did it all and He did it while we were at our lowliest state.
Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. ut God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.  Romans 5:5-11 NKJV
Note how our salvation was totally dependent on God and not ourselves.  Christ died for us when we were without strength, ungodly, still sinners, and enemies of God.  That was our state when our sins were paid for.  That is the expanse of God's glory.  And why is did God make our salvation completely dependent on Him and the work of Jesus on the Cross?
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.  Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV
We were saved by the work of God alone so that God gets all the credit.  We have no right to boast in our salvation.  It is the gift of God and only the gift-giver can get credit for the gift. If you think that the sins of another are too great to be forgiven, you area implying that your sins are not.  In other words, you are boasting.  You are saying that God saved you because you are not as bad as that other person.  By implying the lack of worthiness for someone else, you imply that you have worthiness.  Someone can not have less worthiness than you if you do not believe you have worthiness.  By implying that you have worthiness, you are boasting.  You deserve salvation no more than anyone else, which is not at all.  Our salvation is a free gift of God out of His goodness. 

And that how amazing the goodness of God is.  God sent his son to make payment for our sins.  The wages of our sin was death, and Jesus paid that penalty.  If you are reading this and think that you sinned too much to be forgiven by God, please understand that is a measure of pride not humility and in the end what you will be condemned for you not understanding that.  No matter what you may have done, Jesus died for you.  No matter what anyone has done, Christ died for them.  Don't put limits on the grace and goodness of God but glorify God in how limitless His grace and goodness are.  Glorify God in that the heights of God's goodness far exceeds the depths of our unrighteousness. 

OH, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.

Oh, give thanks to the God of gods! For His mercy endures forever.

Oh, give thanks to the Lord of lords! For His mercy endures forever:

To Him who alone does great wonders, For His mercy endures forever;

To Him who by wisdom made the heavens, For His mercy endures forever;

To Him who laid out the earth above the waters, For His mercy endures forever;

To Him who made great lights, For His mercy endures forever—

The sun to rule by day, For His mercy endures forever;

The moon and stars to rule by night, For His mercy endures forever.  Psalm 136:1-9 NKJV

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Our Freedoms Under God

We all cherish our rights.  This is especially true in America where we have our founding documents declaring that we have rights granted us by God by virtue of us being His creation.  Many of us fight long and hard to maintain the rights framed in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, believing that they are inalienable and above our government's God-given authority to interfere with.  Today I want to talk about what the Bible says about our rights. 

I think a good place to start with our discussion is where we spent some time last week.  Let us see what God says about the purpose of government.
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. Romans 13:1-7 NKJV
While this passage is usually directed at Christians in their relation to government, I believe it can equally be applied against government and establishing its limits.  Governments are established by God to reward good and punish evil.  Therefore, we can conclude that we have a right to do good.  Keep in mind that this is for doing good in God's eyes. It is not meant for all of us to good in our own eyes (as seen in the corrupt nation described in Judges), but we are to do right in God's eyes.  If God has given the right to do good, then God means what is good in His eyes not our own.  That means that we have the right to preach the Gospel, to pray, to worship God as the Lord leads, to be generous with our money, to read the Bible, and to do all the good works described in the Bible. 

We also see from this verse that we do not have a right to not pay taxes.  Many people try to argue regarding the Constitutionality of paying taxes and some even have tax protests. Irregardless how one may feel as to whether or not the government has given itself the right to collect certain taxes, we as Christians have an obligation to pay them.  And if you do believe that you are not really required to pay, then have your protest but accept its consequences.  If Daniel faced the consequence of praying when ordered not to, who are we to resist the government's penalties for something much more trivial as taxes.  Which one of us (including myself) has not opted to pay cash for a service to specifically get around paying sales taxes.  The more I think about it though, the more I see that as actually being a sin.  If the Bible tells us to pay taxes to whom they are due (whether or not we like it), we are to pay them. 

Another verse often used to relate Christians to government is the other verse I touched on last week. 
And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. "Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, "Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? "Show Me the tax money." So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?" They said to Him, "Caesar's." And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." Matthew 22:16-21 NKJV
What I want to glean from this passage is the last section that we are to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's.  And what is God's?  There are things regarding our lives that are not subject to earthly government.  First of all, our soul's are under the jurisdiction of God.  That is why we have a freedom to worship God (or even to worship false gods).  God will hold idolatry against us, but the government can not.  I say this because God gives us the freedom to choose to follow Him and the government has no authority to interfere with that.  Forced conversion to Christianity does not make Christians.  God knows that and so should governments.  Conversely, a government that forces us to worship another God is also guilty of going against God's law.  Under God, we have the right to choose God or to not choose God with the repercussions for that decision being fully realized at judgment. 

What is also under God's jurisdiction is our lives.  Government, while having the right under God to execute people for evil acts, has no right to allow the slaughter of the innocent under their protection and authority.  We were created in the image of God with our days numbered and known by God.  Taking life for no cause is a violation of the Providence and Law of God.  Even King David, a man after God's own heart, was not allowed to build God's temple for the innocent blood he shed while king.  Under God, unless we forfeit that right by our actions, we have a right to live.  As God has formed us in the womb, that right is applicable from conception. 

Another thing under the authority of God is our minds.  We are commanded to take each though captive for Christ.  If all thoughts are to be taken for Christ, there is no place for government to ask you to think or believe a certain way.  Our thoughts and ideas of our own providence and are called to be directed to Jesus. Government has no right to tell us what to believe not only in terms of faith, but in whatever other things we choose to believe, ideas we choose to develop, or opinions that we may have.  The right to freedom of thought is impossible without the freedom to express those views.  We have the right to express our ideas.  This needs to be so because God gives many of us wisdom in many areas and issues and those ideas given by God are supposed to be shared. To limit one's speech, is to limit one's thoughts.  God has also called many of us to preach the Gospel and to speak out against sin.  Those are impossible without freedom of thought and expression.

Another right we have under God is the right to private property.  This is evident in the commandment not to steal or covet your neighbor's property.  It is also evident from the Levitical penalties for theft.  If there is no private property, there is no theft.  While not explicitly stated in Scripture, that right is assumed by the penalties against unlawfully taking the property of another.  Even King David paid for the threshing floor that was ultimately used to build the Temple of God.  Under God, we have a right to private property.  And with that right to property, we have the right to use such property as the Lord leads. 

I also believe in the Bible that we have the right to defend ourselves and our property.  Exodus 22 tells us that if a thief is killed in the commission of a crime, there would be no guilt for his bloodshed.  We can defend our property and our lives legally under God, but morally under Christ there it is not so cut and dry.  I do not believe that the law of grace allows lethal force to be used for things such as theft.  The line where it changes from loving your enemy to defending your life is one that I think is a matter of conscience and circumstance.  I believe that with that right to self defense, there must be a right for us to have the means of self defense.  With that in mind, I do believe there is a right to keep and bear arms.  If God has given us a right to defend ourselves, the government does not have the authority to take away the means by which we can defend ourselves. 

I think we can see that many of the rights we enjoy are either given or as a result of a right granted by God.  Rights granted by God are not under the jurisdiction of man and so we have no obligation to follow them.  Understand, though, that while governments may abuse the authority granted by God, they still have that authority.  That said, we must be like Paul, Daniel, and various other prophets, apostles, and martyrs who accepted with all faith the penalty given by willfully disobeying worldly systems by following God rather than man.  We must take that example and exercise our rights granted by God with the understanding that there may be consequences before man and with the faith that God will work it for good.  

We also have to understand that these rights are granted by God and can be taken away by God.  God has used tyranny as judgment many times in the Bible and while those tyrannical governments are not godly, they are used of God to exact his judgment.  God sent many enemies to oppress Israel at various times in her history.  From the Philistines to the Babylonians, Israel was humbled many times for their sin.  It always took national repentance in order to restore the liberty granted to them by God.  We must never be so proud to think that our rights are above God's sovereignty.  God can and has withdrawn those freedoms for chastisement and in the cases like the Roman persecutions as means for growth.  We must also understand that we can forfeit those rights by our actions.  If we murder someone, we forfeit our right to life.  If we steal, we forfeit our freedom and our property. 

And, finally, we must recognize that the rights bestowed upon us by God come with responsibility.  We have the freedoms not to do what we want to do, but to do with we ought to do.  We have no right to sin or live unrighteously and perfect government would punish those sins while allowing righteous works.  We must accept the responsibility that comes with those rights or risk forfeiting them.  We have a right to choose what God we follow in order to freely follow the True and Living God.  We have a right to free speech in order to preach that Gospel and share with others the wisdom God has given us.  We have a right to exercise our religion in order to spread the Gospel and worship our God.  We have a right to private property so that we can be generous with what God has given us.  We have a right to self defense to come to the defense of the helpless.  We have a right to life to live out the life God has for us, to step in the steps God has ordained for us in His service and for His glory.  Our rights, while blessing us, are ultimately for the Glory of God and for the spreading the message of the Gospel.  If we understand that responsibility we will enjoy that precious gift of freedom God has given us no matter how our present circumstances appear.  Cherish that freedom God has blessed us with!
For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  Galatians 5:13 NKJV

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Christian Who Isn't

Depending on what poll you look at, the percentage of self-professing Christians in America is somewhere around 80%.  Self-professing evangelical Christians are a little over 50%.  In a nation of over 300 million people, our churches should be bursting at the seams.  With statistics such as that, it is confounding that our nation is so far gone morally.  Our most popular entertainment is largely sex-themed (even for youth), our popular music is filled with sex and drugs, and our children get into worse and worse trouble.  Add to that our miserable divorce rate and one wonders what in the world is going on.  I dare say that many who call themselves Christians are in fact not.

It is as it was in Judges:
In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.  Judges 21:25 NKJV
While we may expect that kind of behavior from the lost, it is a tragedy when we get that same behavior from those who call themselves Christians.  There are so many who associate themselves as Christian yet only feel they need to show up to church at Christmas and Easter.  They live in constant rebellion whether it be living with an unsaved boyfriend or using foul language or getting drunk or having sex out of marriage etc.  If you live a life in constant rebellion to God, how do you then say that you follow Jesus?  If you have no desire to follow Jesus, can you really say that you call him Lord?  I feel so many of those who call themselves Christian are in for quite a shock when they stand before the Great White Throne of Judgment, and yes I mean that judgment not meant for believers.  The fact is that there are too many who associate as Christians who are not Christians.  God spoke of these in 2 Timothy:
But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was. 2 Timothy 3:1-9 NKJV
To those who feign Christianity I say this as a warning.  You can only pretend for so long and that conviction you feel now for your deception will not last forever.  Soon, God will just give you over to your lusts to allow you to live inside your own delusion of faith until you stand before God. 
And even as they did not like to retain God in [their] knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. Romans 1:28-32 NKJV
The very fact that you may be offended by a statement such as I wrote shows that there is a little conscience still working within you.  If God has already hardened your heart, you would not even care enough to be offended.  You probably would not even be reading this.  Again, this is a warning to those pretending to be Christian.  You may fool your parents, your relatives, your friends, and even whatever church you go to, but you do not fool God and in the end it will be your own soul that is required.  Repent and truly accept Jesus before it is too late.  God spells out the consequences for not accepting the truth of the Gospel that you know.
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. And again, "The LORD will judge His people." It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:26-31 NKJV
The blood of Christ is the most precious thing.  Those who know that yet choose to trample all over it by feigning their faith need our prayers for God's mercy.  They need that because if they faced God now in their present state, they would learn just how precious God sees the blood of Jesus.  God is clear that the more someone hears the Gospel and continues to reject it, the worse their judgment will be.
Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and SIdon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and SIdon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you." Matthew 11:20-24 NKJV
Now we know the tragedy, but how does this happen? How is it that so many who are lost are able to call themselves Christians?  How do we as those truly elect allow that to happen?  The answer is that we allow sin in our lives and in our churches.  We let the cancer in and do nothing once it is there.  Our largest pulpits preach a Gospel of self esteem where no one hears about the changes that should be happening in their lives.  We hear "Jesus saves" but we never talk about what that salvation means.  We are part of their delusion.  They are able to believe that they are saved because no one tells them otherwise.  We "love" them right into Hell and pat ourselves on the back. Here are the main problems.

First, we love our ears to be tickled and through that we promote pulpits that do not teach the destructive nature of sin.  We follow leaders who preach only that Jesus saves but never how to live once saved.  We swell the ranks of churches that are only taught how "good" they are.  We love to be encouraged but never admonished or challenged.  We love to have our self esteem raised while ignoring our call to be Holy.  It is as it was prophesied:
I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. 2 Timothy 4:1-4 NKJV
Note the contrast.  God through Paul is giving the charge for sound teaching.  That teaching should be based on God's word and meant to convince, rebuke, and exhort.  However, in these times people reject that sound doctrine and prefer to just satisfy their itching ears and select teachers that promote self esteem rather than God.  These teachers become popular and those churches become large and many who think they are Christian sit comfortably hearing nothing about the changed lives they are supposed to have.  If God did not want us taught about wrong and right living in Christ, why would have have spent so much time through the letters of Paul teaching us those things?  We need to follow sound teachers teaching sound doctrine. 

Another issue causing the problem of those thinking they are Christians is the lack of accountability.  No one wants to challenge anyone anymore.  We do not want to hold each other to account for the sin in each others lives.  We need to confront the sinning brother or sister in love and share with them the error of their actions.  We need to call people out on their sins, not ignore what we know is wrong in their lives.  That is not the example given in the Bible.  First we have the epistles of Paul sent to the churches usually regarding some error, we have the account of Paul confronting Peter about something he was doing wrong.  And we also have the instruction in Scripture to do so.
"Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector." Matthew 18:14-17 NKJV
We are called to confront a sinful brother. We must confront with a clean heart, but we must confront.  The goal it confronting sin in our midst is not to judge anyone, but to restore them in their walk with God or help them check their hearts as to whether they really have given them to the Lord.   You may think you are loving someone by accepting their sin, but you are not.  You are watching someone you claim to love drive themselves off a cliff for fear or offending them or hurting that relationship.  That is not love, that is selfishness.  It is better to lose a friend for a time then for God to lose a soul for eternity.  This message is mostly about those who deceive themselves into believing they are saved, but if they consider themselves as part of the church, we need to treat them as such.  We can not know if someone is truly saved or not, and inside the church when it comes to confronting sin, it really does not matter.  We are to confront sin in our midst, but there is a catch. We can not confront sin when we ourselves are knee-deep in it.  The Bible is clear that we are to remove the plank from our own eye before helping a brother remove the speck from his.

And so to those who are living truly for God, take the time to truly love those who are not following the Lord they claim as theirs.  That love comes by, in all love and humility and with a clean heart, confronting them in their sin.  The life you live in Christ may mean the difference between someone you love living for God or following a path leading to destruction.  For those of you who are not following God, I urge you to check your heart with God.  If you feel no conviction and there is no chastisement for what you know to be sin in your life, it is not because God is accepting it.  It is because God is giving you over to it.  Do not harden your heart to the point where God gives you what you desire and hands you over to your sin.  If you do feel that conviction, do not harden your heart because at some point God will harden it for you.  Repent, come to Jesus, and live that glorious life in Christ that Jesus has died to give you.  God desires all to repent and come to Him.  God wishes that none should perish.  God will rejoice in heaven when you come to Him. 
"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!' I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. "Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!' Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."  Luke 15:4-10 NKJV

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Healthy Eating

If anyone knows me, you know I am by no means a small man.  In fact, over the past few months I have gotten a little larger.  Due to my weight, I have Type II Diabetes and recent blood work has shown that my sugar and cholesterol were both higher than ever.  I am not writing today to bemoan my poor diet and subsequent test results, but those results got me thinking.  For the most part, my diabetes is a function of how well I eat and how much weight I gain.  If I lose weight, exercise more, and control my diet, I could be virtually diabetes free.  The same applies with my cholesterol.  If I control my diet, the numbers will go down (this is especially evident for me as my cholesterol has usually been  fine).  And then I was wondering why God allows food that is so good to eat so bad for us.  Why does junk food taste good and for the most part healthy food taste worse?  And God did take the time to answer.  He spoke to my heart saying that it is a metaphor for our spiritual lives.  The "food" we take in spiritually has the same effect as the food we take in physically. 

What "junk food" do we consume spiritually.  Do we fill ourselves with entertainment that glorifies sin, promotes sexuality, uses profane language, and has no spiritual benefit whatsoever?   Do we hang out with friends who are more apt to lead us astray than we are to positively influence them?  Do we revel in the "enjoyment" of our own sin?  What are we consuming in our lives that affects us negatively spiritually?  Like candy, these things seem fun, but like candy slowly kills us physically, these things slowly kill us spiritually. In Hebrews, the Bible shares that sin is pleasurable, but only for a season.  But after that season, that sickness caused by our sin becomes acute and apparent.  Those pleasures give way to misery as our spirit gets sicker and sicker.

Not only should we not be eating junk food, but we need to eat enough good food.  Not eating properly will affect your growth and health.  There are a variety of sicknesses related to not having one nutrient or another. This is especially true for young babies.  This is holds the same truth for our spiritual health.  We need to right balance of God's Word in order to grow.  Some like to just focus on God's grace and some just one His judgment.  Some like to focus on relationships, some on Christian living, and some on who God is.  All are essential lessons as we all need the right balance of the whole counsel of God.  Without the proper balance of the whole counsel of God, we will be deficient in some area of our Spiritual lives.  We will lack growth.  For example, if a pastor never teaches how to be a Christian and remains stuck on Jesus saves those under his charge will never grow beyond babes in Christ.  Please do not think I am saying that there is no importance in the message of Jesus saves as it is that message that has caused a new birth in all our lives.  But that new birth was a Christian "baby" who needs to progress from the milk of the message of Jesus saves to the meat of the message of how to live that new life in Christ.
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.  Hebrews 5:12-14 NKJV
Yes so many of us have malnourished ourselves and continue to eat like babies instead of ever growing into men and women and God.  Others have not been fed properly by our spiritual fathers.  Others have been eating junk food their entire spiritual lives.  This should not be so.  Just like our physical health requires the right balance of the proper foods in order to be fit, healthy, full of energy and life, and to keep from getting sick or dead the same applies to our spiritual life. We need to feed ourselves on the spiritual food, that being the Word of God, and take in the entire counsel of God.  We also need to refrain from taking things into our lives that hurt us spiritually.  A well-balanced spiritual diet will lead to a victorious life in Christ, a rewarding and wonderful relationship with God, and an active spiritual life used of God in wonderful ways.  A bad diet will lead to spiritual sickness, stunted growth, a lack of energy for God, and a general lack of joy in our lives.  Be spiritually fit on God's Word and once you have tasted that kind of spiritual health, you will have no desire for that poisonous candy.  
If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed. But reject profane and old wives' fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. 1 Timothy 4:6-8 NKVJ

Friday, September 24, 2010

God Helps Those Who Help Themselves

How many times have we said or heard the phrase "God helps those who help themselves."  I am sure many even think that it is somewhere in the Bible or even a Christian principle.  However, it is completely outside the nature of our relationship with God and is nowhere found in Scripture.  God does not help those who help themselves.  God helps those who rely on Him for help.  God helps those who can't help themselves.  God helps those who know they can not rely on their own strength or wisdom.
Thus says the LORD: "Cursed is the man who trusts in man And makes flesh his strength, Whose heart departs from the LORD. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, And shall not see when good comes, But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, In a salt land which is not inhabited. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, And whose hope is the LORD. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit." Jeremiah 17:5-8 NKJV
Here we see a great contrast.  On one hand ,we have the one who relies on his own flesh for strength, who is cursed.  On the other hand there is a man who trusts in the Lord who is described as blessed.  Not only does God not help those who help themselves, but leave those who choose to help themselves on their own.  That person is a dried up shrub in the middle of a dried up desert whereas that person who relies on the Lord is not only blessed but described as a tree planted by a river.  Here is another example of that same contrast:
Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we will remember the name of the LORD our God. They have bowed down and fallen; But we have risen and stand upright. Psalm 20:7-8 NKJV
Rely on God as your strength and you will stand.  Rely on the flesh, and you will fall.  God helps those when He is their strength.  And when He is our strength, there is no limit as to what we can do according to His calling.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 NKJV
God also wants us to rely on Him for our wisdom.  We are to seek God in prayer for problems that arise.  Many people think that when a problem arises, they need to figure things out first and then go to  God in prayer and ask Him to bless their solution.  We are also often confronted with large and difficult decisions.  We often wrongly make the decision first and then ask God to bless what we have decided.  We are called to seek God first, to ask Him the solutions to our problems and the decisions we need to make.  God should be the beginning of our knowledge, not just an afterthought.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.  Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV
Please do not try and help yourself with your own wisdom.  The Lord is offering us to partake of His wisdom in the decisions we make and the problems we face.  Why ever would we rely on our own?  God does not help them who help themselves when it comes to wisdom, God helps those who reject their own wisdom for the sake of the Lord's.

The most important reason regarding "God helps those who help themselves" is that it is contrary to the Gospel.  The premise of the Gospel message is that we could not save ourselves.  We were unable to live up to God's standards.  We were slaves to sin and the flesh and even the very best of our attempts at helping ourselves were nothing but tattered rags to God.  If God decided that we needed to help ourselves prior to Him helping us, we would all be going to Hell.  Jesus died on the cross while we were still sinners with no interest in helping ourselves it that were even possible.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. Romans 5:8-11 NKJV
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Notice how it continues: His blood justified us, through Him we are saved from wrath, and His life saved us.  We have no part.  We did nothing.  This is the account of the salvation of ourselves and we have zero part to play.
And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.  1 Corinthians 6:11 NKJV
And once we are saved, we again take no credit for the change in our lives.  It is God who cleanses us, it is God who sanctifies us, and it is God who justifies us.  We are to let go out our own selves and surrender to God allowing Him to do the work in our lives. We have no ability to change our lives on our own, but only through the strength of God do we grow in the Lord. 
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV
Relying on our own strength goes back to the sin of pride.  We want to help ourselves because we feel we know best or we want some kind of credit or we feel we deserve the glory, but God wants us to realize that it is not about us.  It is about Him.  He alone is worthy, He alone deserves the credit, and He alone owns all the glory.  When we try to act in our own strength and help ourselves, we cheat God of the glory and we cheat ourselves of the power.  Do not cheat God and do not cheat yourself, rely on God and rest in His knowledge and strength.  Trusting any of your own flesh leads to defeat, trusting only in the strength of God leads to victory.  Don't try to help yourself, but give yourself to God and allow Him to live in you and work through you.
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Ephesians 6:10 NKJV

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Persecution

There are many wonderful promises for those of us in Christ.  God showers us with His love and those promises are part of our hope for the even greater promise of our eternal home in Heaven.  Some promises, though, are hard to understand and certainly do not seem like blessings at all.  Today I want to talk about one such promise with a special message to the American church.
"If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. John 15:18-20 NKJV
Persecution should not be a surprise as it is promised.  We see here that it is a result of being chosen of God.  The world hates you because you do not belong to it anymore.  You are an outcast from a fallen world.  You just do not fit in anymore and that righteousness in your life magnifies the sin in their own lives.  You become a source of conviction and a reminder of a God they care not to know and a Savior they are rejecting.  Here is what Jesus said continuing in John:
"But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, 'They hated Me without a cause.'" John 15:21-25 NKJV
They hated Jesus because of His words and works.  They will hate us for the same.

Note the last statement from Jesus: "They hated Me without a cause."  Keep that in mind in your ministry as an encouragement and an admonishment.  When you are hated for living and speaking the Gospel and God's work in your own life and people hate you for it, it is without cause.  There is nothing wrong with you and their hatred and rejection is for Christ in you, not you.  They hate Jesus and so the more they Jesus in you, the more they hate you.  On the other hand, make sure there is no cause.  Many Christians are hated for being self righteous.  Many are hated for being hypocrites.  Many are hated for being obnoxious.  Be careful you do not fit into these categories.  We need to be blameless as Jesus was blameless and bold like Jesus was bold.  But also like Jesus, we are to live those words we preach lest we become self righteous or a hypocrite.  Also, many Christians like to be "Jesus Freaks."  If you are ridiculed for being a freak, it is not Jesus in you being persecuted, it is you, it is because you are weird.  I say this out of love, but your purposely "freak" persona takes away from the message of Jesus.  It becomes a distraction and puts the focus on you, not Jesus in you. 

Many like to avoid confrontation and so they plan outreaches and live their lives in such a way that avoids controversy.  I need to tell you that the Gospel is controversial.  You can not rightly teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and not cause controversy.  An outreach based solely on the premise of "God loves you" is incomplete and misleading.  It teaches what I like to call Grandfatherism where God is the Great Grandad in the sky who loves all his children just the same and unless you do something really really bad like kill someone then you get to spent eternity sitting on a cloud playing a harp.  The Gospel is so much more than that!  Yes God is our Father and yes God does love us.  But we need to teach how sin separated us from God, that we need a savior, that the love of God was extended to us through the death of Jesus on the Cross.  We need to teach that Jesus is the only way.  We need to teach the consequences of rejecting Jesus.  You can not accept a savior until you understand that you need one.  But that is a message for another day, I just want to emphasize that persecution is a promise and it should not be avoided by watering down the Gospel message.

So it is clear in Scripture that we are promised persecution.  But is it a good thing?  Just because the Bible says it will happen, does that mean it is a good thing?  In this case especially, I say yes.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Matthew 5:10-12 NKJV
So here we have it.  We are told that those who are persecuted are "happy."  The word "blessed" means happy so try re-reading that passage using "happy" instead of "blessed."  Now also look at things from an eternal perspective.  It should begin to make more sense.  We are happy for what we are going through now because of our eternal reward after (the kingdom of heaven).  We are happy with what people do to us now because our reward is great in the life to come and we are in the company of the heroes of our faith.  We are happy not because we like to be rejected and hated, but we are happy because of what God will do for us because of our persecution.  What we need to do is keep things in an eternal perspective. We need to keep our eyes on our eternal reward, not our present circumstances.  Here is what Paul said:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NKJV
Paul said this in regard to persecution.  He called it light affliction and lest you think that Paul did not know persecution, read this:
Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often.From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. 1 Corinthians 11:23-28 NKJV
It is clear that Paul knew persecution, but despite all of tha, he considered it momentary light affliction compared to the reward he looked forward to.  May we have that same heart in light of persecution. 

And what of the persecution for those of us in America?  For the most part, we get made fun of my friends and poked fun at in movies and in television.  Some may lose friends and be ostracized by family members.  Yes we hear of some occasions where people lose their jobs or face criminal prosecution for preaching, but those as of yet are few and far between.  And yet we complain and compromise.  We water down our message and pretend to be just like everyone else. We are scared of this simple persecution we do have and so of course we do not see it as a blessing.  I dare say that a large part of us are not even worthy of real persecution.  We cower before the ACLU and earthly judges and actually obey laws contrary to God just to avoid any trouble.  So many of us our cowards and do not realize how easy we have it.  Our children may be mocked, but in Indonesia a few years ago a group of Christian schoolgirls were murdered on their way to school.  We may lose a job, our brothers in other parts of the world lose the right to work.  We may be faced with a lawsuit from the ACLU, our brothers and sisters in large parts of the world face torture, imprisonment, and death.  We may be ostracized by our family, in other parts of the world, your family would drag you out and kill you.  We may be made fun of by our friends, in other parts of the world you former friends will make you watch your wife and children beaten and raped just before you are all killed.  We have no idea what real persecution is and whine and mope about what we deal with.  Our brothers and sisters who face unimaginable horror cling to their faith with joy.  We think we are blessed of God in our comfort, but really God is just not counting us worthy of real persecution.  And yes, persecution is something you need to be worthy to receive.
And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. Acts 5:40-41 NKJV
The apostles were beaten for preaching the Gospel and rejoiced that they were worthy to suffer shame for Christ.  Again, they rejoiced that they were WORTHY to suffer shame for Christ.  God promises persecution but He will not allow more than your faith is ready for.

Our nation has been trending more and more to some real persecution.  You need to get on your knees and pray that God work in your life that you may be counted worthy to suffer and stand for the Gospel.  You need to pray for God to put eternity in your heart so that when it does come, you see your reward and not your present circumstances.  You need to pray that you would see what is coming with great joy and not dread because what is coming is appointed of God and His Gospel will be shown strong through our persecution.  Persecution tests and strengthens our faith and ultimately reveals to the world just how real our God is.  When you can rejoice through trials, people will see just how genuine your faith is and God will be glorified.  We can not make ourselves worthy, but we can pray and seek after God for that deeper relationship where we see great blessings even in terrible persecution.  It all starts now with rejoicing and thanking God for the persecution you do get now.  Be faithful in what you are given now and you will be given more later.

Persecution is a blessing and blessed are those counted worthy with the prophets and great saints of old to suffer for the sake of Christ.  Shying away from persecution may make sense to our flesh, but it hurts our spirit.  We should embrace it, submit to it, and preach Christ through our words and actions through it.  If you life a Godly life, you will be persecuted.
Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.  2 Timothy 3:12 NKJV
But that is a good thing!  Embrace it as a blessing, appreciate it as a gift from God, look forward to your eternal reward for enduring it.  But just as much as you should not try to avoid it, you should also not try to artificially instigate it.  Do not act "weird" for the sake of Christ and do not be obnoxious.  Righteous persecution is a persecution of our spirit and Christ in us, false persecution is persecution of our actions.  Live a godly life and you will be persecuted.  Praise God! 
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. 1 Peter 4:12-14 NKJV

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Christians and the Government

There is a wide variety of opinions on how Christians should relate to the government and politics.  We have on one extreme, those who do not even feel they should vote.  On the other hand, you have those Christians who just about see the Constitution as part of Scripture.  Today I want to see what the Bible says about how we should relate to government.  I am speaking particularly of America today.  The prevailing Scripture often cited is Romans 13:1-7.  Let's take a walk though those verses.
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.  Romans 13:1-2 NKJV
We see from the start that God is the one ultimate authority.  All authority on earth is appointed by God.  Therefore, those who are in authority are in their position by the will of God.  Now I know many of you are thinking that so many leaders are evil, reprobate, ungodly, and are leading the nation astray.  This is nothing new.  God appointed Saul, who turned against God.  If you look at the books of Kings and Chronicles in the Bible, you will see many evil kings raised up by God.  Jesus even told Pilate that his authority was given by God.  God raised up evil nations for judgment many times.  God does this because we have, as a nation, forsaken him.  The leader is a reflection of the heart of those who are led.  In other words, we get what we deserve.  This is especially true in America where we elect our leaders and our constant compromise of voting for the less of two evils has led us to where we are today. 

In America today, as in many other countries, our ultimate earthly authority is not a king, but a document.  In America, the Constitution is our ultimate authority and just as our leaders are (supposed to be) bound to it, so are we.  I do believe that as Christians, we have the right to resist government that is contrary to our governing document.  I believe that we have a right under God to hold our leaders accountable to the document is our highest earthly authority. 

As Christians, we also recognize that God is the ultimate authority.  God's Law goes beyond our officials and even our Constitution.  We are never to follow man's law when that law is contrary to the law of God.  We see the examples of Paul and the other apostles, the early church, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abed-Nego, and many others who righteously resisted earthly authorities when those laws were contrary to God.  One thing to note is that all of these examples accepted the earthly punishment for their actions.  Some were miraculously saved by God and some were not, but all accepted with joy the sufferings for Christ and became (even in death, torture, and imprisonment) great witnesses to the Glory of God.  The became martyrs and heroes to our faith. 
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.  Romans 13:3-4 NKJV
Many people see this as a limitation for us as Christians.  While it does give us guidelines, I believe it is just as much if not more a limitation on government.  Christians should not perform evil under any circumstances, so this is nothing new.  It is merely warning Christians of the earthly consequences of those actions. But it also limits government.  Government is appointed to be God's minister for good.  If we are living rightly, the government has no authority to judge us.  If we are living as evil, the government has the responsibility to judge us.  Unfortunately, that is not so in today's world.  Evil things (such as abortion) go unpunished and righteous things (praying in many places) are considered illegal.  We do not have to obey a government that oversteps the authority granted to it by God for God as the ultimate authority has placed limits on the power He has given them.

Now there are also many laws that are not good or evil, but just for general governance.  I speak of things like speed limits and stop signs etc.  The rule is to obey laws except when they are contrary to God's law.  There is nothing ungodly (or even unconstitutional) about traffic lights and speed limits.  Many laws are annoying and make our lives more difficult, but that is a consequence of our own state of affairs and who we as a nation elect to office. We are to obey those laws because to disobey them is to disobey God.
Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. Romans 13:5 NKJV
The reason we subject ourselves to the prevailing government should not just be out of fear of retribution, but also for conscience sake.  If it were merely for fear of wrath, we would obey even laws contrary to God.  If it were merely for fear, the law would take precedent of God because we are only to fear Him.  Conscience is a matter of the heart and the heart is under the jurisdiction of God alone.  We do good not because the government tells us but because that is what God expects of us.  We do not do evil because it is unpleasing to God.  We follow the law of man because we follow God.  God, as the ultimate authority, appointed those in power over us and therefore we are not following government for government's sake, but out of our obedience to God. 
Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.  Romans 13:7 NKJV
I see so many Christians disrespecting our president or other government officials they disagree with.  While I do not agree with our current president, I do have respect for the position he is in and so I will not resort to slander and name-calling.  We are to honor those who are due honor.  And the title of president deserves that honor and respect.  We are also to pay our taxes.  Yes, taxes are burdensome, but is that not what God promised would happen when man rejected the direct authority of God?  Our burdensome taxes are the result of man choosing to follow man rather than God.  We are not to try to cheat the government.  Even Jesus himself said to pay taxes. 

One more passage is commonly used in man's relation to government. 
And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. "Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, "Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? "Show Me the tax money." So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?" They said to Him, "Caesar's." And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." Matthew 22:16-21 NKJV
Many of us disagree with what our tax money is used for.  It pays for so many things that are contrary to God and many are hard-pressed to feel right about paying into an evil system.  Jesus teaches us here that we are to pay into that system our due taxes.  The Romans were not a godly group of people and that tax money went to fund destructive armies, lavish sinful lifestyles, worship to false gods, and more.  Jesus made the interesting statement about rendering unto Caesar his due in terms of taxes along with rendering to God what is God's.  The fact is that not paying taxes does not change the system.  It does not change the hearts of those who use the tax money for sin.  Government may have due the money, but God has due our hearts.  To change the evil things that government does, the answer is to change the hearts of those who serve in that government.  In our system, that involves changing the hearts of the nation that votes for those men and women.  In order to change those lives, we have to live ours for God as the light and salt of the earth.  We have to share and live the Gospel to change our nation's heart towards God.  Not paying your taxes is pointless and in the end it is the easy way out.  Live the life God has called you to live and you will have an effect. 

And finally, what does the Bible say about participating in government and politics.  The Bible is full of examples of men of God who were both religious and civil leaders.  We have many of the judges, King David, Joseph, Daniel, and more.  There is much Biblical precedence for being involved in politics. Furthermore, being involved is part of being obedient to God and our government.  Our form of government is a participatory one.  We all have a right to vote, to speak our mind, to protest, to seek redress in courts, and to petition the government.  God has given us those rights through our government by virtue of our humanity. It would be wrong for us to sit idly back when evil runs rampant with our government's consent when we have the right and responsibility to make our views known and try to change that.   We can run for office, vote for righteous leaders, petition courts when an evil law is passed, protest evil policies, petition our elected officials to affect their vote as a representation of us.  We have those rights and we need to take full advantage of the good gifts God has given us in that regard.  To do so would be to be disobedient to our following a system of the people, by the people, and for the people.  If we do not represent ourselves in that system, then we share the blame for the moral decay and subsequent judgment of our nation.

If you want to live as a Christian in this land then you have to participate. If you want to change the heart of the nation, we have to speak and live the message of the Gospel to change the hearts of the people.  Above all, though, we need to pray.  Prayer is not the act of last resort, but the initiator of all our actions.  Pray for guidance in how you participate and even more pray for those who lead us.  If you want to live in peace, pray for those who are your leaders.  God would not have asked us to do it, if He did not plan to affect the hearts and minds of our leaders through it.
Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  1 Timothy 2:1-4 NKJV

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Paul's Letter to Philemon

Today I want to talk of a great story of redemption recorded for all of us in God's Word in an often overlooked book.  Today I want to talk about the man Onesimus and his master Philemon and we this story in the book of Philemon.

The book of Philemon was written by Paul during his first imprisonment to a man Philemon.  What is amazing is that this a personal letter written by Paul to a brother in the Lord regarding one other man.  From the start, it shows to me just how important we are individually to God. 

Onesimus was a slave who belonged to Philemon.  There came a point in time where Onesimus stole some money and ran away from Philemon.  Through some twists and turns that we do not know about, he ended up with Paul in prison.  How amazing is it that God cared so much about a lowly runaway thieving slave that He worked it out for him to be in the very same prison as Paul (who happened to be friends with Philemon).  It is amazing how when someone else does something meant for bad that God works to good, but it is even more amazing how God can sometimes work out what we ourselves mean to evil but work it for our good.  I wouldn't test God on that, but His grace is amazing.  Paul shares the Gospel with Onesimus and in tern he accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior and now Paul is sending him back to Philemon with a letter we have recorded in Scripture for all time.  Today I would like to attempt to take us through that letter.
PAUL, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer, to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Philemon 1-3 NKJV
I love the way Paul begins his letters.  Nowadays, we have a masthead with our names and addresses.  If we are lucky we get a "Re:", but it is certainly not like the epistles of Paul.  With emails and text messages, we have become all about business and the art of letter writing is all but lost.  In Paul's time, letters began with who it was from.  So here we have Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus and Timothy our brother.  Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter.  He was in prison for his ministry of the Gospel so he was quite literally a prisoner of Christ.  Note that he does not say he is a prisoner of Rome, but of Christ.  Paul recognized that his present condition was appointed by God for His purposes.  And of course we know Timothy from Paul's epistles to Timothy.  Apphia was probably Philemon's wife and many believe that Acchippus was Philemon's son.  Acchipus was called by Paul as fellow soldier, meaning he was also active in the ministry of the Gospel.  It is also apparent that Philemon had a church group meeting in his house as Paul greets them as well.  And finally, Paul greets them in the Grace and Peace of God the Father our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is the source of the grace and peace in our lives, and so that should always be acknowledged. 
I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother. Philemon 4-7 NKJV
What an amazing testimony we have here of Philemon.  Paul, while in prison, is hearing of his love and faith and the good things that he is doing that strengthen that testimony.  Philemon was a man of God, not just in word but in deed.  And his love to the Lord is so great that it is an encouragement to others.  This is also an insight into Paul and his concern for not just the church in general, but for individuals.  We saw earlier that Paul referenced his family and we see here that Paul, even while in prison, keeps himself up the the concerns of individual Christians.  He prays not just for the the church that meets in Philemon's house or the general church at Colossi (where Philemon was from), but even for Philemon individually.  Paul was a man of prayer and his prayers were not filled with his present concerns of being in prison, but for the well-being and good ministry of those doing the work of God outside of prison. 
Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, yet for love's sake I rather appeal to you—being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ— I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me. who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me. Philemon 8-11 NKJV
And now Paul is getting to the purpose of his letter.  Note the humility in which he speaks, though.  He can command Philemon as an apostle and as an elder in the church, but instead appeals to him as a brother in the Lord.  He appeals out of love instead of commanding out of authority.  He makes his appeal for Onesimus.  Another amazing truth to this story is that the name Onesimus means "profitable."  God knew from the start how things would turn out, and though while first a slave and then a fugitive and a prisoner, he has finally come to own his name.  Of course, he is not profitable in the worldly sense, but he is profitable for the ministry of God. 
I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel. But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary.  Philemon 12-14 NKJV
The punishment for Onesimus would have been either branding or death.  Paul is appealing for that not to happen.  The amazing thing here is Onesimus and how he is willingly returning knowing what may happen.  Here we see the work of God in the life of Onesimus and how God changed his heart.  He could have ran again, but yet he willingly went to face his accuser.  He willingly went knowing full well what the punishment could be. He went back to confess his sin and accept the worldly punishment for that sin.  God does forgive us our sins, but we also need to remember that many times there are consequences in this life for the things that we have done. 

Paul desired to keep Onesimus with him as he was a blessing to Paul.  Paul, though, did not want to act irresponsibly and not lord it over Philemon so he sent Onesimus back to make that request in person.  Paul, again, could have just used his authority to command Onesimus to stay there, but Paul wanted Philemon to act out of love and not compulsion.  There is no goodness or love is something done out of compulsion.  This is why God does not immediately make us perfect when we come to Christ.  God wants us to choose to love him and that love is shown in obedience and submission.  God wants us to submit to His will willingly and out of our love for Him. 

We see in the next passage that not only does Paul ask Philemon to forgive him, but also to pardon him his crimes:
For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.   Philemon 15-16
We also see Paul proclaiming the work of God in the life of Onesimus.  It was no coincidence that Onesimus ended up with Paul in prison.  It was God's purpose from the beginning.  It was God's purpose from before the foundations of the world.  Onesimus meant his actions for evil and selfish gain, but God being full of grace and knowing all things had something different in mind.  What started as crime ended as redemption.  Philemon thought he lost a slave, but instead gained a brother.  God works all things together for good, and this is a perfect example of that.  God turned crime and loss into redemption and gain. 
If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay—not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides. Philemon 17-19 NKJV
Paul here asks Philemon to receive Onesimus the same way he would receive him.  Paul also offers to have whatever was lost accounted to him.  Paul says he is writing that with his own hand, indicating that Paul is personally interceding on behalf of Onesimus and even offering take take upon himself whatever loss there may have been.  Paul also reminds Philemon that just like to Onesimus, Paul was the one who preached the Gospel to Philemon to his salvation.  Paul is reminding Philemon of the work done on his behalf by God through Paul and the gratitude that he should have. 
Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord. Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.  Philemon 20-21 NKJV
And now we see Paul the encourager.  Paul has faith in what God has done in the life of Philemon and in Philemon's heart for the Lord.  Paul expresses his confidence that Philemon will do what is requested of him and more.  That again goes back to the testimony of Philemon as a man of God and the reputation earned through his faithfulness.  So, Paul, having faith in the heart of Philemon based on his reputation in the Lord, uses a little salesmanship here reminding Philemon of his heart in the Lord as an assumption that he will act rightly. 
But, meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I trust that through your prayers I shall be granted to you. Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.  Philemon 22-25 NKJV
Paul is confident that he will be released from prison and so he is asking Philemon to prepare a place for him.  We know from history that Paul was, in fact, released from this first imprisonment.  Also make note that Paul credits his future release to the prayers of Philemon.  Prayer does have an effect and Paul knew that.  Paul ends his letter where he begins, by wishing the grace of God upon the heart of Philemon. 

Some may wonder why this short personal letter is so important that it is included as part of God's Word.  I hope that today you see why.  While short, it is rich with lessons we can take to heart.  While it is not filled with the doctrinal depths that typify his other letters, we do see real world examples of those same precepts in this letter.  We see what Paul preached being worked in his own life and in the lives of Onesimus and Philemon. 

First we have Paul making note that he is a prisoner of Christ not as a hardship forced on him by the world, but as an opportunity for ministry given to him by God.  We see Paul not bemoaning his circumstances, but doing the work of God no matter where he is.  Paul teaches us to pray without ceasing and we see here Paul continually praying for Philemon along with many others and how Paul has faith that Philemon is praying for him.  Paul taught us the importance of prayer and we see that reflected in his life right here.  Paul taught us that God works everything for good for those that love God and are called according to His purposes.  We see here that Onesimus began as a thieving slave, causing loss and hardship to Philemon, and we see how God intended that for good.  What Onesimus meant for evil and material loss,  God appointed for eternal profit through the salvation of Onesimus and how his story is recorded in God's Word for all eternity.  Paul also teaches us that we were once sinners but were washed and cleansed with the blood of Christ.  We see here Onesimus willingly going back to the one whom he wronged, owning up to his sin as a result of his changed heart in God.  Paul teaches the importance of living a Godly life as a testimony to what God has done in ours and to not discredit God's word.  Here we see Paul knowing the reputation of Philemon that he can trust him to make the right decision.  Paul teaches us to bear one another's burdens.  We see here Paul taking the loss incurred due to Onesimus's sin to his own account, taking that burden off of Onesimus.  Paul teaches to share the grace with others that God has given to us.  We see here Paul pleading that to Philemon in that he is asking him to show grace to Onesimus reminding him of the Gospel and message of grace Paul shared to Philemon.  The Bible teaches us that as Christians we are not to lord our authority over others.  We see here that Paul does not compel Philemon to comply with his wishes, but pleads with him to do so voluntarily.  We see so much of what is taught in the Bible expressed in this short epistle that it should be no wonder that is God's Word for us.

But even more than all of that, we see here a picture of the Gospel.  We have Onesimus who has sinned against Philemon and deserving of death.  We have Paul paying the loss resulting from that sin in place of Onesimus and interceding for Onesimus to Philemon.  This is a perfect picture of what is taught in Hebrews:
Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.  Hebrews 7:25 NKJV
Not that Philemon is God or Paul is Jesus, but as a type we see the ministry of Jesus in action.  Paul takes on the debt of Onesimus as he makes intercession on his behalf to Philemon who by all rights can put Onesimus to death.  Praise God we have Jesus who makes that same intercession for us and also for us took upon Himself the debt owed of us by our sins. 

And one other lesson that amazes me about this letter is just how much God cares for individuals.  Think about it, Onesimus was a lowly slave who turned to crime and became a fugitive then prisoner.  Despite his lowly state in the world and sinful and criminal state in his lifestyle, God saw fit to work the circumstances in his life to end up with of all people Paul the apostle of Jesus Christ in prison.  Not only did God save Onesimus, but he sought after him and worked things in his life to where he would hear the Gospel message, in spite of his sin. I can't help but believe that as a man of God, Philemon was praying for him after he ran away.  I can't help but to believe that what we see here is a result of God answering that prayer in how He worked in the life of Onesimus.  I can't help but to believe that God can and will answer those same prayers of ours for those we know who do not know the Lord.  God will not compel anyone to come to Him, but He will work in their lives so that they hear the message in a way they can understand it.  We also wonder sometimes why it is we pray for our enemies.  Here we have the answer.  Onesimus went from an enemy to a brother and Philemon's loss became gain.  We pray because there is no one that God does not want to come to Him.  We pray because the value of a new brother in the Lord far outweighs any loss we occurred as a result of what may have been done to us.
Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4 NKJV