Saturday, April 30, 2011

Miracles for Sale

Today I was all set to post something on just how low our society has sank.  When I returned home, I saw something even worse.  That is rather hard to do considering we were driven to the festival in a small shuttle where our five minutes of ride was filled with foul language, stories of drinking, and even a man lowering his pants to show off a tattoo on his rear end.  Of course the festival was no better with drunk people spilling into the festival crowd from the jam packed bars on the sides of the road, children dressed like prostitutes, profanity, and all round general sinful revelry and all at a so-called "family friendly" event. 

So what can be worse than that?  Well when we arrived home and I turned on the television there was some money drive going on by something calling itself Christian.  Then I say words on the screen that left me in shock.  It said "Send your gift in faith of $360 and expect your miracle."  That is not word for word, but it is exactly what it said.  It is bad enough when the world is rolling headlong into Hell but it is even worse when those who are supposed to reach out to the world are selling seats on the lifeboat!  Who are we to imply that miracles are somehow for sale that if only we give enough money God will perform some miracle for us.  Is God a trick monkey performing tricks for peanuts?  Is God our servant that He performs when we pay Him enough?

I came home today sad about a world  that I see as getting worse and worse.  I turned on the television and those feelings were even worse.  The church is eroding right along with the church.   There will come a point where the world will sink so low that it becomes irredeemable and must be judged and destroyed.  I fear we are moving ever closer to the point. I do not fear for myself, but for those who ignore the call of the Gospel and the free gift offered through Jesus Christ.  I also fear for the church that has perverted His message.  They may be able to sell miracles to others, but they will never be able to buy their own salvation.  
He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming quickly." Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! Revelation 22:20 NKJV

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Book of Judges - Abimelech

Today we will be studying the story of Abimelech, the son of Gideon.  He was introduced to us last week as the son of a concubine and one of seventy sons of Gideon.  Abimelech is not his father's son and we will see that today.  First we will set the state for the rise of Abimelech with a common refrain in the book of Judges.
So it was, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the children of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals, and made Baal-Berith their god. Thus the children of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side; nor did they show kindness to the house of Jerubbaal (Gideon) in accordance with the good he had done for Israel.  Judges 8:33-35 NKJV
And so continues the cycle of Israel's slide into apostasy at the death of a judge.  We will not really be talking about a "judge" today as Abimelech never really rose to that kind of stature. 
Then Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem, to his mother's brothers, and spoke with them and with all the family of the house of his mother's father, saying, "Please speak in the hearing of all the men of Shechem: 'Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal reign over you, or that one reign over you?' Remember that I [am] your own flesh and bone." And his mother's brothers spoke all these words concerning him in the hearing of all the men of Shechem; and their heart was inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, "He is our brother." So they gave him seventy [shekels] of silver from the temple of Baal-Berith, with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless men; and they followed him.  Judges 9:1-4 NKJV
And here we have Abimelech's rise to power.  Abimelech was born of a concubine from Shechem so he was considered to be a native to that city and not an outsider.  He asks his mother to speak on his behalf to all the people saying that rather than having all seventy sons rule over them, why not the one who was there brother and not a foreigner.  The people agreed and gave him some silver (note from the temple of Baal) to get him started in his reign.  He used that money to hire "worthless and reckless" men and the task his had for them was a terrible crime.
Then he went to his father's house at Ophrah and killed his brothers, the seventy sons of Jerubbaal, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, because he hid himself. And all the men of Shechem gathered together, all of Beth Millo, and they went and made Abimelech king beside the terebinth tree at the pillar that [was] in Shechem.  Judges 9:5-6 NKJV
Abimelech did not want any competition for the throne he was trying to create and so he murdered all the other heirs of Gideon save one who hid himself.  A terrible crime had been committed.  The people of Shechem them made him king, but the Lord did not. 
Now when they told Jotham, he went and stood on top of Mount Gerizim, and lifted his voice and cried out. And he said to them: "Listen to me, you men of Shechem, That God may listen to you! The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them. And they said to the olive tree, 'Reign over us!' But the olive tree said to them, 'Should I cease giving my oil, With which they honor God and men, And go to sway over trees?' Then the trees said to the fig tree, 'You come [and] reign over us!' But the fig tree said to them, 'Should I cease my sweetness and my good fruit, And go to sway over trees?'  Then the trees said to the vine, 'You come [and] reign over us!' But the vine said to them, 'Should I cease my new wine, Which cheers [both] God and men, And go to sway over trees?' Then all the trees said to the bramble, 'You come [and] reign over us!' And the bramble said to the trees, 'If in truth you anoint me as king over you, [Then] come [and] take shelter in my shade; But if not, let fire come out of the bramble And devour the cedars of Lebanon!' Now therefore, if you have acted in truth and sincerity in making Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have done to him as he deserves-- for my father fought for you, risked his life, and delivered you out of the hand of Midian; but you have risen up against my father's house this day, and killed his seventy sons on one stone, and made Abimelech, the son of his female servant, king over the men of Shechem, because he is your brother-- if then you have acted in truth and sincerity with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, [then] rejoice in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you. But if not, let fire come from Abimelech and devour the men of Shechem and Beth Millo; and let fire come from the men of Shechem and from Beth Millo and devour Abimelech!" And Jotham ran away and fled; and he went to Beer and dwelt there, for fear of Abimelech his brother.  Judges 6:7-21 NKJV
Jotham, the surviving son of the slaughter ran away far enough to get a head start but close enough to be heard and delivered a powerful speech to the people of Shechem.  He told them a parable of how all the trees desired a king and all the worthy and valuable trees refused.  After all the good trees had refused, the then asked the bramble (a thorn bush) to be king over them and the thorn bush accepted.  In other words, in their sinful desperation for a king, they selected a tyrant who would bring them pain.  He then pronounces a curse upon them.  He reminded them of all the good that Gideon had done to them if they had done right by his house by anointing Abimelech as king (clearly they had not), then all would be well.  If not, Abimelech and Shechem would eventually destroy each other. 
After Abimelech had reigned over Israel three years, God sent a spirit of ill will between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, that the crime [done] to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might be settled and their blood be laid on Abimelech their brother, who killed them, and on the men of Shechem, who aided him in the killing of his brothers.  Judges 9:22-24 NKJV
Abimelech may have thought that God had excused his slaughter of the sons of Gideon  He reigned for three years with no lightening bolts aimed at him.  God had not forgotten and for three years he could have repented, but now that time is up and God is initiating His plan for judgment.  The first step was creating a spirit of ill will between Abimelech and Shechem.
And the men of Shechem set men in ambush against him on the tops of the mountains, and they robbed all who passed by them along that way; and it was told Abimelech. Now Gaal the son of Ebed came with his brothers and went over to Shechem; and the men of Shechem put their confidence in him. So they went out into the fields, and gathered [grapes] from their vineyards and trod [them], and made merry. And they went into the house of their god, and ate and drank, and cursed Abimelech. Then Gaal the son of Ebed said, "Who [is] Abimelech, and who [is] Shechem, that we should serve him? [Is he] not the son of Jerubbaal, and [is not] Zebul his officer? Serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem; but why should we serve him? If only this people were under my authority! Then I would remove Abimelech." So he said to Abimelech, "Increase your army and come out!"  Judges 9:25-29 NKJV
It looks like Abimelech has a little rebellion on his hands.  Gaal comes to Shechem and says that he has an even greater claim to the throne.  He riles up some crime, gathers support of the men of Shechem, and directly challenges Abimelech for the throne.
When Zebul, the ruler of the city, heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger was aroused. And he sent messengers to Abimelech secretly, saying, "Take note! Gaal the son of Ebed and his brothers have come to Shechem; and here they are, fortifying the city against you. "Now therefore, get up by night, you and the people who [are] with you, and lie in wait in the field. And it shall be, as soon as the sun is up in the morning, [that] you shall rise early and rush upon the city; and [when] he and the people who are with him come out against you, you may then do to them as you find opportunity." So Abimelech and all the people who [were] with him rose by night, and lay in wait against Shechem in four companies. When Gaal the son of Ebed went out and stood in the entrance to the city gate, Abimelech and the people who [were] with him rose from lying in wait. And when Gaal saw the people, he said to Zebul, "Look, people are coming down from the tops of the mountains!" But Zebul said to him, "You see the shadows of the mountains as [if they were] men." So Gaal spoke again and said, "See, people are coming down from the center of the land, and another company is coming from the Diviners' Terebinth Tree." Then Zebul said to him, "Where indeed [is] your mouth now, with which you said, 'Who is Abimelech, that we should serve him?' [Are] not these the people whom you despised? Go out, if you will, and fight with them now." So Gaal went out, leading the men of Shechem, and fought with Abimelech. And Abimelech chased him, and he fled from him; and many fell wounded, to the [very] entrance of the gate.  Judges 9:30-40 NKJV
Zebul was an ally of Abimelech and so when he heard of the plot he warned Abimelech and told him how to set up a trap for Gaal.  Abimelech set the ambush and when the gate was opened, they rushed the city.  Zebul assisted in the ruse by telling Gaal that basically he was just seeing things when he say men rushing the city.  Abimelech routed the solders of Gaal and drove them back into the city, defeated and weakened.  Zebul adds insult to injury by asking him basically where his big mouth was now.  Abimelech must still be thinking that God is on his side, sadly he does not realize that this is all part of God's plan.
Then Abimelech dwelt at Arumah, and Zebul drove out Gaal and his brothers, so that they would not dwell in Shechem. And it came about on the next day that the people went out into the field, and they told Abimelech. So he took his people, divided them into three companies, and lay in wait in the field. And he looked, and there were the people, coming out of the city; and he rose against them and attacked them. Then Abimelech and the company that [was] with him rushed forward and stood at the entrance of the gate of the city; and the [other] two companies rushed upon all who [were] in the fields and killed them. So Abimelech fought against the city all that day; he took the city and killed the people who [were] in it; and he demolished the city and sowed it with salt. Now when all the men of the tower of Shechem had heard [that], they entered the stronghold of the temple of the god Berith. And it was told Abimelech that all the men of the tower of Shechem were gathered together. Then Abimelech went up to Mount Zalmon, he and all the people who [were] with him. And Abimelech took an ax in his hand and cut down a bough from the trees, and took it and laid [it] on his shoulder; then he said to the people who were with him, "What you have seen me do, make haste [and] do as I [have done]." So each of the people likewise cut down his own bough and followed Abimelech, put [them] against the stronghold, and set the stronghold on fire above them, so that all the people of the tower of Shechem died, about a thousand men and women.  Judges 9:41-49 NKJV
The war continues.  Zebul drives out Gaal and his men and sends word to Abimelech that the city is ripe for the taking.  First they attack the fleeing Gaal and then pushed against the city.  Eventually, the city was destroyed.  Not only was it destroyed, but it was salted to prevent them from growing anything.  The men of Shechem make one last stand in a very large tower, which is destroyed killed a thousand men and women. 
Then Abimelech went to Thebez, and he encamped against Thebez and took it. But there was a strong tower in the city, and all the men and women--all the people of the city--fled there and shut themselves in; then they went up to the top of the tower. So Abimelech came as far as the tower and fought against it; and he drew near the door of the tower to burn it with fire. But a certain woman dropped an upper millstone on Abimelech's head and crushed his skull. Then he called quickly to the young man, his armorbearer, and said to him, "Draw your sword and kill me, lest men say of me, 'A woman killed him.' " So his young man thrust him through, and he died. And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they departed, every man to his place. Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech, which he had done to his father by killing his seventy brothers. And all the evil of the men of Shechem God returned on their own heads, and on them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal.  Judges 9:50-57 NKJV
Abimelech now attacks Thebez and drive the people into a tower.  Abimelech seeing how well his plan worked against the tower in Shechem, decided to try to burn that tower down.  That was when the bolt of lightening struck in the form of a piece of millstone dropped on his head by a woman in the tower.  Seeing that his death was imminent, his pride still had the best of him and could not accept being killed by a woman and so had his armor bearer kill him with his sword.  the armor bearer complies and so ended the life of Abimelech and so the curse of Jotham came to be.  The crime committed against the house of Gideon was avenged by God. 

So what can we take from the story of Abimelech?  What stands out for me is that God's justice will not be denied.  We see many great and horrible crimes committed in this world and we sometimes wonder why God does nothing.  I am sure many though that about Abimelech when he ruled for three years.  I wonder if the people of Shechem who betrayed Gideon by assisting Abimelech in his slaughter thought that their crimes would go unpunished as well.  I wonder if Abimelech thought God was on his side as he was victorious in battle with Gaal then Shechem then Thebez.  I wonder if he though that up until the moment the millstone came crashing on his head.  God will judge the earth for its sin.  God is not blind to the atrocities committed nor does He excuse it.  For all those who have not accepted Jesus, they do not realize that are in a grace period.  They do not realize that God is not excusing the wrong they do, just giving them space to repent of it.  Whether or not they live until the Tribulation, they will face God when they die and they will see just how God feels about their rebellion.  Judgment will come and it is at that point where any mercy ends.  Even Abimelech in a last act of desperation tried to mitigate his judgment by at least not letting a woman be the one who killed him, but God did not even grant that allowance.  That unnamed woman will be known for all eternity as the one who killed Abimelech.  Unfortunately, the humiliation of his judgment is the least of his worries now as he begins his eternal judgment.  So will it be for all in the world who choose to die in their sins and refuse the free gift of salvation offered through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  All sin, all injustice, all evil, and all rebellion will be paid for.  That payment will either come at the cross of Calvary or upon their own heads of those who choose to die in their sin.  If you have not accepted Jesus, please do not mistake God's period of grace with His acceptance of your sin.  The reason He has not struck you down is to give you that chance to come to Jesus.  Do not miss that chance because once death comes, so goes away any chance at mercy.  God is offering you the greatest gift that can ever be offered, please do not miss your chance, please accept that gift. 
But the heavens and the earth [which] are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day [is] as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 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. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. 2 Peter 3:7-10 NKJV

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Even Better Than Cash for Gold

Today we are picking up right were we left off in the Sermon on the Mount.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV
Sometimes I wonder what those who teach wealth and prosperity believe "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth" actually means.  Perhaps they think this means to to lay them up selfishly focusing on "yourselves."  Unfortunately, any excess can be seen as laying up treasures for yourself.  The fallacy of the prosperity argument is that there is no such thing as selfless excess.  For example, if my wife and I receive a check for one hundred million dollars and with that money we decide that we would purchase a 20 bedroom mansion (for the two of us), six cars (for the two of us), and fill our house with all the latest gadgets, gizmos, and appliances.  Let us say that after all that, we keep a nest egg to sustain our lifestyle and in the end we give all the "excess" to charity.  Let us even go so far as to say that that excess is sixty million dollars.  Would that make us generous?  The answer, of course, is no.  We were selfish.  We purchased well beyond our needs for vanity and for the satisfaction of the flesh.  Maybe we fed millions with our donation, but many others will starve merely because we wanted a really big house.  Generosity is not measured in terms of how much you give, but in how much you hold back.  Anything held back for self that is above what you need is excess and any excess is defined as treasure.  Therefore, the excess we hold back becomes treasure we store up. 
Jesus then goes on to tell us why it is impractical to store up treasures on earth.  He says that it is "where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal."  The problem with treasure on earth is that you need to work to hold onto it.  It becomes a distraction.  That is because the more treasure you have, the more you live in fear of losing it.  You end up hiring experts and security to guard it.  You set up alarm systems to notify you if someone is trying to steal it.  If your treasure is premised on your job, you will forsake your family to revolve your life around not losing it.  The funny thing about having nothing to lose is that you never have to worry about losing it.  Furthermore, treasure is a fickle thing.  At several times in America, if your treasure was in the stock markets, it was all or mostly gone in a very short time.  Right now gold prices and very high.  There will come a time when those prices will come crashing back down to reality and so what just happened to your treasure?  It became smaller.  Treasure, through crime and just the nature of our economic systems, always runs the risk of eroding over time or crashing down in an instant.  And even if you manage to maintain your treasure through your entire life, that life will come to an end.  At that point, even if your treasure is intact, it will no longer be accessible to you.  Earthly treasure always comes with an expiration date. 
Now Jesus begins to give us a contrast.  He begins by saying "but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven."  I think we first need to discuss what that even means.  How do we lay ourselves us treasures in heaven?  What is treasure in heaven?  Those are two very good questions.  The Bible talks about crowns and rewards we receive in heaven, but does not speak much about them.  I believe that is because they are things that are so wonderful that we would not even be able to comprehend it. Think about it, if gold is road pavement in heaven then just how much more can actual treasure be?  I do not think we can even imagine how wonderful that treasure is, but the Bible says that we are to lay it up for ourselves.  So then what about the first question.  How do we lay it up?  There are several ways, one of them is being generous.  One sure way to lay up treasure in heaven is to not lay it up on earth but give any excess to the needy.  The Bible tells us that money given to the poor will be re-payed by God.  Considering that God is telling us to not lay up treasures on earth, I would have to believe that the repayment comes in the form of heavenly treasure.  The Bible also tells us that we will be rewarded based on our fruit and fruit is souls saved.  Therefore, another way to lay up treasures in heaven is to help others get there.  Finally, the Bible speaks if rewards for righteous living.  While our eternal destination is based solely on the complete work of Christ on the cross, we can be further rewarded by obedience to God.  The Parable of the Talents teaches us that lesson.  Therefore, we can lay up treasures by being obedient to God's word.
Jesus then continues His contrast "where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal."  What is profoundly superior about our treasure in Heaven is that it is eternally secure.  We do not need accountants, alarms, security guards, endless hours at work, or anything else to protect our heavenly treasures.  They are under the protection of God Himself in a realm where sin no longer exists.  There is absolutely nothing that can ever possibly happen to jeopardize our eternal treasures.  Furthermore, as added security, if the utterly impossible happened to happen and some of your heavenly treasures were lost, God can just create more.  In other words, it is doubly impossible to lose our eternal treasures.  Not only are they secure, but they are ours to enjoy for all of eternity.  There are no economic downturns in God's kingdom.  There are no crashing stock markets in heaven.  The Bank of Heaven will never become insolvent.  And, finally, there is is death to ever separate us from our eternal treasures.  I hope that you can see that eternal treasures are infinitely superior to earthly treasures. 
Jesus closes with the most important reason we need to focus on our eternal treasures.  He says "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  How true is that statement is.  I would like to add to another common saying: "Home is where your heart is."  Brothers and sisters, earth is not our home.  Let me say that again: Earth is not our home.  This is just a place we are passing through on our way to eternity.  Earth is just some temporary housing while our real home is being prepared for us by our Lord who saved us.  Heaven is our home.  What we have here is barely a run down roadside motel compared to what is awaiting us in eternity.  Actually, what we have here is barely a third-hand torn up cardboard box compared to what is awaiting us. Why would we want our treasures here?  Why do we want so much the temporary while we forsake the eternal?  Set your treasures in heaven and there is where your heart will be and there is where your home will be.  Are you so desiring a well equipped cardboard box with temporary junk that you would forsake a mansion in heaven stocked with treasures unimaginable?  I pray not,  I pray we all set our treasures and our hearts in our true home.
And that is the message of today.  We can not put earthly treasures above heavenly ones because earthly treasures are not treasures at all.  What you think you own in the end owns you.  I say that because you become a slave to holding onto your treasures.  As you focus more and more on those treasures, they become your idol.  They become your god.  Furthermore, is it ever right for us to hold onto things that are unnecessary and only serve to satisfy our flesh while those same treasures can be used to help someone else survive or better yet help someone find Jesus?  Using our treasures for God's glory rather than self satisfaction not only allows us the honor of being a part of God's work but it also lays up for us treasures in Heaven.  I implore all of you, trade in your useless junk for the eternal riches in the Kingdom of Heaven, if only you have the faith. 
So Jesus answered and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time--houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions--and in the age to come, eternal life."  Mark 10:29-30 NKJV

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Forgotten Art of Fasting

Today we are continuing in our journey through the Sermon on the Mount.  Here is today's text.
Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who [is] in the secret [place]; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. Matthew 6:16-18 NKJV
Jesus is continuing his instruction regarding pleasing God rather than man.  Here he is discussing fasting.  Fasting is sadly not as common today as it once was.  In the time of Jesus, it was much more common.  In fact, it used to be much more common among Christians.  Prayer went hand-in-hand with fasting when anyone was waiting on the Lord or imploring the Lord for something really burdening their hearts.  It is something we all need to incorporate into our prayer lives, myself included.  I admit that when it comes to fasting, I am very lacking.  I can tell you the truth, though, that when I have fasted, my prayer life and communion with God was amazing.  I know that we all must include fasting in our lives as we are only cheating ourselves when we do not.

So what is the secret of fasting.  Why does simply not eating have such an effect in our prayer lives?  Simply, it is a denial of the flesh.  In fact, it is a denial of one of the most basic needs of the flesh.  We all must eat and drink to survive.  When we deny ourselves food if even for a day or two, it becomes the primary desire of the flesh.  It comes before our desire for sin.  It comes before our desire for anything else really as our flesh begins to starve.  It is one thing to abstain from sin (which we will never be able to do) but when we abstain from food (something very possible), we cut sin's desire at the root.  When we choke out the flesh, the spirit thrives all the more.  And when the spirit thrives, you can have great communication with God. 

Now that we know what the essence of fasting is, we can much better understand why doing so for the approval of man is so wrong.  Being that fasting is a denial of the flesh and the praise of man is a means of satisfying the flesh, fasting for the praise of man betrays the very idea of what fasting is supposed to be.  You are not really fasting at all in that case because you are not denying the flesh.  Fasting is not just about not eating.  If that were the case, we would all have spiritual epiphanies every time we had our cholesterol checked.  The lack of eating is just the means to the real end of denying the flesh.  That must be our heart behind fasting otherwise it is not fasting at all. 

This also goes along with what Jesus said about praying and charity.  What we do for God needs to be between us and God.  Just like praying and just like charity, we must make sure when we fast it is for God.  When we fast for the purpose of showing off how well we fast, we are not doing it for God at all.  We are doing it for ourselves and for the wrong reason.  We are doing it not to get closer to God but to be more impressive to man.  I have covered this subject at length in my writings on prayer and charity so I will not spend too much time on it again, but I wanted to just make a point that getting beyond what fasting is supposed to be, we must make sure we are doing it for God and not man.

So what should we do when fasting?  I mean if we fast long enough there has to be some physical effect on ourselves, right?  Here is what Jesus says "But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting."  Please do not take this too far.  Jesus is not telling us to be dishonest, but to put on our normal best appearance. Do not dress in ragged clothes or go around moaning how hungry you are.  Do not go around telling everyone you are fasting.  And do not make yourself look like you are fasting.  In other words, do not let your hunger show.  What we should do is go about our business as we always did.  Wake up, take a shower, brush your teeth, do you hair, put on your makeup (if you are a woman), put in your deodorant, dress nicely, and go about your day.  We should never appear to be fasting.   If someone offers you something to eat, you can politely refuse without using that as an opportunity to brag.  Nobody needs to know you are fasting.  Nobody should know that you are fasting.   If you have a good experience with fasting, please feel free to share that because it is always good to encourage others by the good things God has done in your life.  The point is that we are not to show that we are fasting.

Jesus the finishes by saying "but to your Father who [is] in the secret [place]; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly."  This, again, is just like with prayer and charity.  If you truly fast unto the Lord, then the Lord will truly reward you.  That reward will be evident in your life.  Those things you were fasting and praying for will either come to be or you will have a great understanding of why you should not have asked for them.  That may sound illogical, but whatever answer God gives is the right answer.  If God says "No." then we can have faith that the greater blessing was in God not answering that prayer.  God will also reward us with a deeper more intimate relationship with Him.  The effects of righteous fasting will again transcend throughout your entire life as your relationship grows with the Lord.  Fasting is also a great way to take control of our flesh when it comes to sin.  If you choke out the flesh, it will weaken.  When you see you can take dominion over the flesh through fasting, those sins that seem to overtake you will not seem as strong as they once did. 

Sadly, fasting has gone by the wayside in much of the church today.  It becomes a special event rather than a regular practice.  What we lose is an important part of our spiritual lives.  Please do not eschew fasting as something old and obsolete.  The value in fasting is just as important today as it was for Jesus when he went into the wilderness for forty days.  Furthermore, Jesus speaks the lesson regarding the proper way to fast with the assumption that fasting will be a part of our lives.  Prayer is an amazing thing, but prayer and fasting takes it to a whole new level.  Sometimes we need to get back to basics and fasting is one of the most basic of basics for our spiritual lives.  I challenge you all to pick a day and fast.  Take that day as a day of prayer, reading Scripture, and denying the flesh that will cry out for food.  Do it, and keep it between you and God, and you will see just how God will openly reward you.
[Is] this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke?  Isaiah 58:6 NKJV

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

If You're Forgiven, You Will Forgive

Hello everyone.  Today we will be continuing in our series on the Sermon on the Mount.  Today should be a short message as we cover just a couple of verses that I covered before.  Here is today's text.
For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.  Matthew 6:14-15 NKJV
What is interesting is that this message is tucked away in Jesus telling us how to perform our Christian duties.  Specifically, this was given as a commentary to the model prayer that He just finished teaching us.  In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus did tell us that part of it should be asking forgiveness for our sins against Him as we forgive others who sinned against us.  If Jesus, out of the entire prayer, chose to highlight this one teaching, it must be important for us to know and understand.

Why is this message of forgiveness so important?  I believe that if we truly understand God's grace and forgiveness, we have no choice but to forgive anything done to us.  I do not believe Jesus is teaching a condition or work for our salvation in that God will not forgive us if we do not forgive others. What I do believe is that if we do not forgive others, we never truly accepted God's forgiveness of us.  I say that because just as if we understand God's grace and forgiveness we will forgive others, then in this case the mirror of that statement is also true.  I believe that if you do not forgive others, you do not understand God's grace and forgiveness.  In other words, you never received it to begin with. 

This again goes back to the Beatitudes.  Coming to God involves coming to the end of ourselves and seeing us in light of who God is.  Seeing ourselves in that light shows us all that we are not.  We are stripped of any pride as we realize just how unworthy we are.  We are not like the Pharisee who thanks God for how good he is but like the taxpayer who realizes just how good he is not.  That realization of us being so totally unworthy to stand before God should transcend the rest of our being as we ourselves as no better than anyone else.  Holding something against someone violates that honest view of ourselves in that it makes the claim that we are better than that person.  Think about it, how can you withhold grace from someone when God has not withheld grace from you despite your own failures?  If you truly understand who you are in light of who God is, there can be no way that you see yourself as any better than anyone else.  That makes you the Pharisee, who in that famous parable, did not go home justified. 

Furthermore, coming to God means mourning for our own unrighteousness.  This is a result of seeing the righteousness of God.  When we see our own righteousness for just how wanting it is, how can we see our righteousness as better than that of someone else?  If we see that our own righteousness was an illusion and a fraud and that we really have none, we certainly can not see ourselves as better than anyone else.  We simply can not have more than someone else of something we have none of.  And so if we truly see our lack, we can not hold the lack of another against them.  Failure to forgive someone else is telling that other person that your righteousness is better than theirs.  That statement shows that you never really came to that end where you realized you had none and needed Jesus to pay for those sins. 

And so we see here the importance of forgiving others.  It is one of those signs that you have truly accepted the grace of God.  I hope that as we meditate on this lesson right after Easter that we are able to put it into its right perspective.  Jesus suffered and died for the sins of the world.  He suffered terribly as He paid for those sins and when he was finished, it was finished.  In other words, He paid the complete price for all the sins we commit against God and each other.  Holding a sin over someone is telling Jesus that His payment was somehow incomplete.  May we never have that heart.  May we never be so proud as to ask more than the blood of Jesus to forgive sins.  May we never set higher standards than God for how a sin should be forgiven.  We do so at our own peril because doing so shows we never understood the grace offered to us. If we do not understand grace, can we really say we have accepted it? 
Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 'Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?' "And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses. Matthew 18:32-35 NKJV