Christianity 201

January 16, 2013

An Often Neglected Qualification for an Elder

From Blog and Mablog, this piece by Douglas Wilson will take you in a couple of different directions. I encourage you to read it at source where it appeared under the title  Leaving the 99: Church Government – Elders of the Church.

Over the years I have written a good deal about one of the great neglected qualifications for the ministry, which is the spiritual state of the minister’s family and home. Paul tells us plainly that a man whose house is not in order is not qualified to be a steward in the household of God. The stewardship abilities required in the one setting are comparable to those which are needed in the other. The texts seem plain enough.

“If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work . . . One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) (1 Tim. 3:1,4-5)

“Ordain elders in every city . . . the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God” (Tit. 1:5-7)

Having stated the hard center of the position, let us go on to acknowledge that life is messy and the texts are not plain enough to apply themselves. Somebody has to make decisions about it, and there will be complications. For example, the requirements have to do with making someone a minister — sacking a minister two years before his retirement is not in view. We also have to decide where the enforcement line for others might be. A man might have one line for what would require his own resignation, another one for how much he would say if a friend asked his advice, and yet a third for what he would fight about at presbytery. Another question concerns what scale of blameworthiness we are using — do we wait until excommunication? Or is the line crossed as soon as the wife of the head deacon sees the teenaged son of the minister sneaking into the back room of the video rental store? And what about the pastor whose natural kids are all thriving spiritually but the crack cocaine baby they adopted has had nothing but struggles? Okay, so life is messy, and we have to make decisions, and we have to do so non-legalistically, and do so without treating personal pastoral problems like we were stacking no more than five wooden blocks. Got it.

That said, I want to offer another consideration for men who are in such messy situations, and who truly desire to know what the Lord would have them do. I do not offer them a rule, and certainly I am not handing a rule over to the self-appointed chairman of their lynching party. I don’t want to lend encouragement to any “tag, you’re disqualified” factions within the church. Sometimes people confuse settling scores with holiness. I simply offer something to consider, and here it is.

Not all disqualifications are the same. Some men are disqualified from the ministerial office down to the bone. Given the nature of the case, they are probably disqualified in other areas as well, but when it comes to the Christian family, they don’t have a clue. Many years ago, back in our Jesus people days, when I was a very young pastor, a gent rolled into town, and “felt led” such that he wanted to join in with us on the leadership team. Only problem was, he had been married six times — and the last two wives were in his Christian phase. Um, let us think about it, no. So say a pastor has six kids, all of them hellions, from the three-year-old, whom the child care workers at the church have affectionately named Demon Child, to the eldest boy, who is sixteen and has already gotten three girls in the youth group pregnant. How all this could possibly be happening is a grand mystery to Dad, and he feels greatly put upon if anybody is legalistic enough to bring it up. Whatever happened to grace? This is disqualification simpliciter.

But there is another sort of qualification issue that is in a different category entirely. It is not the revealing of an utterly unpastoral heart, but is rather closer to what I would regard as one of a pastor’s final qualifying exams, an advanced test. A pastor has a number of grown children, walking in the Lord, and one black sheep. Does the Bible give directions to shepherds about the sheep who can take care of themselves for a bit, and the one who obviously can’t? Yes, it does.

“What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing” (Luke 15:4-5).

There are two elements here — the obvious one is finding the lost sheep. But the other element is that of leaving the ninety nine. In this scenario, with this consideration, the disqualification would not be in the fact of the sheep wandering — that does happen from time to time. The potential disqualification comes in not going after the wandering sheep. The “reveal” is not found in the fact that a pastor’s kids can sin, sometimes grievously. I would want to argue that a pastor’s kid can sin grievously without disqualifying his or her father from the ministry. But what happens after that? When a child sins in this way, it is not so much a disqualification from ministry as it is a drastic invitation to radical ministry.

So this is just a consideration. When should a good pastor leave the 99? “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). The answer is some form of “when there are just 99.”

~Douglas Wilson

January 15, 2013

The Ever-Present Problem of Evil

Evil is inherent in the risky gift of free will.
~J.B. Phillips as cited in today’s reading.

Issues dealing with the Bible’s view of issues involving gender and sexuality are on the top of the list of issues the uncommitted have with Christianity, and also up there among their objections is the problem of why there is suffering and evil in the world. In his classic work, Know Why You Believe, the late Paul E. Little discusses this.

…We must also recognize that God could stamp out evil if he chose. Jeremiah reminds us, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed because his compassions fail not. (Lamentations 3:22 KJ) A time is coming when he will stamp out evil in the world. In the meantime, God’s love and grace prevail and his offer of mercy and pardon is still open.

If God were to stamp out evil today, he would do a complete job. His action would have to include our lies and personal impurities, our lack of love and our failure to do good. Suppose God were to decree that at midnight tonight all evil would be removed from the universe — who of us would still be here after midnight?

…To speculate about the origin of evil is endless. No one has the full answer.  It belongs in the category of “the secret things [that] belong to the Lord our God” (Deut 29:29)…

…[quoting Hugh Evans Hopkins] “The problem arises largely from the belief that a ‘good’ God would reward each man according to his deserts and that an ‘almighty’ God would have no difficulty in carrying this out. The fact that rewards and punishments, in the way of happiness and discomfort, appear to be haphazardly distributed in this life drives many to question either the goodness of God or his power.”

But would God be good if he were to deal with each person exactly according to his behavior? Consider what this would mean in your own life! The whole of the gospel as previewed in the Old and New Testaments is that God’s goodness consists not only in his justice, but also in his love, mercy and kindness. How thankful all men should be that “He does not deal with us according to our sins, or requite us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him” (Ps. 103:10, 11).

The concept of the goodness of God in which he deals with a person on the basis of “just deserts” is also based on the faulty assumption that happiness is the greatest good in life… Sometimes in his infinite wisdom, God knows there are things to be accomplished in our character that can be brought only through suffering. To shield us from this suffering would be to rob us of a greater good. Peter refers to this when he says, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish and strengthen you” (I Pet. 5:10).

…That there may be a connection between suffering and sin is evident, but that it is not always so is abundantly clear. There is the unambiguous word of Jesus himself on the subject. The disciples apparently adhered to the direct retribution theory of suffering. One day when they say a man who had been blind from birth, they wanted to know who had sinned to cause this blindness — the man or his parents. Jesus made it clear that neither was responsible for his condition, “but that the works of God might be made manifest in him” (John 9: 1-3).

…[O]ne of the profound truths of the whole of scripture is that the judgment of God is preceded by warning. Throughout the Old Testament we have the repeated pleading of God and warning of judgment. Only after warning is persistently ignored and rejected does judgment come. God’s poignant words are an example: “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked… turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel” (Ez 33:11).

From there, Little goes on to discuss the issue of judgment, justice and God’s wrath in general, and the issue of hell in particular. With over a million copies in print, this book continues to be helpful to many, and I would recommend making a print copy part of your library.

I want to end with the first two scriptures in updated translations:

AMP – Lam. 3:22 It is because of the Lord’s mercy and loving-kindness that we are not consumed, because His [tender] compassions fail not.

CEB – Lam. 3:22 Certainly the faithful love of the Lord hasn’t ended; certainly God’s compassion isn’t through!

NLT – Deut. 29:29 “The Lord our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions.

MSG – Deut. 29:29 God, our God, will take care of the hidden things but the revealed things are our business. It’s up to us and our children to attend to all the terms in this Revelation.

January 14, 2013

When God Breaks Us

Genesis 32:24-32 – New International Version

24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

This is from the book Jacob: The Fools God Chooses by David Roper (2002, Discovery House Publishers) pp 85-88

…Completely expended, Jacob could no longer continue. But neither would he let go! Out on his feet, he still clenched his antagonist fiercely.

“Let me go,” his opponent shouted, but Jacob continued to cling. “I will not let go unless you bless me,” he said.

The man asked him, “What is your name?” The form of the question actually means, “What is the meaning of your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered. Clever, cunning Jacob knew well who he was.

Then the man said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel [one who prevails with God] because you have struggled with God…and have prevailed. (Genesis 32:28029 emphasis added) Jacob’s defeat and victory came simultaneously.

Phantom match or real encounter? Jacob knew. His opponent was the Angel of the Lord, God Himself, coming to grips with Jacob’s duplicity, chastening his pride, challenging his tenacity, wrestling with him, relentless in His love. He would not give up until Jacob gave in and clung to God alone.

The clash was the climax of Jacob’s lifelong ambivalence, resisting God and yet relying on Him. Now, utterly defeated and exhausted, Jacob gave up and gave in. Old Jacob was finished. He could no longer survive without a vice-like grip on God, clutching Him, clinging to Him

Jacob was given a new name; the old name was passé. He was no longer Jacob but Israel — a winner. “The bewildered gymnast,” says Emily Dickenson, “had worsted God.” God had broken Jacob, and Jacob had won!

…His story is ours. We, too want God — somewhat — but we hold out against Him. He knows He cannot prevail against us unless He takes some severe measure that will give us no alternative but to yield. And so he becomes our adversary — against us because he is for us.

“Our greatest victories are wrought through pain and purchased at the cost of the humbling of the flesh,” wrote F. B. Meyer. That’s when we learn that “the secret of prevailing with God and man (is) not in the strength but in the weakness of the flesh.” So it was for Jacob; so it is for us.

Jacob’s wrestling, though a literal match, was symbolic of the spiritual struggle that occupies us. It has to do with our hesitancy toward God; we place limits on how much of us He can have.

Because God so loves us, He does not want to lose us. And so He pits His strength against ours. He will touch whatever it is that causes us to stand against Him. Our dreams may fail, our businesses may fold, our best-laid plans may go awry. An accident may impair us, a crippling disease might ruin us, or we simply grow old. Our bodies, once strong, begin to weaken, our minds, once sharp begin to fail. He has touched us and stripped us of our natural strength and ability.

These effects are not signs of God’s wrath and displeasure but evidences of His love. He is working through all of this, wrestling with us, dusting us up, bringing us down to take from us all that hinders His love. He will not give up until we’re wholly His.

Jacob limped away from his encounter diminished… His maiming marked him forever. But if you were to ask about his infirmity he would tell you that the best day of his life was the day God put him on the mat. That was the night Jacob lost everything he had and gained everything worth having.

~David Roper.

January 13, 2013

January 12, 2013

Pointing the Way to the Messiah

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:23 pm
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If you’re looking for some additional reading this weekend, David Kenney is in the middle of a series in the early chapters of Luke.  This one focuses on a very specific verse with significance we might overlook.  Enjoy The Truth Behind Sandal Straps.  (Link through and then click the banner to see other posts in the series.)

John says in Luke 3:16 “I baptize you with water, but the one who is more powerful than me is coming. I’m not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandals.

As you can imagine, well known Rabbis had young students who followed them everywhere and who were always willing to be the teacher’s pet. “Let me get that door for you, Rabbi.” “Do you need a napkin, Rabbi?” In fact it was a great honor if you could say that you were “covered in the dust” of your Rabbi, because that meant that you followed him everywhere.

Well, there was only one job that a disciple could not do for his rabbi and that was to take off his sandals. Untying sandals was the job you gave your lowest slave. Just think about it, you come home from working all day, flop down in your lay-z-boy, put your feet up on the ottoman and who takes your shoes off? Not you, you don’t have that kind of time. No, your lowest slave waddles over and removes your sandals.

John says, “Am I the messiah? No…, that guy, I’m not even worthy to perform the most degrading task for him.”

When we first met John, he was leaping for Joy in his Mother’s womb, next we listen to his Father lull him to sleep with a song, now John is in the desert, a young rebel preacher inviting people to repent and to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. A man whom he says is so wonderful, so glorious, so righteous, he isn’t even worthy to take off his shoes.

Does John love Jesus? Yes he does. John is preparing the way for Jesus because he knows that the road ahead will be rough. Jesus’ ministry will meet opposition, heartache, trial and death – but John loves his Rabbi and so every day, he straps on a coat of animal hair and steps into a dirty river and calls his world to change.

Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of the Christian blogosphere. An individual article may be posted even if some or all readers might not agree with other things posted at the same blog, and two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

C201 is always looking for both submissions and suggestions for sources of material. Use the submissions page in the margin.

January 11, 2013

Watch Out for Idolatry

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:54 pm
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Updated: October, 2020

This is an updated version of an article we originally shared in 2013 from. Truthsource.org, titled Be On Guard Against Idolatry. Take a moment to visit the site and check out the other resources there.

“…every one of us is, even from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.” — John Calvin

By the grace of God my soul lately has been grieved and burdened in waging war against a vicious onslaught of idolatry. God has been faithful to maintain me through the midst of the struggle and gracious to cover the times of failure. As I was reasoning within my mind one day, seeking to justify a passion gone apostate, I came to a significant realization that I would do well to remember. My reasoning—devilish, indeed—was that I was not embracing “sin” as others were; I was not indulging in, say, immorality or drunkenness. But this led me to ask the following question, and praise be to God that I did: “And what, exactly, is sin?” I thought to myself. Immorality and drunkenness are definitely sins, no doubt, but they are not all what sin consists of. I was being led to believe that I was free to indulge in my heart’s desire because it was not on par with gross sins like theft, murder, or adultery. This, however, is the very thinking employed by Satan and championed by Pharisees.

Sin is disobedience against God; it is lawlessness. And the same God who forbids us from committing murder and adultery also commands us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength—which, indeed, is the “great and foremost commandment” (Matthew 22:38). Yet I was not loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength; I was not loving Him more than that to which I was being drawn—and that right there is sin. God help us to never forget that seeking to justify such treasonous affections whilst condemning outward sins is an exceedingly dreadful beginning of a hellish path toward self-righteousness!

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.

You don’t have to only murder, steal, or commit adultery to become guilty of committing sin. Idolatry is sin, as well, and a terrifying one, since it can be far more subtle than the rest. It is found in the same list Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, a list of sins for which the judgment of God is threatened. Elsewhere Paul declares with absolute certainty that no idolater will have an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (Ephesians 5:5-6) and that God’s wrath is not only coming upon those who practice immorality and impurity, but also idolatry and covetousness, as well (Colossians 3:5-7). We can be so inclined to minimize subtle, idolatrous passions, but the apostle Paul and the rest of the inspired writers make no such categorization anywhere in Scripture.

With that said, let us be on guard against entertaining vain thoughts against God and Christ. When we desire something more than Christ, that is sin. That, in fact, is the root of all sin. All people sin because they desire something more than Christ. This is that corrupt spring that has plagued the sons of men and from which all manner of sin springs forth. We fool ourselves thinking we are not sinning just because we abstain from blatant, outward sins—all the while demonstrating more love toward things than Christ.

Moreover, when we violate our conscience, that too is sin. If we are convicted against something, but we go on to pursue it because, after all, “it is not a vice like immorality,” we are in grave sin. Paul tells us that what we do must proceed from faith because “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). Though a particular activity may not be sinful in and of itself, since God has commanded us through His apostle not to violate our conscience, that activity becomes sinful in the specific case in which we are convicted against it. Often we try to reason our way around this when we are convicted against a certain activity by appealing to the fact that it is clearly not a sin or other genuine Christians are free to participate. But, as Paul warned, we are condemned if we partake, because we do not do it from faith.

We need to be ever on guard against such subtle sins as these, as God has brought me to realize recently. There is a reason why the last verse in the apostle John’s epistle contains a warning against idolatry. Let us take heed:

1 John 5:21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

January 10, 2013

Jesus’ Last Words

ESV Matt 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…

In the western world much is made of being present when someone issues their last words. We want to know what the final words were from politicians, authors, great military men and preachers.

The first time my father was hospitalized with a heart attack, he pulled me close to his hospital bed and said, “I want you to know, I have always been very proud of you.”  You have no idea how much I needed to hear that. My father worked in the world of finance, dealing with budgets, financial forecasting and investments. I have only once in my life — a very brief time working with InterVarsity — had anything resembling a regular, normal salary. I’ve always felt like that by the standard he would measure achievement, there wouldn’t be much to be proud of.

But he said he was, and although it was twelve years later when he finally passed away, I have always regarded that sentence as his ‘official’ last words to me; his blessing.

Famous Last Words

So what were Jesus’ last words to his disciples?  Ask most people, and they will say, “The Great Commission;” the command to, as The Message bible puts  it, “Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you.”

But another phrase follows that,

(ESV)20 … And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

It’s a promise of his ongoing presence and comfort.  You have no idea how much you and I need to hear that. We live in a world where it is so easy to lapse into the mindset that, as a song once said, “God is watching us, from a distance.” But the scriptures teach that God is very close, very present, very much at hand.

While Luke doesn’t reiterate the exact words, he mentions this blessing.

(NIV) Luke 24:50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.

This was Jesus’ benediction to us.

Matthew Henry writes:

Two solemn farewells we find our Lord Jesus giving to his church, and his parting word at both of them is very encouraging; one was here, when he closed up his personal converse with them, and then his parting word was, “Lo, I am with you always; I leave you, and yet still I am with you;” the other was, when he closed up the canon of the scripture by the pen of his beloved disciple, and then his parting word was, “Surely, I come quickly. I leave you for awhile, but I will be with you again shortly,” Rev. 22:20. By this it appears that he did not part in anger, but in love, and that it is his will we should keep up both our communion with him and our expectation of him.

Many of you will find this verse echoing in your minds as you’ve thought about this:

Hebrews 13:5b God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
    never will I forsake you.” (NIV)

The writer of Hebrews is recollecting several passages including Deut 31:6, Deu 31:8, Joshua 1:5  and 1Kings 8:57  Again, Peterson renders this:  God assured us, “I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you,”

You have no idea how much the world needs to hear this. Maybe that’s why it’s paired with the command to go out into the world…

PW

January 9, 2013

Nothing Formed Against Me Shall Stand

Isaiah 54: 17

Weapons made to attack you
    won’t be successful;
words spoken against you
    won’t hurt at all.

My servants, Jerusalem is yours!
I, the Lord, promise
    to bless you with victory. (CEV)


“No weapon that is formed against you will prosper;
And every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
And their vindication is from Me,” declares the Lord. (NASB)


 No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed,
    and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord
    and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.”  (ESV)

God's Got My Back

Time and time again, scripture records instances where forces came against God’s people bent on their destruction, and the odds against them seemed incredible, but God’s people triumphed.  One blogger has created a scripture medley of such instances here. (I was going to leave it to you to link, but many don’t and I really wanted to record these here; the text is King James.)

David and Goliath

I Samuel 17: 48-51: “And it came to pass, when the Philistine arose, and came and drew nigh to meet David, that David hasted, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him; but there was no sword in the hand of David. Therefore David ran, and stood upon the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of the sheath thereof, and slew him, and cut off his head therewith. And when the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they fled.”

Samson Slays a Thousand Philistines

Judges 15: 14-17: “And when he came unto Lehi, the Philistines shouted against him: and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and the cords that were upon his arms became as flax that was burnt with fire, and his bands loosed from off his hands. And he found a new jawbone of an ass, and put forth his hand, and took it, and slew a thousand men therewith. And Samson said, With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men. And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking, that he cast away the jawbone out of his hand, and called that place Ramath-lehi.”

King Hezekiah and 185,000 Assyrians

II Kings 19: 35-37: “And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the LORD went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh. And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword: and they escaped into the land of Armenia. And Esar- haddon his son reigned in his stead.”

Mordecai and Haman

Esther 7: 9-10: “And Harbonah, one of the chamberlains, said before the king, Behold also, the gallows fifty cubits high, which Haman had made for Mordecai, who had spoken good for the king, standeth in the house of Haman. Then the king said, Hang him thereon. So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then was the king’s wrath pacified.”

Elijah

II Kings 1: 9-10: “Then the king sent unto him a captain of fifty with his fifty. And he went up to him: and, behold, he sat on the top of an hill. And he spake unto him, Thou man of God, the king hath said, Come down. And Elijah answered and said to the captain of fifty, If I be a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty. And there came down fire from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.”

Ahitophel

II Samuel 17: 21-23: “And it came to pass, after they were departed, that they came up out of the well, and went and told king David, and said unto David, Arise, and pass quickly over the water: for thus hath Ahithophel counselled against you. Then David arose, and all the people that were with him, and they passed over Jordan: by the morning light there lacked not one of them that was not gone over Jordan. And when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his ass, and arose, and gat him home to his house, to his city, and put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died, and was buried in the sepulchre of his father.”

Paul on the Island of Melita

Acts 28: 3-6: “And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand. And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live. 5 And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm. Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.”

King Saul

I Samuel 31: 1-6: “Now the Philistines fought against Israel: and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa. And the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and upon his sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Melchi-shua, Saul’s sons. And the battle went sore against Saul, and the archers hit him; and he was sore wounded of the archers. Then said Saul unto his armour bearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and abuse me. But his armour bearer would not; for he was sore afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword, and fell upon it. And when his armour bearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise upon his sword, and died with him. So Saul died, and his three sons, and his armour bearer, and all his men, that same day together.”

Daniel in the Lion’s Den

Daniel 6: 22-24: “My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocence was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt. Then was the king exceeding glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God. And the king commanded, and they brought those men which had accused Daniel, and they cast them into the den of lions, them, their children, and their wives; and the lions had the mastery of them, and brake all their bones in pieces or ever they came at the bottom of the den.”

The Cross at Calvary

Luke 24: 6-7: “He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.”

Be Strong in the Lord

All of this today is serving as introduction to a new song from Chris Tomlin’s new album, Burning Lights; the song is called Whom Shall I Fear but is also known as God of Angel Armies.   (Static images alternative video here.)  This is a faith-building song that is really easy to learn.  We are not promised protection from every hard thing a fallen world can bring, but when forces arise to destroy us we have the promise that greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. (I John 4:4)

January 8, 2013

Unworthy, But Chosen

Isaiah 1 18 - Though your sins be as scarlet

Today’s item here at C201 is part testimony, part inspiration and part Bible study. I hope you’ll enjoy this piece from the blog Saint in Training. Click through to read at source and discover more from this blog’s two authors.

I am a living witness that God can and will save the worst of sinners.

I once saw myself as being beyond redemption, having no understanding that our Heavenly Father sees us all the same and that through His son Jesus Christ, he made a way of escape for us. Although our sins may differ we stand in danger of facing the same penalty for unrepentant sin: eternal damnation. Thank God for Jesus! It’s because of Him that every sinner is promised a future and thus once we become Christians it behooves us to remember that every saint has a past.

Dear hearts let us not forget that it was the mercies of God that brought us out of sin. We should be careful not to become self-righteous, thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to in Christ. Our awesome God, blessed be His name, is the only one worthy of praise.

The saying, “I don’t look like what I’ve been through,” is true. If I were to write a book, it couldn’t express the immensity of the love, grace and mercy God has showered upon me! Growing up in the streets of New York City shaped my thoughts and molded my life into a vehicle for sin. Loneliness was my best friend, distrust taught me to fear the night while hunger gave me the strength to beg and the will to live. I learned how to survive that kind of life. God wasn’t in my thoughts; he wasn’t a part of my life at all – or so I thought. I didn’t realize that it was he who was keeping me alive! His ever watchful eyes saw every step I took and protected my every move. He didn’t allow the devil to fulfill his desire to have my soul, nor did he let the demons of hell drive me to a point of no return. God kept my mind!

Oh! The unexplainable love of God. His love can’t be measured. It is deeper than the sea and as solid as a rock! We are so unworthy of his love, of his grace and of his mercy – yet, God still chose us to be his sons and daughters in Christ! He chose us to spend eternity with him in his heavenly kingdom. So those of you who have a feeling of unworthiness that overshadows you, I encourage you today to lift up your hands unto the Lord and bless his holy name – you are blessed. Yes, you are blessed! Why? Because he chose you to love and favored you by calling you to be his son, his daughter!

I’ll never find myself worthy of God’s love but I am grateful. I praise him for seeing me as being worth loving – that’s more than enough for me.

I am like that publican who prayed the prayer that touched God’s heart:

Luke 18:13-14 KJV

And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

Dear hearts, it was for the unworthy that Jesus died!

Mark 2:17 KJV

When Jesus heard it, he said to them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

It’s the unworthy that Jesus loves! It is the unworthy he embraces! Why? Because it is they who love him the most. They know that they are just that, unworthy. They are grateful and humble before him. God can use them to give hope to the hopeless. He shows his love toward them who desperately need the one and only true living God in their lives!

What does God see in us?

You know yourself as a drug dealer – God sees you as a preacher.
You know yourself as a prostitute – God sees you as a missionary.
You know yourself as an alcoholic – God sees you as an evangelist.
You know yourself as a liar and a thief – God sees you as a prayer warrior.
You see yourself as a nobody – God sees you as the apple of his eye.
You know yourself as a sinner – God sees you as a saint!

Where man has counted you out, God has already counted you as a winner! Where some may see us as being worthless, God sees us as being worth it! Man and Satan took us to the courtroom at Calvary dear hearts; they charged us and found us to be guilty. Oh! But God dropped the charges and He found us guiltless through the death of his son Jesus Christ!

He did this for me! He did this for you!

Forget what Satan says about you precious one, he’s a liar. Forget what you say about you, you’re only flesh. Look to God and receive what he said:

Isaiah 55:7-8 NIV

Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

Isaiah 1:18-20 NIV

“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.  If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

God has called you by name, he has chosen you for his own – receive his word, believe and watch your life change!

January 7, 2013

Bible Study Process

john_3.16 license plate

A couple of years back I wrote a piece describing my own Bible study process. It’s not always as orderly and sequential as some would like. But it gets me digging deep. In the last couple of days I looked at a couple of parables Jesus taught from Luke which sent me down all sorts of rabbit trails. But it gave me a greater appreciation for the text.

But first, I want to talk about a memorization process I did last month. I committed myself to learn, in my own words, the early hymn from Philippians chapter two. Here it is from memory without reference to any notes:

You should have the same mindset as the incarnated Christ, who, although he was 100% God, did not consider that something to be leveraged (or we could say leveraged every five minutes) but rather he humbled himself; first by fully experiencing the human condition; second by generally taking on the posture of one who is serving, not leading; third by living out the human situation even to the point of death; finally a death that was that of someone who had done nothing wrong yet suffered the most painful torture the Romans could devise. And then, at the end of all this, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the highest name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, to God the Father’s glory.

…You see, I could just memorize it as written. But this way I know the material and you know that I know it. The words have taken on life.

But not content to just rest there, I’m now looking at memorizing John 3: 17-21.  (Okay, verse 16 is in there, too; but we all know that one.)

An old acquaintance from a Christian summer camp I worked at once shared the ordination process he went through to become a pastor in his denomination. You’d expect these to be hardcore questions about deep doctrinal matters, but instead, one of the examiners kicked back and said, “So… tell me about John chapter 1.”  And then, “Now tell me about John chapter 2.” And so on.

It wasn’t what he was expecting.  Let’s consider that line of questioning:

John 1: John’s prologue (there’s one to memorize!)
John 2: The first miracle, the wedding at Cana
John 3: Jesus and Nicodemus (where “born again” originates) and that trademark 16th verse
John 4: Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well
John 5: …uh… see this is where I would phase out…

However, he was caught a bit off-guard by the question and didn’t even do that well.  So let’s go back to chapter three.

Jesus has his meetup with Nicodemus and they hash through Nick’s question about re-entering his mother’s womb in order to be reborn. And then there’s verse 16. And then? What do you think is the key theme of what follows?

One of the best parts of doing this blog is when I write the ‘tags’ that appear at the beginning of each entry. Especially if it’s something that I didn’t write. What is this really all about? What are the key points? What is the defining theme? Who is this for?

Tagging verses 17-21 of John 3, one would instantly recognize that this is a passage about light. The end product of verse 16, the result of God loving the world and giving Jesus is that light has come into the world.

17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. 19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. 20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.”  (NLT)

The light has come. People preferred darkness. They stay away from the light because it would expose their contrariness to God’s standards and God’s best for their life. But those who see his way as the best way are actually drawn to the light so the world can see their attitudes and actions.

(The above paragraph is a little too extreme a paraphrase, my end memorization will be something in between that and the original.)

So next time you think about vs. 3:16 — and it’s hard to get away from — think about light. How light dispels darkness. How light illuminates those who choose to walk in the light.

And that’s a bit of my personal study.

P.S.: Before anyone thinks me to be super-spiritual, let me hasten to add that my November memorization project didn’t get finished.  I’m still working on solidifying Titus 3: 3-7; which is another passage I would recommend.

Some translations present the clauses of Phil 2: 7 & 8 in a different sequence.

Image source

January 6, 2013

The Prayer of Agur

Tony Pearsall at the blog FireSpeaks, is beginning a series on prayer. Here’s the first installment. Click the title for the link, and then bookmark the page if you wish to continue in the series.

The Prayer of Agur

( I dare you to pray this prayer)

I would say 95% of all Christians have heard of the prayer of Jabez, but only about 5% of the those Christians would tell you where it’s located in the Bible. This is just the opposite with The Prayer of Agur, of the very few Christians that have heard I would guest that nearly 100 % of those Christians knows where it can be located in the Bible. Why this is so, we will address later, right now lets look at the prayer.

Proverbs 30:7-9
Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die: Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.(KJV)

In this prayer a man named Agur ( identified in proverbs 30:1) ask God for two things,

  •   That God’s sustaining Grace will keep him from falling into sin because of his vanity and lies
  •   That God would meet his needs
    • but not so abundant, that he will forget that God is the source of all good things in his life.
    • and not so sparingly that he has to steal to meet his own needs.

This is a difficult prayer to pray it deals with or vanity and pride, the lies that we tell and that others may tell us, and our lust for money and fear of poverty. However Agur does not ask God to help him stop lying, but to keep him out of the situations and circumstance that may tempt him to lie, or that may cause him to act in vanity or pride; to keep him out of circumstances where others are likely to have him as a subject of their lies.

We are cursed with the false belief that we can handle riches in our life , but this is far from the truth. When the options for large amount of money becomes a subject of our interest we almost universally see it as an opportunity to to get more things. I heard Christians who would never play the lottery, say things like “if I won the lottery I would buy…” you fill in the blank. The fact is, the natural man desires the gifts, and blessing of God greater than he desire God. It is for this very reason that God will not answer a prayer from us that would take us from his presence.

James 4:3 (AMP) says “ [Or] you do ask [God for them] and yet fail to receive, because you ask with wrong purpose and evil, selfish motives. Your intention is [when you get what you desire] to spend it in sensual pleasures.”

Agur was a man of wisdom, he knew his own fear of want, and the temptation that being impoverished has on mankind. So he prayed God don’t hold your substance from me so much that I am out of my lack will steal and defile your name.

The question we must ask ourselves are we willing to admit that we are unable to subdue our vanities, and pride ? Are we willing strip ourselves bare of the curse of plenty, so that we may live upright in the presence of Christ?

January 5, 2013

Two-For-One Special

This is one of the most recent posts at Everyday Bible Blog. I appreciate that Brandie, the author doesn’t stop with a single passage, but is willing to explore two quite different themes in a single day!  Sometimes we are too easily satisfied and ‘check the box’ that Bible study is over for the day, when God wants us to spend more time. I also like the idea that she is taking a personal inventory as she reads her Bible, allowing the passages to illuminate her spiritual condition.

Click the title below to read at source, there is a wealth of great study material there.

The Lord’s Prayer (How to Pray); Right Thinking and Quick Tempers
Luke 10:38 – 11:13

In Luke chapter 11 verses 2-4, we are given the Lord’s prayer.  This is the second time so far that I have read the Lord’s Prayer in the bible – the first being in Matthew 6:9-13.  Jesus is responding to a disciple’s request to learn how to pray when Jesus tells him the Lord’s Prayer.

Jesus then tells his disciples that persistence is key when praying.  Jesus gives an analogy about a man who knocks on another man’s door late in the evening.  Eventually the man answered the door and granted the request.  Jesus says the following in chapter 11:

 9 And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for.  Keep on seeing, and you will find.  Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.

10  For everyone who asks, receives.  Everyone who seeks, finds.  And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

I have the feeling that these verses get misused often, as an indication that you can get, well, anything your heart desires.  I would first like to point out that the parable that preceded these verses involved a man who needed bread to feed a guest.  The request was urgent enough that the man just kept knocking — he needed that food so his guest wouldn’t go hungry.  This was a prayer for provisioning, which the Lord WILL provide those who ask.  It might come in the midnight hour but it will come.   

As far as prayers for other things go, I believe that your prayers must align with the will of the Lord in order to be answered.  The Lord knows an infinite amount more than we ever do.  Sometimes we are pray for something with our whole heart; something that we think is in our best interest; something that we think aligns with the will of God; yet we don’t receive it.  In those cases we just have to trust the Lord has our best interests in heart.  Many times, later in life, you finally see a blessing in the fact that X thing didn’t happen, even though you prayed so hard for it.  It’s at those times that catch a glimpse of the glorious beauty of the Lord’s plan for you life.  So consider every unanswered prayer to be a blessing.

Proverbs 12:15 – 17

15  Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others.

16  A fool is quick-tempered, but a wise person stays calm when insulted.

17  An honest witness tells the truth;  a false witness tells lies.

I initially thought verse 17 was a bit … erm, obvious?  But then I realized, maybe someone doesn’t know what a false witness is.  Now if someone asks me, “What is a false witness?”  I can say “a false witness tells lies” and point out where it is defined in the bible instead of the dictionary. Pretty nifty, eh?

It is the first two verses of this reading that really catch my attention.  The subject is Fools — and fools are taught about all throughout the bible.  It is a bad thing to be a fool, it is the opposite of being wise.  It carries death while wisdom carries life.  So I have learned to pay attention to all the bible says about fools. 

Verse 15 really draws me in, because I have a big problem when it comes to thinking my way is right.  I tend to do a lot of research, research about everything and anything.  When someone needs an answer, I have it, right there.  If someone tries to tell me otherwise, I can point out in an instant where that is wrong.  Pretty foolish, eh? 

Today I re-read Proverbs 3:3:7-8.  Those verses tell us not to be impressed with our own wisdom, and that listening to others will give us healing for our whole body.  Pretty powerful stuff, don’t you think?  I really need to work on stepping back and not immediately throwing an answer at someone.  I need to learn to be humble and see what I can learn from another person, instead of only relying on what I can learn for myself.

As far as verse 16 goes, I try not to be quick tempered.  My temper has calmed down a lot over the years.  I still have plenty of room for improvement, though.  I am going to try to a silent chant when I start to get prematurely angry: “A fool is quick-tempered.  A fool is quick-tempered.  A fool is quick-tempered.”  Wish me luck — or better yet, wish the other person luck!

January 4, 2013

Communion

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Communion

Today’s thoughts are from Nicole Vaughn at Proven Path Ministries. As always, you’re encouraged to click through to read at source, where a music video also awaits you.

I sat at the table. Pete took a sip of his wine. There was no plate and no cup in front of me. “I wanted to introduce you to someone,” he said to me. “She and I are having Communion. The Lord’s Supper. The Table. The Passover meal.”“I’ll take it with you.”

“No,” he said, “For you, Communion is tiny, tasteless wafers and a little plastic cup full of grape juice. Someone reads a few verses, you swallow the bread, you throw down the juice, and you think to yourself, Jesus, thank you for dying for my sins. You put the cup in the pew holder, and you’re done. Later someone comes by and cleans up the leftovers.”

“What do you think ‘Communion’ was like at first, Matt?

I shrugged. “I’ve never thought about it, I guess.”

“That first year after he died, do you think we threw back our cups, took five minutes to say thanks, and then moved on?”

He made a good point. I could spend more time than that reminiscing about a good meal. “Probably not.”

“We knew him, Matt. He changed our lives. Our thankfulness wasn’t some theological construct. It was deep and true and unstoppable.”

~ excerpts from Imaginary Jesus, a 2010 book by Mike Mikalatos (out of print)

I am not sure about you but I have to sadly admit that I have noticed that many see Communion Sunday as skip day… “Oh yeh, we can leave after Sunday School, it’s just Communion today”

Perhaps you are one of those.

How much more special would communion be if instead of waiting on a piece of cracker and a taste of grape juice,while sitting nicely in our pews, we instead chose to sit around a table… with bread and maybe even wine… and we truly spent that time focusing on what our Savior did for us.

Would you really have to worry about drunkenness if when you looked at that wine what you saw was Jesus blood shed for you, for your sins?
Would you really over-indulge in the bread (or the wine) if when you looked at it you truly saw our Savior’s body broken for you, for your transgressions?

Therefore whoever eats the bread
or drinks the cup of the Lord
in an unworthy manner,
shall be guilty of the body
and the blood of the Lord.
1 Corinthians 11:27

  • What if instead of a Sunday potluck fellowship, when the church gathered together to partake in a meal it was simply the Passover meal, the bread and the wine?
  • What if we gathered together and we simply remembered Him?
  • What if we sat and talked about the day we met Him?
  • What if we shared about how He had changed our lives?
  • What if we shared how He has walked with us and carried us since we met Him?
  • What if we purposely went into a joint Passover meal with a fellow church filled with a people of completely different background and ethnicity than ours and we united in Christ?
  • What if Communion Sunday was not “church skip day”?
  • What if instead of uniting to pick-it the abortion clinics, or uniting to fight legislation, or uniting to demand prayer in school, or what ever other political agenda we have at the moment, we united for the sake of simply remembering Him?

What if we had a Call to Remember and every church in our community, our county, our state, our nation, the nations… what if we called all our individual local congregations to come together at the same day at the same hour for Communion, to simply remember Him.

  • Nothing else.
  • No political agenda.
  • No pity party stories.
  • No martyr talk.
  • Nothing but a call to remember Jesus and to proclaim Him, His life, His death, His resurrection.
  • All and only about Him
How seriously do you take Communion?

Is it just something you do or does the weight of it sink deep into your soul and lift your heart and eyes to His beautiful sacrifice for your ugly and deceitful heart?

Is it a time for you to search the tray for the biggest cracker and the most full tiny cup while you whisper until you see everyone take their bite and drink their little cup and see your own cue, so you stop chatting with your neighbor long enough to absentmindedly pop in the cracker and throw back the juice and then complain about how dry those crackers were and you need some more drink to wash it down?


After this,
Jesus, knowing that all things
had already been accomplished,
to fulfill the Scripture, said,
“I am thirsty.”
John 19:28 

Maybe some make a joke of Communion so that they don’t really have to think about it…

Maybe some make Communion “skip day” so that they don’t have to remember and don’t have to examine…

I can ask all these questions because I have been there.

I know.

I have walked into the door and seen the table and thought “man, if I had known this was today we would have went on home… or just stayed home.”

I’ve been there so busy whispering to my neighbor that I have paid no attention to the reading of the Scripture, and I certainly was not examining myself, and I definitely was not remembering Him…

I was doing a formality, a religious duty, pass the tray grab the cracker, get the cup… 1-2-3 eat… 1-2-3 drink, let’s sing and go get some real food.

That’s never, ever, again the way I want to take Communion.

How about you?

Have you ever thought about that first Passover after the ascension of our Lord?

Is there any way it could look and feel like the miniscule communion cracker and miniature communion cup that we purchase in bulk at our local christian supply store in order to make it as quick and easy as possible?

January 3, 2013

Construction in Progress

Christian Under Construction

Today’s post appeared originally at the blog Into The Foolishness of God and was written by Shara Case.  It was originally published as  Hand Me Another Brick.

Nehemiah wasn’t exaggerating when he prayed to God saying, ”Hear us oh God, for we are despised” (Nehemiah 4:4). Called by God to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and rally the exiles who were already “in great distress” the task itself was difficult. Upon hearing his calling, Nehemiah sat down and wept for many days (1:4).  He humbly accepted his duty and got to work. It wasn’t long before the enemy was also hard at work:

When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews,and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble–burned as they are?” Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building–if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!” Nehemiah 4:1-3

Doing God’s will and His work means coming up against strong opposition from and enemy that would like nothing better than to see us give up and quit. I like smooth sailing as much as the next person, but it just doesn’t work that way in the spiritual realm. God’s people are mocked, teased, threatened and worse for trying to set about the work they have been given. What I love about this story is Nehemiah’s response: 

So I stationed armed guards at the most vulnerable places of the wall and assigned people by families with their swords, lances, and bows. After looking things over I stood up and spoke to the nobles, officials, and everyone else: “Don’t be afraid of them. Put your minds on the Master, great and awesome, and then fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes. And it happened, when our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had brought their plot to nothing, that all of us returned to the wall, everyone to his work.” (Nehemiah 4:13-15)

This is how it’s done folks! If only we applied this more often to our own setbacks. Here are some things Nehemiah did that I find amazing:

  • He didn’t ignore the fact that there was a problem; It sounds crazy, but sometimes it’s just easier to stick our heads in the sand and hope for the best. The Israelites weren’t just being mocked, they were being threatened. Their task of rebuilding was in jeopardy. As the opposition grew, Nehemiah knew he could not just do nothing. God doesn’t want us to focus on it, but instead acknowledge it and take it to Him.
  • He didn’t respond directly to his accusers;  He looked around and addressed his own people, reminding them that the Lord God, “great and awesome” would fight for them. How hard this is for me sometimes, in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and instant news of all kinds where everyone has an opinion they want heard. We are called to speak the Truth and share it in the midst of all the backwards things the world proclaims – but we are also reminded to “avoid foolish and ignorant disputes” (2 Timothy 2:23) that only lead to more strife. Nehemiah knew it would be a waste of time arguing with those so set against him – he turned to his fellow workers and he turned to God.
  • He called on the people to PRAY and WATCH; they were to set their hearts to prayer, being watchful for what was to come. Watchmen were set strategically along the wall to be on the lookout for an attack. Being on the lookout places us in a far better position that if we are hit suddenly without warning. Prayer gets us into this position. One without the other doesn’t make much sense, but prayer and watchfulness put together make us strong.
  • He called on the people to PRAY and WORK; The enemy wants to back us into a corner and fill us with fear and discouragement so that we stop our work, or quit altogether. He wants us to sit around and fret. God wants us to keep moving! Nehemiah divided his people up and had half praying while the other half continued the work. They had been assigned something very important, regardless of the opposition that came, they were to stay on task. We do God’s work because we love Him, not because our circumstances are always favorable.

We all have walls that need rebuilding, gates that need fortifying, vulnerable places that need to be patched up so the enemy can’t have access to them over and over. This story encourages me to go after the things God has told me to do without the fear of failure or ridicule nagging at me in the back of my mind.  It is nice when things just seem to fall into place, many things worth having, however, are going to come at a price. How amazing to walk through that fire of discouragement, conflict and disappointment and come out on the other side just where God intended us to be.

“Those who built on the walls, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon”… (4:17).

There it is in a nutshell: Hold your weapon in one hand and keep working with the other! Don’t go about it alone, be someone’s watchman. Be a prayer warrior for someone who is hurting. Take your eyes off of the opposition and those who ridicule you – put them squarely on God and restore all those walls that have been torn down, they will be stronger than they ever were before.

Here is another post from the same blog I greatly enjoyed, the story of David rejecting Saul’s armor and going into battle with Five Smooth Stones.

January 2, 2013

Preaching on Sin

We’ve frequently borrowed from the blog Daily Encouragement, but today’s post from Stephen Weber is a classic article he wrote for a blog experiment, Clear Minded.  You can find it and one other article here.

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine”(2 Timothy 4:2). 

“For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

Stephen C. Weber Preaching on sin; how the pendulum has swung even in my lifetime on this issue. Many my age and older will recall when sin was regularly addressed from the pulpit boldly and forthrightly. However now there’s (in my observation) far less preaching on sin and a great reluctance among many preachers to address sin specifically.  I have given some thought as to why this is so:

1. Preaching on sin is seen as “legalistic.” Let me address several understandings of legalism as I have heard the word used:

  • Legalism is a system where it is preached or assumed that following a certain set of rules is the source of salvation. That is; what we do or don’t do in following these rules determines our eternal destiny. The faithful preacher must forcefully renounce this form of legalism.  The Biblical teaching is that we are saved by grace through our faith in Christ and His finished work.
  • Legalism to many means a varying list of man-made rules regarding all manner of issues such as dress, entertainment, technology, etc. These issues vary by geography, denominational background and age.  Brooksyne speaks of growing up with “clothesline” preaching where the preacher specifically addressed specific dress standards (usually focusing on the women).  She really didn’t understand grace till Bible College. The faithful Biblical pastor will see that any addressing of and denunciation of sin has a solid Biblical foundation and is not merely a cultural or personal preference.

However the man of God must be committed to preaching the whole counsel of God including addressing sin and its terrible consequences. Proclaiming the moral standards of Scripture is not legalism!

2. Preaching on sin may turn off newcomers or “seekers.” That’s true, particularly in this age of relativism in which we live. However the proclamation of God’s truth should not be motivated by this as long as the message also contains the gospel of redemption.

3. We need to focus on the positive and God’s love and grace. Absolutely, but again proclaiming the whole counsel of God will certainly include addressing sin.

4. This behavior is so popular and it’s now legal or “constitutional”. This is a major detriment to sound Biblical preaching. Many behaviors that were once recognized as sinful have become popular and  legalized according to the laws of man.  The law of God is far greater and our mission is to proclaim His law as truth rather than man’s.

5. We are not to judge others and we are to be tolerant of all. These are two of the dominant attitudes of our day. The apostle Paul, in practicing church discipline, passed judgment on the immoral brother and certainly did not tolerate his behavior in 1 Corinthians 5.

6. Addressing these behaviors is hateful and mean-spirited. This is silencing many preachers of righteousness. We are flooded with new meanings for hateful and mean-spirited, particularly if its addressing sins that are politically correct and have growing acceptance in society at large.

7. It will make those who may be involved in the sinful behavior feel bad about themselves. Better to feel bad and hear and hopefully heed a warning than live in ignorance.

8. Pastors may feel they shouldn’t address a subject matter unless they have it 100% conquered. Certainly we should expect our pastors to live a righteous life and not be a hypocrite. As the Spirit deals with them they should repent of their sin, seek to please God, and be an example to their spiritual flock.  However they should proclaim God’s Word even though they may not have fully attained.

A corollary attitude from the pew may be a feeling that the pastor shouldn’t preach on any subject matter unless he himself has no problems with it or any other issue.  You would have to wait for a perfect pastor (none exist) or more likely one who is proud and self-deceived!

9. People just don’t want to hear this kind of preaching anymore. Indeed some don’t. But our call to preach the Word and proclaim the full counsel of God is not based on popularity polls.  But let me speak here as one earnest Christian in the pew (as I normally am now since I am not in pastoral ministry at this time and thus regularly preaching from the pulpit. I feel I speak for many but of course not all.)

  • A strong denunciation of sin may not be the most “enjoyable” message but I am challenged and edified when I hear God’s truth proclaimed and sin denounced.
  • The issue addressed may apply directly to me.  Ouch! That can bring conviction, a healthy work of the Holy Spirit.   May the Holy Spirit keep my heart soft so that I may feel His conviction and deal with the troubling matter in my life rather than blame the pastor for preaching the Word. My discerning response should not be “this sure annoys me” but rather “is this true according to the Scriptures and what action should I take.”  If it is I need to deal with it and thank God for a preacher who cares enough and is bold enough to bring it to my attention.

10. The pastor may not have it completely right when seeking to apply a Biblical principle to a modern issue. That may be so but if you value your pastor you should also value his counsel, input, and thoughtful study on current matters. Listen as a Berean checking the Scriptures yourself.

11. Even issues very specifically addressed in the Bible may tend to be skirted around or in some cases reinterpreted from what has been their normal understanding. I am also wary of what some new translations and paraphrases are doing with words and traditional understanding of sinful actions.

May God help me and my many pastor friends to truly preach the whole counsel of God!

 

Please note: Certainly I am aware that many pastors continue to boldly address sin and my pastor has tackled many of these topics.

~Stephen C. Weber

You’re invited to visit Stephen’s regular blog, Daily Encouragement.  Click the image below:

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