Christianity 201

April 14, 2018

Clear Them Out … Completely

Back in October we introduced you to Peter Corak who has been very faithfully writing devotionals at My Morning Meal since November, 2009.  In this devotional from a few days ago, he combines two articles from a scripture passage he finds himself returning to. Click the title below to read at source.

Drive Them Out . . . Again

Looking back through my journal, it’s been a reading that I’ve spent extra time “chewing on” seven of the past ten years. The opening chapters of Judges have repeatedly served as a fresh warning against the propensity to compromise. The Israelites failure to drive out the inhabitants of the land an ominous reminder of what happens when we get comfortable with the sin in our lives, or try to buddy up with the world around us.

They thought they were strong enough to live over their enemies and were confident that they would continue to submit them to forced labor–their arrogance blinding them to the real danger of their enemies’ gods gaining the upper hand and having dominion over them. Thorns that festered in their sides, snares that would eventually entrap them, that’s what they would become (Judges 2:1-3).

If for no other reason then the a regular reminder of these types of ageless warnings, having a plan to read repeatedly through the whole Bible on a regular basis has been of great value for me.

This morning, I’m rerunning some thoughts from 2013 that I remixed from some thoughts in 2008. The message unchanging, Drive Them Out!

————————–

“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us!”

So goes the old western movie cliche. So sets up the confrontation at high noon. If one ain’t leavin’ peaceably-like, then the other’s gonna make him git! So what’s got me thinking of old western re-runs? (Or was it a Bugs Bunny cartoon? . . . whatever.)  It’s the opening chapter of Judges and the ominous foreshadowing of a phrase repeated nine times. The land wasn’t big enough for the Israelites and the Canaanites . . . but the Israelites did not “drive them out.”

Through Moses, God had made the game plan clear. He was going to give them the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  They were to go up in the power of His might and possess the land.  And they were to rid the land of its previous inhabitants . . . completely!  The warning had been clear:

But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell.  (Numbers 33:55 ESV)

Any Canaanite remnant would tempt the Israelites away from their God.  Their worship would contaminate true worship.  Their world-view would obscure heaven’s view. And so the charge was unambiguous, “Drive them out!”

Looking at the original word, it looks like it has the idea of possessing or inheriting by the means of dispossessing or impoverishing. Moving into the promised land of God was dependent on completely evicting the previous owners.

But they did not completely drive out the inhabitants of the land.  They allowed them to live among them or they pressed them into forced labor. Bottom line is that God said they needed to be gone, and the people settled for “mostly gone” or “kinda’ gone”.

And Judges 2 says that within just a few decades the result was disastrous. Within a generation, “the people did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals” (Judges 2:11).

These pagan nations left to live among them became a snare to them in subsequent generations. In particular, their gods and pagan religions became an alluring trap. The people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, but, as the next generation grew up, those who didn’t have this first hand knowledge started being attracted to other gods. And our God, who is a jealous God and will not share His glory with another, dealt with this infidelity quickly and harshly.

Thus the vicious cycle of Judges: the people serve other gods . . . God judges them by allowing the nations around them to oppress them . . . the people cry out to God for deliverance . . . God raises up a judge to deliver the people . . . there’s a time of peace . . . and then the people slip back into serving other gods . . . and so it goes.

And so the warning is pretty clear to me . . . Drive them out!

By the abiding grace of God and the indwelling power of His Spirit, I need to put away that which is temptation and can become a snare. I need to renounce that which is of the world and would fester as a thorn. As much as lies in me, I need to leave no fuel to feed the old nature’s fire. I need to dispossess the things of the old man and the old way, that I might fully possess that which God has promised for the believer.

Drive them out!

By His grace . . . for His glory . . .

This town ain’t big enough for the both of us!

February 4, 2018

Sunday Worship

Psalm 24.NIV.3 Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
    Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
    who does not trust in an idol
    or swear by a false god.

Psalm 24.The Voice.3 Who can possibly ascend the mountain of the Eternal?
    Who can stand before Him in sacred spaces?
Only those whose hands have been washed and hearts made pure,
    men and women who are not given to lies or deception.

It is not he who sings so well or so many Psalms, nor he who fasts or watches so many days, nor he who divides his own among the poor, nor he who preaches to others, nor he who lives quietly, kindly, and friendly; nor, in fine, is it he who knows all sciences and languages, nor he who works all virtuous and all good works that ever any man spoke or read of, but it is he alone, who is pure within and without.” – Martin Luther

Jim Grant is a graduate from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with an MDiv in Biblical languages. I and a DMin in Church Revitalization from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His doctoral dissertation was about “implementing principles of intercessory prayer as a means of revitalizing a Plateaued Church.” We discovered his blog, Preach Between the Lines yesterday and thought this would be a great fit for our Sunday Worship series. In 2018 he is working his way through the poetic/wisdom books. Click the title below to read at source.

Clean Hands and a Pure Heart

Psalm 24 – … The author asks us some questions – Who may ascend to the hill of the LORD? – in other words who can come to the LORD’s Temple? – thinking of Jerusalem and Temple Mount. The Jews had a very rigid practice of ceremonially “washing” in large vats to cleanse themselves before worship. Coming to the Temple – more importantly before the LORD’s sanctuary, people did not nonchalantly rush into the presence of the LORD. “Who may stand in His holy place?” The second question makes us evaluate if we are worthy to stand in his presence. Thinking of God on His throne; who is worthy and righteous, holy or without guile to stand before the Holiness of God Almighty [El Shaddai]?

Of course the rhetorical questions have the same answer: No one. I believe that we have made worship all about us, rather than about God and His majestic power and love. I hear too much about people wanting to “feel” the Spirit. If a person knows the Lord Jesus Christ – they should already KNOW the Spirit and not need to “feel” the Spirit. Feelings lie all the time to us; they cannot be trusted to verify a godly experience. If we are to “approach the House of the LORD; if we are to come into His presence,” we must be cleansed and pure.

I am not sure how many believers think about what they are doing when they “go to church.” Usually there has been a lot of activity and emotions in trying to get the family ready on time. We come sliding into the pew and are no more ready to worship than the man on the moon. Then the music guy is trying to pump us up to “sing louder.” Truthfully I’m not ready to sing many times until after the song service is over. As a pastor I love hearing the wonderful worship songs and the genuine praise of people toward God – I’m just not sure it is accomplished by strobe lights and fog machines!

We must have clean hands – I never was allowed to “come to the dinner table” with dirty hands. I hand to “get ready to eat.” Washing my face and hands was my responsibility. Of course I got inspected and if I was not clean I had to do it over. The Holy Spirit is our guide to us, letting us know whether we are really cleansed for worship [dining with the Father]. I have noticed that my hand naturally get dirty when I walk around in this world. I don’t have to handle dirty or mud to get dirty. When I do have “dirt” [sin] that i must deal with, well it takes more than running water over my hands!

The second requirement to WORSHIP the LORD is to have a “pure heart.” I take this to mean that I am right with God and mankind. Hebrews 4:12 says that the Word is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. God knows our motives and attitude – If I regard iniquity in my HEART, He [God] will not hear me. Verse 4 gets more specific – one who has not lifted his soul to falsehood – in other words not a hypocrite, not a liar! I have witnessed people who intentionally lied about who they are, pretending to be something they are not. We can be liars by the way we behave, our actions will tell whether we are pure or not. There is work to be done before coming before the Holy God of our salvation. If we do the work of “getting ready” the dinner/presence of the LORD will be most enjoyable!

If we are honest with ourselves, and come clean with the Lord our God, there is great mercy and forgiveness in His love. The Pharisees made Temple worship about them; pretending to be religious and holy – Jesus knew better. His response was Woes pronounced on them, and a warning to us not to be taken in by their hypocrisy. Let’s get ready for TRUE WORSHIP of the KING OF KINGS!


Who may ascend to the hill/mountain of the Lord?

Four conditions requisite to render such an ascent possible.

  1. The one who abstains from evil doing: He that hath clean hands.
  2. The one who abstains from evil thought: and a pure heart.
  3. The one who does the duty which he is sent into the world to do: That has not lifted up his mind unto vanity (or, as it is in the Vulgate, Who hath no received his soul in vain.) And,
  4. The one who remembers the vows by which he is bound to God: nor sworn to deceive. And in the fullest sense, there was but One in whom all these things were fulfilled; so that in reply to the question, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?” He might well answer, “No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.” John 3:13 . “Therefore it is well written,” says St. Bernard, “that such an High Priest became us, because he knows the difficulty of that ascent to the celestial mountain, he knows the weakness of us that have to ascend.” Lorinus and Bernard, quoted by J. M. Neale (paraphrased; sourced)

Worship song: King of Glory by Chris Tomlin

 

 

October 22, 2017

Sunday Worship

In the modern church we go through periods where different types of things are emphasized and in the current climate, one of these is the idea that you can come as you are to church. I think that on the surface, this is a very valid proposition. There are people who due to habitual sin or lifestyle choices feel that they need to clean up before they can come back to church. Or that at some point in the future they will settle down and return to the faith of their youth. Or that they have simply gone too far and can never receive the love of God.

This of course totally contradicts what scripture teaches. Jesus himself did not hang out with the good people, much to the chagrin of the religious set.

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” – Matthew 11:19 NIV

and again

The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, there is a man who is overfond of eating and drinking–he is a friend of tax-gatherers and notorious sinners!’  – Luke 7:34 Weymouth

If you have a son or a daughter; or a brother or sister; and they have wandered away from their faith because of sin, it’s really important to encourage them to continue to keep the dialog going between themselves and God, even in times of brokenness.

In that spirit, we want to be a church that welcomes people — all people — even if that means people caught in addictions, same-sex couples, people covered head to toe with tattoos.

…However…

It’s easy to let a more relaxed feel toward doing church — whether it’s what’s noted above or just a casual approach toward clothing, music, or drinking coffee during the service — spill over into those of us who are committed; those of us who lead.

The scripture is clear that the persons giving leadership are to cleanse themselves; to purify themselves before serving God. This is true of all of us who come to worship services:

So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. – Matthew 5:23-24 NLT

However, I think it especially true of those who direct us in a worship service or lead us in a worship service.

Take the Levites from among the sons of Israel and cleanse them. Thus you shall do to them, for their cleansing: sprinkle purifying water on them, and let them use a razor over their whole body and wash their clothes, and they will be clean.  – Numbers 8:7 NASB

I am sure that some will say, ‘Yes, but those laws are for the people of the First Testament, we are no longer bound by those rules.’ As sure as that is true, I believe it’s easy to lose the spirit of the regulation which is the idea of being pure before the Lord before offering worship to Him on behalf of the congregation.

Personally, I like the idea that I am no longer ‘required’ to wear a suit and tie to church. I grew up under those constraints. I like being able to take a water bottle or cup of coffee to my seat. I like a lot of the contemporary worship songs. I like that the kids feel comfortable in church.

I am also thrilled that we can recognize that people are welcomed into many of our churches even as their journey toward the cross is far from complete; even as their spiritual development is a work in process.

But those of us giving leadership still need to have clean hands. We need to confess our sin long before arriving at the place of meeting. We need to have a sense of reverence as we enter God’s presence. We need to see ourselves as set apart for service.


Some of you may be interested in reading today’s blog post at Thinking Out Loud: Who I Am.



 

 

March 24, 2017

Examine Yourself

Last year at this time I introduced you to a new online resource, Start2Finish.org which includes various blogs, podcasts and Bible study materials materials available on everything from a phone app to print. This weekend we’re going to share two other authors from the site. Click the title below to read today’s article at its source, and then use the navigation bar to check out the rest of the website.

The Man in the Mirror

by Billy Alexander

Let us search out and examine our ways, and turn back to the Lord (Lamentations 3:40).”

Bucknell University did something interesting recently. They covered all of the mirrors in the residence hall with construction paper to block reflections in what they called, “No Mirror Monday,” as part of a program to promote “body positivity” and “self-love.” (1)

At a surface level, the idea is to ignore the body shaming of the world and to promote positive self-esteem among the student body. However, in essence it is an effort to cover up the truth and confronting the truth of the image we are presenting to the world. In a spiritual sense this is a daily practice of many in the world. They do not merely go out unaware of their physical appearance but they ignore that their character is spotted by many stains (Psalm 73:6, Romans 1:28-32).

Men are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) but because of sin and “self-love” that image has been marred and disfigured grossly. To be certain, we must all have a proper love of self (Matthew 22:39) but to promote this without looking in the metaphorical mirror is dangerous. The Scribes and Pharisees dressed themselves up in false humility and appeared to be the most religious and righteous men on earth. But Jesus rebuked them for not examining their inner flaws, saying that they “cleanse the outside of the cup and dish but inside were full of extortion and self-indulgence (Matthew 23:25-28).” Jesus told them that they were blind to truth or their actual appearance before God. The Lord cautioned that on Judgement Day “many” will be shocked to find that they will be cast away from Him forever (Matthew 7:21-23). How else could they be unaware of their unsightly appearance to the righteous Judge unless they ignored their visible spots and blemishes?

Jesus continued on to tell us that the wise are those who “Hear and Do” what He instructs (Matthew 7:24). James expands on this notion by saying, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was (James 1:23-24).” This is the state of those who hear the Bible and do not put the precepts into practice. What of those who fail to hear what the Bible says (John 12:48)? They have covered up the mirror of the soul (Hebrews 4:12) and go about blind to their true condition. We must all seek to see ourselves as God sees us.

Imagine failing to look in the mirror and going in for a job interview with a stained and untucked shirt, disheveled hair, and spinach in your teeth. Would you really ever dare such thing before a person who could determine whether or not you gain a job? Yet so many are heading into a much more fateful appointment (Hebrews 9:27) without ever laundering their garments and preparing properly (2 Corinthians 13:5).

If we allow Him to do so, God seeks to restore all of us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). “The Bible itself functions as spiritual direction, for as we read it prayerfully we are being formed more and more into the image of Christ. (2) Jesus is Himself the image of God (Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3) and has made God visible to us all (John 1:18). As we examine His character and model and follow Him we become partakers of the divine nature forsaking the habits of the self-seeking world (2 Peter 1:4). Look deeply into the perfect law of liberty Christian. Day by day the wrinkles, stains, and scars are fading and the high definition image of God is being perfected in you. As we look into that mirror and see His image there is no shame in that.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12 NIV).”


  1. http://libertyunyielding.com/2017/02/27/bucknell-u-promotes-positive-self-image-covering-mirrors/
  2. Richard J. Foster, A Celebration of Discipline, HarperCollins, 1978, p.187

December 8, 2015

Holiness is Unapologetically Severe

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Isaiah 64:6  We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

Like today’s title? It’s a line from today’s devotional which really stood out to me. We’re paying a return visit to the website Blogos which features a variety of writers. Today’s author is Beth Hyduke. Click the title below to read at source, and then click the banner at the top to see other recent articles. Many of the scriptures for today’s reading are linked in the text; be sure to click through.

Earning God’s Favor

Understanding our total inadequacy to please God and the futility of attempting to earn His favor based on our own actions is foundational to a proper understanding of God, ourselves, and Jesus Christ. Not only is it normal or okay for a Christian to realize their own personal unworthiness before God, it is absolutely crucial that we do so, integral to establishing and maintaining a right relationship with God and others.

Contrary to popular opinion, Christianity is not a self-help system where you identify problem areas in your life and then start to fix themtweet The Bible gives us the bad news up-front; that all men are born into sin (Romans 3:23) and therefore unable to ever attain God’s standard of moral perfection (Jeremiah 13:23, Romans 8:7-9, Ephesians 2:5, Colossians 2:13). Additionally, we are told that the sin state robs us of any desire to please God, making us enemies with Him from the time we are born (Romans 5:6-10, Colossians 1:21). Without the capacity or even the desire to please God, we are unable to do anything to improve our situation or win back God’s approval. Any attempt to work for God’s favor is useless. The Bible tells us that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Pretty strong words, right? But it shows us two important things.

The first concerns God and His character. God is holy (1 Samuel 2:2, Isaiah 40:25, Hosea 11:9) and holiness is unapologetically severe; it requires unswerving submission and obedience to God in every area of our lives. God’s standard is absolute perfection, demanding total obedience from us in every thought, every motivation, every word, and every deed. The second you stray from that in the slightest sense, you have botched it, and the entire relationship comes crashing down. That is why even our best attempts to please God are unacceptable to Him; our sin-tainted hearts and minds can never produce the purely holy thoughts, words, or actions that God requires from us. Like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14, our deeds may appear outwardly right but inwardly we harbor selfish motivations or impure thoughts or worldly desires. With such a bleak outlook, we would be absolutely right to doubt our worthiness before the holy God. We’d be foolish not to.

The second thing concerns us and our character. It tells us here in Isaiah 64:6 that mankind’s solution to the problem of his inability to please God commonly revolves around man’s efforts to reform his actions — his attempts to do better, to live better, to think better, etc. But we already know that this is a doomed effort; partial holiness is not holiness at all, and therefore as worthless in God’s eyes as dirty rags. Since God, who is perfect, requires perfection, we don’t just need to be better, we need to be perfect. This is our conundrum, because who can be perfect, all the time, in every matter, from birth to death?

One verse earlier, Isaiah says, “You [God] are indeed angry, for we have sinned — in these ways we continue; and we need to be saved” (Isaiah 64:5). Isaiah recognized that working for God’s approval was futile because we simply cannot stop sinning. If we cannot satisfy God’s righteous requirement due to our ongoing sinfulness, then our only hope is for another to satisfy it for us due to His unswerving obedience and submission to God’s holy will.

It is only by understanding the complete hopelessness of our efforts to escape our doomed situation that we can see the good news of the Gospel, Jesus Christ, for who He is. Christ is the only door (Luke 11:9, Matthew 7:13, John 14:6) that leads to reconciliation with God — not any other, and certainly not our best attempts to improve ourselves.

Because Christ lived a sinless life and died on the cross in place of each believer, He has accomplished something extraordinary that nobody else has ever accomplished, or ever will, or ever could. By taking upon Himself the judgment each of us deserves for past, present, and future sins we commit, He acts as our substitute, meaning our sins have been paid for by His death and that His sinless life of perfect obedience to God becomes our sinless life of perfect obedience in God’s sight.

We do good works, then, not as a means of obtaining or keeping salvation but as a way of showing gratitude for all the blessings God has given us (Proverbs 3:1-4, Colossians 3:1-17, Ephesians 5:15-20). The Bible tells us we were created to do good works through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10) and that through them, we serve as a witness to the world (John 14:21, 1 John 2:3-6).

 

August 30, 2015

Keeping Your Thought Life Pure

This weekend at Thinking Out Loud we’ve been running two articles which deal with your thought life. (They are each double articles, so really we’ve run four over Saturday and Sunday.) You can connect with those articles here and here. In going through my files I discovered I also covered something similar at C201 — perhaps it’s a different type of purity of thoughts — and while we rarely repeat a devotional here…

Purity of Thought = Purity of Heart

Love Believes The Best

James 3:17 (NIV) But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

James 3:17(Message)Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced.

I Cor. 13:7(Amplified) Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening].

I Cor.13:7 (CEB)Love is always supportive,
loyal, hopeful, and trusting.

I Cor 13:7(TLB) If you love someone, you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him.

Matt. 5:8(KJV) Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

We live in a time where when we think of purity we think in terms of moral purity. Surrounded as we are by images and ideas that are sexually licentious, we tend to characterize purity as the absence of those influences.

Surely no one would argue the importance of this, and I have written many times here and at Thinking Out Loud on the importance of controlling our thought life and endeavoring to cultivate a healthy mind.

But purity in scripture can mean so much more than abstinence from thoughts about sex or not engaging in immoral behavior. It can also mean a wholesome outlook, and a wholesome attitude.

When we look at the character of Christ, Philippians 2:5-7 does not say

5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,who did not think lustful thoughts or look covetously at women.

Yes, the scriptures are careful to tell us he did not sin:

Heb.4:15(NASB)For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

Rather, the Philippians passage talks about his servant heart. His life is characterized by the things he did do, he humbled himself, he took a servant role, he submitted himself to death.

From our opening scriptures, we see that purity of thought, or purity of heart will involve things like:

  • working for peace
  • consideration of others
  • a submissive (teachable) spirit
  • acts of mercy
  • impartiality
  • sincerity
  • getting along with others
  • gentleness
  • consistent character
  • possessing an enduring hope
  • supportive and loyal
  • trusting
  • always expecting the best

It is the last characteristic (and the verse in James) that launched this study today in my own heart. The pure in heart have a positive, non-critical spirit. Love may critique, but it doesn’t criticize. Murphy’s Law may suggest that things are going to go wrong. The Peter Principle may suggest you’re going to get reassigned to a job you can’t do well. But the Christ-follower is buoyed not by a blind optimism, but by an attitude that believes the best and expects the best.

Their outworking of spiritual wisdom begins in holiness and righteousness; that’s what makes their advice, their counsel, their entire comportment pure.

Image: WalkGood (click image to source)


The second link in the introductory paragraph is to an article which ends with this story…

We are all fighting a battle within ourselves… The illustration goes like this: There is a old Indian chief telling a story about how each of us have two rival dogs, a good dog and a bad dog. Both are always fighting each other. Sometimes it seems like the good dog is winning other times it appears like the bad dog is winning.

One of the tribal members asks, “So, how do you know which one will win?”

To which the chief replies, “It depends which dog you feed.”

November 21, 2014

Changed to a Pure Speech

NIV Zeph. 3:8 Therefore wait for me,”
    declares the Lord,
    “for the day I will stand up to testify.
I have decided to assemble the nations,
    to gather the kingdoms
and to pour out my wrath on them—
    all my fierce anger.
The whole world will be consumed
    by the fire of my jealous anger.

“Then I will purify the lips of the peoples,
    that all of them may call on the name of the Lord
    and serve him shoulder to shoulder.

Recently, I encountered verse nine in the ESV and I was especially struck by the wording of the first line, underlined below:

“For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples
    to a pure speech,
that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord
    and serve him with one accord.

Some other translations offer:

  • For then [changing their impure language] I will give to the people a clear and pure speech from pure lips (AMP)
  • I will purify each language
    and make those languages
        acceptable for praising me.  (CEV)
  • In the end I will turn things around for the people.
        I’ll give them a language undistorted, unpolluted,
    Words to address God in worship
        and, united, to serve me… (The Message)
  • Know for sure that I will then enable
    the nations to give me acceptable praise.  (NET)
  •  And then I will transform the words spoken by the nations to pure words,
            and the people will finally hear My truth.
        Then all the people will be able to pray to and serve the Eternal One,
            standing together as part of the same people. (The Voice)

The Reformation Study Bible considers this phrase:

To purify the lips is either to cleanse from sin in general

Is. 6:5  And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

or to remove the names of foreign gods from the lips of a worshiper

Hos. 2:17  For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more.

One of the resources on BibleGateway.com is the Asbury Bible Commentary which covers verses 9-20.

Zephaniah closes with a joyful note of redemption. Jerusalem, the city of God, will be cleansed from the arrogant so that Yahweh himself might dwell among his people. They also will be cleansed so that their language and their deeds might reflect the moral nature of the God they serve. With Yahweh, the Mighty Warrior, dwelling among them, the people will not fear their enemies but will rejoice in the care he will provide.

There is no distinctive break between vv. 8 and 9. They are linked by the concept of fire, which on the one hand consumes the world but on the other purifies God’s people. The prophet, in vv. 9 and 10, draws upon the imagery of the Tower of Babel incident (Ge 11:1-9) to portray a once-scattered but soon to be united people whose lips (speech) have been purified. This reestablished community will be characterized by worship, the natural activity of a redeemed people.

The theme of purification continues in v. 11 in that the proud will be removed from their midst. The holy habitation of God (“holy hill”) is in the midst of the meek and humble (v. 12). He will not dwell with the arrogant but must first humble and purify the people of all that is contrary to his nature. Because he will purify them of their sin and dwell among his people Israel, they will be free from wrong, lies, and deceit (v. 13) The ethical character of the people of God will reflect the nature of Yahweh himself. Thus these verses teach the normative paradigm of redemption: Yahweh removes sin and arrogance from the midst of his people and then comes to occupy that vacated throne of values, filling it with his holy presence and shaping their lives to conform to his own righteous nature.

In a brief hymn of salvation (vv. 14-17), the people of God are summoned to rejoice in the presence of Yahweh. The recurring word qirbek, “your midst” (NIV “within you,” v. 12; “with you,” vv. 15, 17), contains the central theological idea of the passage, Yahweh dwells among his people. They may rejoice and not be afraid, for they will be protected from any harm. Yahweh will be their God, a warrior of salvation. His people will rest securely in his covenantal love (v. 17).

The final verses of the book (vv. 18-20) are spoken by Yahweh himself as he promises to reverse the fortunes of his people who must go through the destruction measured out to the nations in the Day of Yahweh. For them judgment becomes remedial, not final. Strong emphasis lies in the repeated “I will.” All that they will gain—relief from burdens, salvation from oppression, return from exile, honor and praise—will be due to the direct action of Yahweh. Salvation belongs to him alone.

November 11, 2013

Purity of Thought = Purity of Heart

Love Believes The Best

James 3:17 (NIV) But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

James 3:17(Message)Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced.

I Cor. 13:7(Amplified) Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening].

I Cor.13:7 (CEB)Love is always supportive,
loyal, hopeful,  and trusting.

I Cor 13:7(TLB) If you love someone, you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him.

Matt. 5:8(KJV) Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

We live in a time where when we think of purity we think in terms of moral purity. Surrounded as we are by images and ideas that are sexually licentious, we tend to characterize purity as the absence of those influences.

Surely no one would argue the importance of this, and I have written many times here and at Thinking Out Loud on the importance of controlling our thought life and endeavoring to cultivate a healthy mind.

But purity in scripture can mean so much more than abstinence from thoughts about sex or not engaging in immoral behavior. It can also mean a wholesome outlook, and a wholesome attitude.

When we look at the character of Christ, Philippians 2:5-7 does not say

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,who did not think lustful thoughts or look covetously at women.

Yes, the scriptures are careful to tell us he did not sin:

Heb.4:15(NASB)For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

Rather, the Philippians passage talks about his servant heart. His life is characterized by the things he did do, he humbled himself, he took a servant role, he submitted himself to death.

From our opening scriptures, we see that purity of thought, or purity of heart will involve things like:

  • working for peace
  • consideration of others
  • a submissive (teachable) spirit
  • acts of mercy
  • impartiality
  • sincerity
  • getting along with others
  • gentleness
  • consistent character
  • possessing an enduring hope
  • supportive and loyal
  • trusting
  • always expecting the best

It is the last characteristic (and the verse in James) that launched this study today in my own heart. The pure in heart have a positive, non-critical spirit. Love may critique, but it doesn’t criticize. Murphy’s Law may suggest that things are going to go wrong. The Peter Principle may suggest you’re going to get reassigned to a job you can’t do well. But the Christ-follower is buoyed not by a blind optimism, but by an attitude that believes the best and expects the best.

Their outworking of spiritual wisdom begins in holiness and righteousness; that’s what makes their advice, their counsel, their entire comportment pure.

Image: WalkGood (click image to source)

October 6, 2013

Did I Say That Out Loud?

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Speak No Evil

Yesterday, just before we closed, we included a link to a related post by Dianne Guthmuller. Today, I want to feature her writing here. This topic seems to come around here rather frequently; maybe God is trying to tell us something!  It appeared at her blog under the title Pass Me The Duct Tape. You’re encouraged to click through and discover other excellent articles on her blog, which is a daily Bible study similar to what we do here.

Today’s Scripture Reading:  Luke 8:1-3, Mark 3:20-230, Matthew 12:22-45, Mark 3:31-35, Matthew 12:46-50, Luke 8:19-21, Mark 4:1-9, Matthew 13:1-9, Luke 8:4-8, Mark 4:10-20

And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak.  The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you. Matthew 12:36-37

Every idle word…

Lord help me!  I’m in trouble.  Where’s the duct tape?

I looked up the word “idle” in Word Studies in the New Testament hoping for a reprieve, but none was to be found…

Idle (ἀργὸν). The word is compounded of ἀ, not, and ἔργον, work. An idle word is a nonworking word; an inoperative word. It has no legitimate work, no office, no business, but is morally useless and unprofitable.

Friends, Jesus wasn’t just talking about profanity, He was talking about gossip, criticism, whining, complaining, etc; anything that isn’t adding value to people’s lives.

Let’s look at the context in which this verse is written (Matthew 12:22-37).

Jesus was getting it from all sides:

  • The crowds were following Him everywhere; He couldn’t get enough time to Himself to grab a bite to eat
  • His family was trying to pull Him away from the crowds saying, “He’s out of his mind”
  • The teachers of religious law were saying He was possessed by Satan

When the teachers accused Jesus of being possessed by Satan He took great offense, not because they were doubting Him, but because they were speaking against the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit; which the religious leaders should have recognized.  Jesus gave a timeless warning that had grave consequences against speaking against the power of the Holy Spirit.

It was in this serious setting that Jesus warned us about idle words.  He prefaced His warning with a word picture, which was the common way to communicate in Jewish culture.

A tree is identified by its fruit.  If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad. –Matthew 12:33

If our heart is good our words will be good.  If our heart is bad our words will be bad.

In Jesus’ day the only words they dealt with were spoken words; very few people could write. Fast forward 2,000 years…how many words to you speak, write, type, or text in a 24 hour period?

Before you run to the garage and get your duct tape, remember Jesus sees and know our heart, so even if we keep our “idle” words from coming out, we’re still accountable for them.

What can we do about our idle words?

Don’t focus on the words…

Focus on getting your heart tuned into the Holy Spirit; ask Him to create in you a clean heart (Psalm 51:10) and your words will follow.

Heavenly Father, we want our words and our heart to be pleasing to You.  Lord, You made us, You know our human failings. Please forgive us when we fail; speak loudly to us when we do.  We say with David, create in us a clean heart.  Jesus, make us like You!

In Your Holy Name.  Amen and Amen!

July 31, 2013

Able to Keep You from Falling

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jude24-25

Last night I ended the day listening to a recording of The Jude Benediction. There are several different musical settings for this passage; although this one had some variances, it was closest to the song I remembered.

As I thought of approaching this verse today with excerpts from various sources, my search results first led me to something that was posted only days ago by Deryk on the blog, Becoming Less. As I tried editing this at various points, I felt that I really should run all of it. I hope you resonate with the author’s raw honesty and transparency. And as always, you’re encouraged to read blog posts here at their source; this one was originally titled On Being Kept from Stumbling.

The contents of my heart and mind are kind of raw and disorganized right now. I spend a good deal of time in conversation with other Christians, as well as perusing the internet, to hear and process where the Church is at on a variety of issues and topics and what not. And it can be discouraging.

So many Christians who fight what they understand to be sin in their lives eventually grow weary. That’s nothing new. But when they do, they may glance over to the World, who is waiting with open arms to embrace them in whatever they may be fighting. See, the World won’t condemn, or judge, or even call it “sin.” The World is “tolerant,” and truth can bend and flex to not only accept whatever you might be fighting – the World might even call it a good thing, something to celebrate!

I see Christians doing a lot of bending and flexing and doing a dangerous dance with the World. Some people end up radically reforming their theology, not in a “Reformed” sense but trying to put the pieces back together in such a way that says God’s down with sin that for thousands of years Christians have understood him not to be. At different points throughout history, this may have been more difficult, because the World may not have embraced such change as culturally acceptable, even outside a “religious” sphere – but today, it’s an epidemic.

So in our struggle against sin, we look to a church of redeemed sinners for strength (though we’ve always been crippled and desperately dependent on Christ), and if that’s not enough, the World is waiting with open arms for us to give up and fall completely… only to tell us that we never really fell after all, we just threw off the misguided, oppressive chains of religion to experience enlightenment. What a tricky situation we find ourselves in.

I cling to the hope of this benediction from the epistle of Jude:

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Jude 1:24-25

I read stories of Christians responding to the life-long struggle with our sinful nature that we all face by re-forming their theology to tolerate their sin, or by ditching their faith altogether to try embracing their sin without the pretense of reconciling the two. This is scary. It scares me to see older Christians give up when I’m facing who knows how many more years on this earth, pursuing sanctification but knowing that until I stand before Jesus I’ll always be battling sin. It’s intimidating, not knowing how God will or won’t change me, or how fast, or how radically. What will I do with that in a year? In 5, or 10 or 50?

But Jude reminds me that it’s “him who is able” to keep me from stumbling, and to present me blameless, to himself.

I look at my life and see certain struggles with sin that have greatly diminished, to a point where I pretty much don’t experience them or, at least, not nearly as significantly as when I was in a place of lesser maturity. By the grace of Jesus and the power of his holy spirit in me I have grown in discipline and holiness, and I can testify to him being so good to me in that. But what about the parts of me that aren’t changing like I want? What do I do when I see sin so deep in me, and know that I’m not guaranteed any particular outcome with that short of the day I stand before Jesus?

These words just came to mind as I’m writing… Paul said that he was “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). I’ve prayed in similar confidence in God’s work in other people so many times, but so often forget about these words when I need hope.

I guess I’m trying to be OK with God’s work in me. I’m trying to be OK with the speed and trajectory that it’s taking, even though I’m, well, not. However I have been skewed, flawed, jacked up by living in a sinful world, and however Jesus decides to heal and free me – or not yet, or not right now – I’m trying to trust him in that. If I’m having to realize that I may not experience the kind of change I long for on this earth, if I’m not a person whose heart and life is characterized by the freedom and holiness I want on the timeline I want it – God is still good. I have to trust in his coming kingdom and present redemption and stay confident that one day I’ll stand before him completely healed and whole.

I deeply desire to be able to joyfully and honestly believe and speak the words of the Doxology in Jude. I want to look at my life and affirm that God is to be praised for keeping me from stumbling, and that I’m headed towards being presented blameless in his glorious presence. I know my sin is paid for, and it doesn’t stick to me, in his eyes; I’m just so sick of the ways it’s so near to me on this earth. I don’t want to grow weary, I don’t want to compromise like so many do.

Please pray for me. Pray for whatever healing and freedom God will grant me, and for holiness and strength in whatever ways I need to bear a cross, including the scars of sin.

“Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”

(Psalm 51:10-12)

 

 

 

Image: Agape Ministries

August 17, 2012

Ministry Life Reminders

Usually it takes us six months to come back to a particular writer, but even though we just shared some of Paul Clark’s writing a month ago,  I enjoyed this short five-point outline to people in ministry — that’s all of us — that he wrote a few days ago under the title A Few Reminders.  For C201 readers, I’ve filled out the scripture portions he alluded to.

First, let’s remind ourselves that God holds us safely in the palm of his hand.

NLT Psalm 91: 1 Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
he is my God, and I trust him.

Life has a way of throwing us curveballs, doesn’t it? We find ourselves thrown into circumstances that shake our foundations. But in the midst of those circumstances, we must remind ourselves that we are safe in the hands of our heavenly Father.

Second, let’s remind ourselves of the goodness of God.

(MSG)Romans 8: 28…we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

All God’s intentions toward us are good.  All of God’s activities toward us flow from his goodness. A.W. Tozer wrote, “The whole outlook of mankind might be changed if we could all believe that we dwell under a friendly sky and that the God of heaven, though exalted in power and majesty, is eager to be friends with us.

Third, let’s remind ourselves that we are no longer slaves to sin.

(NASB) Romans 6: 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;

Anyone who has been born of God knows the battle between sin and righteousness that’s being waged in us and around us. The battle between going along or being honest; between pure thoughts and worthless self-talk; between giving in to the flesh or living by the Spirit. We can make the right choices through Jesus Christ!

Fourth, let’s remind ourselves that God’s mercy and forgiveness are inexhaustible.

(CEB) Ephensians 2: 4-5 However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace!

The word “rich” means overabounding, limitless, without measure.  God demonstrated that limitless mercy when he sent his Son to die on a cross for our sins. Nothing about me is inexhaustible, yet God is merciful without measure.

Finally, let’s remind ourselves that God’s Word has the power to transform our lives.

(TNIV) I Peter 2: 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation…

Our culture makes us spiritually dull.  It wears us down.  We need daily renewal if we will be sharp and prepared for whatever God brings into our day. God’s Word transforming our hearts is the key to living the abundant life.

~Paul Clark

Read more at Paul’s blog, Vision Meets Reality:

July 19, 2012

A Study on Sin

After a longer post yesterday, I was looking for something shorter today, but then remembered having this in my files and wanting to share it sooner than later.

Blogger Jeff Mikels wrote this following the arrest of a local pastor, so while it deals with the sin problem as faced by all of us, he wrote in within the context of sin impacting church leaders.  As always, you are strongly encouraged to read C201 posts at their source; this is a great encouragement to the writers and you may find other articles on their blogs you would enjoy.  Here’s the link to where this appeared as Reflections on Sin.

This past week, a number of stories came out in my local newspaper reporting on and analyzing the arrest of a local pastor. He has been accused of placing and monitoring video equipment in the female bathrooms at the church. If you haven’t read the articles, don’t worry about not knowing the details. I’m not going to address the specifics of that story, but it has burdened my heart so much that I feel a need to reflect here in my semi-public space what these moral failures reveal about God, humanity, and the state of the church.

The story is all too common

Including this story, a total of three significant church leaders have been arrested for sexual misconduct of some kind in Lafayette in just the past three years. People are well aware of these stories happening all over the place. These stories happen in the Catholic Church. They happen in Protestant churches. They happen in small towns and in large cities. They happen with local pastors and national figures. The stories are all too common especially when we consider that the Bible says this about those who would be leaders in a church.

Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.1 Timothy 3:2-4

and also

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.James 3:1

As an individual and as a pastor, I am sickened when I hear that another leader has failed in this way not only because behavior like this is clearly prohibited in the Bible but also because these failures are easily preventable. I literally feel it in my gut when I think about some church leader violating God’s Word and the trust of the people.

At the same time, I admit that I’m freaked out by it. As one pastor after another falls to this and to other temptations, I seriously begin to worry about myself. What can I possibly do to prevent falling prey to the same temptations? Am I prone to falling in the same way? Am I prone to falling in a different way? Is it from a prideful heart that I want to judge other leaders who do fall to those temptations?

It shouldn’t be common among us at all

The sad reality is that sin happens, no one is immune, every one needs grace, but the wonderful promise of the Bible is that living a life of integrity is not only a calling but also a privilege, a gift for all believers.

Consider these two verses from 1 John:

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.1 John 1:5-10

There are three things to note here. First of all, no one has the right to claim to be without sin. Those who do are fooling themselves. Secondly, all sin, regardless of what it is, can be and will be forgiven for anyone who will confess those sins. Thirdly, and this is the most relevant part for our conversation, those who walk in the light are they who enjoy both fellowship with people and cleansing from sin.

John is writing to make sure that everyone knows that no one is perfect. However, he clearly says that God’s work is more than forgiveness. God’s work is purification. In other words, God is at work to gradually eliminate sin from your life, and those who walk in the light are the ones who receive that gradual purification.

Going a little deeper, John says in chapter 3:

All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.1 John 3:3-10

Even though we can’t say we are free from sin, we can’t claim to belong to God if we continue in sin. Periodic sins are to be expected, but habitual sin, particularly the kind of sin that reveals an unloving heart, is proof of the devil’s work in that person. Therefore, if some pastor, church leader, or in fact any other human being has a habitual sin that displays an unloving heart (as almost all sexual sin does), John would conclude that the devil had been at work in him.

That’s scary.

The bottom line is that even though sin is everywhere, those who claim to be followers of Jesus (regardless of position in the church!) are expected to live lives of love and purity, and if you claim to be a follower of Jesus yet have any habitual sin in your life, you need to get it under control or you will be just as guilty in God’s eyes as anyone who’s ever been arrested for any of these sins.

So why does it happen?

I can’t tell you specifically why any sin ever happens, but the Bible leads us to understand how any sin develops in a person’s life. It comes from the heart.

For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come‚—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.Mark 7:21-22

also

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. — James 1:13-15

Sin crouches in the soul, in the heart waiting to come out at an opportune time, and there’s one thing that lets sin stay there, under the surface of our lives until it gets an opportunity. What is that one thing? Darkness.

Remember what John said in chapter 1 verse 7?

if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.

The antidote to the problem of the heart, to the problem of sin, and even to relationship problems is walking in the light! Therefore, I conclude that if someone has a sin problem or a relationship problem, it’s because of walking in darkness, but if we want to walk in the light, it requires not only that I myself live in an environment of light (especially the relationships I maintain), but it also requires that I allow the light to shine on me. The antidote to sin is to let the light shine on me and to walk with others who likewise let the light shine on them.

If that’s the case, then there are two simple reasons why people fall into sin. They keep their hearts in the dark, and they keep their friends in the dark.

Let me explore those thoughts with you for a moment.

A darkened heart

Simply put, a darkened heart means that a person has gone for a long time without meditating on the Word of God. David would say in the Psalms:

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. — Psalm 119:11

and he would also say:

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.Psalm 119:105

A heart that is not filled with the Word of God is a darkened heart. Now, that doesn’t mean I think pastor Bob or any of these other leaders were not reading their Bible. I’m sure they were actually spending a great deal of time in the Bible, but it’s one thing to read, and it’s quite a different thing to absorb it. Two more passages are relevant to this:

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.James 1:23-24

and this:

But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.Matthew 7:26-27

When sin comes to the surface, it’s because the penetrating light of God’s Word wasn’t allowed to shine where the sin was hiding. Those who block a part of their heart from the light of God’s Word are creating a sin incubator inside themselves.

Darkened friendships

The Bible speaks of two different kind of “darkened” friendships–friends who choose lives of darkness and friends I choose to keep in the dark.

Regarding the first group of “friends” the Bible teaches that people who hang out with wicked people will themselves fall into destruction:

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither‚ whatever they do prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.Psalm 1:1-6

In our world today, this can happen outside the context of “friendships” and in the context of entertainment. With technology, it is possible today to enjoy the “company of mockers” while being completely alone. The values of the world can seep into a person’s life simply by osmosis. If a person is hanging out with wicked people, watching wicked shows, or otherwise regularly soaking in a godless culture, that person will be corrupted by it.

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm. — Proverbs 13:20

or

Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”1 Corinthians 15:33

However, a person can have the greatest, most godly friends in the world, but still have darkened friendships by simply choosing to deceive, lie, or otherwise keep them in the dark. A person can have darkened friendships by simply never opening up and confessing to them his sins, temptations, and struggles. By avoiding the vulnerability of confession, he never reaches the point of growth that is supposed to come when godly people are with each other.

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.Proverbs 27:17

or

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.James 5:16

Therefore, we can say that a great deal of sin is simply the result of a darkened heart living with darkened relationships. What then, shall we do to move from darkness into light?

Moving from darkness to light

Paul gives the people of Ephesus a severe challenge in his letter to them:

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person‚–such a person is an idolater‚–has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible‚ and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Be very careful, then, how you live‚–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.Ephesians 5:1-16

Paul attacks sexual immorality, impurity, and greed (three things rampant in our culture even among church leaders), but he attacks them from the standpoint of light and darkness. He tells us that those who belong to God are “children of light” and should work to “expose” the darkness wherever it may be found. In other words, Paul’s charge to followers of Jesus is that they live in the light.

So before we ever address the specific questions raised by any specific scandal, I want to turn the questions to you and to me. Let’s ask these self-evaluating questions:

  1. Is there any area of my heart where the light of the Word of God is not currently shining? Is there any area where I am knowingly avoiding the light of God’s Word?
  2. Are there any regular relationships I maintain (with people, Internet, or other media) where there is no light?
  3. Is there any area of my heart that is in the dark from other people? That is, for each attitude, behavior, temptation, and thought that’s true of me, is there at least one person who knows me well enough to know about it and to call me on it when they see it?

If you have darkness in your heart or darkness in your relationships, you are likely to fall to temptation. Deal with it now before it’s too late!

~Jeff Mikels

There are two additional (shorter) parts to this.  You need to click the link and scroll to the bottom to read

  • Some questions for times of scandal
  • Final thoughts

Jeff’s writing was previously featured here in February, with two Q&A posts:  Part One and Part Two.

July 2, 2011

How Vexed Are You?

This is a long weekend on both sides of the border, and as such, it will be an excuse for many types of “excess” in terms of eating and drinking and general partying. 

This morning I began the day with a Promise Keeper’s Canada devotional that was given out at my son’s church on Father’s Day.  It was a six-day study on the life of Abraham and the day’s reading was based in Genesis 24:3

…Abraham knew Isaac needed a wife.  Remember, Abraham is very rich, he could have chosen the prettiest, richest daughter from the heathens…

He would have nothing to do with the worldly ways around him.  He knew he was different and his legacy was to be different.  He ordered his servant to go to his father’s house for the bride of his legacy.

We all have to make decisions on how worldly we are going to be.  Most of don’t take the time to think how these decisions impact our generations.  Abraham did, and demanded that his son had a fighting chance at being a God follower.

As men, we have to decide how much of the world’s ideas we are going to watch and remember…

And then, suddenly in the middle of this devotional another scripture reference appeared; a reference to II Peter 2:7, which in the translation they used says that “Lot was vexed by hearing and seeing unrighteousness.”

This verse was the one that really got to me.

But God also rescued Lot out of Sodom because he was a righteous man who was sick of the shameful immorality of the wicked people around him.

(NLT)

…a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless …

(NIV)

…Lot, driven nearly out of his mind by the sexual filth and perversity, was rescued. Surrounded by moral rot day after day after day, that righteous man was in constant torment…

(The Message)

I think it’s interesting that Lot lived in the middle of a decadent society that was in many ways different from ours but in many ways the same.  Peterson translates it that he was nearly driven out of his mind by it and was in constant torment.

How “vexed” am I by the society around me?  I can define myself by my non-participation in sinful things, but am I really all that concerned about what others are doing? 

The devotional ends with this passage from Ezekiel 14

 1-5Some of the leaders of Israel approached me and sat down with me. God’s Message came to me: “Son of Man, these people have installed idols in their hearts. They have embraced the wickedness that will ruin them. Why should I even bother with their prayers? Therefore tell them, ‘The Message of God, the Master: All in Israel who install idols in their hearts and embrace the wickedness that will ruin them and still have the gall to come to a prophet, be on notice: I, God, will step in and personally answer them as they come dragging along their mob of idols. I am ready to go to work on the hearts of the house of Israel, all of whom have left me for their idols.’

 6-8 “Therefore, say to the house of Israel: ‘God, the Master, says, Repent! Turn your backs on your no-god idols. Turn your backs on all your outrageous obscenities. To every last person from the house of Israel, including any of the resident aliens who live in Israel—all who turn their backs on me and embrace idols, who install the wickedness that will ruin them at the center of their lives and then have the gall to go to the prophet to ask me questions—I, God, will step in and give the answer myself. I’ll oppose those people to their faces, make an example of them—a warning lesson—and get rid of them so you will realize that I am God.

 9-11 “‘If a prophet is deceived and tells these idolaters the lies they want to hear, I, God, get blamed for those lies. He won’t get by with it. I’ll grab him by the scruff of the neck and get him out of there. They’ll be equally guilty, the prophet and the one who goes to the prophet, so that the house of Israel will never again wander off my paths and make themselves filthy in their rebellions, but will rather be my people, just as I am their God. Decree of God, the Master.'”

(The Message)

March 14, 2011

Light The Fire Again

Although I’m now a confirmed fan of Brian Doerksen’s worship music, I didn’t immediately gravitate toward the song “Light The Fire Again” when it was first becoming popular.  Only a few days ago, as I was reading the text it is based on in Revelation 3 (the letter to the church at Laodicea) did I really come to appreciate the song.

To craft a song like this you would need several things to be happening

  • At the most basic level, an awareness of the text
  • Second, a familiarity and comfort with the text.  Many times we shy away from poetic images or prophetic images, or even the book of Revelation itself
  • Finally, that familiarity with the text has to extend to an ability to restate the text in words that are immediate and relevant to our modern church experience.

Here’s the text itself:

(NIV) Rev 3:17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Here’s the video and some devotional thoughts on the song that appeared here just a month ago.

Let’s go a different direction with this today:  We’re not all songwriters, but here are some questions to ask ourselves…

  • Are there texts we are unfamiliar with?  A recent study showed that in many churches, despite owning a vast collection of hymnbooks, there were really only 27 hymns that were common to all.  These are the “popular” hymns, the ones that survive even in churches that do modern worship.  It’s the same with Bible texts.  We have our favorites, our “go-to” places in the Bible that we perhaps read at the expense of other places God would have us discover.
  • Are there texts we are uncomfortable with?  Parts of the Bible we avoid?  I’m not talking about obscure genealogies or Levitical laws, but other places that don’t resonate with us, so we tend to skip over them instead of prayerfully reading them, asking God to show us more of His nature and His character in the words He inspired.   They should become part of us.
  • Could we re-state certain passages in ways that would connect with people living 21st Century lives?   Have we captured the “gist” of a passage enough to describe it, paraphrase it, or even put it into a song?  Or do we just skim the words and then close the book?

I’m not there yet.  I just think when we see writers who are able to take these passages and literally make them sing, we need to look into the depth of our own reading and processing of scripture, and if it’s somewhat lacking, take steps to move from a Christianity 101 approach up to the level of Christianity 201.

March 13, 2011

Before You Pray, “Our Father…”

This was part of our worship time this morning.  My wife adapted this from something one of our team members sent.

If my religion and my life have no room for others and their joys and needs,

…I cannot pray “Our”

If I do not live as a child, beloved and learning,

…I cannot pray “Father”

If all my interests and pursuits are earthly things

…I cannot pray “Who art in Heaven”

If I — called to be holy as he is — am not holy

…I cannot pray “Hallowed be thy name”

If he is not King in my own life,

…I cannot pray “Thy Kingdom come”

If I will not listen for and obey his voice on Earth

…I cannot pray “On Earth as it is in Heaven”

If I will not make an honest effort, or if I ignore the immediate needs of others

…I cannot pray “Give us this day our daily bread”

If I choose to remain in a situation where I am likely to be tempted

…I cannot pray “Lead us not into temptation”

If I am not prepared to fight the spiritual fight with faith and truth and love

…I cannot pray “Deliver us from evil”

If I insist on my own rights and my own way

…I cannot pray “Thine is the Kingdom”

If I live according to what my neighbors and friends may say or do

…I cannot pray “Thine is the Power”

If I’m controlled by anxiety about every day’s problems and promises

…I cannot pray  “Forever”

If I cannot honestly say ‘Cost what it may, this is my prayer’

…I cannot pray “Amen”

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