Monday, September 30, 2013

Recommended Blog

For those of you who are interested, I have another blog dedicated to Biblical teaching on the family. You can access it by going to:

Finding Joy in Other Christians

Paul had been arrested, and he was sitting in prison in Rome. And while awaiting a decision on whether he would live or die, Paul wrote to the congregation in Philippi. What did he write about? Not about what you would guess, knowing his situation. Instead, he wrote about joy.

As we said in the previous blogs, his topic, his thesis, is something quite surprising, because his thesis is joy. He’s telling the Philippians about, not only his own joy, but he’s commanding them to also be filled with joy. “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice,” He said in Philippians 4:4. So his main thesis is joy, and how to have it.

But, even more than he talks about joy, he talks about the source of that joy - Jesus Christ. Because of the relationship he has with Jesus Christ, he can have joy, he can take joy, from even the most difficult situations. That is the greatest lesson we can learn from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

And so, as we study from this Epistle, we need to be ever alert to find those things that brought Paul joy and learn how we too can find joy in the tough situations we face in life. Or, should I say it this way? We have to find out how we can find joy in Jesus even through our most difficult situations.

So what was the first thing that Paul rejoiced in? What was the first thing he mentioned? It was the believers at Philippi. His brothers and sisters in Christ are the first thing on his mind. In Philippians 1:3, Paul writes: “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.”

Paul had happy memories of them. His memories made him smile. His time with them had been a blessing to him. He had no regrets, no unresolved conflicts, he nursed no hard feelings. All he had was love for them.

As Paul reflected on this congregation, his joy over-flowed. It made him forget momentarily his manifold troubles as he rejoiced in the good memories of them.
And those memories led him to thanksgiving. But, who does he give thanks to? In Philippians 1: 3, it is God. God is the source of all blessings.

As James 1:16-17 says:
“Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”

God is the source of every blessing, so Paul thanks God - he thanks God for the Philippians. And like Paul, I thank God for you, my congregation. I thank God for the glorious privilege of knowing you and ministering in your midst. I thank God that He called me as your pastor. I thank God that you are my friends and co-laborers for Christ. God has blessed me greatly through you.

Now, why would Paul thank God for them? There are a lot of people we might not be very thankful about knowing or having to deal with. They are some just down-right mean and difficult people in this world. And in some churches.

“Oh, to live above with the saints we love,
That will be glory!
But to live below with the saints we know,
Well, that’s a different story.”
So, how could he be thankful for them? He could, because they are a product of God’s saving grace. They were originally as pagan - as heathen – as they could possibly be. But God saved them and changed them. They were sinners, yes, but they were sinners saved by grace. They had responded to the Gospel message that Paul preached.

But Paul knew it wasn’t because of him. He was just the mouthpiece God used. As Romans 1:16 says, it is the “gospel” that is the “power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes.”

Paul was the one who penned that. Paul knew that all of salvation was of God. If these people were saved and changed, God did it. So, all thanks goes to God for their changed lives.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Choosing Joy

We’ve spent some time on introduction. Now let’s look at how Paul addressed this epistle: Philippians 1:1 – “Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ.”

Notice how it doesn’t begin: Not, Paul the Apostle, like he began his epistle to the Galatians. He didn’t need to defend his authority here. The Philippians loved him and accepted his apostleship. Not Paul, the hotshot celebrity, or super leader. Not Paul, the one you have to respect and obey as a church leader. He just calls himself a “bondservants of Jesus Christ.”

The word bondservant is doulos in Greek. It was a word used for the lowest of slaves totally owned and controlled by another. So Paul isn’t resenting himself as a prima donna who had to be worshipped, or a fragile hero who had to be treated with kid gloves. But the lowest form of a slave. A slave was a person who did not control himself, but was totally owned by another. But that status didn’t change Paul’s joy – it didn’t hinder it because he was a “bondservant of Jesus Christ.”

To understand this, you really need to go back into the Old Testament to the book of Exodus. There in Exodus 21:5-6, we see a ritual that took place quite often. It involved a slave who was to be given his freedom. His time of indenture was up maybe because the debt he owed had been paid or because it was the year of jubilee. Yet, the slave loves his master. He wants to stay and serve the master he loves. So he voluntarily remains a slave and submits to the ritual here in Exodus.
Paul likewise chose to remain a slave of Jesus Christ.

Exodus 21:5-6 records the ritual of voluntary slavery:
“But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.”
Paul is saying, “That’s me! That’s Timothy! Jesus set us free from the bondage of sin and death. But we knowingly indentured ourselves to be His slaves.”

Every true believer has said that very same thing: They have said in their heart, “I choose to give my life to Jesus, I choose to serve Jesus as my Lord.”

Have you made that commitment? Is He Lord of your life? Until you’ve made that commitment you will be forever struggling to find happiness on your own rather than allowing Jesus to grow the fruit of joy within you.

So that was who Paul was, the author of this epistle, along with Timothy his traveling companion. They claimed to be no more than slaves of Jesus Christ, yet this was the real source of their joy.

Now who was Paul writing to? Philippians 1:1 continues by saying, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.”

The word saints in Greek is hagios. It means a people set apart for God - a people who are also “bondservants of Jesus Christ.” Every true believer is a saint, and every saint is a bondservant of Jesus. We are saints, not because we were recognized by the Roman Catholic church, nor because we did necessarily great things. We are saints because of our position in Jesus Christ. Just like the Philippians, we are holy, not because we look it or act like it, but because we are set apart for God’s use.

This introduction includes “the bishops and deacons.” This is because Paul is writing to a local church with the usual officers. A bishop is the King James way of translating the word for overseer. It is a word that is synonymous in Scripture with pastor or elder. We should note that they had the same two officers in that early church as are present in the modern church.

Paul’s greeting continues in Philippians 2:2, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Grace is from the Greek word charis (related to joy) while peace is from the Hebrew word shalom. It was Paul’s common greeting used in all his letters and always in that sequence. God’s grace is necessary in order for us to find peace with God. As Romans 5:1 says: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” God provided the grace to justify us through the blood of Christ, and that brings us peace with God.

Have you experienced the grace of God? Have you received the peace with God that comes from trusting Jesus Christ? Then you should be able to live in the same joy as Paul did in spite of any adverse situations. But you have to choose that joy

In one of Tim Hansel’s books, he gave the true account of an 82 year old man who had served as a pastor for over 50 years. But now, as an old man, he was suffering from recurring bouts of skin cancer. He had already had 15 operations. He was in constant pain and embarrassed to go out because of his scarred face. Then one day, someone gave him Tim’s book, “You Gotta Keep Dancin” in which Tim tells of his own struggle with chronic, intense pain. In the book, Tim Hansel wrote of the day that he realized his pain would be with him for life, and that day, he realized that he could choose how he responded to that pain. Tim wrote that he chose joy.

The old pastor laid the book down thinking, “He’s crazy. I can’t choose joy.” But then, later, he read the words of Jesus in John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” He realized that Jesus wants to give us joy, and not just joy, but a joy that is full and complete. The joy Jesus wants to give us is the joy Peter wrote of in 1st Peter 1:8 – “a joy unspeakable and full of glory.”

The pastor thought about it, then got down on his knees, and prayed. “Well, then, Lord, give it to me.” And then, as he described it, it was as if “This Incredible hunk of joy came from heaven and landed on him.”

“I was overjoyed,” he wrote, so he cried out, “Turn it on, Lord, turn it on.” Before he knew it, he was dancing around the house. It was, in his own words, as if he had almost been born again. He had to get out, so much joy can’t be cooped up. He went down to the fast food to get a burger, and a lady saw how happy he was, and asked, “How are you doing?”

He said, “Oh, I am wonderful.”

“Is it your birthday?” she asked.

“No, honey, it’s better than that.”

“Your anniversary?”

“Better than that!”

“Well, what is it?” she asked.

“It’s the joy of Jesus. Do you know what I am talking about?”

“No,” she said, “I have to work on Sundays.”

What a typical response. But there are two types of people. There are those who choose joy, and there are those who don’t. There are those who let their circumstances rule how they feel and wallow in unhappiness and self-pity in every crisis; and there are those who choose the joy of the Lord. Have you chosen the joy of the Lord? As Nehemiah said, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” Will you choose joy?

In the poem, The Wind of Fate, Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote:

“One ship sails east,
One ship sails west,
Regardless of how the wind blow,
It is the set of the sail,
And not the gale,
That determines the way we go.

Like the winds of the sea are the ways of fate,
As we voyage along through life,
“Tis the set of the sail
That decides its goal,
And not the calm or the strife”
It is not your circumstances that determine your joy, it is your relationship with Jesus Christ. Do you have a relationship with Him? Is He your Lord? Do you rejoice in that?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Joy - Not in Our Circumstances, But in Our Relationship

The word “joy” appears 19 times in the Epistle of Philippians. The continual repeating of this word is significant to its theme. This is an epistle overflowing with joy – joy in the midst of great trial and persecution.

But the name of Jesus Christ appears over 40 times. That points to the fact that our joy is really dependent upon Jesus. He is the real center of this epistle, and he must be the source of our joy. Not our circumstances, but our relationship with Jesus is the source of our joy. So often, the strife and grief of life is exactly what God has planned for us to draw us ever closer to Himself. There is joy when we allow that to happen.

Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, put it this way,
“It doesn’t matter, really, how great the pressure is; it only matter where the pressure lies. See that it never comes between you and the Lord – then, the greater the pressure, the more it presses you to His breast.”
Amen! Always let the pressures of life drive you to Christ, never away from Him Let the trials and tragedies drive you to take shelter under the shadow of His wings. Only there will you find joy.

And we can trust Christ. Even through the bad times, we know that He is in control. He has everything already all worked out. We don’t need to fret about it.

As it says in Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purposes.” Not everything is good, but God will use everything for good. We can trust Him to do that. So, our joy is dependent upon God.

Psalm 4:7-8 says:
“You have put gladness in my heart, more than in the season that their grain and wine increased. I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

God puts gladness in our hearts. He does it. He causes us to rejoice. It is Satan who sows discouragement in our hearts. Satan is the one suggesting we sit and have our pity parties sucking our thumb and whining to everyone. Don’t let Satan discourage you, let God give you joy!

As we study from this epistle, learn how to have real joy. Learn to rejoice in the Lord. Not because your circumstances are perfect, nor in spite of the fact that your circumstances are less than desirable, but because you have a relationship with the King of kings and Lord of lords.

If you are a born-again believer, God loved you so much that He sent His only begotten Son to take upon Himself the judicial penalty for your sins and die on the cross of Calvary to pay the penalty for them. Then He adopted you into His family as a son and made you a joint heir with Christ. And He’s gone to prepare a place in heaven for you. How could that not bring you an eternity of joy in spite of any temporary problems of this life?

In Romans 8:18 , Paul said:
“ For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

The future is bright and under God’s control. Don’t let a little temporary discomfort rob you of your joy. Let it drive you to Christ where true joy resides.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Not So Secret Source of Our Joy

Paul, during his ministry, experienced horrific suffering and persecution. Yet, he wrote the book of Philippians as an encouragement to joyousness. Do you think, maybe if you were in his situation, do you think you might have thought about giving up - that you might have thought about sitting down and having a pity party? Most of us would be griping and complaining to everyone you met of your misfortunes?

And I’m not saying it to be mean – I might be right there with you. It’s just our human nature. And from watching our own reactions, we know it doesn’t take the extremes of Paul’s situation to send us into the pits of despair. It really doesn’t take much at all. Most of us can wallow in self-pity with the roses growing all around us - with hardly anything going wrong. We’re just that way.

But not Paul! Since his salvation, he had been living a life of unrelenting personal attack, of continuing tragedy and ruin. He’d lost everything that had been important to him in his former life as a rich and powerful Pharisee. Everything that the world considers important for health and happiness Paul had given up for Christ. And now he’s been arrested for preaching the Gospel of Christ, and he sits in prison waiting on the probable verdict of execution. Yet, he’s writing an epistle filled with joy. What makes him that way?

Plus, he’s writing to a church that was desperately poor and persecuted as we can see in Philippians 1:27-30. And it is a church that has relentlessly attacked by false teachers as we can read in Philippians 3:2, 18-19. And it is a church that was embroiled in a feud between two strong women as we can read in Philippians 4:2-3. It was a church that could really have been gripped in the clutches of despair and discouragement. But Paul is commanding this church to be joyful. In Philippians 4:4, he commands them and us to, “Rejoice in the Lord always! And again I say, rejoice!”

So, how could Paul demand that of them? How could Paul have joy himself? How can we in our less difficult situations find that joy?

Here is the answer: We can figure out where joy comes from if we turn to Galatians 5:22-23:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”

Do you see? Joy is a Fruit of the Spirit. It is something that the Holy Spirit grows within those He indwells. It is a product of the Holy Spirit working within us. We don’t manufacture joy by the grit of our teeth and the set of our jaw, the Holy Spirit grows it within us.

This is why the world can’t find real joy and why they chase after elusive happiness instead. And it is a futile chase. As Solomon might say, quoting him from Ecclesiaastes, it is “vanity and grasping for the wind.”

Happiness is always out there just beyond our grasp tempting us and tormenting us, offering those moments of fleeting exhilaration or temporary bursts that fade and fizzle. But it is never a lasting possession like joy can be. Our happiness is always frustrated by our bad marriages, by our dead-end jobs, by illness, by poverty, by debt. I didn’t make the team. Suzy didn’t notice me during break and talked with Fred. I missed that promotion at work because they gave the job to that idiot Bill. So how can you expect me to be happy about it?

The truth is, life in this cursed world isn’t designed to make us happy. Rather it is intended by God to be futile and frustrating apart from Him. It’s intended to drive us to Him as the only source of meaning and joy in this world. This world is not intended to make us happy, and happiness depends on what happens. Therefore, it is beyond our control. If good things happen, we are happy. If bad things happen, we are not. Therefore happiness always comes and goes. It is transient.

But joy is not transient, not for a believer, because joy isn’t dependent on our surroundings. Joy is dependent upon our relationship with God. It is dependent upon the work of His Holy Spirit within us.

And for a believer, that doesn’t change. We still have the power of the indwelling Spirit of God both in the good times and in the bad. God is as much with us in the crisis and failures as He is in the good times and triumphs. We have God’s promises on that.

Many times in Scripture we are given that promise: Jesus promised us this in the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:20, where He promised “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” And Jesus promised us the very same thing in Hebrews 13:5, where He said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Our relationship with God remains constant in spite of the circumstance. If all is well between me and my God, I can be filled with joy. I can rejoice through the good and through the bad. My joy is not dependent upon my circumstance. My happiness doesn’t depend upon what happens. Our joy is based upon our relationship with Jesus Christ. That is true for every believer.

As Chuck Swindall has said about people who exhibit that joy: “Joy is the flag that flies above the castle of their hearts announcing that the King is in residence.” Is the King of kings in residence in your heart?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Finding Joy in the Most Unlikely Places

For awhile, I am going to concentrate on the book of Philippians. Philippians is one of my favorite books of the Bible, and it is my wife’s favorite. I don’t think we are alone in this.

But why? Why do people love the book of Philippians? I think the answer is quite simple. Philippians is a book about Joy, and that is one of things sorely lacking in most people.

The word “joy” is chara in Greek. It is related to other English words like grace and love and gift. A spiritual gift is a charisma. A gifted person is charismatic. Over a dozen times in this short book, Paul uses the word “joy.” He uses the Greek noun chara and the Greek verb chairo thirteen times in Philippians and words related to joy a total of nineteen times.

It’s a theme that permeates every part of this book. R.C.H. Lenski, the great Lutheran commentator, writes,
“Joy is the music that runs through this epistle, the sunshine that spreads over all of it. The whole epistle radiates joy and happiness.”
Maybe that is the reason we love this book so much because, more than anything, we long for that joy, but so rarely ever achieve it in this life. Most people live lives of quiet desperation under a cloud of gloom and dreariness, hoping to catch a handful of happiness on the weekend with a frenzy of activity before Monday returns them to the normalcy of sadness.

Unfortunately, Joy is elusive to most of us, so we should be able to learn something from what brought Paul joy. We should be able to apply the truths he shares and come up with a little bit of this joy for ourselves. And that would make this book super good news for us, wouldn’t it, if Paul could just share that secret of joy?

So how could Paul be so filled with joy? Was he sitting on top of the world? Was everything turning up roses? Had he just won the Roman lottery or something? Had he just snagged a hot new date in one of the towns he traveled through? Had he received an award as “Apostle of the Year,” or something? Had he just had a successful evangelistic campaign with thousands saved and huge collections rolling in? Hardly! Even though stuff like that is what many of us think is necessary to be happy.

On the contrary, Paul had none of those things. Surprisingly, Paul wasn’t sitting on top of the world, he was sitting in a prison cell with the prospect of being beheaded a more likely scenario than release. And that situation only capped off a career as an apostle filled with tragedy and sorrow.

2nd Corinthians 11:23-30 is a passage in which Paul bears his soul and tells of his own personal condition in life. And when you finish reading it, I doubt if any of you will envy him. But as you read it, remember, this is written by the man telling us how to have joy.

2nd Corinthians 11:23-30
22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. 24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— 28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?
30 If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity.

That’s not the life experience of a man we would normally consider joyful. If anything, that biography would make us think that he should be the most miserable of men, not the man that he was, filled with joy.

So, Paul’s life should really illustrate the truth that joy comes in spite of life’s circumstances, rather than because of them. So our current condition isn’t the determining factor in whether we have joy or not.

Paul had experienced all the “good things of life,” but that was all before he met Jesus on the Damascus Road and was gloriously saved and before he had been commissioned as an apostle. Back then, before he trusted Christ, everything was coming up roses.

He told us about that too in Philippians 3:4-6:
4 though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; 6 concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

Everything that a young Jewish male would dream of, Paul had and he had in abundance. He had the best of everything that being a Jew could offer. He was one of the elite in Israelite society - a real up-and-comer with a great future ahead of him. He was the envy of the masses. Yet, he gave it all up to follow Christ.

Philippians 3:7-9 records this:
7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.
In our day and age, when most people who call themselves Christian won’t give up anything to follow Christ; how refreshing that is. And yet, it led only to personal hardship and suffering for Paul. But not once do we ever read that Paul lost his patience or threw a fit. He viewed every situation as an opportunity to glorify Christ, and he was content to be in the center of God’s will, even if it meant this imprisonment. Certainly, we, living in our freedom and prosperity, should be able to do the same.

But above all, Paul saw the opportunity for joy in all of this. In his soul, he was not miserable, but joyful. So the possibility for us to find joy, even in our condition, must be possible. It’s got to be within our grasp. But our perspective must be that of Paul’s

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Forsaking All for Our Jealous God

We’ve been talking about the last verse of John’s first epistle: 1st John 5:21, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” We’ve been making the case that anything we put before God is an idol and a violation of the greatest commandment to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

Yet, people break this commandment with impunity. They put almost everything before God, and I’m talking about even most professed Christians. God is an add-on to our lives if we sometime get time in the midst of our kids little league games, vacationing, pursuing our careers, or even time in front of the television.

“Oh, God won’t mind. God is love and all that.” People use that as an excuse, as though God really doesn’t mind getting the leftovers. He wants us to enjoy life, doesn’t He?

Who said God would be satisfied with the leftovers? It wasn’t the Bible. The Bible tells us that God is a jealous God. God even admits that Himself. As a matter of fact, He makes that claim in bold statements.

In giving those first and second commandments of the Big Ten, God flat out states in Exodus 20:1-6:
And God spoke all these words, saying:
2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
Notice that phrase in verse 5, “For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God?” Yes! God minds!

In this era of seeker friendly churches, where ease and comfort have become the norm, we’ve forgotten that it’s all about a King, a kingdom, and His glory. It’s not about us, or what we want, or our comfort. He is King of kings and Lord of lords. When He makes a commandment He expects to be obeyed.

“Do not forsake the assembling of ourselves together?” God says.

Yet we say, “But God, I work six days a week, and Sunday is the only day for me. I really need some me time, time to follow my own dreams.”

We think His commands are merely suggestions that we can pick and choose from as we see fit like we would food in a cafeteria line. And we don’t think he could really expect us to eat the spinach or the broccoli.

Oh, can’t He? Look at what He said in Luke 6:46, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” If He really is Lord of your life, you’d do what He says, wouldn’t you? But, if he isn’t your Lord, you are in sin - PERIOD! Don’t be a hypocrite and call Him Lord if you are unwilling to submit your life to Him.

John MacArthur said this:
“Too many people believe a Christian is a person who has simply ‘prayed a prayer’ and ‘decided’ for Jesus. But many such ‘Christians’ do not live as if they are under new management. They may claim that they once made a decision, but everything else in their life is unchanged.”

MacArthur is right! Conversion is not simply taking out a fire insurance policy against hell. It’s entering into a love relationship that changes everything. It changes our values, our lifestyles, and our priorities, just as getting married changed everything. You now have a new status with new responsibilities. You can’t simply do anything your little heart desires anymore. You have a higher obligation.

MacArthur again said,
“Too many people have stopped at the door that leads to conversion. The door (be it prayer, a decision, or whatever) is simply that – a door.”
We enter through the door into a new life. The old man is crucified and the new man is raised to walk in newness of life. That, according to John, is the proof of salvation - not in an experience, but in the day to day living of a new life.

There are lots of people who are convinced that Christianity is true, and even claim to be a Christian, but it doesn’t seem to have had any consequence in their life. Perhaps they’ve gotten to the door, but they haven’t gone through the door. They have never gotten up off the throne that rules their life and let Jesus sit down on that throne.

Anything less is sin. It’s a violation of the first great commandment. If we truly love God with all our heart, soul, and might, we would be willing to give Jesus total control over our lives. We would obey Jesus to the best of our abilities. We would let Him sit on the throne of our lives.

It may be an imperfect abdication on our part, but it must happen. Nothing less than abdication will do. That is what God demands. He is the rightful king.

Jesus said something really radical in Luke 14:35, “ So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.”

To “forsake all” - that’s what it takes to be His disciple? Will God really take away everything? NO! But He expects us to lay it all on the altar. We must sacrifice everything to His control. Then, like God did with Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, God will give us back what He wants.

But God has a habit of taking away those things we put before Him. He has a habit of smashing our idols. But not to submit is just plain crazy. Why cling to our wills, our possessions, our entertainments, in place of God? Nothing of those will last.

What will last is our heavenly rewards. 2nd Corinthians 4:18 says, “While we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

Don’t settle for some inferior, cheap substitute just because it demands nothing of you. Settle only for the eternal. In heaven, all the universe will be ours.

Romans 8:16-17 says:
16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.

Who would sacrifice that for the deceptive, disappointing, short lived imitations Satan offers? Let Jesus have first place -He deserves it. He is our creator and redeemer. He redeemed us with His own blood

Plus, no one will ever love you as much, know you as well, or care for you so fully. He is the only one who can control you and leave you better off because of it. Yielding to Him will leave you stronger in spirit, more mature.

Surrender your life to Him today. When Jesus says deny yourself, you deny yourself. When He says pick up your cross you pick it up. When He says follow Me, you follow – no matter the cost. The result will be glorious in your life.

Eric Ludy wrote:
“Christianity is the most explosive, most vibrant, most beautiful, most extraordinary news the universe has ever encountered, and yet all of us Christians are trying to make it more palatable. We are downplaying God’s right to rule, overtake, and posses the lives of each and every person on this terrestrial ball. What might happen if we were to just let the gospel be what it is – a gritty, bloody, revolutionary call to die?”
Paul wrote this in Galatians 2:20:
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
Have you laid down your life for your King?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Chasing Every Other God but the Right One

The last verse of 1st John is this:
1st John 5:21 – “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.”

John ends this book of 1st John by warning you of idolatry. This isn’t an ancient sin, but a very modern sin. This is a sin that is epidemic in the church - a sin that is rampant in even some of the most fundament of churches who claim to believe the Word, yet let other things take God’s place in their heart.

Oh, your idols may even be good things. They could be fishing, little league baseball, your career, your home, your family, or your kids. It could be prestige or power, anything that takes God’s rightful place.

There was just new study released examining the reason for the decline in American church attendance over the past decade. Do you know what they found? The study showed that the number one reason for the decline was children’s athletics. Nowadays, you can’t drive by a soccer field in the summer that isn’t filled with uniformed kids kicking balls around every Sunday morning during the season.

There was a day when no one would schedule anything on Sunday or Wednesday night because they knew none of the Christians would be there. They would be in church or prayer meeting. Not any more, as parents allow their kids to skip church for Sunday morning tournaments. And, of course, the parents have to take them and have to watch in support of their kids. But what happened to God in this equation?

Someone once said that church attendance is a pretty good barometer of a person’s spirituality. Perhaps it shows what’s first place in your life, or what you may have made into an idol.

Let’s do a case study of the rich, young ruler in Matthew 19:16-22. The parallel passage in Luke 18:18 describes him as that - a ruler. Therefore, he was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin. He was one of Israel’s best and brightest. He was looked up to and admired by his countrymen. This is who comes to Jesus with a good question , “How can I have eternal life?” Matthew 19:16-22 records the event. Let’s take it a verse at a time.

Matthew 19:16, “Now behold, one came and said to Him, ‘Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?’” The question is good, but it has a faulty premise. One does not do anything good thing to merit eternal life. We cannot earn salvation by our works. We receives it by faith.

Jesus responds in Matthew 19:17, “So He said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.’” I assume Jesus is trying to get him to acknowledge faith, “Yes, that’s right, you are God. I believe.” But Jesus goes on to play off his assumption that salvation is by works, “But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Wait! That’s an impossibility.

Bu the rich young ruler responds, Matthew 19:18, “Which ones?” The Pharisees taught that if you can’t keep them all, keep at least one perfectly, and God will be pleased. That’s in the Bible, right? NOT!

But Jesus gives him a list, Matthew 19:18-20, “Jesus said, ‘‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’’ The young man said to Him, ‘All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?’”

“Liar, liar!” No one can keep the commandments. Hadn’t he heard the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus told that hatred is the same as murder and lust the same as adultery? But this fine young man probably did think he had kept them quite well, at least in comparison to others. No doubt he’d done as good a job as anyone.

So Jesus gives him a test. How well do you really keep the commandments? Let’s see how well you can do with the very first commandment? Matthew 19:21-22, “Jesus said to him, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

His things were of greater importance to him than salvation.

Now, is that really a requirement of salvation - that you have to sell off everything? NO! But this young, upwardly mobile Jew claimed to be keeping all the commandments, so Jesus tested him with the first one: “Will you love God with all your heart, soul, and mind?” His answer was, “NO!”

The same question could be asked of you. What is most important to you? What do you love most? Is it God or you? Is it God or things? With the rich, young ruler, things won out. That is a violation of the first command, that we have no other gods before the one true God. He was in violation of the first and greatest commandment.

But, what about you? Are you just as guilty? Is something else taking God’s rightful place? When we refuse to surrender our wills to His, to give up our desires to His direction and leadership, we are in sin.