Archive for August, 2012

Consider Your Ways

The nation of Judah had returned from captivity, and it was the time for the rebuilding of Jerusalem. They were to rebuild the walls of the city, and also the Temple. What began with good, even godly, intentions had begun to be neglected. The people had become concerned with their own priorities instead of with God’s priorities. It is into this scene that the Lord sends the prophet Haggai. Twice he warns the people to stop and think, or in other words, “consider your ways”.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. (Haggai 1:2-5 ESV)

It is clear that the people had become more concerned with personal desires than what God required. Indeed, this rebuilding of the temple was one of the two main reasons they had been able to come to their homeland at all! God is reprimanding them for not keeping Him as their first priority. It amounted to self-love.
We do much the same today when we fail to follow the command of Jesus to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33 ESV) the problem was not that God was against paneled houses. The problem was that their works showed that their paneled houses were more important than the Temple.
We, individually and corporately, are the temple of the Holy Spirit. When we put on the outward show of having it all together and make sure we look good to others, yet neglect our spiritual walk with Jesus, our temple is in ruins. We, too, must stop and “consider our ways” and rebuild our inner man to be a fitting temple in which He can dwell.
Haggai then gives them a list of things that are going on with them that were supposed to be wake up calls from God but were being ignored.

You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.” (Haggai 1:6-11 ESV)

Because His house is in ruins, God begins to treat their house like they are treating His! The discipline to which He subjects them is an utter futility in everything they do. They have much to eat and drink, but are running around thirsty and hungry. They earn money but it’s as if there are holes in the money bag. Why? Because God will not, ever, take second place in anyone’s life. He will not be the featured guest of a specific section of our lives. We cannot say “Jesus is Lord” while segmenting Him into a corner, and making other things a priority. God will not tolerate the breaking of the First Commandment. What part of “no other gods” did they not understand? If Jesus is not master of everything, then He is master of nothing. He will not accept divided allegiances.

Are you going through anything described in the verse above? Is there a pattern of diminishing returns in your life? A good, biblical, place to look is in your priorities. Is Jesus really number 1 in your life?

During any period of economic challenge, the church needs to rise up and seek first the Kingdom of God instead of our wants and desires. It is a healthy thing to take time out and consider our ways. Let’s put an end to some of the destructive duplicity and build up the temple of God that is in and among us!

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Success In Ministry

How do you define success? Specifically, how would you define “success” in ministry? Is it having a large congregation? Is it being a sought after speaker? The number of baptisms you have performed? And does your definition match God’s definition of success?

There are many names of people in Scripture who God declared to be successful, that the world (and I dare say much of the church) would say had failed. Take Noah for instance. The man preached for over 100 years, and the only converts he had to show for it were his wife and kids. Or the prophet Elijah, who as a reward for preaching the truth had a price on his head! Or Jeremiah, whose message was greeted with such hostility, they threw him in a cistern to die.
And then there was Isaiah, whose commission from God was as follows:
“Render the hearts of this people insensitive,
Their ears dull,
And their eyes dim,
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
Understand with their hearts,
And return and be healed.” Then I said, “Lord, how long?” And He answered,
“Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant,
Houses are without people
And the land is utterly desolate, (Isaiah 6:10, 11 NASB)

Why did these men do these things if they were doomed to fail? Because God doesn’t measure success the way man does. God measures success as faithful obedience in a relationship with Him. It has never been about how well we do a thing. It is based on having a right standing with God. When that happens, spiritual fruit will follow.

Having that kind of focus will keep us from burning out when the world doesn’t beat a path to our door, fall to their knees, and ask what they must do to be saved. Jesus told the disciples this same thing.

And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” (Luke 10:18-20 NASB)

If we get too focused on what we are doing instead of who we are doing it for, we are setting ourselves up for failure, even though the world may call us a success. Jesus knew this and redirected the disciples’ rejoicing to something of eternal significance — that their names were written in heaven.

Paul admonished Timothy to make full proof of his ministry. He didn’t tell him to market the church, or raise outside support. He was to preach the Word in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2). Put in simpler terms, that means to preach the Word when people want to hear it and when people don’t want to hear it. Preach when it is easy and when it is hard. And if you spend your live faithfully giving spiritual food to His sheep, the Good Shepherd will reward you on the last day.

Just be diligent to deepen your walk with God, and the rest will follow. Paul’s charge to Timothy sums it up well.
Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:16 NASB)

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Living In Zoar

It sounds like a planet from a science fiction book, doesn’t it? But it was a little village in ancient Canaan located down on the plains of Sodom. It was so small that it would have passed into history and never have been remembered. But Lot and his family put it on the map of scripture for all time. Let’s see what we can learn from little Zoar from Genesis 19.

The angels of the Lord have condemned Sodom due to their sin, and are telling Lot to take his family and flee.

When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city.” But he hesitated. So the men seized his hand and the hand of his wife and the hands of his two daughters, for the compassion of the LORD was upon him; and they brought him out, and put him outside the city. When they had brought them outside, one said, “Escape for your life! Do not look behind you, and do not stay anywhere in the valley; escape to the mountains, or you will be swept away.” (Genesis 19:15-17 NASB)

Notice that the angles tell Lot to get completely away from the Valley and to flee to the protection provided by the mountains so that they will not see what is about to happen. Here is where Lot makes a critical mistake. He is willing to leave the city, but he doesn’t want to go too far away. He is leaving, but his heart is still back with what they have just left. So Lot asks for permission to exercise partial obedience and just go to Zoar. The name Zoar means “smallness”.

But Lot said to them, “Oh no, my lords! Now behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have magnified your lovingkindness, which you have shown me by saving my life; but I cannot escape to the mountains, for the disaster will overtake me and I will die; now behold, this town is near enough to flee to, and it is small. Please, let me escape there (is it not small?) that my life may be saved.” He said to him, “Behold, I grant you this request also, not to overthrow the town of which you have spoken. Hurry, escape there, for I cannot do anything until you arrive there.” Therefore the name of the town was called Zoar. (Genesis 19:18-22 NASB)

This was another in a long line of foolish decisions for Lot. They began in Genesis 13:10-13 when he saw what looked like an easy life down in the Jordan Valley near to Sodom. A few years later in chapter 19, Lot has moved into town and has let the culture corrupt his thinking. This is evidenced by his offer of giving his two virgin daughters to a crowd to be sexually assaulted like it was normal practice.
And now, he takes the easy road again, and it will cost him dearly again. Rather than make the trek to get completely away, he begs to make the shorter journey and stop at Zoar. The problem with Zoar was that he would be able to look back and long for what they had just left.

The sun had risen over the earth when Lot came to Zoar. Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven, and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19:23-26 NASB)

So what lessons are there for us in this story?
First of all, the will of God is rarely, if ever, the easy way. In Genesis 13 Lot had chosen to live by Sodom without ever praying and asking God what he should do. How often do we make decisions we have not prayed about just based on how wise it looks in our own eyes.

This is also a story with application to repentance. Lot started by getting close to sin. Finally, he was comfortable moving in with it. He became so used to it that when he left, he wanted to keep it close by, just in case. So often our repentance can be the same if we are not intentional about it. We decide to leave a sin, but give it our forwarding address, too.

Christ has called us to be holy. That simply means to be set apart for Him. We cannot do that if we insist and keeping our favorite sins close by. Lot had been told to completely leave and forsake Sodom. Instead he settled for smallness in Zoar. So instead of dwelling in the place of protection, he tried to see how close he could stay without actually being inside the city. And yet Christians have a bad habit of seeing how close we can get to sin without crossing over the line. When instead we should be getting as far away from it as we can. And we are not the only ones who suffer the consequences of our decisions. In Lot’s case, it cost the life of his wife. There are no victimless sins. Someone is going to be hurt. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) so why are we hanging out with it? Satan is a serial killer and there will always be a price to pay for compromising with sin.

Christians, let’s go all the way with God and forsake out sin completely. Let’s go to the protection of the mountain of the Lord. God has wonderful good works prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). There is no need (indeed there is real danger) to settle for a Christian life of smallness in Zoar.

Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; (Acts 3:19 NASB)

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Keys To Victory

Ever turn off the radio when they are going to announce the final score of a game? Not me! I am not going to waste my time watching a game where I am just going to be frustrated because my team didn’t come out on top. Just tell me the score and I can get over it and move on without the stress of watching the agony of defeat unfold in front of my eyes. The other night I did just that. I looked on my phone for the score of the football game, and knew going in that my team had one. It was still interesting because I still didn’t know exactly how it would all unfold. It was noted that while my team was 17 points behind, I was remarkably unconcerned. Of course I took the opportunity to say that I felt like they were going to make a comeback and win this thing.

The final battle for our eternal destiny is the same way. Jesus gave this unveiling of the climax of history when He gave John the Revelation. I used to sum up the theme of Revelation in just two words – we win! But I have changed that summation to a different two words – Jesus wins! You see, we don’t automatically win, unless we are in Christ. If that is the case, then when He wins, we win in Him! It is so much less stressful to live life knowing that, no matter how bad things may look from where we sit in space and time, that we are still on the winning side.

In Revelation 12:11, John is given a summary of the winning strategy for believers to follow if we are going to defeat the enemy.

“And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.” (NKJV)

Our first key to victory is the blood of the Lamb. The primary reason this is so is that without it, we are on the wrong team, and still in our sins. The latter part of Revelation 1:5 speaks of Jesus as “Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood”. That’s a big deal! And being washed in His blood happens when we begin our journey “in Christ.” But how does one get into Christ and onto the right team? Paul told the Galatians that, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” We are in Christ when we are baptized into Christ. If you have not been baptized, you are not in Christ. I am not usually so blunt, but this is too big a deal to soft pedal it.

The second key to victory is the word of our testimony. We need to be telling people about what Christ has done for us! The 1st Century Christians did just that. When persecution broke out at Jerusalem, they scattered. But they didn’t go into hiding. They went everywhere telling people about Jesus! (Acts 8:4) We need to tell others about Jesus and not deny Him. Jesus put it this way:

32 “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:32-33 NKJV)

The third key to victory is that they did not love their lives to the death. This is a difficult one. The vast majority of us will not be presented with this proposition in the physical sense. But we are also to die another way. Jesus said we need to take up our cross daily and follow Him. (Luke 9:23) There is only one reason to take up a cross that is yours – to die on it. We are commanded to put give up our lives, and live for Him instead. Paul said that he died daily (1 Corinthians 15:31). But it is necessary if we are to walk in a new life. Paul told that Galatians “ 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.” (Galatians 2:20). When does this initially occur? I think Paul was making a reference in that verse to his baptism. And the connection is at Romans 6:3-4, where Paul likens baptism to a participation in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

“Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

So there we have it. The three-point strategy for victory. But that assumes that you start the battle on the side of Jesus Christ. Get in the battle on the winning side and move on to victory in Jesus. We already know the score!

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Rejoice With Those Who Rejoice

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:14, 15 NASB)

I would like to pose a question to you. Which is easier to do, weeping with those who weep, or rejoicing with those who rejoice? Before you answer please consider the following points, because I am convinced that it is easier to weep with those who weep.

Of course it is easy to rejoice with a family member or close friend that is joyful over a happy turn of events. But what about the co-worker who gets the promotion we felt should have been ours? Do we succumb to envy, or do we rejoice with them and really mean it? When the Apostle Paul wrote these words, he didn’t put any qualifiers on it. We are to rejoice with those that rejoice, period!

“Yes, but what about those who persecute me?” I’m glad you asked! Did you notice verse 14 above? It says to bless those who persecute you. Again, there is no exception clause here. But what does it mean for us to bless them? It means we are to speak well of them, even when they are speaking evil of us. We are to pray for the conversion and salvation of their souls, not for their eternal destruction. Later in this same passage, he puts it this way:

“BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:20, 21 NASB)

Sounds to me like we don’t have any choice in the matter if we want to be pleasing to God. So if your enemy is rejoicing over receiving something good, then rejoice with him. Even if they are going behind your back and despise you, follow the biblical admonition to “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” (Romans 12:17 NASB)

In the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5, Jesus addressed this subject as well.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48 NASB)

But why does God require us to treat “evil” people this way? Because that’s the way He treated us!

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8 NASB)

Yes, while we were sinners and His enemies, Christ died for us. He didn’t wait until we changed our minds and wanted to have a relationship with Him. He died for us while we were squarely in the dominion of darkness. And if we have received the mercy and grace ourselves, we would be despising the love that was demonstrated for us to withhold that from others who are our enemies.

So when someone who is out to get you gets a promotion, or when another who is less deserving gets a raise, or someone else marries the one who you once were so close to, rejoice with them! The only way way to overcome darkness is with the light. And the way to overcome evil is with goodness. In the end, you will preserve your soul, and may deliver theirs as well!

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In The Name Of

Have you ever needed to act in someone else’s name? It probably started early in life with something like this: “Mom said you better come inside now for dinner!” In effect, you were saying, “in the name of Mom, come in for dinner” because she had authorized you to pass on a message for her to someone else. And while you were sticking to the message she actually gave you, you had the authority of her name behind your words. However, if you were to say, “Mom said you had better come inside now for dinner, unless you want to let me have your dessert.” then you would no longer be within the delegated authority she gave you.

In the same way, Jesus Christ said to do many things in His name. That phrase is not some magical incantation that bestows power and whatever we want to do or say. Rather it is a statement of the authority behind saying or doing something. Thus, when Peter said, “Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38 NASB) he was not giving the secret words to make your baptism work. He was stating that one should be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins because Jesus said to do so.

In the same way, we are told that when we pray we are to ask for things in Jesus’ name, and it will be granted. Does that mean that we can say anything we want and it will be given to us as long as we say “in Jesus name” at some point during the prayer? Of course not! What Jesus assured the disciples of was that if they asked for anything that He told them to ask for (i.e. in His name) that the Father would grant it. What is also implied is that if we ask for things that are not what He wants for us, then the request is not in His name. We must be careful about saying we are doing something in Jesus’ name if the Bible has not spoken of it, lest we use His name in vain. And by the way, you can pray in Jesus name without tacking on “in Jesus name” at the end, but it is a good reminder for us to check ourselves and be sure that what we are asking for in His name is really what His will is for us.

This is not overly restrictive. We are commanded to do certain things in His name.

always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; (Ephesians 5:20 NASB)
And,
Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. (Colossians 3:17 NASB)

So if what you are doing or saying is in accordance with His revealed will; if it is something good that you can be thankful to God for, then give thanks and act or speak in His name!

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Being First Century Christians

Where I come from, there has been a sustained effort over the years to reflect, as much as possible, the pattern left by the church of the First Century. We don’t do things we can’t find authority for in the New Testament, and by and large believe that the church today should shed 2,000 years of add-on s and extras, come out of our denominations, and just be Christians. While it is a work in progress, much has been done to that end.

But I’ve got a question for your consideration. Should we make it our goal to be just like the church of the First Century? Should our efforts be directed toward that singular destination? I submit to you that the answer to that question is a definite “no”. Before you panic, here’s what I mean.

There are definitely some things about First Century Christianity that we should desire for the church today. After the Day of Pentecost, the church in Jerusalem was described this way:

So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:41-47 NASB)

Doctrinally, we should be just like that church. We should also have a deep sense of fellowship with other believers, and we most certainly should have deep convictions about the Apostles doctrine. I even believe that if we lived it out correctly, that we would see the Lord adding to our number daily, those who were being saved. Do you want a pattern for the Church? Start with that one! But, as wonderful as that is, it’s not our goal. Being just like First Century Christians is a means to an end. It is the path we take, not our destination!

You see, the church at Laodicea was also a First Century church. The church at Corinth with its problems with carnal members and weekly chaos, was a First Century church as well. Read about seven First Century churches in Revelation chapter 2 and 3, and you will see that five of them needed to fix things, and two of those were in bad enough shape that Christ did not have anything good to say about them. But sure enough, they were singing acapella, taking the Lords supper, and baptizing for the remission of sins.

There is no virtue, in and of itself, in being a First Century church! I repeat, it is just a means to an end. Our ultimate focus has got to be Jesus. When we focus on Jesus we will aim for the correct goals. Our goal as a congregation of believers is to love the Lord our God and show that love in our obedience. And we are to love our neighbors, and show that love in how we treat others. There is a real danger in turning the route into the destination!

On the flip side, unless we take the correct route, we will not reach our goal. The two go hand in hand, but they must never be substituted for each other.
So yes, we still want to worship in First Century simplicity, and we still will teach the same doctrine as the Apostles. And if we do so in love and with zeal, we will bring many along with us on the way to our eternal destination.

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