Archive for September, 2012

Toxic Leaders

Sitting here watching football this evening, I was reminded of how, in any sport, it feels great to be in first place. Everyone loves to win, and loves a winner. Players work a lifetime of long hours just to be a champion someday. There is also something to be said for “running to win” in the Christian life. But on the other hand, there is also an unhealthy desire for preeminence and power that is unhealthy and sinful. It’s is where a person believes they deserve to be in charge and enjoy lording their authority over others.

In the little letter of 3rd John, the Apostle mentions just such a man and hs name was Diotrephes.

I wrote to the assembly, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, doesn’t accept what we say. (3 John 1:9 WEB)

This is the behavior that Paul warned about when talking about proper conduct for elders in the church in Titus chapter 1. John details the things Diotrephes was doing so that centuries later we could be warned of engaging in such conduct, and wary of those whose behavior resembles the same.

Therefore if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words. Not content with this, neither does he himself receive the brothers, and those who would, he forbids and throws out of the assembly. (3 John 1:10 WEB)

Toxic leaders will spread lies and accusations against others. They will try to maintain their power by disparaging anyone else that might be sought out for counsel. In doing is, they reinforce the illusion that they are the only source of true teaching that their flock can trust.

Toxic leaders not only do they spread gossip about other leaders, but do not accept correction from others. Such a leader is so full of himself that he sees no benefit in hearing what anyone else has to say. They not only forbid the flock to hear teaching from other sources, but are convinced that their understanding of the Bible is superior to others. This kind of intellectual inbreeding leads to deformed spiritual growth and eventual destruction of the flock.

Toxic leaders are so insecure that they will believe they are protecting the flock by expelling those who dare to hear teaching from anyone else, for fear they will introduce new ideas or expose them as false prophets. It is fear of losing their spiritual family and all they have known that keeps people in such destructive systems. Ironically, in the First Century Church, they are already dealing with a cultic and toxic leader like Diotrephes.

What does John advise them to do? He tells them how to act, and even gives a positive example of someone they can emulate.

Beloved, don’t imitate that which is evil, but that which is good. He who does good is of God. He who does evil hasn’t seen God. Demetrius has the testimony of all, and of the truth itself; yes, we also testify, and you know that our testimony is true. (3 John 1:11, 12 WEB)

How can you tell if you are following a Diotrephes instead of a Demetrius? If you are in a situation where your leaders are lording their authority over the flock, get out! If orders are being given to obey instead of examples being lived to follow (2Thess 3:9), get out. If you find yourself doing things only because the pastor said so, and you don’t want to be seen as having issues with authority, get out. You need to be doing things because the Bible says so!

Have I seen situations like this? Yes. Am I in one now? Not even close! We have wonderful elders. But having been other places, I know what it can be like, and your spiritual survival depends on living the Christian life that the Bible describes, under the godly leadership of multiple elders. That is what the New Testament mandates, and men like Diotrephes are the reason why. Find a church with a biblically accurate organization and you will be on your way back to spiritual and emotional health.

But if you are in a healthy congregation that has godly leaders in place, encourage them and do all that you can to make their ministry effective and not a burden. Paul summed it up nicely for the Thessalonians.

But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13 NASB)

20120930-004919.jpg

Advertisements

Absolutely Nothing

Have you ever struggled to do something, only to have someone else come by and do it like it was easy? It can definitely be a humbling experience. But when you have someone on your side that can handle anything that comes your way, it inspires confidence and trust in all who follow him. Jeremiah the prophet had just that sort of confidence in his God, and said so when he prayed.

‘Ah Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You, (Jeremiah 32:17 NASB)

Truly, nothing is too difficult for our God. What does that mean for us as His children?

There is no temptation that God cannot provide a way of escape from.
No matter what our adversary throws at us, our God provides a way of escape for us. We will never encounter a situation and find that we have no choice but to sin.

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13 NASB)

Of course, if we continually refuse to take those escapes, we can put ourselves into a trap. But we have to purposely refuse to escape for that to happen.

There is no problem that God cannot preserve us through.
The Lord’s rescues come in at least two ways. He either takes away the problem, or enables us to persevere through it.
When Peter was in prison and scheduled to be executed, God rescued him with an angelic escort, in response to the prayers of his fellow believers. (Acts 12:1-19)
But when Paul was afflicted by a messenger of satan he pleaded with The Lord to remove it from him. After the third time, instead of removing the thorn in the flesh, God supplied grace sufficient for him to bear it (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
The point is, that no matter what happens, God is faithful to cause us to persevere.

There is no sin that God is not willing and able to forgive.
The blood that Jesus shed is of sufficient value to pay for every sin that has been or ever will be committed.

and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. (1 John 2:2 NASB)

Jesus has made peace for us with God by the blood that he offers in the heavenly most holy place. (Colossians 1:20; Hebrews 10:14)
The price has been paid, and we now have access to God. We have been saved to the uttermost!

I am sure there is more that God can do.
Paul put it this way:

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, (Ephesians 3:20 NKJV)

It would be enough if God could do all that we ask or think. But it is more than that. He can do above all we can ask or think. No, wait. It is on a higher level. He can do abundantly above all we can ask or think. Not being satisfied, Paul takes it to an exponentially greater power. God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly, above, all!

That is the God we serve and who is on my side and your side! And so we conclude as Paul did:

to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:21 NKJV)

20120927-004621.jpg

Keeping It Simple

I like keeping things simple and easy to understand. There is a virtue in making sure we make things understandable for people, especially when it comes to salvation. We are not Gnostics with some special knowledge that is only for us. We have a life giving message that our Lord commissioned us to proclaim to everyone on earth. We don’t have time for a 1000 page dissertation on what it takes to become a Christian. So let’s break it down to three essential questions and answers we can give to someone who would ask us about what is required to be a Christian.

1. How much am I required to know?
You have to know something, but you don’t have to know everything. The Apostle Paul summarized it well in his letter to the church at Corinth.

“1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,”
(1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

You must believe that Christ died, was buried, and rose again. That is the Gospel message. But that leads to the next question,

2. What must I do about what I know?
You must participate in that death, burial, and resurrection, too. It’s called baptism. It sums up what you believe and shows that you have turned from your old way of life (called repentance). Again, Paul illustrates it for us, this time in Romans 6.

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, (Romans 6:3-5 NASB)

In effect, we are participating in what we know.

3. What happens after that?
We gather with other believers and remember that death, burial, and resurrection and encourage one another as we strive to follow Jesus.

Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16 NASB)

This walk of faith is not designed to be done alone. We gather to remember what Christ has done and to be equipped to share that message with others.

I realize this is very basic, but we must all begin somewhere. If we focus our evangelistic message on the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, we also make sure that the message is not about us — it’s about Jesus. We are not commanded to convert people to us; we are commanded to make disciples of Jesus.

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19, 20 NASB)

There are our marching orders. He tells us to make disciples and also tells us how to do it. Let us go forth in the simplicity of devotion to Christ with the truth of Jesus’ death burial and resurrection as our message. Amen.

20120926-072250.jpg

Our Kippur

Tonight at sunset, members of the Jewish community will celebrate the festival of Yom Kippur, also known as the Day (yom) of Atonement (kippur). This feast was ordained by God in Leviticus as the day in which the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies to sprinkle the blood of a lamb on the top of the Ark of the Covenant. This was the space between the golden cherubim and was called “the mercy seat.” (Leviticus 13 & 26)

While that is very interesting, what does it symbolize for us today? Glad you asked!

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. (Hebrews 9:11-15 NASB)

In Christ, we now do not need to wait for a yearly day of atonement in order to be forgiven. Nor do we have a high priest who is continually offering he sacrifice of His blood to atone for our sins.

For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him. (Hebrews 9:24-28 NASB)

This is a one time sacrifice that has been offered once-for-all and needs never to be repeated. As a sacrifice of infinite value, it cannot be added to.

By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. (Hebrews 10:10-14 NASB)

That is why He can continually cleanse us from all sin (1 John 1:9) and why we can enter into His presence boldly.

With that in mind, every day is part of the one eternal Day of Atonement for Christians. So we should rejoice in the salvation that has been purchased with the blood of the Lamb of God. Christ has fulfilled the feast, and as our high priest has completed the atonement once for all!

20120926-002410.jpg

The Power of the Word of God

Words are vehicles which carry thoughts. They are a way of informing, but also a window into the heart of the one who is speaking. Words also let someone else know how you operate so that they can know you more intimately. God has chosen to use words given through inspiration to convey to humanity His ways and His thoughts. God spoke about the power of His Words to Isaiah.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:8-11 ESV)

He starts off talking about His thoughts, and let’s everyone know right away that His thoughts are on a higher level than ours are. And we are not talking about them being just out of reach. They are exponentially higher than our thoughts. So when we critique what God has said, or second-guess His ways, we can rest assured that we are completely unqualified to do so.

Then there is a transition to the containers of the thoughts of God, His Word. It is impossible for God to speak an idle word. Think about that. Every single word that goes forth from God has His power and creative force behind it, and is unalterable. No word of God ever returns back empty, indeed it cannot do so! (Have you ever stopped to contemplate the chaos that would ensue if every one of rout words had that power? Yikes!)
The writer of Hebrews puts it this way:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

The created universe we see around us was created by that word.

By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. (Hebrews 11:3 NKJV)

And that same world is held together by the power that is still resident within the One who is the Word made flesh, Jesus. (John 1)

And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (Hebrews 1:3 NASB)

But how do we access that powerful word today? Where would we find it?
Here’s a hint:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17 NIV)

We can have complete confidence in the wisdom, veracity, and power of the Word of God. There is no need to subject it to the criticism of men, since it’s divine Author is so far above our thoughts and ways. Ours is simply to have faith in what He has revealed and walk in the ways He has prescribed for His children. When we do so, we have the most powerful force in or out of the universe behind us!

20120924-184818.jpg

Why Are You Wasting Money?

I can’t stand things that rip me off. Whether it’s a vending machine, or a product that doesn’t work as advertised, many of us feel humiliated and/or embarrassed that we have wasted our money, and have nothing to show for it. The same thing is true of our lives. Jehovah God spoke through the prophet Isaiah and asked some penetrating questions, and then gave an open invitation for all who would heed His call.

“Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters;
And you who have no money come, buy and eat.
Come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without cost. “Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance. (Isaiah 55:1, 2 NASB)

Each of us, at some point in life, have felt spiritually dry. We thirst for fulfillment and satisfaction that somehow evades us. We search n our own and try to figure out some way to quench that longing and only end up filling it with other poor substitutes for genuine nourishment for our souls. In the first verse, God initially calls out to those who realize their spiritual poverty. He r
Invites only those who are conscious of their spiritual bankruptcy and utter helplessness before God. No invitation is wasted on those who have any confidence in their own ability to satisfy their spiritual thirst.

God then says something counterintuitive at first. He tells broke people to “come, buy and eat”! How can that happen? Only because of grace. We are all invited to nourish our souls without paying for it ourselves. What is being offered is of tremendous value, but it is being offered to us freely by the one who alone possesses it and can provide it to us.

God then reiterates the futility of our current predicament. He uses a question to remind us of how we are wasting our substance on things of no eternal value. We are attempting in vain to quench the thirst and satisfy the hunger that can only be filled by God.

How do we partake in this abundance? By listening to the Word of God. Jesus Christ proclaimed that He was the fulfillment of these verses when He said,

“I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” (John 6:35)

Only as we take in this One, who is the Word of God (John 1:1) that we can experience the joy of having our spiritual hunger and thirst finally satisfied.

So if you have a hunger and a thirst for something real. A hunger for something that is not spiritual junk food, then come to Jesus and be filled. Come to the waters of baptism and delight yourself in spiritual abundance. Heed the advice of the Psalmist and “O taste and see that the LORD is good;
How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him! (Psalm 34:8)

Isaiah records the invitation in this passage a few verses later.

Seek the LORD while He may be found;
Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return to the LORD,
And He will have compassion on him,
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:6, 7)

20120924-004636.jpg

Forgiveness Requires Confession

People come from many different backgrounds. For many, the spiritual environment in which they were raised has a tremendous effect on their view of doctrinal tenets, religious practices, and definitions of religious terms. Such is the case with the word translated as “confession” in the New Testament. So when I say that confession is a necessary precondition for forgiveness I need to clarify some biblical concepts and terminology.

The Apostle John, in the first chapter of his general epistle says this:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 NASB)

So is John saying here that we must go before a priest and orally confess our sins in order to receive absolution? No, and here is why. Rather than meaning admitting what we have done, the Greek word used in 1 John 1:9 is “homologeo” which means “to say the same as”. So what is required is that we say the same thing about our sin that God says about it.

Rather than being a “get it of jail free” card, this confession entails changing our minds about our sin, so repentance is included in it since the word translated repent means to change your mind. This change must be deep enough that we begin saying the same thing about our sins that the Bible says. There is nothing biblical about just admitting what we have done, or even asking God to forgive us of our sins if we have not forsaken them. It’s not about saying the magic words. We need to not only forsake our sin, but actually hate it.

And our hatred of our sin, and the realization of our personal culpability of those sins being part of the reason Jesus was murdered, will also lead us to say what God says after we have been forgiven. When God has forgiven us, we have no authority to continue accusing ourselves before Him. To do so is to align ourselves with “the accuser of the brethren” (Revelation 12:10).

Our confession is also one which encourages accountability. James said we are to “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” (James 5:16) Our secret sins are the ones which entangle us like the little wooden chair left out in the living room at night that finds our shin and throws us to the ground. But being open and honest about our struggles with our fellow believers helps us to overcome those habitual sin patterns so that we can walk in the light, not the darkness.

but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7).

As long as we walk in fear of being exposed, we will never know the freedom that could be ours in Christ. Jesus put it this way:

This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. (John 3:19, 20)

So let us hit sin with the very weapon that will cause it to shrink back — the light. King David discovered this secret thousands of years ago, and God has preserved it for us today in Psalm 32.

How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity,
And in whose spirit there is no deceit! When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away
Through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah. I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I did not hide;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”;
And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah. (Psalm 32:1-5 NASB)

20120923-000952.jpg

%d bloggers like this: