Archive for July, 2013

Chasing the Bulls

The pursuit of happiness.
For many, the pursuit of happiness means one thing — the pursuit of wealth. After all, isn’t that the American dream? We want to be better off financially than the previous generation was. We want to have a house that is paid for, two cars, 3.2 kids, a dog, and a flat screen TV. But there is a question that needs to be asked. Just because that is the “American Dream”, is it necessarily God’s dream for us? We need to examine what the Bible says about this dream, and see if it lines up with what God desires for us. And while there is nothing inherently sinful about having money, it does come with some serious warnings. Like fire, it can be beneficial, but used in the wrong context, it can kill and destroy us and those we love.

There are two dangers, from what I can see, in pursuing wealth — idolatry and covetousness. But there are also two remedies — contentment and gratitude. Lets see what the Bible says about it.

Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. (I Timothy 6:6-8 NKJV)

Want to get ahead, and have great gain in life? Great! There is your key to success — godliness and contentment. The Greek word for contentment here indicates satisfaction with what one has. The Stoic philosophers liked contentment because it indicated self sufficiency. But for the Christian, contentment reflects Christ’s sufficiency. We are secure in the knowledge that as we seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, (Matthew 6;33), that our God will supply all our needs according to His riches in glory (Philippians 4:19). Our lives are completely in His hands, and contentment reflects a trust that God knows what He is doing.

But some folks are driven no constantly attain more and gather up wealth for themselves. What follows is that money, which is supposed to be a useful servant, becomes a tyrannical master. Eventually, money, or mammon, becomes our God. We think about new wealth strategies day and night and constantly need to have the latest and greatest. Money becomes an idol.

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (I Timothy 6:9, 10 NKJV)

Again, you may be either blessed or cursed with riches. But a conscious effort must be made to make sure the servant doesn’t become the master. Jesus put it this way:

“No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Luke 16:13)

You see, Jesus didn’t say it was difficult to serve God and money. He didn’t even say it requires great skill.

    He said it is impossible!

Knowing that, why would any of us mock God and act as though Jesus was mistaken on this point?

So how do you know if you have crossed over into the pursuit of mammon instead of the worship of God? Well, what would happen if God took it all away? Or better yet, if He told you to give it all away? Could you release it, since it belongs to Him anyway? Those are hard questions that deserve much thought and self examination. Please don’t go over them lightly.

Down in the financial district around Wall Street in New York City, there is a large metal statue of a running bull. For some, it would symbolize a profitable, or “bull” market. In one way, perhaps unintentionally, that state is a warning to those who would worship wealth. Just like the golden calf that the Israelites built at Mount Sinai was an idol that caused death and destruction of lives, covetousness changes money into an idol that destroys us spiritually. And like the bull statue illustrates, it will turn on us without mercy and run us over and leave us behind.

If you have wealth, make sure you are also rich toward God, willing to share, and eager to serve God, not mammon. Are you poor? Don’t think that covetousness cannot consume you as well. Rest in God, and trust in His loving care for you. Serve Him fully, and with an eye single to His glory. Walk in godliness.
And be content.

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Leaving Jericho

The city of Jericho is significant is Scripture. This city was initially destroyed by God when the Israelites first came into the Promised Land in Joshua 6. Later, the people rebuilt a city by that name at a nearby location. In Jesus’ time, he visited the city and performed the miracle of healing a blind man. Jericho is symbolic of the place of destruction and judgment. This miracle, and the circumstances surrounding it, have application for us today.

And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. (Mark 10:46 ESV)

Bartimaeus was a blind man who was very familiar to the residents of Jericho. Some have even suggested that his father had also been blind, since the word for blind in the local Aramaic was similar to Timaeus. In all likelihood, Bartimaeus sat by this road every day of his life, just like his father had. He was used to the smell and taste of the dust, and to hearing what people were saying as they passed by.

And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47)

No doubt, Bartimaeus had heard people talking about this man from Nazareth who was healing all who came to him. Word of these miracles was a topic of conversation of many in Jericho who would stop and give money to him. Evidently, Bartimaeus believes their stories, and realizes that walking past him is the only glimmer of hope he has ever had of escaping the life of darkness and destitution. So he cries out, not saying “son of man” or “son of Mary”, but “son of David”, which was a term used to describe the promised Messiah. Just like Bartimaeus, the only hope for a lost sinner, sitting in the place of judgment, spiritually blind and destitute, is to call upon the name of The Lord (Romans 10:13).

And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:48)

And just like today when someone decides to cry out to Jesus, there were those who rebuked him. Today, there are those who warn you not to get too radical about Jesus, or not to openly talk to people about Him. But my question is, if you are blind and destitute, what have you got to lose? Do whatever it takes to get to Jesus!

And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” (Mark 10:49)

Yet there is a message of hope for all who are lost. Jesus is calling you! He is not walking by and waiting for you to fix yourself up, or to somehow regain your spiritual sight and put on fresh clothes before you come to him. Come to him now, just they way you are. He wants to give you sight, cleanse you, and clothe you with robes of righteousness.

And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. (Mark 10:50)

In ancient times, in order for people to know who was a legitimate beggar, they were given a special outer garment. In this way, they could be identified as someone who was genuinely lame or blind and not a scam artist trying to make easy money. When Jesus calls to Bartimaeus, he threw off his outer cloak. He tossed away that which had always identified him as blind, and ran to Jesus. In the same way, we are to cast off those things which label us as beyond hope, even if we inherited them from our family. What the world has labelled you as will no longer apply to you once you come to Jesus. He took this blind man and changed him from “Bar-Timaeus” (son of the blind) to being a child of the Living God. And when you come to Jesus, He will do the same for you!

And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:51, 52)

When Bartimaeus was healed of his blindness, he did not leave, thinking he had gotten what he came for. No, he really did believe Jesus was the Son of David, the promised Messiah. Those were not words of flattery used to get Jesus’ attention. He really meant them. Bartimaeus leaves the place of judgment, poverty and blindness, and follows Jesus in the way. And that is what He calls everyone to do. This is not about a one time event of receiving salvation and deliverance, but about casting off the old, receiving a new identity in Christ, and beginning a new journey with Him. But keep in mind, that if Bartimaeus had not called out to Jesus, none of this would have happened and we would never have known his name. Cry out to Jesus today. Now is the day of salvation. If you have the faith to come to Him, He will give you a new life, and you can begin to follow after Him and leave your old life behind.

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Does He Know You?

There is a vast difference between knowing about someone and actually knowing the person. I could spend the next few years in researching the life of George Washington for a new book. I could read his personal journals and everything discovered by historians. And even if I feel like I know him, I will never be able to say that George Washington is my friend and we know each other! While a relationship certainly involves learning about them, gaining that knowledge is no substitute for know the actual person.

Jesus, in Matthew chapter 7 talks about this, and it is a passage that is cause for serious reflection by Christians. Jesus is talking about the judgment, and differentiates between the two groups of people in a very revealing way.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matthew 7:21-23 NKJV)

There are some important things to notice here.
1. Both groups, the saved and the lost, were verbally calling Jesus “Lord”. Jesus is not diminishing the importance of being our Lord, but is rather emphasizing that just saying the magic words is not what means you have a relationship with God.

2. If we look at the entire passage, keeping His commandments is a sign of one who is saved. If I can say this in a positive sense, obedience is a symptom of having a relationship with Christ.

3. But here is the danger. If you look at what the lost ones say, they were doing all the right things as well! What causes their confusion is that they thought that if they did all the things they were supposed to be doing, they would have a relationship with Christ and go to heaven. If their checklist was complete, someone told them, then their performance was satisfactory and they would make it in.

4. From the passage, what is stated as the determining factor was whether or not Jesus knew them. Did they have an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ? What got them into heaven was not what they did, but who they belonged to. According to John in 1 John 2,

“He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. (I John 2:4-6)

If we concentrate on deepening our relationship with God, the good works will be a natural reflection of the vibrancy of that relationship. Our lives will show the power of the love of God working within us. But if we lack that love, we run the danger of doing the works out a need to be right with God through our performance and not have that relationship. Our lives will not be characterized by “faith working through love”, and whatever is not of faith is sin. Even the seemingly good things we do will be sinful because they weren’t done in faith and love. We will be practicing lawlessness and not even know it. If it takes the threat of losing your salvation and going to hell to motivate you to obey God, then you are already backslidden in heart. Are there things you are doing because God said to do it or else, you have fallen away.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6)

We, as disciples of Jesus Christ, must make our aim the same as that if the apostle Paul — to know Him!

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 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11)

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Two Men Praying

This is a story, aka parable, is based on the story Jesus used that is recorded in Luke chapter 18 of the Pharisee and the tax collector. I wanted to update the characters, without changing the story, but the first obstacle was that some may think I am referring to specific people I know. That could not be further from the truth. Both people are conflations of many hundreds of people I have met in 50 years of living. So if you think I am talking about you, you are wrong. If, however, you are convicted by what the story says, then maybe the Holy Spirit is trying to get your attention regarding some things and attitudes you may be harboring. As before, I still get none of the credit or blame for the results. So here goes.

One day in a church building in a typical city, a lifelong churchgoer stopped during lunch to pray. He had been reading many stories about various ones who were preaching error, as well as articles on apologetics aimed at exposing false doctrines that disagreed with the conclusions from Scripture of the author. With all this going through his mind, he prayed this way:
“Lord, I thank you that I am not like others who go to denominational churches. I don’t listen to worldly music, I attend every church service, I only associate with those who teach correctly and agree with me, I partake of weekly communion, don’t believe any false teachings, have been baptized in water, and worship only with those acts you authorize. Thank you that I am we’ll pleasing in your sight and am doing those things necessary to stay saved.”

Out in next to the curb by the church building is a man who is too ashamed to come inside. His guilt from sin is overwhelming and he is at the end of his rope. He cries out to God and can only say a simple prayer. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

One of these men went home that day justified.

Why? Because whenever we start thinking that our standing with God is based on the quality or quantity of our performance, we are basing our salvation on our works, not on the finished work of Christ on the cross. Our standing with God produces good works, and not the other way around. When we deny salvation to those who have not performed a ceremony, or are not doing some list of required works to maintain their saved status, we have fallen from the gospel of grace.

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:2, 3 ESV)

But wait, those men in Luke 18 were under the old law and not under the new system. For one, are you saying that under the New Covenant it is more difficult to be saved? Well not to worry. In Luke 16:16 Jesus said that the law and the prophets were only in force until John the Baptist, but after that people could enter into the Kingdom of God. Yes, people were being saved when they believed on Jesus even during His earthly ministry.

So I would ask you to read the little story again and ask yourself this question in light of Romans 10:9-10 –
In the story above, which one went home justified before God?

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Fulfilling the Law

There are two types of leaders that really bother me. One has all the authority they need, but refuses to use it. The other is someone with no authority, who thinks he has it anyway. Both usually result in a train wreck. Jesus Christ was neither of those. He had full authority from the Father, and used it perfectly! This astonished those who heard Him teach.

And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. (Matthew 7:28, 29 NKJV)

Does this just mean that He was assertive in His tone, or pontificated with skill? No, I believe it goes deeper than that. The previous verses come at the end of the “Sermon on the Mount” recorded in Matthew chapters 5 – 7. And unlike the scribes, who would just read the Law, Jesus was actually expanding upon it! Let me show you what I mean by that.

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. (Matthew 5:17)

The word translated fulfill there is the Greek word pleroo (play-ro-o) which includes the concept of completing or filling up. What kind of man would dare to say that he was coming to complete that which had been handed down in fire, earthquake and smoke at Mt Sinai? Only God could do such a thing! This begins the anger in the hearts of the scribes and Pharisees that will one day lead to His crucifixion. They never dispute Jesus’ miracles, and never try to. This assertion of power equal to that of God was enough to incite hatred in their hearts and charges of blasphemy.

Jesus fills out, or completes, the law in a series of “you have heard” and then “but I say” statements. These serve to bring the Law from the outside (mere physical performance) to the inside ( the condition of our hearts). Appropriately, Jesus starts with the Ten Commandments. He takes the commandment on murder and fulfills, or completes it.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. (Matthew 5:21, 22)

Next, Jesus fulfills/completes the commandment regarding adultery by making it a heart issue first and foremost.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27, 28)

Then we come to bearing false witness. Jesus fulfills/completes the commandment by saying not to swear by anything, but to let your answers stand on there own veracity.

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. (Matthew 5:33-37)

In dealing with our enemies, Jesus again takes us to the heart of the matter.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. ..
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, (Matthew 5:38, 39, 43, 44)

But why do this at all? Why not just say that He was coming to replace the Law with a new one? Because we need the Law to demonstrate to ourselves that we are lawbreakers, already sentence to eternal death by a just God. Without that, the Gospel will be an abstract concept, and not the truly “Good News” that it is. We need the Law to show us our need of a savior and to take us to the cross to find Him.

But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:22-24 KJV)

The Law gets us to the cross, where grace takes over and leads us to God by faith. We don’t abandon obedience to the commands of God, but are rather changed from the inside out. On the inside, we are justified by faith, and on the outside, we are clothed with Christ at baptism for all the world to see. Just like putting clean clothes on someone covered in mud doesn’t make the person clean, we clean up the inside by justification (Romans 5:1) and only then have them put on Christ in baptism for all to see (Galatians 3:27). Christ is put in before He is put on!

But again, we must begin with the Law, and the realization of the just penalty for sin. Only then can, or will we want to, go to the cross for payment of our due penalty. Then, and only then, are we reconciled to God.

For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach- (Colossians 1:19-22 NASB)

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