31 October 2008

Responsibility – 10.31.08

Genesis 42:37-38 And Reuben spake unto his father, saying, Slay my two sons, if I bring him not to thee: deliver him into my hand, and I will bring him to thee again. And he said, My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone: if mischief befall him by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.

A little background on the passage here. Of Jacob's 12 sons, Joseph and Benjamin were definitely his favorite. This probably had something to do with the fact that their mom (Rachel) was his favorite wife. But no matter the reason, it caused all kinds of problems (and always will).

You remember what happened to Joseph. Jacob's favoritism caused his brothers to resent him, and they "hated him yet the more" for his dreams. So they sold him into slavery, dipped his coat in blood, and told their dad a wild beast had devoured him.

Joseph's rise from an imprisoned slave to the #2 man in Egypt is quite a story, but is not the point of our discussion today. In Genesis 42, there is a devastating famine, and Jacob's sons have to go to Egypt to buy food because there isn't any anywhere else. Joseph recognizes them, interrogates them, accusing them of being spies, and tell them he'll only believe him if they bring their other brother Benjamin.

Well, Jacob is still playing favorites, and he'll not hear of it. In the passage above, Reuben is trying to convince him to let Benjamin return to Egypt with them, buy more food, and bring back their other brother Simeon (Joseph required that 1 man stay behind).

But look at the collateral he tries to use – the lives of his 2 sons. Slay my two sons, if I bring him not to thee. I am not saying Jacob would've ever agreed to this, but it's still an odd offer to make. Especially when we compare it to how Judah reasoned with Jacob in the very next chapter:

Genesis 43:9
I will be surety for him; of my hand shalt thou require him: if I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame for ever:

No doubt, Jacob was being ridiculous, and there is no reason Judah should've had to make this plea. But for whatever else was lacking in Judah's life, we can admire him for standing up and taking true responsibility.

And that's a good word – RESPONSIBILITY. According to Webster's 1828, it is defined as "the state of being accountable or answerable." Like most other good things, in our times responsibility is much more often shirked than it is taken.

We don't mind being in charge or making the rules, but we sure don't like being responsible for the outcome. We're eager to complain about what's wrong, but hesitant or totally unwilling to take responsibility for making it right. Certainly all of Jacob's sons wanted to return to Egypt and saw the necessity of doing so. But only Judah stood up and took responsibility for doing what it would take to make it happen.

The closest word we have to responsibility in the NT would have to be stewardship. A quick search of the would reveal that all Christians are accountable, all Christians will answer to God, as stewards of (1) the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1-2) and (2) as stewards of the gifts of His grace (1 Peter 4:10-11). A closer look at both those passages, coupled with an understanding of the rest of the NT clearly reveals that all Christians are RESPONSIBILIY for ministering the gospel to a lost and dying world, and utilizing their spiritual gift to minister to their brothers and sisters in Christ.

So are you a Judah, or a Reuben?

29 October 2008

I Have Seen – 10.29.08

Genesis 31:12 And he said, Lift up now thine eyes, and see, all the rams which leap upon the cattle are ringstraked, speckled, and grisled: for I have seen all that Laban doeth unto thee.

These words were spoken by the angel of God to a man named Jacob (and were repeated by Jacob to Laban, verse 42). This messenger is sent to assure Jacob that God has seen all that Laban (Jacob's father-in-law) had done to him. Suffice it to say, it wasn't nice.

For one thing, Jacob served Laban 7 years for his daughter Rachel. At the end of that 7 years, Laban instead gave him Leah (who wasn't near as pretty). "Oops, forgot to tell you, we never let the younger daughter marry first." So Jacob worked another 7 years for the girl he really wanted. In the 6 years following that, Jacob continued to tend to Laban's flocks and herds, and Laban continued to slight him – changing his wages a total of 10 times, according to verse 41.

Not to say that Jacob didn't have it coming. His name means "supplant-er," and he had worked a couple con jobs in his day, on his own brother. But what I'd like to draw our attention to is the fact that God saw all that happened. And the point of the message to Jacob was DON'T WORRY! Because God knows what's going on, and He will ultimately settle the score (though it may be in eternity).

Now, I believe this is applicable to us today. I'm sure you'll not have to think too long and hard to come up with the name of someone who has done you dirty. And if you can't come up with anything, thank God, but don't hold your breath. Sooner than later, you will have your own story to tell.

What we have to do when we find ourselves in those situations is (1) make sure it's not our fault. Why are you being mistreated? Might you have done something to deserve it? Are you reaping what you've sown? And once we've got that taken care of, (2) we have got to find a way to remember that nothing gets past God, and it's up to Him to take care of it.

Proverbs 15:3
The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.

That's a troubling verse, if your life gives God some evil to behold. But it's also an encouraging verse, if you're one of those that's on the good side. No good deed is done that God does not notice and will not ultimately reward. And no misdeed is done that God does not notice and will not ultimately judge. We've just got to make sure we're on the right side of this thing and let Him take care of it!

2 Chronicles 16:9
For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. Herein thou hast done foolishly: therefore from henceforth thou shalt have wars.

So that other person's mistreatment of you does not and will not escape God's notice. And just as long as you KEEP doing what is right (or START doing what is right) despite it all, God will see that, too, and IN THE LONG RUN, He will bless you abundantly for it.

27 October 2008

What is Your Life? – 10.27.08

James 4:14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.

Proverbs 27:1 Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.

We all know these verses are true, but every now and then we are reminded of just how true they really are.

Last night, Lauren got word that a childhood friend of hers died in a car accident over the weekend. She was 23 years old. In grad school. Had her whole life ahead of her. Or so she thought.

When something like this happens to someone you know or have known and care about, it makes you realize how easily it could be you. Every day we live and every breath we breathe is a gift from God. Far too often we take it for granted.

Please pray for the Skinner family. Please pray that the gospel will be clearly given at the funeral service and that many with tender hearts would respond to the truth of its message.

And let's all pray that for one another, that each one of us would redeem the time, and use the days God gives us to do something that will count in eternity. And that we would have the boldness and the courage to faithfully tell those around us of the saving power of the Lord Jesus Christ.

24 October 2008

A Little One – 10.24.08

I believe I'd have to say Genesis 19 is probably one of the least enjoyable chapters in the Bible to read. I'm not saying it's not important or that it's not profitable. In fact, there are all kinds of lessons we need to learn from it. But it's just not pleasant.

The chapter gives the account of the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah. Furthermore, it gives us a glimpse at just how vexed the righteous soul of this man Lot really was (2 Peter 2:6-8):
  • In verse 7, he calls the Sodomites who had surrounded his house to defile his guests "brethren."
  • In verse 8, he offers those depraved reprobates his 2 virgin daughters.
  • In verse 14, Lot warned his sons-in-law of God's coming judgment, but his life was such that they just couldn't take him seriously.
  • In verse 16, Lot wasn't nearly as eager to get out of Sodom as the angels were anxious to get him out so they could nuke the place. The Bible says that while the angels hastened Lot lingered.
  • By the end of the chapter, Lot gets drunk in a cave and fathers a son by his 2 daughters.
It looks like the angels had to literally drag Lot and his family out of Sodom. As they did so, they left them with these 2 words of instruction:
  1. Don't look back (Lot's wife did and was turned into a pillar of salt).
  2. Don't stay in the plan. Escape to the mountain.
You'd think by this point that Lot would straighten up and listen up. But, oh the deceitfulness of sin. Lot complains in verse 19, I cannot escape to the mountain, lest some evil take me, and I die. Then in verse 20, he asks to be allowed to escape to Zoar. His reasoning: Is it not a little one? There, he says, his soul shall live.

Notice how Lot had been blinded by his sin. He just couldn't see the clear and simple truth. Why did the angels tell him not to stay in the plain? Because they knew God would destroy those cities, and he would die if he stayed there! According to verse 29, God did destroy and overthrow ALL the cities of the plain. The mountain place where Lot was told to fee was the only safe place there was, and it took the exceeding abundant mercy of God (in response to his uncle's prayers) to deliver Lot from the destruction of the little city of Zoar and get him to that mountain.

Now, I trust you can see the application to our lives today. God has commanded us to be separated from this world and its sin and to be absolutely surrendered to his will. Yet many Christians reason like Lot, I cannot escape to the mountain (of yielding completely to God's will), lest some evil take me, and I die. They get out of Sodom, but they stay in Zoar, thinking all the while that they're OK because their sin is just a little one. What they can't see because they refuse to open their eyes is the fact that the mountain is the only place of true safety – of true joy, true peace, true satisfaction, of true LIFE (John 10:10).

Christian, flee from Zoar and escape to the mountain. Let go of your little sins and live your life in the center of God's will. Make a break from the world and yield yourself completely to His service.

Romans 8:6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

21 October 2008

Evil Speaking – 10.21.08

Titus 3:1-2 Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men.

Did you catch that piece of instruction in verse 2? Speak evil of no man. You might not have known that's in the Bible. But there it is. And God expects us to live up to that standard. However, before we can live up to it, we probably ought to make sure we properly understand exactly what it means.

In order to do so, let's define the central word – EVIL. According to Webster's 1828 Dictionary, evil is defined as:
  1. Having bad qualities of a natural kind; mischievous; having qualities which tend to injury, or to produce mischief.
  2. Having bad qualities of a moral kind; wicked; corrupt; perverse; wrong; as evil thoughts; evil deeds; evil speaking; an evil generation.
What is obvious is that this verse is not a prohibition on speaking out against error. In fact, we are commanded to do just that in many other scriptures, and God's commandments never contradict themselves.

In light of the definition of the word, we see that this is a prohibition on speaking with any intent of causing injury or mischief (definition 1). In addition, this is a prohibition on speaking WRONGLY against another (definition). Exodus 20:16 Thou shalt not bear false witness AGAINST thy neighbor. For me to say something about my neighbor that just plain isn't true or that I don't know to be true (GOSSIP) is to speak EVIL of them. For me to say something that might or might not be true for the purpose of stirring up strife or causing division is to speak EVIL. Both those things, then, are what is prohibited in this passage.

So this doesn't mean that I can't point out that those men on TV are fake-healers not faith healers or that Clay Aiken is wrong to say that he is a homosexual AND is comfortable with his "Christianity" – so long as the statements are true and are not spoken to cause injury or mischief. If my motive is to state the facts for the benefit of others and what I am stating is indeed a fact, then it is not evil speaking, even though it might not be all that positive.

Now, a similar and somewhat less general piece of instruction is found in James 4:11 Speak not evil one of another, brethren…

It'd sure be great if all God's people would abide by this principle. Thumper might justly be condemned as a wicked reprobate for playing in a Disney movie (ha, ha), but in this case, we'd do well to heed his advice:

If you can't say anything nice [to or about your brothers and sisters in Christ], don't say anything at all.

Let's leave it to the world to speak evil of the brethren. I'm pretty sure they've got it covered. Let's speak the truth in love for the purpose of building up the people we go to church with. Let's not spread falsehood or say anything for the purpose of causing injury of mischief.

The devil is the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10). Jesus is the Advocate of all believers (1 John 2:2). I'd rather my words serve His purposes than Satan's. Wouldn't you?

14 October 2008

Twice Justified – 10.14.08

1 Timothy 3:16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

It would be worth your while to commit the above passage to memory, as it points as clearly as any other to the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Praise the Lord for the love that caused God to become a man (John 1:1-3, 14) so He could take away our sins (1 John 3:5) and deliver us from fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15) by laying down His life and then rising again the third day (Philippians 2:5-9).

But what I'd like us to consider today is a phrase that jumps out in this verse. Among the other things said here of Jesus Christ, it is said that He was justified in the Spirit. Now, to be justified is to be declared righteous. And this is one of the great things that happened to you and me when we got saved (Acts 13:39; Romans 3:24-26; Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Galatians 2:16; et al.). But obviously, the word justified can be and is used outside the context of salvation. Jesus did not need to be saved. But the scripture says that when He became a man, He was justified.

Why is this important? Well, it is key to a proper understanding of James 2*, the point of which is to show how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only (v. 24). Now, to connect this justification to salvation from sin contradicts far too many scriptures...those listed above and many, many more. What then is the meaning of this statement?

I believe it's important to understand this passage because every false religion that teaches salvation by works will use it in an attempt to refute the true, biblical doctrine of salvation by grace through faith, plus or minus nothing.

We don't have the time or the space to go very far into detail, but there a few things we should note. First of all, the whole discussion is prefaced by the question, What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? (v. 14). What is being discussed is what a man says he has, and the point is this: If I tell you I'm saved but don't give you any evidence to back up my claim, why should you believe me? On the other hand, if my works give evidence of my faith, then you'll have reason to believe me when I tell you about it.

Now, the 2 OT characters that are brought out as examples are Abraham and Rahab. Note that neither was ever under the law. In addition, note that the vast majority of their works was horrific. Abraham lied and gave his wife to another man and fathered a child by his servant. Rahab was a harlot. Further, consider the works that were said to justify them: Abraham, attempting to murder his son; and Rahab, committing treason against her nation. And they're supposed to be an example of salvation from sin by good works?

Thirdly, consider how their works were evidence of the faith they already possessed, which again is the point of the passage. In Genesis 12, God promised to make a great nation of Abraham. Abraham believed God and sojourned in the promised land (Hebrews 11:8-10). In Genesis 15, Abraham believed God's promise concerning the land of Canaan, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. He was justified BEFORE GOD (Romans 4:9-13). In Genesis 21, Abraham believed God's promise regarding the birth of Isaac. Again, God declares him righteous (Romans 4:16-22). Up to this point, His belief in what God has said has cost him basically nothing. I'm going to make you a nation. Great! I'm going to give you land. Great! I'm going to give you a son. Great! But in Genesis 22, Abraham is asked to sacrifice the one through whom the promised would be fulfilled. For this first time, he is being asked to act in faith – and it will not benefit himself. Before this, who (other than God) would have testified to Abraham's righteousness? Sarah? Abimelech? Lot? Terah? Hagar? Ishmael? But in Genesis 22, the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God (James 2:23). His faith became evident. This is how that by works a man is justified (v. 24).

Likewise Rahab. Read Joshua 2:8-10, where Rahab confesses her faith in the God of Israel before she ever hid the spies in her house. Listen, she claims to believe the promise God made to Abraham. But who would have known it? She's Rahab THE HARLOT! She's a citizen of Jericho. But when she received the messengers and sent them out another way it became evident to men that Rahab had faith in God. A woman who was already a believer gave evidence of that belief in the sight of men. That's James 2 justification.

What about you? Are you twice justified? I mean is your faith profitable (v. 14)? Is it evident to those around you by virtue of your obedience to the word of God – even when it costs you something? Or is your faith like a body without the spirit – there, but unable to fulfill its purpose?

*Material on James 2 from a class on the General Espitles at DeLand School of THE BIBLE

10 October 2008

Stephen & Resistance – 10.10.08

This man stands out as one of the greatest characters in the NT. He is one of the 7 deacons chosen by the early church in Acts 6. Later in the same chapter, he is brought before the council on account of his preaching, and in chapter 7 he delivers a brilliant sermon, as he gives his defense. (Read the chapter sometime and watch how he used the history of the Hebrew nation to point out that they had rejected and crucified the One Who came to save and deliver them, just as their fathers had Joseph and Moses.)

Though there is much that could and should be said about the information given regarding this man's life in those 2 chapters of Acts, I'd like to direct our attention to what the Bible says about him in Acts 6:10…And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.

Back in Luke 21:15 Jesus had said, For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay or resist. Now, jump ahead to Acts 7:51 and compare those statement with the charge Stephen makes against his audience…Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.

So they could not resist the wisdom and spirit by which he spake, but they always resist[ed] the Holy Ghost. How do we reconcile those two statements – they couldn't resist, but they always resisted? Doesn't seem to make sense. What we must recognize is that what they couldn't resist and what they always resisted were two different things.

The self-righteous Jews rejected was the message that Stephen preached – salvation through the One they had crucified. But they could not resist was Stephen's presentation of that message – the wisdom and spirit by which he spake.

Stephen preached what was right. AND he lived what was right. Stephen preached what was right. AND he did so in the right manner. No one could point a finger at him and use him as an excuse to reject the gospel message. It was because of this that they stoned him.

You see, they couldn't reject him, but they couldn't accept his message. The only solution was to do anything they could to silence him. And they did.

What about you? Do you have a witness to be silenced? Does your life back up that witness? When the world seeks to silence your witness is it because they can't resist your wisdom and your spirit? Or are you trying to be annoying?

God give us more Stephens.

07 October 2008

So Great Faith – 10.7.08

Luke 7 records Jesus' healing of a certain centurion's servant. In verse 9 we learn that Jesus marveled at the faith of this centurion and said of him, I have not found SO GREAT FAITH, no, not in Israel. What was it about this man that caused Jesus Christ to say that about him and have it recorded for us in scripture? Let's take a look.

What stands out to me in this passage is the man's estimation of himself. From these verses we learn that he was a centurion (vv. 2, 8). He held sway with the elders of the Jews (v. 3). The elders told Jesus how great of a man he was – one who loved their nation and built them a synagogue (v. 5). And based on all of this, they deemed him worthy of the miracle he was requesting – the healing of his servant (v. 4). Contrast all that with what the man says of himself:

Lord, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof: Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed. (vv. 6-7)

Verse 8 seems to point back again to the greatness of the man, but don't forget to notice the crucial first phrase: For I also am a man set under authority.

This centurion approached the Savior far differently than many do today. He approached with humility. His request was not a demand. It was a plea based solely on the goodness and mercy of Jesus, not on his own goodness or merit. He did not believe he deserved the miracle. He did not believe he deserved the honor of having Jesus in his home. But he trusted that Jesus had the power to right the situation. And, of course, he was absolutely right.

Jacob, in one of his better moments, evidenced a similar condition of heart. In Genesis 32:10 he confessed, I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant…

Now, if we were honest, we'd realize the same is true of us. We don't deserve a thing that God has given us. But He's given us SO MUCH. So when we go to Him with our prayers and our supplications and our problems and our burdens and our troubles, let's go with the attitude this centurion had. "Lord, I don't deserve what I'm asking for, but I know You're good, and I know You're all-powerful, and would You please work Your will in my life in this situation?"

The Lord certainly takes note of THAT type of faith (Hebrews 11:6).

03 October 2008

Goin’ Fishin’ – 10.5.08

Luke 5:5 And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.

As chapter 5 of Luke commences, Peter had been out all night on the lake of Gennesaret trying to catch some fish. The night was a total failure, and he and the others had called it quits. They were out on the shore washing their nets. Then Jesus shows up and asks Peter to launch out a little onto the lake so he can teach the people who had pressed upon him to hear the word of God from the ship. Once Jesus had wrapped up the sermon, He told Peter to launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. Verse 5 is Peter's response.

Now, we know how the story ended up. They caught enough fish to break their net and fill not one boat, but two. Then in verse 10, Jesus calls Peter to follow him…from henceforth thou shalt catch men. Verses 11, Peter and the others forsake all, and followed the Lord.

Great story! And it's true. It happened just exactly like the Bible says that it did.

Now, based on this passage and others such as Matthew 4:19, we know that evangelism is compared to fishing (and many an old-time country preacher could do some mighty-good expoundin' right there). With that in mind, draw your attention to what Peter said in verse 5. Despite the fact that he'd just come back empty after a whole night out on the lake, he said, nevertheless AT THY WORD I will let down the net.

If you're saved and born-again, then Christ has said to you, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets…He said, Go YE into all the world, and preach the gospel unto every creature. Each and every Christian has been given an absolute and irrevocable duty to proclaim to the world salvation from sin, death, heal, and the grave – by grace and through faith the death, burial, and resurrection of God's Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 1:8; 1 Corinthians 1:21; Titus 1:2-3; 1 Timothy 2:4-6; et al.

  • But I'm scared… AT THY WORD I will let down the net.
  • But they'll make fun of me… AT THY WORD I will let down the net.
  • But they'll think I'm a fanatic… AT THY WORD I will let down the net.
  • But it doesn't do any good… AT THY WORD I will let down the net.
  • But don't you think we need a new method… AT THY WORD I will let down the net.
  • But it might offend somebody… AT THY WORD I will let down the net.
  • But I'm too busy. I don't have time… AT THY WORD I will let down the net.

Let's dedicate ourselves to doing what Christ has told us to do, and that's preach the gospel…fish for men. He'll build His church (Matthew 16:18). He'll give the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6-9). His word won't return void (Isaiah 55:11). And He'll bless us for it.

When's the last time you've been fishin'?