29 May 2012

On Offending Others

In reading through the book of Matthew, there’s a certain word I keep noticing – “offended.” Offend, 7 times; offended, 8 times; offence, twice; offences, twice.  That’s 19 total mentions of the word.  And that’s more to cover than one post will allow for, but I would like to show you one comparison that I found instructive.

In Matthew 15, the scribes and Pharisees approach Jesus and ask him why his disciples transgress the tradition of the elders by eating with unwashen hands (vv. 1-2).  Jesus responds by asking, “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition” (v. 3).  He enlarges on that statement and gives some examples of how they do so in verses 4-11.  His language is strong and direct.  The point He makes is crystal clear.

In verse 12, “Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were OFFENDED, after they heard this saying?” 

Verses 13-14, “But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.  Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind.  And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.”

Basically, Jesus responded by saying that He was unconcerned about whether or not His WORDS offended the Pharisees.  Truth is truth.  And the truth must be spoken – in love (Ephesians 4:15).  But Jesus did not care who the TRUTH offended.

Fast-forward to Matthew 17.  Here some tax collectors approach Peter and ask him whether or not Jesus pays his taxes (v.24).  Peter answers in the affirmative.  When he gets to the house where Jesus is, Jesus “prevents” him – He brings it up first (v. 25).  How did he know about the conversation Peter had with those that receive the tribute money?  He was God, of course.  (Great proof for the Deity of Christ.) 

According to verse 26, it was Jesus’ political opinion that He did not owe any taxes.  Then why did he have Peter take the coin out of the fish’s mouth to pay both His and Peter’s tribute?  Jesus gives the answer in verse 27, “Notwithstanding, lest we should OFFEND them…”

So Jesus was unconcerned that His WORDS offended the Pharisees.  But He was concerned about His LIFE offending the tax collectors.  Jesus did not care who the TRUTH offended.  But He certainly cared who His TESTIMONY offended. 

The application for us?  I think that far too often we’re too careful about saying some things that need to be said because we’re afraid somebody might be offended.  And I think that far too often we’re not careful enough about doing some things that we do or don’t do, unmindful of others who will be offended (hurt) by our actions (see Matthew 16:23; 18:6). 

Let’s speak the truth, regardless of who might take offence.  And let’s live in such a way as to “give none offence” (1 Corinthians 10:32).  Amen.

Listen to a sermon entitled "The Danger of Disobedience" and learn what happened to a man who failed to obey God’s word because he was afraid of somebody getting hurt (1 Kings 20).

23 May 2012

Some Gardeners God Noticed

Speaking of passages in the Bible that our feeble minds often can’t seem to grasp the reason for, what about that first section of 1 Chronicles?  About ten solid chapters of nothing more than names you and I can’t pronounce.  So and so was the son of so and so who was the son of so and so who was the son of so and so – and so on and so forth.  Really, there’s not much else.  Just a bunch of begats.  Hardly any comments on who the people were or what they did.  Not much of any explanation on why the names are there.

Again, please don’t take this wrong.  I’m not saying it’s not important.  I’m not saying it shouldn’t be in the Bible.  I’m not saying there’s no reason for it.  I’m just saying it’s usually hard for us to understand why God included it in scripture and/or to appreciate it like we should.

There are a couple of high points in chapter 4.  The most well-known is the prayer of a man named Jabez in verse 10: “Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand might be with me, and that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me!”  Seems that more people latch on to the enlarging my coasts part than the keep me from evil part, but at any rate, “God granted him that which he requested.”  And that’s a blessing.

There’s another little note inserted into the seemingly endless list of names a little later on in the chapter, and it caught my attention this last time through.  In 1 Chronicles 4:23 the Bible says,These were the potters, and those that dwelt among plants and hedges: there they dwelt with the king for his work.”

As bewildering as it is sometimes to try to figure out why God put all those names in the Bible, it’s equally, or perhaps more amazing that He decided to include this note – basically, “These guys were the king’s gardeners.”  When I read that, I’m tempted to think, “Yeah…great.  But so what?  What’s the big deal about planting plants and trimming bushes?  What’s so spiritual about landscaping?” 

Obviously, something about what these guys did got God’s attention.  Enough so that He decided to write it down in His Bible and have it on record for all eternity. 

Here’s the application.  There’s a passage in the NT that’s always amazed me.  Colossians 3:23-24 says, “And WHATSOEVER ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.”  Did you notice how big that is?  Did you see how broad that is?  How open-ended that is? 

If you’re like me, then you often think that only the “spiritual stuff” counts with God.  But according to 1 Chronicles 4 and Colossians 3, he takes note when a family of gardeners does their gardening for the glory of the God of creation.  Apparently, what you and I do doesn’t have to be “spiritual” for God to notice it.  It doesn’t have to be “spiritual” for God to reward it.  And that’s good. Because, guess what – not all of life is spiritual.

A lot of life is duty.  A lot of life’s little tasks are of the tedious variety.  A lot of life is mundane.  School work.  House work.  Job work.  Laundry.  Meals.  House maintenance.  Vehicle maintenance.  Body maintenance.  Doctor’s visits.  Grocery shopping.  Reports.  Deadlines.  Ugh. 

It’d be great to read, study, preach, pray, sing, worship, witness round the clock.  But unfortunately, that’s just not reality. 

What’s encouraging to me is the fact that if we can learn to go about our normal, everyday lives with the right focus and the right approach and the right purpose – WHATSOEVER ye do, do it heartily as to the Lord (Colossians 3:23)…WHATSOEVER ye do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31) – then God will notice that; God will reward us for that; God will get a blessing from that. 

We need to go to church.  We should worship God when we’re there.  We ought to read our Bibles.  We need to spend more time in prayer.  We should all be involved in evangelism and missions.  But let’s be careful not to over-compartmentalize our lives into the “spiritual” side of my life and the part that God doesn’t necessarily care about. 

You have some school work to do?  Do it for the Lord.  You have a test to take?  Take it for the Lord.  You have a house to clean?  Clean it for the Lord.  You have some kids to take care of?  Do it for the Lord.  You have a job to work?  Work it for the Lord.  You have a ministry to fill?  Do it for the Lord.

Name after name after name after name in the book of 1 Chronicles.  In the middle of all that, God decided to write something down about what these people did.  Not because it was spiritual.  Not because it was terribly important.  Not because it was all that impressive.  Must have been something about how they did it.  Must have been something about why they did it. 

What’s on your to-do list today?  Whatever it is, why not do it for the Lord.  Perhaps it will get His attention.  

15 May 2012

Not So Vain Repetition

Ever read Numbers 7?  It’s one of those chapters where, whenever I read it, I find myself asking, “I wonder why God chose to put this in the Bible?”  (Not that I think He shouldn’t have; Isaiah 55:8-9.  These feeble minds just can’t help but wonder.) 

Here’s the setting.  Moses has just set up the tabernacle – the place where the nation of Israel will worship God.  The place where they will bring their offerings and their sacrifices to the Lord. 

In Exodus 35, the people made an offering that supplied the materials for the construction of the tabernacle.  In Numbers 7, the prince of each tribe made an offering that supplied the materials for the service of the tabernacle.  Most of the chapter (89 verses long) is simply a listing of the offering brought by the princes.  What’s curious is the fact that each of the 12 princes brought exactly the same offering – and the chapter repeats the details of the offering 12 times. 

Coming to this passage in my Bible reading is like coming to Leviticus 13-14 or that first section of 1 Chronicles.  It makes me feel not-so-spiritual.  I know it’s God word, and I know it’s inspired, and I know it’s profitable, and I don’t skip over it.  It’s just not my favorite part of the Bible to read. 

So I usually have to make an extra effort to try extra hard to find something in the passage and take away some type of application.  Most of the time in Numbers 7 I try to figure out if maybe there’s some small, hidden difference in the offering brought by one of the princes.  (Haven’t found that yet.)

But I did have a thought this last time through.  Here’s the thought: God is very much unlike us; He obviously isn’t bothered by repetition. 

By human nature, we tend to get bored with “the same old thing.”  But I don’t think God does.  He chose to make an everlasting record – no, 12 everlasting records – of the offering brought by the princes of Israel the day the tabernacle was set up. 

What’s the application? Well, in Matthew 6:7, Jesus said, in reference to prayer, “…use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do…”  We tend to come away from that statement with the idea that repetition is bad, but it’s not the repetition that Jesus condemned.  It was the vanity of the repetition; the emptiness of the prayers being prayed.  (Jonathan Edwards said, “Many pray with their lips for that for which their hearts have no desire.”)

The fact that God took note of the offerings of Numbers 7, and chose to put it in the Bible 12 times, must mean that it was pleasing to Him.  Which in turn can only mean that it was the right thing done from the right heart.

What can we take from this?  Perhaps another reminder that we don’t need a new approach to prayer.  We don’t need a new approach to witnessing.  We don’t need a new approach to worship.  We don’t need a new approach to church.  We need the RIGHT approach to all those things.  And it’s OK to stick with “the same old thing” as long as “the same old thing” is the right thing, done from the right heart, for the Lord. 

God doesn’t get tired of hearing us pray the same prayers.  God doesn’t get tired of hearing us sing the same songs of praise.  God doesn’t get tired of watching us witness at the same time, at the same place, to the same people, in the same way. 

In no way am I condemning variety or “change” of any kind.  (One look at the natural creation is enough to convince that our God appreciates variety.)  It’s just clear from Numbers 7 that God is OK with repetition, and it’s clear from Matthew 6 that what He’s ultimately concerned with is the condition of our heart before Him.

How about making this a prayer you continually repeat?  “Lord, help me to do the right thing, the right way, for the right reason, with the right result.  Amen.”

08 May 2012

Delighting in God

Psalm 37:4 Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.

Beautiful statement.  Great promise.  Comforting words.  Frequently referenced.  Unfortunately, the verse is often misinterpreted and misapplied.  What we like to take away from that final portion – he shall give thee the desires of thine heart – is God giving us what we want, based on the condition that we delight ourselves in Him. 

By no means would I say that God doesn’t, at times, give us the things that we desire.  (And I’m sure we’re all thankful for whenever that happens.)  But nor would I say that’s necessarily the meaning of the verse.  Perhaps the promise is actually far better.

Here’s what we can all see and agree on: if I delight myself in the Lord, then He will give me desires.  Beyond that, the wording allows for two possibilities: (1) God will give me what I want (the common view), or (2) God will give me desires; that is, He will give me HIS desires and place those desires in my heart. 

Which is better, Christian friend?  Which more closely fits everything else we know from the Bible?  Obviously the second alternative.  The Bible says that my heart is deceitful and desparately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).  The Bible says I don’t know what I ought to pray for (Romans 8:26).  Sometimes what I want and what I need are two totally different things.  Sometimes what I ask for and what is best for me are two totally different things.

And God knows what we don’t.  I know what I want (most of the time).  God knows what I need (all the time).  So I’m far better off with God putting desires in my heart than God granting the desires that are there. 

But that’s not the purpose of this post.  (We’ve dealt with all that before: click here and here.)  The question I’ve long had is this:

What does it mean to delight in the Lord?  
Understanding what is being promised in Psalm 37:4, how do I go about obtaining it?

Came across a cross-reference recently that I think provides the answer.

Isaiah 58:13-14 If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord…

How’s that?  If you want to delight yourself in the Lord, if you want God to put His desires in your heart, these verses lay it out quite simply.  Stop doing your own thing; stop seeking your own pleasure; stop speaking your own words.  In other words,

Romans 12:1-2 …present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God…that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.  Isaiah 58:14 Then shalt thou delight thyself alos in the Lord…  Psalm 37:4 …and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.

03 May 2012

Christians & The Prom

Greetings to anybody still subscribed to or still stopping by this blog.  We’re back to where we were when I got “Back At It” last June – 4 months now with no posts.  Again, it’s not that I haven’t had lots of things to write about or the desire to write about them.  (I have an Evernote notebook full of ideas.)  It’s just that I’m still struggling with making the time to do so amid all of life’s responsibilities.

Much has transpired in our lives since we ushered in 2012 by putting up the Bible Reading Companion (hope that’s been a blessing to many):

·       2012 Bible Conference – Luke Chapter 4: January 18-20
·       Caroline Elizabeth born: March 11
·       2012 Youth Rally – More Love to Christ: March 16-17
·       Riley turned 2 (how the time flies!): March 23
·       I continue to approach 30: April 11

Now that we’re all caught up, the topic at hand is a pertinent question that every pastor and youth worker sincerely wishes more Christian parents and Christian teens would ask and give some consideration to about this time of year: “Should a Bible-believing Christian go to the prom?”

Before we lay out our answer to the question, we must observe that the deciding factor will be (1) What does the Bible have to say?  and (2) What is in the best SPIRITUAL interest of our young people? 

It seems that many parents, even in Bible-believing churches, are guided by a parenting philosophy that basically says, “Well, I did it when I was a teenager, and I turned out OK.”  If that is the basis of the decisions you make for your children, you seriously need to stop and rethink your approach. 

Others seem far too concerned with their children “not fitting in” or “being weird” – even when the Bible says that God has called us to be a peculiar people (Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9).

The goal of Christian parents ought to be far higher than their children “turning out OK.”  It should be much more than making sure their children “don’t stand out.”  The goal of Christian parents should involve something other than considerations of college, career, and salary.  Our objective should be to do everything we possibly can to make it as easy as possible for them to do what is right and as difficult as possible for them to do what is wrong. 

Every child has a free will, and every young person will ultimately choose what path they follow, but more than anything what I want is for my children to fall in love with Jesus Christ and serve Him with all their hearts.  By the grace of God, I will push and encourage the things that lead in that direction and protect them from the things that would send them any other way. 

What does all that have to do with the question we started by asking?  Well, before we answer the question, we must  address how we answer the question; how we make parenting decisions; what factors into the choices we make for our kids.  If we really believe Proverbs 22:6; Ephesians 6:4; Deuteronomy 6:4-7; Genesis 18:19; and if we really accept the duties contained in those verses, then WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS will completely trump any considerations of how we were raised or what the world (or anybody else, for that matter) finds acceptable.

Having established that, we grant that there’s a not a single verse in the Bible that answers our question directly.  As with most decisions we make in life, we are called upon to exercise a bit of wisdom and apply the crystal clear principles of God’s word to the choices before us and proceed accordingly.

So let me answer the question by simply asking some questions and pointing out some simple truths.

What is the prom?  The prom is a dance.  There is a purpose for stating the obvious… 

What do we know from the Bible about dancing?  There is a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:4).  Dancing is a valid way to praise the Lord (Psalm 149:3; 150:4; Exodus 15:20).  David did such a dance (2 Samuel 6:14ff; 1 Chronicles 15:29).  People danced in celebration of great victories, both military (Exodus 15:20; Judges 11:34; 1 Samuel 18:6; 21:11; 29:5) and personal/spiritual (Psalm 30:11; Luke 15:25).

All of this is, for the most part, positive.  What else does the Bible say about dancing?

Well, dancing was a part of the false worship of false gods (recall the golden calf incident, Exodus 32:19).  Then there was Salome – Herodias’ daughter who danced a seductive and deadly dance before Herod (Matthew 14:6; Mark 6:22).  It is also interesting to note that the one organized dance referred to in scripture resulted in girls being captured and being made the wives of those that captured them (Judges 21:21). 

My question is this: Into which of these categories would the prom dance fall into?  Is the dancing done before the Lord, as an act of praise to worship Him?  Or is the dancing done before a different audience and for a different purpose?  Surely we can all honestly answer this question.

If we should, for any reason, need help answering this question, perhaps it would be beneficial to ask another…

What kind of music is danced to?  The musical selection for the child of God is provided in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 – psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  Is that what they’re playing at the high school prom?  Is the music played designed to give glory to the Lord?  To direct the thoughts and hearts of all to His truth; His righteousness; His grace; His love; His judgment?  Our dedication to His service?  Would it be out of place in a Sunday morning service at a Bible-believing church? 

Music is a powerful thing.  Its influence over and on our emotions is so much stronger than we often realize.  In what direction would the music played at the high school prom – music that glorifies “love” (as the world defines it) and rebellion and everything carnal – lead the one who is under its influence? 

What are the participants wearing?  Yes, I know that God looks on the heart, but the same Bible passage also makes it very clear that man looks on the outward appearance (1 Samuel 16:7).  And the Bible declares what we all know to be true: he is greatly affected by what he sees (Lamentations 3:51). 

The Bible is very clear as to how a Christian is to adorn him/herself – MODEST apparel (1 Timothy 2:9).  The meaning of the word is not difficult, though it seems to give people problems.  Modest means proper; restrained by a sense of propriety; not bold or forward; not loose or lewd; moderate; not excessive or extreme; not extravagant. 

You and I both know that the dresses worn to this dance in no way match the Biblical instruction.  They are not proper or restrained; they are bold and forward; often loose and lewd; excessive and extravagant.

Of course it is possible to attend without being immodest, but please wake up and realize (1) that the pressure on all the young ladies making their plans to go is to be anything but, and (2) how difficult it is for a young man to keep his mind and thoughts and heart pure and clean when surrounded by such a fleshly display of immodesty. 

What other activities are generally associated with the prom?  Since 78.6% of statistics are made up on the spot, I don’t want to go there with this.   What I do want to ask is why do communities and “churches” seem to be big on providing “safe” and “alternative” after-prom activities if the majority of after-prom activities are safe and innocent.  Is it really any surprise that such an event (fleshy music, fleshy dress, fleshy activity) so often leads to drinking and immorality? 

The Biblical instruction.  With all that in consideration, please give your attention to these simple pieces of instruction from the word of God.

The inevitable response to the points raised above goes something like this: “That’s not why I want to go,” or “That’s not what my child will be doing.” 

My question is, “Then why do you want to go/want your child to go?  Why would you surround yourself/your child with those people dancing to that music wearing those clothes and doing those things?”

Here is what the Bible says: Make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof (Romans 13:14).  Have no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3).  Abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11).  And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts (Galatians 5:24).  Keep thy heart with all diligence (Proverbs 4:23).  Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners (1 Corinthians 15:33).  Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men.  Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away (Proverbs 4:14-15).  If we put ourselves in a place of temptation, we can be sure that God is not the one who led us there (Matthew 6:13).

Can you, parent/can you, young person honestly read those verses and believe that attending the prom is a good way to obey them? 

In my opinion, it boils down to the human desire to be accepted; to fit in; to be liked; to be cool; to not be weird.  May God help us get past all of that and subject our desires to the plain, simple principles of His word so that our lives can be blessed and used by Him.