The Addict (His Characteristics)

October 31, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Posted in I Corinthians, Outcasts of Ministry | 15 Comments
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This is the beginning of a series of lessons entitled Outcasts of Ministry: The Addict, the Slave, and the Man Who Fell Out of Church.

What is an outcast? It is someone who has been excluded, or who does not “fit in.”

For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the LORD; because they called thee an Outcast, saying, This is Zion, whom no man seeketh after.

Jeremiah 30:17

An outcast is someone who has been expelled or driven out – someone whom nobody seeks after or wants to be around. In Jeremiah 30:17 God sent words of comfort to Zion – the people of Jerusalem who were then in captivity. The other nations were calling them an Outcast. No one was inquiring after the Temple or the holy city. Why had God allowed them to reach this condition – to become “outcasts?”

Why criest thou for thine affliction? thy sorrow is incurable for the multitude of thine iniquity: because thy sins were increased, I have done these things unto thee.

Jeremiah 30:15

Their incurable sorrows were caused by their incurable lusts – their sinful desires. God knew their hearts, and He observed their actions, and they were “addicted” to sin.

The first of the three “outcasts” that I want to talk about is the “addict.” To call someone an “addict” has a negative connotation in society today. There are all kinds of addicts. Many of the things that we could become addicted to, according to Scripture, are clearly wrong. Drugs, alcohol, gambling, pornography, fornication are common examples. There are other things that may not be clearly wrong, but are still sources of addiction for many people: TV, radio, internet, junk food, coffee. In the interest of full disclosure I will admit that I myself struggle with a serious addiction. I am addicted to fried chicken and green Kool-Aid.

fried chicken

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There, I’m not proud of it, but I admitted it. Go ahead and judge me…! All kidding aside though, I am aware that addiction can be a very serious problem, and I’m thankful for those who have come up with ways to combat addictions. Sadly, though, most of the ways our society treats addiction deal more with treating the symptoms than eradicating the source, and I am afraid we are fighting a losing battle. A true addiction can only be cured by a changed heart.

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.

Romans 7:18-19

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord…

Romans 7:24-25

The only solution to beating a sinful addiction is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Once He has set us free, we are to follow the ways the Bible sets forth for not getting involved in our old addictions again.

Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.

Colossians 3:2

Once you have trusted Christ, you may replace your worldly addictions with the things of God. Are you involved in Christian ministry? Is your family? Most of the things that come to mind when we hear the term “family activities” are worldly activities, but families can and should minister together. And even if you are not part of a ministering biological family, you definitely need to be part of a local church family.

Moreover, because I have set my affection to the house of my God…

I Chronicles 29:3

Most of the time addictions are something bad, but the Word of God speaks of one who had the right kind of addiction. In I Corinthians Chapter 16, the Holy Ghost, through the Apostle Paul, is writing the closing of His first letter to the Corinthians, and He singles out a few individuals who are positive examples to the believers.

I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,)

I Corinthians 16:15

The Holy Spirit of God says, of all the things in the world that you could be addicted to, if you’re going to be addicted, here’s what you need to be addicted to: the ministry of the saints.

Here are some of the characteristics of a person who is an addict:

1. His addiction becomes visibly apparent.

You will see this with people who are addicted to certain types of drugs. In the area where I live addiction to crystal meth is epidemic. The judges in the courts of my district have gotten so adept at spotting crystal meth addiction that they can usually tell just by looking at a litigant’s teeth as she stands before the bench. Another example is people who suffer from alcoholism getting the “shakes” when they go too long without a drink.

I Corinthians 16:15 tells us that Stephanas was known. Because he was the first person converted to Christianity in Achaia, he was known to God, but it is because he was addicted to the ministry of the saints that he was known among the other Christians. Worldly addicts are known for selfishness. Christians who are “spiritually addicted” should be known for ministry.

2. An addict is a burden on his family.

As you read this, do you have a loved one for whom you regularly pray to be delivered from addiction? Most of us do. If you belong to a church with a bus ministry or a children’s outreach ministry, how many children in your children’s church or Sunday School services shed tears every week during prayer request time over their parents’ addictions? Not only was Stephanas addicted to ministry, but his household was, too – his entire family. What do they say about the House of [insert your last name here]? Worldly addicts bring shame to their families, but addiction to ministry will spread to your whole family, bringing blessings instead of shame.

3. His addiction is a drain on resources.

Could a forensic accountant examine your checkbook and your bank statements and your household budget and be able to determine where your heart is? Are there entries for tithes and offerings – for missions giving – for love offerings? Or would those entries be outweighed by your entertainment budget? Do you spend more on entertainment – cable TV, internet service, movies, and restaurants – than you give to the work of the Lord? A gambling or drug or shopping addiction will quickly create problems with your finances. But an addiction to ministry…

I am glad of the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus: for that which was lacking on your part they have supplied.

I Corinthians 16:17

The legacy of Stephanas, the ministry addict, was that he supplied that which was lacking. The worldly addict takes away that which is needed, but the ministry addict provides that which is missing.

4. His addiction makes him difficult to be around.

What’s the worst part about being around an addict? Often, addicts have a variety of unpleasant symptoms that go along with their addictions: bad breath, body odors, slovenly appearance. But the outward signs of addiction are not the worst things about it. Maybe the worst thing is that their addiction comes first. If you’ve been around someone with a desperate addiction, you know that they tend to want to talk about nothing other than their addiction. Unless the listener is a fellow addict, he probably doesn’t have a lot to add to a conversation about gambling or pornography. The nature of most addictions is that they make the addict very self-centered. However, a person who is truly addicted to ministry is somebody that most people will like to be around. Ministry addicts have an attitude of “what can I do for you” instead of “what can you do for me.” This is what the Apostle Paul had to say about Stephanas:

I am glad of the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus… For they have refreshed my spirit and yours…

I Corinthians 16:17-18

Stephanas was the kind of person you would have been glad to see coming. You wouldn’t have had to check your wallet, or hide the women and children. If you were feeling low, he was the type that would lift your mood, refresh your spirit. When the Bible says he was a minister to the “saints” it doesn’t mean that he polished the statues of St. Peter and St. Paul and St. Mary, or that he lit candles for previously deceased Christians. It means that he looked for ways to take care of the needs of other believers – living believers – brothers and sisters in Christ – and he did it to the glory of God. He was excited about it, and he did it with a smile on his face.

Are you addicted to ministry? Do you look for opportunities to be a blessing to others? As a Christian, I should strive to be a blessing, not a burden.

Next time, I will compare the signs of worldly addiction with the signs of ministry addiction.

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Snakes on a Plain (Part 3)

October 29, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Posted in Luke, Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Previously, we saw:

Snakes on a Plain: Snakes Produce Paranoia
Snakes among the People: Snakes Produce Poison

Now, we will see the Snake on a Pole.

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And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.

Numbers 21:8

Notice first what God did not tell Moses. He didn’t tell Moses to get the people together and pass anti-snake legislation. He didn’t tell them to make an antidote or antivenin. He didn’t tell them to beat the rocks and the bushes and kill all the snakes. He didn’t tell them to start doing better, to start being more positive, to get happy, to change their attitude and everything would be alright. He didn’t tell them – and this is the best thing He didn’t tell them – He didn’t tell them that it’s too late, too bad, there’s no hope. No, He said make a brazen serpent – a serpent of brass or of bronze. Again, though, God did not then instruct Moses to go around and touch every person with it. Or to hide it in a box and tell the people to come pray to it. He told Moses to lift it up.

And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.

Numbers 21:9

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

John 3:14-15

The snake had to be lifted up – and the people had to look. The famous preacher, Charles H. Spurgeon, related in his personal salvation testimony how powerful this truth was to him. Even a young child can look. But each snake-bitten Israelite in the wilderness had to look for himself or herself. Those who looked lived. Those who didn’t look died. Why would anyone not look?

The Snake on a Pole: Snakes Produce Parting

We might say the people were “parted” into those who looked and those who didn’t look. Some didn’t look because of rebellion: “I don’t have to do what you say.” Some didn’t look because of pride: “I’m not going to look foolish, staring at a snake on a pole.” Some didn’t look because of unbelief: “There’s no way it could be that simple – I’m strong – I can beat this poison on my own, and then I’ll be able to say that I deserved to live.”

It’s happening even now. There’s Jesus Christ – the Son of Man – the Son of God – God incarnate – God made flesh and blood – lifted up. You’re going to have to look with eyes of faith – we don’t have a brazen Savior mounted on a cross. The symbol of our faith is the Cross without Christ still on it – because His story didn’t end there. You’re going to have to admit that you need to look – and you’re going to have to actually look.

Why did God choose a serpent – an animal associated with sin – to also be a symbol for the Savior?

For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

II Corinthians 5:21

Jesus Christ was made sin on the Cross. Just as the snake on the pole produced parting, there will be a parting also produced by Christ on the Cross.

Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets.

Luke 13:26

People are going to say that they knew about the “snake on the pole.” They heard about it in church. They ate and drank and took communion, observing the Lord’s Supper. They saw many crosses.

But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.

Luke 13:27

But Jesus will say that they knew “about” Him, but that they never “looked upon” Him – they never had faith that He could save them.

There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.

Luke 13:28

There will be a parting. You can look away now, and be told to depart later. Or you can look to Jesus now, and live. Please don’t say, “I’m not in any kind of shape to come to Jesus … I don’t dress like a church person – I don’t talk like a church person – I don’t look like a Christian is supposed to look.” Christianity is not about what you look like. It’s about Whom you look to. God in His grace and mercy has allowed you to make it this far despite your sin and rebellion. Don’t walk away from His invitation and command with the poison still in your system. Look to Jesus today – look and live.

If you’ve already looked, what a world of good it will do you to look again. Look often – look every chance you get. There’s nothing more encouraging for Christian who’s on a long journey home than to look upon the One Who saved you at the start.

The Certainty of Christ’s Deity

October 26, 2012 at 9:12 am | Posted in Hebrews, Selected Psalms | 10 Comments
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In a previous post we looked at Psalm 102 and saw that there are some certain things in an uncertain world:
The Promises of God
The Person of God

Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.

Psalm 102:25-27

God was here before everything, and He will be here after everything. Though everything He has made has changed or will change, He Himself never has and never will.

And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.

Hebrews 1:10-12

This proves conclusively that Jesus did not “become” God, and that He has always been God. That’s why Psalm 102 is considered to be a Messianic Psalm.

But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool?

Hebrews 1:13

The answer is: none. Only to Jesus Christ has God said this, because Jesus Christ is not a created being. He is God the Son, and though He was made like unto us, so that He might be a greater High Priest in His identification with our humanity, He is God and He is unlike us in His immutability. Therefore, Jesus Christ is the One True Certainty in a world full of uncertainty.

I’m Just Sayin’ 9

October 24, 2012 at 9:00 am | Posted in I'm Just Sayin' | 2 Comments
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Christians are not perfect, but, I’m just sayin’, it’s not always wise to advertise that fact. You know the type of person I’m talking about, right? They really love to publicize their shortcomings (often through social media outlets). “I know it’s wrong for me to hate people who accept welfare when they are really just lazy,” they say (or something similar), “but I always say what’s on my mind, and I just can’t help it! So go ahead and judge me if you think you’re perfect!”

What they’re hoping for here is for someone to dare to point out that Biblically it’s not okay for us Christians to hate people. Then they can throw out the Pharisee card, play the victim, and accuse someone of “judging” them.

Here’s the deal. As a Christian, of course you are “not perfect.” No one thinks you are! But I’m just sayin’, if you feel that gives you carte blanche to show off your sinfulness and demand that others ratify it, then you have a bad case of what the Puritan theologians used to call “false piety.” It’s sort of “reverse legalism.” So, the next time you feel the need to express how woefully short you’re coming in your sanctification, take a hint from the Bible and keep it to yourself.

Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.

Proverbs 17:28

An hypocrite with his mouth destroyeth his neighbour: but through knowledge shall the just be delivered.

Proverbs 11:9

Perhaps you grew up feeling judged and mistreated by people with a “holier-than-thou” attitude. If so, forgive them and get over it. The Bible tells us to confess our faults one to another and to bear one another’s burdens, but that is far cry from bragging about our faults under the guise of a challenging demand to “accept me for me.” I’m just sayin’.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

October 22, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Posted in Common Expressions, Ecclesiastes | 7 Comments
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John Steinbeck’s famous novel, Of Mice and Men, takes its title from a line in a poem by Robert Burns. The idea is: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” King Solomon (centuries before either Burns or Steinbeck) considered this idea, as well. However, Solomon, inspired by the Holy Spirit, was well aware that most of the plans in a fallen world are evil plans.

But it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God.

Ecclesiastes 8:13

Some of the most influential people in our world today are extremely wicked. They have “big ideas” and “big plans,” but these men, despite their influence, are actually very small men, and their ideas are of little consequence, compared to God’s plans. As one wise preacher said, “A sure sign that the sun is setting is that small men cast long shadows.”

Some of our biggest ideas and cleverest inventions are badly misused. We have the internet – and it is mostly used for trivial or wicked things. We have television, but most of what we watch is vain entertainment. We have the ability to store vast amounts of music on small disks or devices, but most popular songs are completely foolish. We carry cell phones with us everywhere, but too much of our communication amounts to gossip.

As finite creatures we are not able to grasp the comprehensiveness or the beauty of God’s plans. Christians want to know God – even to know the mind of God – but the mysteries of God keep us from making one of the mistakes of Adam and Eve.

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

Genesis 2:17 (emphasis added)

For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

Genesis 3:5-6

We need to remember that God wants us to be wise, but we also need to remember that true wisdom comes from Him, and we can never be wiser than Him.

This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all: yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.

Ecclesiastes 9:3

Death is the “last enemy” from the perspective of “under the sun,” but one day Christ Jesus will put all things under His feet.

For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

I Corinthians 15:25-26

In Ecclesiastes Chapter 9, we get some advice on marriage:

Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 9:9

Solomon spoke these words from experience. He had he turned away from God’s plan for marriage and turned to idolatry. Marriage is a gift from God. I Peter 3:7 calls a husband and wife joint heirs of grace.

For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.

Ecclesiastes 9:12

We all make our plans, but ultimately what matters most is our part in God’s grand plan.

Fooling Around with Celibacy in Marriage

October 19, 2012 at 9:45 am | Posted in Biblical Marriage, I Corinthians | 3 Comments
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Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.

I Corinthians 7:1 (emphasis added)

The expression “touch a woman” in this verse is mostly a euphemism for sexual touching. Taken literally and out of context it would mean no male doctors could examine female patients. No male police officers could apprehend law-breaking females. Men wouldn’t be able to hug their moms or sisters. They couldn’t even hold their wives’ hands! However, even with the understanding that “touching” is a euphemism for sexual contact, the verse still poses a problem if taken out of context. After all, a “wife” is, of necessity, a “woman.” So the verse has to be understood in context. Both the context of the verse within the particular subject addressed in this passage of Scripture, and the meaning implied by the Greek word translated as “touch,” cause us to understand that what is being prohibited is the sexual touching of a woman by anyone other than her husband.

The reason, though, that I stressed the expression as being mostly euphemistic is because it does have some literal practical application. Too much man-woman touching (even just literal touching) is not good outside of a lawful relationship (such as blood relatives and spouses.) Obviously in marriage it is not evil to touch the woman who is your wife. In fact, touching in that arena is both honorable and undefiled (Hebrews 13:4).

So here is the point being made in I Corinthians 7:1: It is good to be single. Now, if you don’t apply logic, you will think that “it’s good to be single” means “it’s bad to be married,” but I’m a big believer in applying logic as part of interpreting Scripture. After all, God is the One Who created logic.

Premise: X is good.
Conclusion: Non-X is bad.

That conclusion seems to make sense, but it’s not technically logical because more than one thing can be good. Some things can be good in certain contexts and bad in other contexts. I Corinthians 7:8 expresses the same sentiment: “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.” (Emphasis added.) When something is good, its alternative is not always bad. Furthermore, X can be good in a certain context, and not always be good.

It is good to be single – if you are single for the right reasons. What is a good reason to be single? To concentrate on a life dedicated to serving the Lord. What are some reasons for being single that are not good, even though the world today (and in the Apostle Paul’s day) tells us they are good reasons?

1. To be free from commitment
2. To enjoy inordinate affection (Colossians 3:5)
3. To enjoy multiple partners in intimacy
4. To escape responsibility
5. To avoid adulthood
6. To avoid having children in order to avoid trying to make disciples for Christ
7. To become more focused on self
Those are wrong reasons for seeking to remain unmarried as an adult.

But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.

I Corinthians 7:32-35

Married people owe duties and responsibilities to their spouses, so there is a sense in which a single person is free from being a servant. This is not really a freedom from slavery – it is really the freedom to be a slave to Jesus. The reason these points about “singleness” are relevant in a Bible study about marriage is so we can see that singleness is a good gift from God, but that, if you are married, you do not have that gift! It is a gift that entails celibacy, and, as a Christian person who is married, I am not to “fool around” with celibacy!

For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.

I Corinthians 7:7

Without the gift of celibacy, there was only one option for me: getting married.

Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.

I Corinthians 7:2

Faithful monogamous marriage is the only Biblical, obedient, God-ordained, and Christ-honoring option for the person without the gift of celibacy.

Now, let’s get logical again. Marriage – according to I Corinthians 7:2 – is an alternative to fornication. Therefore, is a desire to fornicate a good reason to get married? (We’re differentiating here between the alternatives – the escape routes – and the motivation.) Yes, in a sense, it is an escape route from the temptation to fornicate, but, in another, truer sense, the best motivation for marriage is to be a living revelation of the mystery of the love and submission between Christ and His Church.

Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

Ephesians 5:24-25

The mystery of marriage is revealed to be a “selflessness,” more than a last resort to avoid desperate sexual urges. After all, we are not talking about a dog in heat which has to rush and find the first thing that will copulate with him. We are talking about human beings – the image-bearers of Almighty God. A person in danger of succumbing to the temptation of fornication should not hurry to find the first person who will marry him or her, thinking that otherwise fornication will be inevitable. In I Corinthians 7 we are addressing a situation where marriage is already being contemplated for the right reasons.

But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry. Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well.

I Corinthians 7:36-37

The Apostle has in mind a prolonged engagement which causes temptation that can be remedied by having the wedding.

The Men Who Worked on Skyscrapers

October 17, 2012 at 9:42 am | Posted in Salvation | 6 Comments
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And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh. Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew that shrank.

Genesis 32:24-32

There are regulations in place these days for the safety of men who work on skyscrapers. They are required to be harnessed. They wear straps and belts and they follow rules designed to make sure that they are not in real danger of falling. But it was not always so.

lunch-atop-a-skyscraper

Years and years ago, the men who built the skyscrapers that make up the skyline of big cities like New York and Chicago and Houston had a special knack for working at dizzying and terrifying heights. They became so accustomed to walking on beams and girders with nothing to hold onto for balance, that they hardly noticed anymore the perilous conditions under which they existed every day.

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They strode back and forth, over and around, in and out of the maze of the steel frameworks that extended 50, 60, 100 stories into the sky. They no longer noticed the gusts of wind, the creaking of the infrastructure, the shadows and glaring sunlight. You may have seen this picture of the construction workers balanced on each end of a suspended beam, eating their lunch in midair, as if they were on a bench at the park and not precariously balanced thousands of feet from a gruesome mortality.

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They became sure-footed without thinking about it and forgot about the danger. Until one day. Once in a while, one of these workers would be strolling at a rapid clip, a riveting gun in one hand, his lunch pail in the other hand, and his work boot would slide on a loose bolt, maybe a piece of paper from the foreman’s plans, maybe a tiny puddle of water, and suddenly – his arms began to pinwheel – he teetered out into the abyss – and like a bolt of lightning he suddenly realized where he was and what was happening. This fall would not result in a skinned knee or even a bloody nose crunching into the ground. No, this fall would result in 60 seconds of gut-wrenching screaming, followed by certain death. His co-workers wouldn’t even be able to identify anything except the greasy spot and a pock-mark in the earth. Desperately, he reaches out – for something – for anything – and he seizes hold of a nearby girder. He holds this girder in a death-grip. His whole world has taken a seismic shift, and his reality has narrowed to one thing and one thing only: DO NOT LET GO OF THIS BEAM.

Completely gone is the sure-footed, fearless skywalker. No more careless disregard for the height. His friends come to his rescue, but they are utterly unable to pry his fingers from the beam. He is stark white, fixated on the distance to the earth below, and his hands have cleaved unto the life-saving girder. Eventually, his fingers must be pried loose with a crow-bar, breaking several of them. He will never scale a skyscraper again. He will never be the same.

When I was younger I was like those construction workers who worked on skyscrapers. But my paths were not beams of steel 80 stories above the ground. My paths were the paths of sin. I grew up in a part of the country where men solved their problems at the bottom of a bottle or at the end of a fist. And I was well on my way to being just like them. I was extremely well-acquainted and sure-footed with sin. I lied just because I liked to lie. I had thoughts about girls – and would have made those thoughts a reality if I could – that were so wicked and perverse that if I told anyone the least offensive of those thoughts, no one would ever be my friend or speak to me again. I would hurt anyone that I could – including my parents, grandparents, teachers, and friends – if I could get an advantage by doing so. I loved me more than anyone else and I gave all my worship to me. I would have told you I believed in God, but I had made up a god with my own mind who could help me out on report card day and keep me from getting in too much trouble, but who really didn’t mind my sin all that much, and who thought I was a pretty swell fellow. In my imagination he was keeping track of my good deeds versus my bad deeds to see if I could go to heaven one day, but I was pretty sure that he would slip his finger on the scale on the day of judgment to get me in, because, after all, heaven just wouldn’t be heaven without me there.

I don’t want to give you the impression that I was noble in my sin, either. I was not like Robin Hood, robbing from the rich to give to the poor, or like James Dean, struggling against a society that just didn’t “get me.” Most of my sins – I thought – were secret, so I can’t brag about how “tough” or even “rebellious” I was when it came to authority figures. But one day, I heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and my foot slipped on the blood which had poured down Calvary onto the beam of my sin. And, clutching desperately, I grabbed for Jesus, and I have never let go. It is His strength that strengthens my hands and fingers. Now I do not walk with a physical limp like Jacob, but I am no longer completely “in-step” with the ways of this world. When I am yielded to the Spirit there is something different about my “walk” that should be noticeable to others. Jesus allowed me to grab hold of Him, wrestle with Him, and get the “blessing.” But my world has never tilted back. We must see what we need to be saved from. We must see the One Who can save us. We must reach out without pride – with our sense of self-sufficiency completely broken. And we must never forget what we were leaning and wheeling toward when He caught us and saved us.

If you’ve never had a moment like that, then how are you going to love Him? How are you going to see Him for Who He really is? How are you going to see yourself for who you really are? And how are you going to serve Him when nobody else is? Jacob dared to wrestle with the Lord because He was scared, and the Lord let him prevail and blessed him. Your sin ought to cause you to wrestle with God, not flee from Him.

Not What We Deserve

October 15, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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Recently a candidate for political office responded to his party’s nomination with an acceptance speech. A key theme of this speech was the idea of entitlement. Or, to put it another way, “getting what you deserve.” In this relatively short speech, the words “deserved” and “deserve” were used nine times.

-“hope and change…is what Americans deserved
-“You deserved it because you worked harder…”
-“You deserved it because… [you] put in longer hours”
-“You deserve it because your family depended on you.”
-“We deserve better.”
-“my children deserve better”
-“my family deserves better”
-“my country deserves better”
-“Our children deserve it [a better future].”

Now, I realize that not everyone who reads this will be a Christian, or even believe the Bible. But if you are truly a Christian nothing should horrify you more than the idea of “getting what you deserve.” Christians are supposed to understand that what each and every person born into this world “deserves” is the wrath of the holy God. I know we like to pretend that we’re basically good people, but we’re not. We are all sinners.

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

Romans 3:10-12

When some politician stands up and starts telling you that you “deserve” hope, or change for the better, or a fair chance, or even a second chance, you had better reject that message as vain deceit.

Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.

Ephesians 5:6

You do not “deserve” good things – no matter how hard, or how many hours, you work. Neither our families, nor our country, nor the children that God has entrusted to our care deserve any blessing whatsoever. Our culture, our government, our schools, our homes, and, sadly, even our churches are not “worthy” of any sort of a better future. We are corrupt, wicked, and wretchedly sinful. That is Bible theology 101 – whether we like it or not!

As a Christian, I want absolutely no part of what I “deserve.” What I want is grace and mercy. If you ever hear someone even hinting that God’s blessings, His love, and His mercy and grace are things that you deserve, flashing red lights and loud blaring warning sirens should immediately be exploding behind your eyeballs. Grace and mercy – by definition – happen when God gives us what we DO NOT deserve and withholds from us what we DO deserve.

The same speech referenced above contained this sentence: “You deserved it because you worked harder than ever before during these years.” How un- (if not anti-) Christian! Muslims, Mormons, Hindus, and all sorts of other denominations and false religions believe that you can “earn” your way into God’s favor, but Biblical Christianity deals in truth. We had better start proclaiming the truth of what is going to happen to those to whom God gives a “recompense” (what they deserve) rather than grace and mercy.

For mine eyes are upon all their ways: they are not hid from my face, neither is their iniquity hid from mine eyes. And first I will recompense their iniquity and their sin double; because they have defiled my land, they have filled mine inheritance with the carcases of their detestable and abominable things.

Jeremiah 16:17-18 (emphasis added)

Snakes on a Plain (Part 2)

October 12, 2012 at 9:25 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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Snakes on a Plain: Snakes Produce Paranoia

Snakes Among the People

And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.

Numbers 21:6 (emphasis added)

These snakes were the result of the people’s sin. The Israelites didn’t want God’s way, and they didn’t want God’s Word.

And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.

Numbers 21:4-5 (emphasis added)

They showed their contempt for the manna God provided by calling it “this light bread.” I grew up drinking Kool-Aid. Good old-fashioned green Kool-Aid with lots of sugar in it.

My wife prefers Crystal Light. When she makes Crystal Light I say that “my soul loatheth this light Kool-Aid.” But the fact is, for God’s people in the wilderness, the manna was exactly what they needed – especially for traveling. They were remembering the heavy, spicy food they had gotten used to in Egypt, but were forgetting their bondage. Isn’t that what happens when God’s Word doesn’t suit our taste? When God’s way isn’t comfortable enough? We begin to grumble and complain and dispute – and the snakes of sin are released among the people.

Snakes Among the People: Snakes Produce Poison

These were fiery serpents. They were poisonous. Sin is like a poisonous snake. Everything is fine and fun, until you find one hiding where you least expect it. Satan chose the form of a serpent in the Garden of Eden because the serpent is subtle. It’s sneaky. It knows how to hide and wait, and how to ambush. Then the poison goes in its prey, and it affects the body and the mind.

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The venom of most poisonous snakes attacks the central nervous system. It causes the brain to stop telling the heart to beat. It’s the same with sin. That old wood pile looks fun – like a good place to play. That stand of trees with trails and streams looks inviting – but it’s outside our boundaries.

Sin will keep you longer than you wanted to stay
It will cost you more than you wanted to pay
It will teach you more than you wanted to know
And it will take you farther than you ever wanted to go

The first day of sin is the best day of sin. It’s all downhill after that. Trouble is easy to get into, but hard to get out of. The poisonous venom of the snakes among the people – these “snakes on a plain” – was deadly venom. There was no antivenin. It’s the same with sin.

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

Romans 5:12

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 6:23

There is a payment due for sin, and the payment is death.

So the people went to Moses and said, “We’ve got snakes on a plain, snakes among the people – what can we do!”

Moses prayed to God…

…and he prayed for the people. And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.

Numbers 21:7-8

God said the remedy – the only remedy – for snakes on a plain, for snakes among the people is…

The Snake on a Pole – which we will look at next time.

Certain Uncertainties

October 10, 2012 at 10:48 am | Posted in Selected Psalms | 4 Comments
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Psalm 102 is both penitential and Messianic. It was probably written during the “Exilic Period” – after the destruction of Jerusalem, when the majority of God’s people had been taken captive and exiled. It also seems to have in view the fulfillment of prophecies from the Book of Jeremiah.

Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come. For thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof.

Psalm 102:13-14

The psalmist of Psalm 102 starts off in uncertainty.

[A Prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the LORD.] Hear my prayer, O LORD, and let my cry come unto thee.

Psalm 102:1

Therefore, this Psalm is a good place to find certain things in an uncertain world. One of the reasons for the uncertainty of this world is that it is continually changing.

For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as an hearth. My heart is smitten, and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread.

Psalm 102:3-4

There are good times and there are bad times. Nobody knows what tomorrow holds – or even the rest of today. You might feel as strong and healthy as an ox, but the coffin that you will be buried in might be sitting at the local funeral home right now.

My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass.

Psalm 102:11

The Jewish people never really believed that God would allow the Babylonians to conquer them – but He did.

For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping,

Psalm 102:9

Their biggest “take-it-for-granteds” proved to be uncertain.

Because of thine indignation and thy wrath: for thou hast lifted me up, and cast me down.

Psalm 102:10

You might have a day where you feel like God picked you up and threw you in the trash. But take heart – there are some certain things in an uncertain world. The first one is:

The Word of God

But thou, O LORD, shalt endure for ever; and thy remembrance unto all generations. Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come.

Psalm 102:12-13 (emphasis added)

The “set time” may not be known, but that it will come has been promised by the Lord.

So the heathen shall fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth thy glory. When the LORD shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory.

Psalm 102:15-16

The fact of a set time has been promised, and the ultimate glory of the Lord among the heathen has been promised.

To declare the name of the LORD in Zion, and his praise in Jerusalem; When the people are gathered together, and the kingdoms, to serve the LORD.

Psalm 102:21-22

The fact that He will be worshiped has also been promised.

This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the LORD.

Psalm 102:18

These things are guaranteed to be revealed, even in an uncertain world:
-God’s compassion
-God’s covenant
-God’s glory
-God’s people

Those things are just as certain as though they have already happened, because God has given His Word – He’s even written it down. The promises of God are certain, and next time we will see that the Person of God is certain.

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