Consolation / Castastrophe

May 30, 2014 at 10:29 am | Posted in Two Sides to Every Comfort | 7 Comments
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The Bible has much to say about comfort, and comfort is something we all need, for none of us are above things like fear, depression, anxiety – even hopelessness. One of the many names that the Bible gives us for our God is “the God of all comfort.”

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy [our] brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia: Grace [be] to you and peace from God our Father, and [from] the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed [be] God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;

II Corinthians 1:1-3

“Comfort” is a word that comes from combining two other words. “Com” simply means “with” and “fort” means “strength.” For example, a military “fort” is supposed to be a position of safety and strength. Some types of foods are described as being “fortified,” which means they are strengthened with vitamins or minerals. We say someone who is courageous has “intestinal fortitude,” which colloquially means that he has “strong guts” (gross). So when the Bible says that God is the God of all comfort it is reminding us that the strength that we need – our “fortification” – will always come from God… which is, of course, a “comforting” thought. But it is also an often misunderstood thought.

Here is how it is misunderstood. We become frightened or confused or stressed out or panicked, and we want comfort. We remember that God is the God of all comfort, and we expect Him to show us comfort or to give comfort or to bring comfort in certain ways, but those ways do not at first always make us “feel” comforted. Therefore, we lose sight of God’s promises, and we begin to doubt God.

Look at what the next part of the passage from II Corinthians says:

Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.

II Corinthians 1:4-5

Words like “tribulation” and “trouble” and “suffering” don’t sound very comforting, but the Bible is reminding us that every comfort that comes from the God of all comfort has two sides to it. You may have heard the expression “two sides to every coin.” Bill Parcells, when he was Head Coach for the Dallas Cowboys, used to like to remind the media that “there is another side to that pancake,” expressing a similar sentiment. In this series of lessons I want to look at some of the specific “comforts” that God gives to us, and turn them over, and look at the flip side.

Consolation

And whether we be afflicted, [it is] for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, [it is] for your consolation and salvation. And our hope of you [is] stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so [shall ye be] also of the consolation.

II Corinthians 1:6-7

Consolation is a great gift from the God of all comfort, but we tend think of consolation as kind of the “loser’s prize.” A “consolation game” is where two competitors who have already lost and been eliminated from a tournament play each other without any real consequences riding on the outcome. Consolation is not like that with God. God’s consolation comes with real relief, real rescue, and real redemption.

However, there is a flip side to consolation:

Catastrophe

In order to experience true consolation, you have to first experience some kind of catastrophe – some kind of trouble that you can not get yourself out of in your own strength. We talk about “tragedy” and “accidents” and “mistakes,” forgetting that God is sovereign and that He ordains the catastrophe so that He may grant the consolation. Who would think of a catastrophe as bringing comfort? But be honest: When have you drawn closer to God than ever before in your life? In the good times or the bad times? And how are you going to share the consolation with which God has comforted you, unless you have been through the same catastrophe that someone else is going through? When catastrophe strikes, draw near to God, depend upon Him, and wait for Him to turn the page from catastrophe to consolation.

Beware the Freedom of the Foremost

May 27, 2014 at 12:17 pm | Posted in The Fives | Leave a comment
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There is a challenge in Jeremiah Chapter 5. Jeremiah was supposed to go through the streets of Jerusalem and find someone – anyone – who had been uncorrupted by the lies and unrighteousness in which God’s people had immersed themselves. If Jeremiah could find such a person, the Lord would stay His hand of chastisement and grant a pardon. Tragically, he was unsuccessful.

O Lord, are not thine eyes upon the truth? thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return.

Jeremiah 5:3

But Jeremiah was not finished. He had an idea that maybe the “common folk” were behaving the way they were because better could not be expected of them.

Therefore I said, Surely these are poor; they are foolish: for they know not the way of the Lord, nor the judgment of their God.

Jeremiah 5:4

So he decided to go look among the big shots of his society – the “great men” – thinking that, if anyone had reason to know the folly of turning from the Lord, it would be the religious leaders of what was supposed to be a religious nation.

I will get me unto the great men, and will speak unto them; for they have known the way of the Lord, and the judgment of their God: but these have altogether broken the yoke, and burst the bonds.

Jeremiah 5:5

Sadly, Jeremiah encountered even greater rebellion among the foremost men. They had seen themselves as rulers, but they had forgotten that they had over them an even greater Ruler. They had looked at the kind and loving and guiding hand of the Lord as a yoke of bondage, and, in foolishly trying to “break free” of His yoke, they would now learn what true bondage was like.

If you have been entrusted by God with any type of leadership responsibility – whether it be familial, ecclesiastical, or even related to your secular workplace – do not take this lightly. Remember, that the “freedom” to lead is always a conditional freedom. It is conditional on remembering that earthly leaders are under a greater leader to Whom we will ultimately give an account. Obedience and submission to this Leader are not grievous because His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

Confronting the Issue of Law and Gospel to Its Face

May 21, 2014 at 1:07 pm | Posted in Galatians | 2 Comments
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Galatians Chapter 2 references the Jerusalem Council that was documented in Acts 15. The main issue there was whether Christians had to be circumcised in adherence to Judaism before they could truly be considered Christians. Paul was very agitated about this because he had been going all around the country preaching salvation by grace through faith. That is the true Gospel, but the Jews had a hard time with this because of the emphasis which Judaism placed on separation from the gentiles. Furthermore, Peter had eaten with gentiles at Antioch, and then had withdrawn from their company when Jewish elders arrived.

The Judaizers who were trying to dilute the Gospel were “false brethren” motivated by Satan. They wanted to add works to faith. At the Council, Peter, John, and James all came squarely down on the “right side:” Christianity is one Spirit, one Salvation, one Savior, one Body. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

After Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation, several years later some of the Reformers would use these “solas” to describe what they believed: “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture Alone); “Sola Gratia” (Grace Alone); “Sola Fide” (Faith Alone); “Solus Christus” (Christ Alone); and “Soli Deo Gloria” (To God Alone Be Glory). These doctrines refuted the Roman Catholic tradition of faith-plus-works which was an error similar to that of the Judaizers in Paul’s day.

Paul’s argument used his ministry partner Titus as Exhibit 1. Titus was a gentile, he was uncircumcised, and he was a true Christian

But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:

Galatians 2:3-4

Galatians 2:6-10 are very uncharacteristic of the Holy Spirit’s writing through Paul. It is a passage which may be contrasted against Ephesians 1 where Paul goes on for 14 verses without a period, because he can’t stop praising God for how great salvation is. In Galatians 2:6-10 his frustration and anger made it so that the translators had to use parentheses because he can hardly stop interrupting himself! And much of this anger and frustration was caused by Peter.

But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.

Galatians 2:11

Peter should have known better.

But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?

Galatians 2:14

He seems to be saying, “You, Peter, are a Jew, and you know better than anyone that the Law can’t be kept in your own strength. How are you going to say we have to make the gentiles keep the Law?”

We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles,

Galatians 2:15

Paul and Peter had been born into families that had trained them since infancy to avoid sin.

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

Galatians 2:16

Those who understand the Gospel have the Truth – freedom in Christ Jesus – which is the only real freedom and the only salvation. No one was ever saved by doing works of the Law. Going all the way back to Abel, who was declared righteous by faith, on to those who participated in the sacrifices of the Old Covenant given through Moses, only those who reached into the future by faith and touched the Cross were saved. It is as if Paul were saying, “We must not now, even if it offends all our sensibilities, lead men to believe that the keeping of the Law is the means of salvation.” Note the “instrumental dative” in the Greek for the word “of” in Galatians 2:16. Even “our” faith (which should be demonstrated by works) is not sufficient. We would fall from grace if not for the faith of Christ.

A Three-Item To-Do List before Leaving Egypt Behind

May 19, 2014 at 2:07 pm | Posted in Exodus | 4 Comments
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Three important things happen at the end of Exodus Chapter 13.

1. God led the Israelites out of Egypt and toward the Red Sea.

Why did He not lead them directly toward their destination in the land of Canaan?

And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt:

Exodus 13:17

God knew that they were hardly ready to be brave, even after what He had done for them. He would be proven right many times. Let’s be thankful for the times when God seems to be leading us into a place away from our strength – in confusing or disorienting directions. It probably means He is protecting us from going back into our old bondage despite our deliverance from the slavery of sin.

2. Moses paused to pick up the bones of Joseph (Exodus 13:19).

Of all the great acts of faith of Joseph, Hebrews 11:22 says that he gave commandment concerning his bones, because he knew God would keep his Word and bring His people into the promised land. What evidence of God’s promises are we leaving for future generations, so they will know we lived what we claimed to believe? That we really trusted the Lord? It’s a good idea to leave behind an inheritance and family heirlooms, but a legacy of faithful service is probably the best thing we can leave to our children and grandchildren.

3. The Lord established how He would guide them.

And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.

Exodus 13:21-22

The pillar of fire at night would give light to the Israelites and leave the Egyptians in the dark. The pillar of cloud by day would give shade to the Israelites but not to their enemies. These pillars were types and shadows (literally) of Jesus Christ, but also a symbol of the Word of God. I hope you are using the Bible as your guide. It will show you the way God wants you to go. It will provide cover when the heat of persecution bears down on you. It will leave your enemies confounded and unable to trouble you.

Catechism Question 6

May 16, 2014 at 10:49 am | Posted in Children's Bible Catechism | 8 Comments
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Question 4: How was everything when God created it?
Answer: It was very good.
Prove it.
Genesis 1:31

Question 5: What went wrong with everything God created?
Answer: Sin brought the curse of death into the world.
Prove it.
Romans 5:12

Question 6: What is wrong with you?
Answer: I was born a sinner, and I have sinned against God.
Prove it.

Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Psalm 51:5

You may remember a popular television commercial from several years ago. A dad finds marijuana in his son’s room, and confronts him about it. Finding the son less than forthcoming, the dad demands in an angry self-righteous voice, “Where did you learn to do this?”

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This prompts the son to respond indignantly, “I learned it by watching you!”

When you tell your child that he or she is a sinner you will be violating every self-help book, counseling guideline, and child psychology tactic known to man concerning building up a child’s self-esteem. But you will also be obeying the Bible, so it must done. And like the sullen boy who blamed his drug use on his dad’s own example, you, too, may get the same question thrown back in your face. “I’m a sinner, you say? Well, what about you, Dad? What about you, Mom?”

And the only right response is, “Yes, me too. Everyone is a sinner.” Which is a great lead-in to be able to explain that no one can stop sinning on his or her own. It is in our fallen nature, and fallen sinners need help from God.

Other verses to consider:

And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart [is] evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.

Genesis 8:21

Foolishness [is] bound in the heart of a child; [but] the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.

Proverbs 22:15

Three Reasons for Ten Commandments (Reflective)

May 14, 2014 at 8:53 am | Posted in Exodus, Uncategorized | 9 Comments
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We have seen:

1. The Revelatory Purpose of the Ten Commandments
2. The Restrictive Purpose of the Ten Commandments

Now we will look at:

3. The Reflective Purpose of the Ten Commandments

Under the revelatory purpose I said that the Ten Commandments in a sense reveal (or reflect) the character of God. However, they reflect the other way, too, and I believe this is the main purpose of the Ten Commandments: The Commandments are God’s mirror to show us what we really look like.

Do you look in the mirror in the morning? I don’t like it, but I do it, because it tells me the truth about me – what’s on my face, what’s between my teeth, whether I accidentally grabbed a purple tie and green socks. The mirror does nothing to help me look better – except to show me the truth.

Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.

Romans 3:19

No one can look at the Ten Commandments honestly or even with partial honesty, and deny that he is guilty before God.

Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Romans 3:20

That’s why we use the Ten Commandments in evangelism. They let us hold up a mirror to lost sinners without us acting as their judge ourselves.

But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

Romans 3:21-23

When the Bible says that all have sinned, most people will see this as an excuse instead of an accusation. “Okay, I’m a sinner, but so is everyone else.” It’s not an excuse. We are people of unclean lips, but the fact that we are part of a group doesn’t excuse us. It makes things worse. We are not just sinners. We are part of a sinful race of people.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

Jeremiah 17:9

“The” heart is a universal subject. It means that everyone’s heart, apart from Christ, is like this. The Ten Commandments do not let us get away with those kinds of rationalizations. They are universally applicable, but they are also pointedly personal: thou shalt; thou shalt not.

God does not grade on a curve when it comes to sin, but even if He did, Jesus is the ultimate curve-breaker. He scored a perfect 100 on the “do not sin” test. The reflective purpose of the Ten Commandments is to show us our need for that perfect Savior, and to destroy any hope we might have in ourselves or in our own works.

Teach your children the Ten Commandments, but don’t teach them like a rule book. Teach them like a mirror. And make sure that you yourself have really looked into that mirror, as well. There’s no such thing as a “good person.” There are only wicked vile wretched worthless useless sinners, some of whom have been saved by the grace and mercy and love and blood and death and burial and resurrection of a good and a great Savior.

Beware the Flattened Fence

May 12, 2014 at 9:38 am | Posted in The Fives | 3 Comments
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God compared the kingdom of Judah to a vineyard. He had planted this vineyard Himself and given it every advantage. He had chosen the most fertile ground and the best vines. He removed the stones and built a strong tower in the midst of it. There was no legitimate reason why the vineyard should not have produced excellent grapes.

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But it didn’t. It produced “wild grapes:” grapes which were unfit for consumption, and which brought dishonor to the owner of the vineyard. This happened because of the disloyalty, disobedience, and egregious sin of God’s chosen people.

He had given them His promises, His prophets, His Word, His blessings, His victories, and poured out His Spirit upon several of their leaders. Yet they insisted on doing things their own way, and now there would be consequences.

And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down:

Isaiah 5:5

Vineyards in those days were bordered by hedges to keep out trespassers, marauders, and thieves.

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If the hedges fell into disrepair or were damaged, the vineyard was exposed to danger and would be destroyed. God was about to allow the hedges protecting Judah to be weakened, broken, and trampled down. The result would be severe chastening and destruction.

What has God planted in your life that is supposed to bring Him glory? Have you been given a Bible, a church, a family, a home? Food, shelter, clothes, health? If so, what has been your response to your Lord? Are you serving Him with passion, zeal, and faithfulness? Are you being a good steward over the vineyard of your life by giving Him praise, and by serving your neighbors in His name? Or is your life a cluster of “wild grapes” gathered for your own pleasure and squandered in your own vain winepress?

How often we hear Christians praying for “a hedge of protection” around our lives! We need to make sure that what we are asking God to protect is actually worth protecting according to His standards.

Warren Webster Said It Is Important to S.W.I.M. with a Few Individuals

May 9, 2014 at 10:09 am | Posted in Quotes | Leave a comment
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If I had my life to live over again, I would live it to change the lives of people, because you have not changed anything until you’ve changed the lives of people… Instead of of going through life like a pebble skimming the surface of a pond, we need to sink deep into the lives of a few individuals.

Warren Webster

Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.

II Timothy 2:2

How to Read the Bible (and Get Something out of It): Part 3

May 7, 2014 at 9:52 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Previously I discussed some of the exciting things about reading the Bible. Be patient with the Bible. Some sections are like a torrid novel (there are even some scandalous passages!), but some parts are more like the terse outline in a study guide for a history exam. Other sections are beautiful poetry. Take some time to figure out what genre you are reading. The Bible has an unlimited depth. The more you learn, the more you will want to know. And the more you want to know, the more fascinated you will be. Here are some practical tips for getting more out of your Bible-reading:

1. Remember the truthfulness of it.

Thy word [is] true [from] the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments [endureth] for ever.

Psalm 119:160

The Bible is unique in this respect. It is absolutely true in every circumstance and situation. It is the Word of God, and God cannot lie, and He cannot change. Therefore, His Word cannot be wrong, and it does not become outdated. Everything else you hear is susceptible to being (and often is) a lie. The Bible is the “verily verily” of God – the “true truth.” You can depend on it and rely on it, even when everything around you and “common sense” seems to indicate otherwise.

… yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.

Romans 3:4

2. Reacquaint yourself with God in it.

Some people only have a second-hand knowledge of God. You know Him through your parents. You know Him through sermons. Your main experience of Him is through praise and worship. It’s time you get to know Him better – in the Bible.

According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that [pertain] unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:

II Peter 1:3

We know that God is loving, just, merciful, gracious, wise, and powerful, because He tells us these things about Himself, and He has recorded Himself demonstrating these things in the Bible. Can you imagine your spouse, child, or favorite person in the world giving you a letter telling you their most important thoughts, and telling you what they are truly like, and you don’t bother to read it? God has demonstrated His love and His care for us in the highest way conceivable. How can we not want to find out as much as we can about Him?

These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

Acts 17:11

3. Recognize yourself in it.

The seeker-sensitive cliche’ “it’s not about you” is true, in a sense. But in another sense, it is about you. The Bible is where we learn how we got here and what our reason for existing is. A good hermeneutic principle to follow is to picture yourself as the sinner in every Bible story you read.

And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is [the book] of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

Revelation 20:11-15 (emphasis added)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

John 3:16 (emphasis added)

You are in the Bible in one of those two verses. If you are truly a Christian, then you are a “whosoever” in John 3:16. If you have never trusted Christ as your Savior, then you remain one of the “whosoevers” in Revelation 20:15, and I plead with you to ask the Lord to change your status today.

Grace vs. Works

May 5, 2014 at 9:29 am | Posted in Galatians | 1 Comment
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Galatians is a book which addresses the issue of grace versus works.

Grace = Liberty
Works = Bondage

Grace = Cooperation
Works = Competition

Grace = God gets the glory
Works = Man gets the glory

Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;) And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia: Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Galatians 1:1-5

This is an exceptionally terse greeting for Paul, in the form of a short doxology, but it is very important – especially Verse 5: “To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” That is not a “throwaway line,” because God’s glory is key to the true Gospel.

Of all the major world religions, Christianity stands alone as the only one that acknowledges the truth that sinners can not merit God’s favor through good works. True Christians are going to Heaven, but not on their own own merit. They are going to Heaven on the merits of Another: Jesus Christ the Righteous.

The enemies of the Gospel in Galatia were the Judaizers. They opposed the Gospel and Paul by: perverting, reverting, and deserting. They were trying to pervert the true Gospel by mixing in works-based requirements along with grace and faith. They were trying to revert back to what they believed was the Old Covenant system. They were deserting Christ Himself in favor of false teachers. Judaism and Christianity can’t be mixed. Grace and works can’t be mixed. Liberty and legalism can’t be mixed.

The Apostle Paul distinguished himself from the false teachers as he sought to please Christ, not men.

For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.

Galatians 1:13-14

Paul’s conversion teaches us these truths:

1. God saves egregious sinners.
2. Salvation happens instantly.
3. Salvation results in a real change.
4. There will be an outward change, but it is always the result of an inward change.
5. Salvation is for a purpose:
a. The purpose of glorifying God
b. The purpose of helping others

And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not…

Jeremiah 45:5

What motivates you to serve God? Your own good? Or God’s glory?

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