From Feeding to Fearing to Following to Failing

July 11, 2019 at 10:19 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten.

John 6:13

The miracle of Jesus feeding the multitude with fish and bread was just that: a miracle. It was not the result of some ethical guilt-trip whereby Jesus shamed the crowd with the little boy’s example into graciously sharing their own lunches so that everybody got a little bit to eat, nor was it some type of David Copperfield-style illusion where the Disciples formed a hidden bucket brigade from a nearby cave to Jesus, hands behind His back, while He made the illusion of multiplying loaves and fish. No, this was a true SUPERNATURAL miracle, and was understood as such by all who were present.

Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.

John 6:14

The reference to “that prophet” was from the Torah – the one who would replace Moses. They believed the teaching of some rabbis who said that this prophet would be known by his ability to duplicate the miracle of the manna (bread) from Heaven.

When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.

John 6:15

The Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Tiberias, was in a concave place, surrounded by higher ground and “mountains.” The Disciples, leaving Jesus, entered a ship and started across the sea, which, because of the geography, was notorious for sudden and violent storms. Few things were more terrifying to a First Century Jewish person than a raging sea, which to them represented chaos and turmoil and loss of control and judgment. And, sure enough, their fears began to be realized:

And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew. So when they had rowed about five and twenty or thirty furlongs, they see Jesus walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the ship: and they were afraid.

John 6:18-19

This was a distance a little less than three and a half miles, and they weren’t making good progress because they were rowing against storm. Often overlooked in Bible studies about Jesus and His Disciples is the terror that came upon even the people who knew Jesus best when He let His Deity show. It is tough to convey the real sense of fear you or I would feel upon seeing a human being actually step out onto a lake and walk on top of the water. Jesus encouraged them not to be scared, and they probably changed from fear to welcoming him aboard.

It’s hard to miss the symbolism here:

Then they willingly received him into the ship: and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went.

John 6:21

When we recognize our sin against God, we might be afraid – certainly afraid to face Him – but then He makes it so that we “willingly” receive Him, and “immediately” we are home (in the sense of our status of becoming part of His family, though not actually in Heaven yet). This is the “already/not yet” nature of salvation – the Ebenezer/Jehovah Jireh – “The Lord has brought us this far, so He will always provide.”

The day following, when the people which stood on the other side of the sea saw that there was none other boat there, save that one whereinto his disciples were entered, and that Jesus went not with his disciples into the boat, but that his disciples were gone away alone; (Howbeit there came other boats from Tiberias nigh unto the place where they did eat bread, after that the Lord had given thanks:) When the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, neither his disciples, they also took shipping, and came to Capernaum, seeking for Jesus.

John 6:22-24

The people were exerting a great deal of effort to seek Jesus, but they were seeking Him at the lower level of “rabbi,” rather than the true level of “Lord.”

And when they had found him on the other side of the sea, they said unto him, Rabbi, when camest thou hither? Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.

John 6:25-26

Those who are truly seeking a destination are not satisfied with a sign that points to the destination.

Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?

John 6:27-28

Just as Jesus had told the Samaritan woman at the well about living water/eternal life, now He mentioned meat which would provide everlasting life. God had “sealed” Jesus – had placed upon Him an indelible and ineradicable anointing and ordination as the only One who could dispense eternal life. The people listening to Jesus wanted to know, “What shall we DO?” There has always been resistance to the idea that salvation is all of God and is found in what Christ has DONE, not what human beings can or should “do.”

Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work? Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.

John 6:29-32

They had faith in Moses, but they missed the “sign”ificance of Moses, and settled for life-sustaining bread, rather than eternal-life-giving Bread.

The Insidious Appeal to Superficial Excitement

June 14, 2019 at 10:17 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Back in the hey-day of the so-called “seeker sensitive movement,” churches tried all sorts of embarrassing promotional methods to “reach people where they are.” Programs (disguised under the name “outreach” in many cases), modeled on successful business-growth strategies, were instituted to try to make church services as innocuous and “un-church-like” as possible, so that lost people would feel entertained or a least comfortable enough to attend. Numbers went up, but true conversions and sanctification did not.

This strategy has now been denounced by some of its key founders, but it has not died completely, and it has been adopted in surprisingly subtle and devious (and patently unbiblical) ways. One area where it has recently seen a resurgence is in so-called “survivor” or “recovery” start-up ministries. These ministries are often led by a charismatic individual with some type of character-scandal in his past that would disqualify him from leading a sound Biblical church. A good example of this is a man named “Pastor” Greg Locke, whose rants I often see posted on the social media accounts of otherwise discerning Christians. I used the scare quotes around “pastor” because I don’t believe he’s qualified to be an actual pastor, having left his wife for his church secretary. Locke has hit on a successful formula, though. Using what appears to be his cell phone, he often makes vain “selfie videos,” with his face close-up in the screen, touching on hot-button political or cultural issues like gender-neutral bathrooms or millennial kids who badmouth their own parents. He is absolutely fanatical in his devotion to President Trump, and thereby appeals to a group of people who love conservative politics as much as or more than Jesus.

Whereas the original seeker-sensitive methods targeted the “unchurched,” this new variation goes after other churches’ members. They will try to lure away an existing church’s assistant or associate pastor, looking for someone who’s disgruntled, overly proud and stubborn, and resistant to the senior pastor’s authority, but still weaselly enough to make it seem like he’s getting a raw deal as he pouts off to adopt some sort of “co-pastor” title under the stronger, more manipulative leader of the new recovery ministry.

Once that has been done, the members of the assistant pastor’s former church will be systemically targeted and lured away into this new ministry. The method for convincing church members that the grass is greener is to make it seem like the new start-up ministry is more “exciting,” more “alive” than where they are. As I mentioned in a previous post, it helps if the leaders can claim special private revelations from God authorizing their behavior. Next, they will pull out the old “dead religion” card. “Is your church boring? We will really hoot and holler in our services! Does your preacher just preach from the Bible, trusting the Word of God, rather than raw emotionalism, to change people’s lives? Not us! Our preacher will run around, waving his arms, and even stand on a chair [ignoring the fact that he does it so predictably every time he preaches that it’s obviously staged for effect]. Look, we’ve dropped our former denomination’s name from our ministry title, because it carries ‘baggage’ in the minds of wishy-washy non-serving Christians! We don’t even use the word church in our name!”

This new ministry targets supposedly “hurting people in the pew” of other churches, so it has to really play up to the squishy “church-is-about-my-feelings” crowd. Sure, the terminology is dressed up in cliched Christianese, but it’s fairly easy to spot for anyone with Biblical discernment. Here are some examples:

1. “At our services, God will touch your heart.”
Number of times “touched my heart” is the Bible: 0

2. “At our services, the Lord will speak to your spirit.”
Number of times the Bible says that the Lord spoke to someone’s spirit: 0

3. “At our services the Holy Spirit will wrap his arms around you.”
Number of times in the Bible that the Holy Spirit wrapped His arms around anyone: 0

4. “At our services, the Holy Spirit shows up in a special way.”
Number of times the Bible describes the Holy Spirit in a post-Pentecost New Testament worship service as showing up in a special way: 0

5. “At our services the preacher gets a hold of God.”
Number of times the Bible describes a preacher getting a hold of God: 0
[What this really means is that the preacher starts his sermon by telling the congregation to open their Bibles to a Bible verse, but then goes on a long tirade or series of personal anecdotes without ever actually exegeteing the verse. He will also, for dramatic effect, claim that, “I’ve been working on a message for several days, but the Holy Spirit just won’t let me preach it. He just now gave me this instead…”]

 

 

 

It’s a formula that sadly works on many weaker church members, inducing them to leave a church with a high view of Scripture and the real transforming work of the Holy Spirit, for a fake sideshow of manufactured enthusiasm, featuring a carnival barker masquerading as a preacher, serving up heavy doses of people-pleasing pablum to folks who would rather be entertained than equipped to serve.

The Competition

June 7, 2019 at 10:17 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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In a previous post I looked at the importance of the word “for” which begins the well-known verse, John 3:16. There is another “for” which continues building on these ideas in the next verse.

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

John 3:17

In what sense will Jesus – Who we know has been given all authority in Heaven and in earth, including the authority (Matthew 28:18: “all power”) to judge and condemn (Acts 17:31) – not condemn? Answer: In the sense that those who do not believe on Him are condemned already.

He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

John 3:18

After cleansing the Temple in Jerusalem, and after His encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus and His disciples went out into the Judean countryside.

After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized.

John 3:22

This makes it sound like Jesus was personally baptizing people, but:

(Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,)

John 4:2

It seems likely that Jesus authorized His Disciples to baptize new converts, but did not actually do the baptizing with His own hands. The Apostle Paul often left the actual baptizing to others as well (I Corinthians 1:14).

Jesus, in His earthly ministry, fulfilled, but also exceeded, the Old Testament types which pointed to Him.

Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying.

John 3:25

Jesus had exceeded the Old Testament Tabernacle and Temple water pots when He changed the water into wine at the wedding in Cana. He had exceeded the Old Testament locations of worship as the meeting place between man and God as demonstrated when He cleansed the Temple. He fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy of the necessity of the water-spirit birth as He preached to Nicodemus. Now a specific group of Jews, possibly led by one man, questioned John’s practice of baptizing for ritual cleansing those who were already Jewish by birth, custom, and faith, and, as a part of their challenge, they saw an opportunity to try to drive a wedge of division between John the Baptist and Jesus.

And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.

John 3:26

The phrase “all men come to Him” is a provocative exaggeration. Obviously not “ALL” men were going to Jesus, nor had “ALLmen gone to Him instead of John, but the numbers were changing. Jesus’s ministry was growing and John’s was shrinking.

How competitive are you? Just as one spouse is often introverted and the other extroverted; just as one is often neat and the other messy; just as one is often extravagant and the other a tightwad: often the Lord will put together one competitive spouse and one who could care less about “winning.” Do you love to win? Do you hate to lose? Are you happy for others when they succeed where you have failed? Does it bother you that people might think poorly of you in comparison to someone else? Somebody thought that John the Baptist might experience a couple of these reactions when confronted with the rising influence of Jesus’s ministry over his, so they decided to confront him about it.

Competition is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. Sporting contests just aren’t much fun unless both sides are trying to win – to beat the other side. However, as shown in I Corinthians, competition in Christian ministry can be a dangerous and damaging thing. Soulwinning is not a contest. Who has the “best” Sunday School class probably should not be a competition. But human nature, which since the Fall has a strong bent toward pride, likes to be first, to get attention, to get credit, to feel superior – so you can’t look at this group of Jewish instigators and think, “Did they REALLY suppose John the Baptist would be jealous of Jesus??” Even reading it today, we catch ourselves thinking that we couldn’t totally blame him if he was – but remember:

For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.

Luke 7:28

Jesus didn’t say this about John as a form of flattery. Here was John’s response to the suggestion that Jesus was better than Him:

John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.

John 3:27

This may seem to you, in the cold analytical light of merely academic Bible study, to be something of a “duh” statement. In a universe ruled over by a sovereign omnipotent God, OF COURSE we only get what He gives… and we don’t get anything He DOESN’T give us, but does this (true) maxim hold a central place in our minds “all day, every day?” Possibly not. Otherwise we would never get jealous, and we would always only rejoice when something good happens to HIM or HER, and something “bad” happens to ME. Jeremiah 9:23 and I Corinthians 4:7 remind us to ask: “Why do I glory in wisdom or might if they are only gifts?” Every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of Lights (James 1:17).

Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.

John 3:28

Although John was known as the Baptizer, he could call anyone who had listened to his preaching as a witness to answer the question: “What has been the main thrust of my ministry? What I am all about?” If honest, they would have had to answer that John’s main message was: “The Messiah is coming, and He’s now here, and I’m not Him.”

This would be a great motivation in our evangelism. Any time we go to visit someone who does not know Jesus we can tell them, “I’m the one who came to see you, but I didn’t come to tell you about myself, and I want you to meet someone else that I hope you will soon know, love, worship, and obey. You will like Him a lot better than me, and that’s exactly what I want!”

He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.

John 3:29

Can you imagine the best man at a wedding trying to steal the bride, or being angry once the couple says their “I do”s? John’s job was almost done, and he had done it in a great way. He had been successful. His mission was fulfilled, so he was full of joy. That’s why we mustn’t read the next verse as melancholy resignation:

He must increase, but I must decrease.

John 3:30

John was not bummed out. He was stating a fact, and he was celebrating the accomplishment of a great momentous occasion.

Poisoning the Wells

May 30, 2019 at 10:38 am | Posted in Social Media Shares and Mass Emails, Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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“Poisoning the well” is a term that refers to the attempt to strike first in an argument by creating a false dichotomy in which anyone who disagrees with a position has been labeled as having ill motives or some character defect by which they should be prejudged and should have their position disregarded. It is a type of logical fallacy – a sort of ad hominem attack-in-advance, and is often used – especially on social media – by those who are overly defensive and passive-aggressive. Here are some examples in the context of someone who is trying to start a new Christian ministry by attacking and dividing an existing one:

1. “We should pray for people, not criticize them.” This statement is intended to create the false and illogical assumption that anyone that criticizes anyone else’s ministry or ministry position can not be praying for them at the same time when, in fact, prayer, correction, and even rebuke, often go hand in hand in the Bible, and were often used by Jesus and the Apostles themselves (Luke 9:29, 55; Jude vv.17-20).

2. “I’m too busy praying about my sins to gossip about yours.” This piece of self-righteous drivel combines hypocrisy with virtue signaling. You are “too busy” to gossip, but not too busy to graphically design a sophisticated social media meme every day in order to proclaim your piety in comparison to your critics, who you’ve prejudged as idle gossips? This imaginary get-out-of-pride-free-card insults not only the motives, but the intelligence, of those with the ability to address division and false doctrine in a Biblical way. This is the equivalent of a spoiled elementary school brat folding his arms, pooching out his pouty lower lip, and saying, “If I criticize you it’s because I’m a humble and deeply repentant servant, but if you criticize me it’s because you’re just a mean old gossip-monger!” Double standard much?

3. “Some people just like to find fault!” Not the person who says this, though, right? Certainly this innocuous and bland statement of practical observation is not directed at those who are criticizing your methods and ministry, is it? Because if it were, then you would be quite the little fault-finder yourself, wouldn’t you? News flash: people who are serious about applying God’s Word in Christian ministry are capable of spotting, identifying, calling out, and warning against fault without “liking” it one bit. In fact, it grieves them to do so, although it is a clear Biblical calling for those with discernment (Matthew 16:22-23; II Timothy 2:14-19).

4. And, speaking of “calling,” a common tactic for those who are very selective in their use of “D words” while poisoning one ministry’s wells in the attempt to start a new ministry is to claim a divine mandate that overrides any opposing views. Among our Charismatic friends, this is called “having the anointing” or “getting a rhema word.” The Roman Catholic church calls it “papal infallibility” or “speaking ex cathedra.” Even the Blues Brothers adopted a form of it:

Blues Bros

But in Baptist and more conservative evangelical circles, those types of statements are deemed just a tad too outre’, so instead they are disguised under statements like: “God gave me this burden;” “God told me to start a new church;” “God laid it on my heart;” “God gave me this vision,” and so forth. Who are you to criticize God? This poisons the well of Biblical debate and criticism because it claims a special divine revelation to which only one party is conveniently privy. What if the Bible says you are disqualified from the title you’ve given yourself? Too bad, God told me it was okay. What if you are in rebellion against God’s visibly ordained pre-existing spiritual leaders? Too bad, God spoke to my heart, I’m just an aw-shucks country preacher trying to start a sketchy seeker-sensitive “temple,” “chapel,” or “worship center” (the best marketing studies show that flaky Christians absolutely hate the word “church”) in the local strip mall. How dare you question God’s anointed!

Things God Prepared in the Book of Jonah: A Worm and a Wind

May 24, 2019 at 10:34 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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In the Book of Jonah:

1. God prepared a great fish.
2. God prepared a gourd.
and
3. God prepared a worm.

Jonah was glad for the gourd that God prepared to provide shade, but he did not take advantage of the opportunity to repent. Therefore, the next morning God prepared a worm to take away Jonah’s shelter.

But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.

Jonah 4:7

Compared to the great fish which God had prepared to swallow Jonah, a little gourd-blighting worm seems like such a small consequence, but Jonah needed to be reminded just how inconsequential even God’s “greatest” servants are once they forget how great their God is and how truly dependent upon Him they really are. The Bible calls Job, David, and the patriarch Jacob and the nation descended from him worms. I have found, when preparing to preach the Gospel in public that Jonah 4:7 (“…God prepared a worm…”) is good verse upon which to meditate, as a reminder that what I’m about to attempt – proclaiming the glory of the Savior – is something at which I will fail miserably unless God manifests His own power through – or even in spite of – me.

4. God prepared a wind.

And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.

Jonah 4:8

Finding himself without shade on a scorching day, we might expect that a stiff breeze would bring Jonah at least a little relief, but it was not so with this special prepared vehement wind blowing in with the heat from the rising sun, and taking away all of Jonah’s strength to the point that he wished to die. Under extreme duress, God’s servants sometimes need a realistic experience of the fear of literal death to remind them of the necessity of dying to self spiritually in order live in the power of God. We tend to think of death as an ending, but God sometimes uses the death of self-confidence, self-reliance, and self-sufficiency to prepare us for a new beginning on the road to spiritual victory.

 

Things God Prepared in the Book of Jonah: A Fish and a Gourd

May 7, 2019 at 5:07 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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1. God prepared a great fish.

Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Jonah 1:17

After experiencing a terrifying storm and being thrown overboard, it must have seemed to Jonah like things were going from bad to worse. We don’t know if he was bobbing quietly on the surface of the newly-calm sea, watching his former ship leave him in its wake, or if he was thrashing violently in the classic non-swimmer’s panic, or if he was simply plummeting like a stone toward both the figurative and literal depths of his despair, but it can hardly have been a comforting feeling to see a huge fish rushing toward him, mouth agape, to consume him whole! Yet the vehicle of his doom also turned out to be the means of his salvation. This fish had been prepared by God to trap Jonah, but also to preserve him; to teach him a lesson, but also transport him to safety. When the Lord sends something distressing, destructive, or downright devouring into your life, don’t lose hope. If you belong to Christ, then the storms that appear to pose the worst danger have often been prepared by God to strengthen your faith, teach you some important truth, and make you more like Jesus. At times like these, turn to prayer, repentance, patience, temperance, and even praise to demonstrate your trust in the One Who can cause you to be swallowed up and then spit out on the side of victory, even when all seems lost.

2. God prepared a gourd.

And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.

Jonah 4:6

Jonah was not happy. In fact, he was both sullen and angry that the Lord would show mercy to a group of people that Jonah despised. He sat down in something of a pout to watch what God do to the city where his own preaching had resulted in repentance. The plant which quickly grew to provide much-needed shade for Jonah’s head had been prepared by God. It is in God’s nature to sometimes comfort those who are grieving, even when their grief is very misguided and founded on the wrong basis. When God, despite His prerogative to send chastening rather than blessing in response to our sin, decides to bless us anyway, we must seize upon that opportunity to repent. The option to humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord is a much more favorable option than having Him be the one to humble us.

Next time we will look at two more things God prepared in the Book of Jonah.

Less-Popular D Words: Disgruntled and Disobedient

May 2, 2019 at 4:49 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Christians are not surprised – or at least they ought not to be surprised – when Christ, His Gospel, and the Bible are rejected by modern culture and society. This does not mean, however, that Christians should let their guard down regarding worldly influences affecting the Church. For example, it is no secret that “victim mentality” is the driving force in a vast majority of current social issues, politics, and legislation. If you can find someone else to blame for your problems or your perceived lack of advantage, then you can play the victim and elicit sympathy disguised as justice or fairness.

How does this manifest itself as influence on Christian ministry, though? One way is in the prevalence of so-called “recovery” or “survivor ministries” (these being euphemisms for victim in many cases). If you are under the authority of a local Christian church – and all Christians should be – but you find it difficult to submit to authority, or if things aren’t going exactly to your liking, then your options can seem pretty limited: (1) leave church (sadly, this is the route seized upon by many); or (2) start your own church or ministry.

Now, at this point, you may be thinking, what about option 3? I could just find another church. That’s true… UNLESS you have been in a position of leadership at your current or recently-former church, and leaving your current church for an already-established church would mean humbling yourself and serving from a non-leadership position under the preaching and teaching of another leader (especially if you think you have received some sort of special “calling” or if you think you are too smart, too gifted, and too special to be under the authority of someone you think is less smart, less gifted, and less special than you are).

So, there it is, you are stuck with option 2 above: You anoint yourself as pastor, leader, preacher, minister, or whatever, and start recruiting. But where will you find yourself a ready-made congregation, or at least a good prospect-list of likely recruits? Why, among the victims, of course. As a victim yourself, you can really relate to each other. And don’t limit your new flock to just one “D” word: “D“isgruntled. Be creative. Have you been told that you are “D“isqualified from ministry because you are “D“ivorced? Great! There are bound to be some divorced folks out there that feel “judged” because they haven’t been allowed to serve in as high a position as they would like where they are currently serving. Maybe you have a history of “D“rug abuse or “D“epression or “D“omestic abuse or a “D“ependency on “D“rinking alcohol. How many nominal church members out there have sore feelings because they have heard someone in their own church lovingly, but firmly, preach what the Bible has to say about those things? Maybe you can entice them to jump ship! [Pro tip: Look out for people whose political views are the real motivating factor behind which types of church leaders they want to serve under. They are usually easy to spot because their social media posts about their favorite president and political party outnumber their posts about Jesus by about 10 to 1.]

Now, let me pause for a moment here to state clearly that I am thankful that Christ forgives all types of sinners and all kinds of sins. I am thankful whenever a divorced person, a former drug addict, someone with a scandalous past, or a person who has overcome any type of spiritual battle, is able to serve in church and even be recognized with some type of official ministry position. However, we are talking here about the qualifications of church leadership positions described in I Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6-7, which state that a bishop (pastor) needs to be “blameless,” meaning above reproach: not subject to being called out for past behavior in the context of a history of leadership that hurt people to the extent that there is a scandal that could still be reasonably brought up.

Okay, back to the point: When, as a Christian who feels like a victim, you are recruited by a disgruntled pastor with a personal ax to grind, beware. A new ministry founded on shared feelings of “D“issatifaction, “D“isappointment, and unresolved “D”isputes, will turn into a hotbed of bitterness, bad doctrine, and darkness faster than you can say, “Finally, I’ve found a place where they will tell me that ‘grace’ means that it doesn’t matter how my behavior affects others!”

Remember, there are many D words which stand for things that nobody likes to have held against them, but, Biblically speaking, as a “D“isciple of Jesus Christ, these D words are more far more significant:

1. Don’t disobey God’s commands (John 14:15; Ephesians 5:6; I John 5:2-3).
2. Don’t doubt the Word of God (I Timothy 2:8).
3. Don’t divide the body of Christ through slander, gossip, and factions (Romans 16:17; I Corinthians 3:3-7).
4. Don’t disrupt fellowship among believers (Galatians 5:13-15).
5. Don’t distract new believers from drawing closer to Christ (Matthew 18:4-7).
6. Don’t devise schemes that lead people into sin (Psalm 35:20; Proverbs 16:28-30).
7. Don’t destroy, in a fit of pique, the testimony that you have worked hard to establish (Ecclesiastes 10:1; James 1:20).
8. Don’t disgrace the work of the ministry by making it seem like a means of personal recognition or gain. (I Corinthians 9:18).
9. Don’t depart from God-ordained authority just because you don’t feel like submitting (Hebrews 13:17; I Thessalonians 5:12-13).

Three Questions and Three Answers

April 12, 2019 at 1:31 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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The Apostle Paul’s salvation testimony is recorded at least three times in Scripture (Acts 9, 22:1-16, 26:1-23), but it is possible that Paul had the dialogue that occurred between Jesus and him on the road to Damascus in mind when the Holy Spirit inspired him to write II Corinthians 5:19-20. There are three answers there to three questions asked in Acts 9:4-6.

Q. Why are you persecuting me? (Acts 9:4)
A. Because I am your unreconciled enemy. (II Corinthians 5:19)

The Lord Jesus asked this question to Paul (still Saul at that time) because Paul was a sworn enemy of Christ and His followers. Although it is unlikely that you were a Jewish bounty hunter of Christians before you met Jesus, the fact is, in our sinful state, we were at enmity with God, and our treasonous trespasses against Him as our unacknowledged King would have been more than sufficient cause for Him to justly destroy us. However, as in the case of Paul, He was merciful. He made a way in Christ Jesus for the enmity to be slain, and for us to be reconciled to Him as we surrendered and received the adoption of sons. Now He has given to us the ministry of reconciliation, so that we might exhort others to cease their persecution of our loving Lord and join His family, too.

Q. Who are You, Lord? (Acts 9:5)
A. I AM the One in Whom dwells God – God manifest in the flesh. (II Corinthians 5:19)

Paul answered Jesus’s question with a question of his own, but, in so doing, accidentally referenced the Lordship of Jesus, the God-man, fully human and fully divine, with not only the willingness, but the ability as well, to grant full pardon, forgiveness, and reconciliation: to make, in an instant, one of His worst enemies into God’s own child.

Q. What do You want me to do? (Acts 9:6)
A. Be My ambassador. (II Corinthians 5:20)

Paul went immediately from complete defiance of Jesus to total submission. Reconciliation between sinful men and the holy God can never be accomplished through our performance of tasks or our attempts at obeying His commands, but it is accomplished by the perfect obedience of the Son of God, His sacrificial death, and the gracious gift of saving faith. Once we have received this gift, we seize upon the privilege to obey Him and the awesome responsibility to represent Him in this world as His appointed ambassadors, preaching the “word of reconciliation.”

Marriage Should Not be Sterile

December 3, 2018 at 3:22 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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In previous lessons in this series on Isaiah 62:1-4, I said that marriage should not be secret, static, spurious, or somber. Now will see that marriage should not be sterile.

Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for the LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married.

Isaiah 62:4

For God’s people, desolation would become “Beulah.” Fruitlessness can become fruitful marriage – often (but not necessarily) with children and grandchildren, but, even more so, with the fruit of the Spirit. Fruit brings happiness to the bearers and the consumers, and joy when shared. Joy and God’s glory should be the “product” – like the fruit in the “produce” section of a supermarket – of our marriages.

It is certain that a major part of the original dominion mandate – God’s pronouncement about marriage in the first marriage – was that child-bearing (fruitfulness, the fruit of the womb, not the Fruit of the Loom, that’s a different lesson, just “kidding,” no pun intended) was the responsibility of spouses who want to honor God. Does this mean that married couples who cannot conceive children, or who are past the age of child-bearing, or who have made the decision (often with the assistance of some type of pre-conception surgical intervention) not to have any more children are failing God by living on the “desolate” rather than the “Beulah” side of His favor? No! Certainly your life as a married person – and as a married couple – can still be very fruitful. Make your marriage about producing SPIRITUAL fruit to the glory of God. Win souls. Make disciples. Plant seeds in the lives of unbelievers. Pull out weeds of sin and and distraction. Water the soil with tears of compassion in your prayers. Consider adoption. Consider investing in the lives of your grandchildren or other people’s children. Encourage other married couples in the Lord. Be a blessing in the name of Jesus wherever you go and whatever you do.

God proclaims fruitfulness in general as a blessing.

Thou shalt be blessed above all people: there shall not be male or female barren among you, or among your cattle.

Deuteronomy 7:14

He proclaims fruitfulness as a source of joy in the HOME.

He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. Praise ye the LORD.

Psalm 113:9

He proclaims fruitfulness as fulfillment and strength.

As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.

Psalm 127:4-5

The world says a happy marriage is insular – that’s it’s peaceful and that no internal problems or conflict between the spouses disturb it. That’s nice when it happens, but God wants the happiness to spread out and multiply – to ENGAGE the world and to ADVANCE God’s Kingdom in it.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

November 26, 2018 at 1:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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The well-known Incarnation celebration hymn, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” was first written by Charles Wesley, and later changed by George Whitefield, who changed the first line from, “Hark, how all the welkin ring,” to “Hark, the herald angels sing.” This changed the emphasis from the regeneration of the natural world, including inanimate creation, to the regeneration of mankind, God’s image-bearing creation.

The word “hark” does not appear in the Bible, but it is a shortened form of “hearken,” which does appear in 150 verses. For example,

Who among you will give ear to this? who will hearken and hear for the time to come?

Isaiah 42:23

Hearken means to listen closely, to listen with intensity and purpose, and with the intention of responding to what is heard. It is a great word to use in connection with the Annunciation: the announcement of the birth of Christ. Only those with “ears to hear” had been listening to the prophecies in the Word of God for centuries and centuries. Now was the time to hearken with joy, for faith to become sight AND to become audible.

The angels are called “herald” angels, and they were announcing good news. Before the internet, television, or even newspapers, the “town herald” heralded good news. The word “angel” means “the deliverer of news,” and, in the case of the EvANGELion, the greatest news of all.

Bless the Lord, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word.

Psalm 103:20 (emphasis added)

The angels who announced the good news (“good tidings“) of “great joy” were angels which had hearkened, and which must be hearkened unto.

“Hark, the herald angels SING.” Singing, in the Bible, is often a sign of joy.

Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;

Ephesians 5:19

New Testament singing is a gift of encouragement. The angels weren’t content to make a simple spoken announcement. This was an event worthy of sublime poetry in beautiful song.

“GLORY to the newborn King.”

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Luke 2:14

Glory” is the weight of God’s attributes. It also speaks of His renown. It is His greatness showing forth – being revealed and made known. It is extreme. We like knowing that He is a powerful, transcendent, glorious God, but His glory also makes us “sore afraid.”

The phrase, “glory to the newborn King,” is a striking paradox, for this King was God, but how could the eternal God be “newborn?” This was a proclamation that God had become man – still God, but now adding humanity to Himself in order to accomplish the redemption of His fallen creatures, now His kinsmen: His own “race.”

And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.

Acts 17:6-7

It took people a while to realize the full meaning of the announcement that the King had arrived as a newborn baby, but, once it was understood, the Apostles and the early Christians turned the world upside down with this message: The true King had died, risen, and ascended to sit down at the throne of God.

The message of the Incarnation of the Son of God (which this world calls Christmas) is a history lesson, but it is also a prophecy, a promise, and a sure prediction that will be fulfilled in a greater way yet to come. We must hearken back, and, every time we hear the familiar song, or think about Christ in any circumstance, to hearken forward as well.

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