Where to Find Courage

August 28, 2019 at 11:28 am | Posted in Joshua, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Now after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD it came to pass, that the LORD spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, saying, Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your coast.

Joshua 1:1-4

Moses had been used by God to lead God’s people out of bondage in Egypt. He had led them through the Red Sea. When their disobedience had caused God send them wandering into the wilderness rather than entering into the promised land, Moses had led them in the wilderness – always subject to God’s guidance, protection, and provision. All of the Israelites who had come out of Egypt and gone into the wilderness for 40 years had died – except for three: Moses himself, Joshua, and Caleb.

Joshua had been Moses’s chief military general, his close friend, and a loyal helper. When loyalty among the people had been in short supply, Joshua was the exception. He loved Moses, and, although Joshua was no longer the young man he had been when the people left Egypt, he still looked up to, and admired, Moses. Perhaps you have or have had a spiritual mentor or even sort of a hero like this in your life.

Now Moses died, too, leaving Joshua to lead in his place. How this must have devastated Joshua! Of course, God’s plans are not dependent upon even the greatest of human beings, and Joshua, although I’m sure he FELT alone, was far from BEING alone. God gave Joshua a tremendous promise.

I hope as you read this that you have been born again. If you have, then this is a promise for you, too, and it is a promise that we all desperately need, whether we realize it or not:

There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.

Joshua 1:5 (emphasis added)

This promise alone would enable Joshua to do what the Lord was about to command him to do. The land across the Jordan River was not uninhabited. Spies had previously gone there to scout the terrain, and they brought back reports. Tribes and nations of warlike people lived there: Hittites and Hivites and Jebusites and Cannanites and parasites and mosquito bites and tighty whites and all sorts of less-than-friendly people. Some of them were huge warriors, giant in stature, living in walled and fortified cities designed to defeat and annihilate anyone who would challenge them. Joshua would need the promise God gave him in Verse 5 in order to do what God commanded him to do in Verse 6:

Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.

Joshua 1:6

Courage is often misunderstood. We contrast courage with fear and we believe they are opposites, but they are not. Courage does not cancel out fear, nor vice versa. Fear must be present for courage to exist. Fear is the sine qua non of courage. The Bible does not condemn the existence of reasonable feelings of fear, but it does exhort us to find the courage to OVERCOME fear. The Bible does not promise us the absence of fearful circumstances, but it does encourage us to act in faith despite our fear, rather than responding with paralysis or retreat.

Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.

Joshua 1:6 (emphasis added)

1. The first place to find courage is in the promises of God.

What God has decreed will come to pass. He is not only faithful in character – which makes it impossible to for Him to lie and break His Word – but He has the omnipotent power to perform what He has promised.

There failed not ought of any good thing which the LORD had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass.

Joshua 21:45

And, behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth: and ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the LORD your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof.

Joshua 23:14

Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.

I Thessalonians 5:24

Then said the LORD unto me, Thou hast well seen: for I will hasten my word to perform it.

Jeremiah 1:12

The Lord stands outside of time at the place of promise and at the place of fulfillment. He comprehensively and minutely supervises His promises so that they come to pass perfectly in His impeccable timing and through His brilliantly organized, ordered, and executed circumstances. By remembering and believing in the demonstrated trustworthiness of God, you will find courage to overcome fear.

2. The second place to find courage is in obedience to the Lord’s commands.

Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper withersoever thou goest.This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

Joshua 1:7-8 (emphasis added)

We tend to think of God’s commands of righteousness as burdensome and fearful things – as though they are given to us as a trap, so that, when we inevitably stumble into disobedience, God can rejoice in shaming or punishing us. This is not accurate, though. God’s commands are given to us for our safety and comfort. They are the commands of a loving Father, not a cruel and sadistic taskmaster.

But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the LORD charged you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Joshua 22:5 (emphasis added)

O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day. Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me.

Psalm 119:97-98

God’s love and care for us are not at odds with His desire for our obedience and submission to Him. Our obedience and submission glorify Him, yes, but they are objectively the best things for us, too. We were expressly created to glorify Him, and, in doing so, we find our greatest fulfillment and freedom. Obedience to the commands given by God to you in the Bible will assure you that God loves you, and will give you the courage to overcome the fear that the world tries to use against you when it tells you that sometimes you just HAVE to cheat and disobey God to escape trouble or to prosper.

3. The third place to find courage is in the presence of the Lord even in our trials.

Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.

Joshua 1:9 (emphasis added)

Joshua had lost Moses. Moses would not – could not – be with him any longer “withsoever he would goest.” No human being can give you the assurance of constant loyalty, consistency, or steadfastness, but God can – and He does. The promise of Jesus that so many of us like to claim (Hebrews 13:5) does not mean that He will start out with us, then forget about us for a while, and then come rushing back just in the nick of time (although it may seem that way from our sinful, lack-of-faith perspective). No, this is a promise to attach us to Himself permanently and to be there in the midst of our worst trials and troubles.

You will experience no greater pain or shame than what He experienced in the Cross, and He is able to comfort you and fortify you so that you can continue to trust Him through absolutely anything.

Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:34-39

When you feel fear, don’t try to deny it. Don’t opt for some distraction. Don’t give up and retreat. And don’t let the devil intimidate you into paralysis and inaction. Be courageous and strong by:

1. Remembering the strength of God’s promises;
2. Remembering that God has given you an assignment that is worthy of obedience;
3. Remembering that God is with you and will not forsake you.

Praying for the School Equipment

August 16, 2019 at 1:09 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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I was recently asked to pray a back-to-school prayer for students, parents, teachers, and staff:

Our Father, we ask You to sanctify us with Your Truth as we prepare for a new school year, recognizing that Your Word is Truth. Please equip us through Your revealed Word, and help us not to rely on vain imaginations.

Equip us to witness, to disciple other believers, to counsel with those who have questions or are facing difficult circumstances.

Equip us to love and serve each other and all those you place in our paths. Equip us to worship You, to understand and apply Scripture. Make us walk in Truth, both generally, and in all the various details that apply to the classrooms and our homes.

Please equip us to stand against Satan, and to hold fast to sound doctrine.

In the name of Christ Jesus our Lord I pray. Amen.

Maintaining a Clean and Sensitive Conscience

August 7, 2019 at 1:44 pm | Posted in II Corinthians, Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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In II Corinthians we find the Apostle Paul having come through a series of crises, including the problem of having to see that one of the church members at Corinth – possibly a leader – was properly disciplined. HOWEVER:

For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.

II Corinthians 1:12

As Paul often did, he was able to look within himself to find the strength and the encouragement not to give up. For, unlike many people, when Paul looked within himself he found God empowering him, reassuring him, and comforting him. When we “look” outward, we must use our eyes or at least our physical senses, but with what do we look inward? Our conscience.

Con = with; science = knowledge (to know). Our conscience is not really Jiminy Cricket (from Pinocchio) or the little angel that sits on your shoulder countering a little devil that wants you to do something naughty. The conscience is what we “know with.” It is given by God to every person so that everyone innately knows there is a moral law and moral Lawgiver. It does give us a sense of approval when we do what is right, and it does accuse us or give us a sense of guilt when we do wrong. Even lost people are aware of a sense of right and wrong – objectively. These ideas may be reinforced or corroded by society or experience, but they are hardwired into the human nature (as part of being stamped with the image of God). If a person tells you that right and wrong are subjective or the product of evolution, he or she will quickly fall into severe inconsistency the moment someone snatches her purse or steals his wallet. He/she will quickly become concerned for selfish reasons, but also offended at recognized injustice. No sane person hesitates to call what happened in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or cases of child abuse “evil.”

The conscience is what we “know with,” but it can become calloused and less sensitive – and dirty – which dulls our inward sense of right and wrong. Therefore, it is important to keep our conscience sensitive and clean.

And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void to offence toward God, and toward men.

Acts 24:16

1. Simplicity will help to keep your conscience clean and sensitive.

For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.

II Corinthians 1:12

Your ministry in the name of Jesus Christ does not have to be overly complex, nor do all of your evangelistic witnessing enounters: “I was lost and Jesus saved me. I want Him to save you too.”

Sin complicates our lives, when the Lord would be more honored if we kept things simple. Manipulative bait and switch strategies, duplicity, and scheming are techniques sometimes used to attempt to bring people to Jesus, but they do not honor Him the way the simplicity of the Gospel does, and they cause us to forget that He is really the Savior – the One Who seeks and saves, and the One Who speaks and reveals unvarnished truth.

For we write none other things unto you, that what ye read or acknowledge; and I trust ye shall acknowledge even to the end; As also ye have acknowledged us in part, that we are your rejoicing, even as ye also are our’s in the day of the Lord Jesus.

II Corinthians 1:13-14

2. Submission to God’s will helps to keep your conscience clean and sensitive.

And in this confidence I was minded to come unto you before, that ye might have a second benefit; And to pass by you into Macedonia, and to come again out of Macedonia unto you, and of you to be brought on my way toward Judaea. When I therefore was thus minded, did I use lightness? or the things that I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be yea yea, and nay nay?

II Corinthians 1:15-17

The church members at Corinth were upset that Paul’s plans had changed, but he had not carelessly or willfully changed his plans or broken any promises. Circumstances had forced his schedule to change. He had qualified his stated commitment with the understanding that he would do what he planned to do, “Lord willing.”

For I will not see you now by the way; but I trust to tarry a while with you, if the Lord permit.

I Corinthians 16:7

Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.

James 4:13-16

Saying that we intend to do somthing, “Lord willing,” should not be superstition. It should be a serious recognition that God is sovereignly in control of all circumstances, and does not consult with our schedule when carrying out His eternal decrees.

When I therefore was thus minded, did I use lightness? or the things that I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be yea yea, and nay nay? But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in him was yea. For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.

II Corinthians 1:17-20

3. The Holy Spirit helps to keep your conscience clean and sensitive.

The Holy Spirit will give us the proper motive if we are faced with the need to change our plans. Only He gives us the assurance that we truly belong to God.

Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.

II Corinthians 1:21-22

Only the Holy Spirit can motivate us to serve others with pure motives.

Moreover I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth. Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.

II Corinthians 1:23-24

For by faith we stand, but we stand leaning on Him. By faith we try to keep our consciences clean and sensitive, and we lean fully on the Lord.

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 | 4 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).

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