Beware the Flagging Finishers

July 14, 2015 at 11:25 am | Posted in The Fives | 3 Comments
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In fighting sports, the winner is typically declared in one of two ways: (1) the fight comes to an end and the official judges who watched the fight decide who won; or (2) one of combatants “finishes” the fight by knocking out his opponent, making him give up, or injuring him to the extent that he can not keep fighting. Fighters who win fights by the latter means are called “finishers.” As the fight announcers like to say, they “don’t let it go to the judges.”

There is a fight going on between Jesus Christ’s Church and the “world” – meaning the system of this world, which is influenced, and sometimes organized, by Satan, and which opposes the Kingdom of God. In a battle between God and anybody or anything else, it should be obvious Who the winner will be, but, while the battle is still raging, human beings need to choose on whose side they will fight.

The “world” is no joke. It’s a fierce warrior, and we can be very fixated on what we can see with our eyes, what we can touch with our hands, and what makes sense to us in our immediate circumstances. Therefore, we tend to rely on things like our family, friends, finances, health, career, contacts, and intellect. These things may look like they are able to overcome the world, but the fact is, they are not “finishers.” There is really only one Person who is worthy of our faith if we are to truly overcome the world, even when our energy, resources, and wits are flagging.

Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?

I John 5:5

Beware the Fattening Fantasy

June 1, 2015 at 12:07 pm | Posted in The Fives | Leave a comment
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Some people call it the “American Dream.” It’s the idea that you and/or your family will become successful according to worldly standards. You will have a good job and a lucrative career. You will own a nice home with modern amenities. Perhaps you will eventually acquire a luxury car, or a boat, or a summer home. Your kids will have the latest gadgets, technology, and toys. You will put away funds with a view toward retiring at a fairly early age.

You might give regularly to charity as your budget allows, but, for the most part, your life plan will be mainly focused on you and yours. You will apply the moniker “Christian” to yourself, and you might even officially join a church, but, to the extent you concern yourself with spiritual things, your worship of the Lord of all the Earth, and your service in the name of Christ, will be, at most, in the nature of a figurative accoutrement to an already-full, self-sufficient, and subjectively satisfying life.

If this sounds appealing, or actually describes you, beware of seeing such “success” and “prosperity” as a sign of God’s blessing.

Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.

James 5:5

The glory that the Lord God will get from your life may come from the sacrificial, Christ-exalting things you are allowed to voluntarily do now, or it may come at some point in the not-too-distant, or perhaps eternal, future when He glorifies Himself by involuntarily stripping you of the things you loved more than Him.

Like an animal wearing a prize-winning ribbon at a county fair, you do not want to find out one day that you’ve been fattening yourself up merely for a slaughter.

Beware the Five Fingers

August 4, 2014 at 2:17 pm | Posted in The Fives | 1 Comment
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Belshazzar, grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, was having a quite a party. He and his lords and his concubines were getting so drunk that they started using vessels made by the hands of men to toast gods invented in the minds of men. What they failed to realize is that there is a real God Who is free to intervene in the pompous and silly affairs of this world whenever He wants, and is more than capable of reminding everyone just how serious a business it is to ignore His existence or to blaspheme His name.

In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.

Daniel 5:5

The fingers that “came forth” (not “fourth”) were five fingers. These five fingers (I’m counting the thumb as a finger) would write a message of judgment and doom, but even before they started writing, they revealed a terrifying five-fold message.

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Little Finger: “In the same hour” means that this happened at the height of the partying and sacrilege. It is clear from the Bible that God is indeed offended by sin, but He is never too offended to show up and set things right. Those who believe that they have sinned God out of their consciences and their lives would do well to remember this principle and repent before He decides, in His wrath, to show up at a crucial moment and put an end to the party. The Lord of glory is not a dainty tea-sipper with His pinky finger held askew while He peers down His nose from a distance at the things He finds unpleasant in His creation.

Index Finger: What appeared out of thin air were the fingers of “a man’s hand.” Let’s be clear. When you and I start looking for the cause of our problems, it would benefit us greatly to bypass the ideas of chance, fortune, luck, our past, our upbringing, our circumstances, our DNA, and our cultural influences. More often than not, when God shows up to deal with us in our sin, we can simply look down at our own hands to find the cause of all our sin-related troubles. Before we use our pointer finger to shift the blame, we need to open the mirror of God’s word and point accusingly at the culprit of evil: ourselves.

Ring Finger: The hand that appeared at Belshazzar’s wanton shindig chose the best place to start writing its message: “over against the candlestick.” When we want to have what this evil world thinks of as a “good time” we like to turn the lights down low. Things that would be shameful in the light tend to take on a false sense of security and secrecy in the dark. Belshazzar and his cronies probably had enough light to ogle the concubines, but not enough to highlight the lecherous leers on their own faces. God wanted His truth to be seen clearly, though. We need to remember that He sees everything, regardless of the brightness of the environment, and that He has a way of seeing to it that the embarrassing things we think we are getting away with in the dark get brought out into the open when we least expect it. The finger that is famous for holding the wedding ring needs to be a reminder to us of who we are, to Whom we belong, and what it means to be faithful.

Middle Finger: God could have made the words themselves, in addition to the hand doing the writing, appear to float in thin air. However, He chose instead to write them “on the wall of the king’s palace.” Belshazzar put great trust in the walls of his earthly kingdom, believing them to be impenetrable against enemy attacks. This was obviously erroneous since the Medes and the Persians managed to get inside the city and conquer his kingdom that very night. We tend to place a great deal of trust in the supposed strength of our earthly institutions, whether it be our careers, our homes, our own abilities, or even our government, but this is a mistake. The Lord God alone is worthy of trust, and we would do well to keep Him (just as the middle finger is the strongest and central part of our hands) positioned in the center of our lives.

Thumb: In the midst of a crowded party, you would think that anyone might have been startled to see a hand suddenly appear out of nowhere, but actually it was the king himself who “saw the part of the hand that wrote.” Belshazzar alone had the right to give the thumbs-up to this party, and he was accustomed to giving the thumbs-down to anybody who might rain on his parade. But this was a different scenario. A quote attributed to D.L. Moody says that, “God has two thrones – one in the highest heavens, the other in the lowliest heart.” We need to be very careful not to try to weasel our way onto the throne of our own hearts. That is a seat reserved for the sovereign God of this universe alone.

Beware the Full Focus

July 9, 2014 at 10:20 am | Posted in The Fives | 1 Comment
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Jerusalem was in a location chosen by God, yet surrounded by nations of people that did not believe what His people believed.

Thus saith the Lord God; This is Jerusalem: I have set it in the midst of the nations and countries that are round about her.

Ezekiel 5:5

This was a dangerous and precarious position, but it was also a great opportunity.

In a world of merchant trading and traveling, Jerusalem could profit from her role as a major trade route, and could benefit commercially. More importantly, however, Jerusalem could share the truth of the One True God with her visitors and surrounding neighbors.

The danger was also twofold. Being landlocked amidst hostile pagans, Jerusalem would have to remain vigilant on all sides. Again, though, more importantly, rather than influencing her neighbors with the truth, there was always the danger of lapsing into the idolatry and sinful culture that beset her on every front. Sadly, this is precisely what happened – to an even greater degree.

And she hath changed my judgments into wickedness more than the nations, and my statutes more than the countries that are round about her: for they have refused my judgments and my statutes, they have not walked in them.

Ezekiel 5:6

Christians today face the same predicament. We are ensconced in a world hostile to our Lord and skeptical of His ways. We are set forth with a mission to evangelize the unbelievers, but we are also a curiosity piece when we consistently practice what we believe. Will we succumb to the influence and wilt under the withering focus of those who think us old-fashioned, foolish, or judgmental? If we do, we are subject to embarrassing rebuke and public humiliation.

Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, am against thee, and will execute judgments in the midst of thee in the sight of the nations.

Ezekiel 5:8

Or will we shine brightly with the light of the Savior even as the darkness encroaches ever more tightly upon us? Will we speak boldly and live with integrity so that we become a refuge for the heathens when they see the futility of fighting against the real God? If so, we will know the blessing of the presence of the Lord in our lives.

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

Matthew 28:19-20

Beware the Fearful Force

June 12, 2014 at 2:01 pm | Posted in The Fives | 1 Comment
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There was a time when God’s people enjoyed blessings and favor in the land which God promised them. They had plenty to eat and plenty to drink. They worked hard, but they enjoyed periods of leisure as well. This all came to an end, though, when they forgot the God Who loved them. They rebelled against His Word and His laws. They threw in their lot with pagan nations, and they committed abomination with false idols. The result was plague, famine, captivity, deprivation, hardship, thirst, and work with no rest.

Our necks are under persecution: we labour, and have no rest.

Lamentations 5:5

God does not enjoy seeing His people in bondage. He does not take pleasure in seeing the wicked with their “foot on the neck” of His beloved children. Nor does He want them to work like slaves for their idols.

This is a sobering reminder for Christians today. How many hours per week do you work? And for what are you working? Toys? Luxuries? Prominence among your neighbors? Let us be careful not to enslave ourselves to this world’s system. We all feel a certain amount of pressure to “keep us with the Joneses” and to make sure our children have all the fancy things their friends have, but worshiping mammon in place of God only leads to forced labor and persecution.

Beware the Freedom of the Foremost

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

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

Jeremiah 5:3

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

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

Jeremiah 5:4

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

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

Jeremiah 5:5

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

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

Beware the Flattened Fence

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 5:5

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

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

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

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

Beware Fragrant Fingers

April 23, 2014 at 4:15 pm | Posted in The Fives | Leave a comment
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The bridegroom in Song of Solomon Chapter 5 comes to his bride’s home at night. He desires a visit, but she is already sleeping. Hearing him at the door, she is reluctant to get up. She has already washed her feet and got undressed for bed. Suddenly though, at the sound or sight of his hand by the hole of the door, she has a change of heart and gets up to greet him.

I rose up to open to my beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock.

Song of Solomon 5:5

Sadly, she had waited too long. He was gone by the time she got to the door. Some commentators think that the smell of myrrh (an expensive perfume in Bible times) had been left there by the bridegroom as a token of his visit – sort of a calling card – and that when the bride touched the lock to slide back the bolt, she got the myrrh on her hands. It seems more likely, though, that the myrrh which dropped from her hands and fingers onto the handles of the lock was the result of her own preparations as she tarried in opening the door to her beloved.

If you are a Christian (part of the “bride” of Christ), has there been a time when Christ the Lord (your “Bridegroom”) knocked on the door of your heart or conscience in order to call you to some holy service, only to find you so slow to respond that the opportunity was past before you made up your mind?

When Jesus presents us with an opportunity to do His bidding our common sense might be tempted to do an analysis of the situation and decide that our hands are too dirty with sin to respond right away. “My hands reek of iniquity,” we think. “I must anoint them with the sweet-smelling scent of my own righteousness before I can attempt to do His will.” This can prove to be a costly mistake.

While it is true that only those with clean hands and a pure heart can ascend to the hill of the Lord, it is also true that “doubting” is one of the things that prevents us from lifting up our hands to His service. There is no amount of myrrh or self-righteousness that can make our hands acceptable to the Lord. Only His shed blood can do that, and once we are regenerated and justified by His grace through faith, we receive His imputed righteousness as a free gift. This means we must never delay – night or day, regardless of the condition of our body – to respond to His knock of opportunity.

Beware of Foolhardy Finagling

April 16, 2014 at 10:24 am | Posted in The Fives | 1 Comment
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Have you ever found yourself in a great deal of unexpected trouble? At times like these, when the pressure is on, and our options seem limited to the frying pan versus the fire, we may be tempted to try to bribe our way out of trouble.

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For example, there may have been times in the middle of an ill-conceived and horrifying roller coaster ride when I made some promises to God about changing my ways if He would cause the ride to stop (at the bottom!) so I could safely escape.

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Or, perhaps, sitting outside the principal’s office as an elementary school student, I might have been tempted to propose a bargain concerning my future behavioral issues, if the Lord would somehow arrange it so that my parents didn’t find out about my (recent!) past behavioral issues.

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The Bible warns against making these types of rash, or foolhardy, vows:

Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.

Ecclesiastes 5:5

The Lord God Almighty is not someone with whom we should trifle. Vows and promises made before Him or to Him are serious matters. While we are encouraged and commanded to call upon the Lord in prayer whenever we are in trouble, we should be extremely cautious of trying to bribe Him with promises we have no intention of keeping, or even with ones that we might lack the ability to keep.

Beware the Feeble Fortress

March 26, 2014 at 11:02 am | Posted in Biblical friendship, The Fives | 3 Comments
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When we talk about Job’s “friends” we have to put quotation marks around “friends” because it’s questionable just what kind of friends they were. Job had suffered, and was suffering greatly in Chapter 5 of the book that bears his name, when his “friend,” Eliphaz, went on the offensive.

Eliphaz’s (wrong) assumption was that Job’s suffering must have been caused by Job’s sin. Eliphaz’s support for this argument was partly his own experience, because he claimed to have seen men who were prosperous and well-established for a long while in their sin, when suddenly and without warning judgment befell them.

I have seen the foolish taking root: but suddenly I cursed his habitation. His children are far from safety, and they are crushed in the gate, neither is there any to deliver them.

Job 5:3-4

This not-so-oblique reference to his children must have cut Job to the quick, since all his children has recently perished in a devastating catastrophe. (Unbeknownst to Job, his children had actually been killed through the machinations of Satan, with God’s permission, but not in any way as a consequence of Job’s alleged sin.)

However, even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, and Eliphaz stumbled upon a valuable nugget of truth when he pointed out the futility of trying to protect our earthly possessions and wealth to the exclusion of our spiritual well-being.

Whose harvest the hungry eateth up, and taketh it even out of the thorns, and the robber swalloweth up their substance.

Job 5:5

In ancient times landowners would sometimes intentionally grow hedges of thorns or briars around their crops, fields, and property to keep out trespassers and to discourage thieves. However, those who are truly hungry or who are bent on taking what does not belong to them will not be deterred by such security measures. This is a good reminder to us today that whatever dominion we think we exercise over our earthly possessions is ultimately subject to the will of God. Therefore, we are better off investing in the spiritual and the eternal than in the material and the temporal.

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Matthew 6:19-21

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