Friday, April 24, 2009

The Power of Praise? (with audio)


And when they began to sing and praise, the LORD set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed.
(2 Chronicles 20:22 – ESV)

Many people talk of or teach on the power of praise. They often use this passage from 2 Chronicles to “prove” their point. Now there may be a power of praise, but is this really what this passage is teaching us? Lets look at the context by giving a short synopsis of what was going on.

2 Chronicles 20:1-2 – The land was under invasion from several enemies.
2 Chronicles 20:3-13 – Jehoshaphat & the people seek God by fasting and prayer.
2 Chronicles 20:14-17 – They receive the promise of victory by prophecy.
2 Chronicles 20:18-19 – The people fell down in worship, the priests rose up and praised God.
2 Chronicles 20:20-25 – The king rallies everyone, appoints singers to go before the army, and as they praise God the enemies are overthrown, and the spoil is abundant.
2 Chronicles 20:26-30 – They give thanks for the deliverance and for the blessings, they return to Jerusalem with music, and there is peace.

Now there is no doubt that praise is a main element in this story. However, many look at verse 22 and think they see some secret power of praise. Yet this victory was not about some power of praise it was about the power of God predicated upon the repentance we see beginning in 2 Chronicles 19:4, and continued with the prophecy of victory and the people’s worship. It was not because they began to sing and praise but at the same time that they began to sing and praise. They turned to the Lord in repentance, and then they received word that God was going to deliver them, and they praised as God did His deliverance. It wasn’t that they’d never thought of praise, and that then God gave them some revelation about praise warfare, and that now we can all enjoy the blessing of that. It is not as if praise is the answer to all our problems.

No, this wasn’t a revelation of praise warfare, as if we can just sing our way out of sin, without any reference to or regard for repentance from sin. This wasn’t some magic formula given that we now apply universally to all our situations. Indeed, praise is a weapon of sorts, it is definitely part of the process, but it must be the outflow of an understanding of grace, and a natural consequence of having turned to the Lord in repentance. Otherwise praise IS NOT the answer to all your problems, and you cannot simply sing your way out of sin.

They turned to the Lord in repentance, and then they received the message, and the message was about the fact God was going to deliver them, not about how praise was going to deliver them. The message God may give to you may be of a different sort, but then we praise as an outcome of that. We must also turn to the Lord in repentance first, and then receive the message of victory the Bible declares, and then we can praise as God does His work. The thing to notice in this passage is not that praise won them the victory but that they turned to God and praised because He was going to deliver them. They didn’t praise to get something, they praised because they had already been promised it and were in the midst of getting it.

This doesn’t mean we look for some obscure promise in the Bible, and then if we want it we can “activate” it by praising God for it. No, this is simply a moment in the grand scheme, a slice of redemptive history. The lesson for us is that we should turn to God when we are surrounded by enemies, which spiritually speaking, is always. The world, the flesh, and the devil are always on the offensive against us. Then when God gives us a victory, we should praise His name. The power of praise is about recognizing the power of God. We should always be giving thanks to and praising God. We praise, not to get something, but because He is something.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Why the Answer Key is Wrong (with audio)


…let us run with patience the race that is set before us
(Hebrews 12:1)

One of the effects of the fall of man into sin is a manifest lack of patience. This has played itself out in every life ever lived since Adam and Eve. We want what we want, and we want it now. The secular media, advertising agencies, marketers, magazines, moviemakers, and just about everybody is guilty of making this the dominant trend in our thinking. The voices are endless. “Time is wasting, what are you waiting for?” “We have got what you’re looking for.” “No need to struggle, we’ve got the solution!” We are all willing victims. No one, it seems, is innocent or invulnerable to the onslaught of “now”.

This helps to explain the explosion of the get rich quick schemes, the lottery, the parade of late night infomercials, and so forth. It also helps explain the lure of cheating in the classroom, the bedroom, the boardroom, and the ball field. It has lead to the proliferation of self-help books, wellness seminars, and New Age mysticism. People are willing to try anything, as long as it’s not the same old, tried and true method of working hard. Everybody is looking for a quick fix, or at least the way to get what we want with the least amount of effort. Our attention spans have been so manipulated that they won’t let us take the time to really learn anything.

The Christian is just as vulnerable to this lack of patience, even when trying to learn about God and His ways. Having to listen to a sermon over twenty minutes, or having to pray for more than fifteen would probably put most of us into a deep sleep these days. An example that might hit closer to home with believers is the tendency to want to have the answers without having to struggle with the questions. That is why we see so much of the “7 principles of power”, or “10 steps to success”, or “5 keys to kingdom living”, etc., etc. Having the answers alone without knowing how to figure out the questions is not all it is cracked up to be, however. Consider the following thoughts.

If I told you that the earth was 93 million miles away from the sun, you would have the information you needed to answer that question, “how far is the earth from the sun?” You could then use this information in a social situation, or a classroom situation, or whatever, or whenever the topic arose. However, if someone were to proceed to ask you, “How do you know this?” do you think they would be satisfied to hear you answer, “well, so and so told me”, or “I read it in a book?” No, they wouldn’t, or even if they were, this knowledge only gets you so far. However, if you knew how to figure out for yourself the distance, you could use this knowledge to figure out the distance from the earth of other planets, and this knowledge could help you to find out other things as well.

In the Christian this idea helps us understand why we must struggle with sin, rather than just expect the desire to be taken away. We want the “thing” to just go away, but it doesn’t. Surely, some Christians have been given a special mercy by God to have an instant moment of sanctifying grace where they no longer desire to do that “thing”, but this is not the normal occurrence. Too often we see those whom have had a crisis experience where they were instantly delivered of this or that vice try and teach others that all they have to do is believe and they will also be delivered. Let go and let God, they might say. When it doesn’t work, the defeated Christian is thrown back into a state of disbelief, either in his faith or his God. This need not and should not be. There is a reason we don’t get the “answer” right away. God wants us to struggle with the questions first.

You see if we were to have our answer before we understood the problem, all we would do is have a surface solution. When the real, root problem surfaces again in some other form, if all we have done is rely on the answer key, all we can do is attack the problem on the surface again, and it will pop up again and again until we lay the axe to the root. Having to struggle with the questions will inculcate the discipline we need in life to be able to survive the other struggles we may and we will face. “Inculcate” means to instill: did you look it up? Would you have if you didn’t know it? Will it become part of your vocabulary?

It is not the answer key itself that is wrong, but having the answer without understanding the problem is what is wrong. This is why cheating on a test only cheats you out of greater knowledge. You may get the answer right this time, but when the next time comes and you need the prior knowledge to find out the answer, you are going to be in trouble. It is like having the answer to a calculus problem, versus being able to understand calculus itself. See the tremendous difference?

There is no “secret” of spirituality or “formula” for faith. There is a plan, and it involves staying the course, walking the narrow path. We depend on Jesus for our life, and our Father for our daily bread. The Holy Spirit will lead us into a more passionate relationship with God if we will only take the time to struggle with the questions. Then we may learn lessons that will enable us to overcome our problems at the root level. It’s the difference between a brief and a broad victory.

Start a fire, and be warm for a day.

Stay on fire, and be warm for life.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Apostasy Avenue (with audio)


The LORD has said to you, O remnant of Judah, 'Do not go to Egypt.'
(Jeremiah 42:19 – ESV)

In Jeremiah 41, Jerusalem had fallen, and the governor that king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had appointed over it was murdered by one of the remnant Jews. They feared for their lives (vs.18), and also believed that they were right in wanting to have a prince of the house of David, and Ishmael was of the royal family (vs. 1). How often do we think our position protects us from having to go through judgment, or trials, and how often are we deceived into believing we are actually fighting for a just and holy cause when we are really just blinded by our own esteem for ourselves?

In Jeremiah 42, the people wanted to hear God’s Word from God’s prophet, but not so as to actually obey, but rather, that God might sanction what they had already determined to do. Of course, something like that has never happened to us, we would never think of such a thing, would we? Jeremiah didn’t receive the Word for 10 days (vs. 7). The delay was designed to test the sincerity of their professed willingness to obey (vs. 5-6), and that they should have time to commit their wills to obedience. God told them through Jeremiah that He would protect, preserve, and eventually promote them through the trial (vs.10-12). God made it perfectly clear that they were not to go to Egypt (vs.14-19), but He knew that their hearts were hypocritical (vs.20-21) and declared their doomed destiny (vs.22).

In Jeremiah 43, the people were falling fast into apostasy. They turned on the Word of God through the prophet (vs. 2). They didn’t obey and went into Egypt (vs.7), and took Jeremiah with them. It reminds us of how they probably thought that having God’s prophet with them would be like having God’s blessing with them. This is using God’s tools like a magic weapon of sorts, like the Israelites did with the Ark of the Covenant (1 Samuel 4).

In Jeremiah 44, what happened to these people that went into Egypt is that they fell into total apostasy, they began blatant idolatry, and became deceived in so many ways that they were completely blinded to the truth of God’s Word (vs.17-19). The people were so blind and hardhearted that they actually believed that serving other gods was their ticket to prosperity, and that disobedience was the way to safety and security. Jeremiah let them know that God in His longsuffering had let them go until their iniquity was fully ripe, and that it was their disobedience that lead to their lack, not leaving off the service to other gods (vs.21-23).

This is what happens when we fail to go to the Cross. We fail to suffer the death of the flesh, and our worship becomes as it did for these that went to Egypt, it becomes vain and idolatrous, without our even realizing it. This is what happened to others whose pride eventually lead to their downfall, those who thought that they could worship God “any old way they felt like”. Results and relationships cloud their judgment and discernment.

Adam saw Eve eat the apple, but he still had a choice. He could have chosen not to eat of the apple himself. Instead, he chose his relationship with his wife over his relationship with God and His Word. This is why Jesus told us that if someone wouldn’t hate their family compared to Him, they couldn’t be His disciple (Luke 14:26).

Think about Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10. They relied on their relationship to their father Aaron and as priests to protect them from having to worship in the way God intended for the “others”.

How about Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:31 / 12:20, 25-33 / 13:34)? God gave him the 10 northern tribes, yet he thought that he could establish a different place and different methods of worship. They didn’t start out thinking those idols were other gods, they worshipped them as Jehovah, just as Aaron and the Israelites did while Moses was on Sinai.

King Uzziah was a great and godly king, but his results lifted up his heart, and he thought his relationship with the Lord meant that he could act as priest as well as king (2 Chronicles 26:3-5, 15-16). He paid dearly.

A lesson is this: we must stay in a repentant attitude, and if God says that we are to do something in a certain way, then we are unwise, unrepentant, and rebellious to do otherwise. It will lead to deception and idolatry, where we will think we are doing right but we are sincerely wrong. Sincerity is no substitute for truth, and without truth, we are headed straight down Apostasy Avenue.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Connection (with audio)


…And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you…And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.
(2 Corinthians 12:14-15 – ESV)

Surely as Christians we want to connect with people, but the best way to do that is to make sure we are connected to God first. That may bring an “of course” thought in your mind, but hear me out. It is true that showing special interest makes people feel special and gets special results. Most often, if you give it your best it will bring out their best. However, you have to remember to be looking to give not get, otherwise you will be disappointed. We often get angry because we feel we have given extras but it went unrecognized. We need to heed the lesson God is teaching us through the Apostle Paul. Pour yourself out to people, but go further than the world would and pour out your expectations as well, that is learning of Christ as Paul had done. It is when we can be poured out, spent, and not appreciated that we connect with God in a very real way.

I seek not yours but you – this is the testimony of every godly minister. They do not serve for what they can get from God’s people, but for what they can give to God’s people. Now some think they are seeking to give but they are still seeking to get, not money but recognition, approval, validation from men. Faithfulness is more important than friendliness. We do this by seeking to be connected to God, to be faithful to His Word, before we seek connection with men. A minister should be able to say that he is not seeking your approval but seeking your improvement.

This will lead to the right kind of burden, a burden to build, in the right way. Some can build the number of members, but God wants to build the members in our numbers. Some focus on church growth but God wants to focus on people growth, not numbers but godliness, not the quantity but the quality. Numbers can be wonderful if more are truly getting connected with God in a deeper way. However, chasing numbers just for the sake of more may mean more are connected overall but not percentage wise, and not very deep either. It is a mile wide and an inch deep, and leads to being led astray by chasing and feeding the monster of ministry. Before God is interested in any Christian’s ministry, He is interested in the minister.

When someone is talking with you and you are really listening intently they usually can tell and are eager to share more about themselves. When you show interest others become interested, and in a sense, in obeying God, it works a lot like that. If we are interested in His way, He shows us more of it more clearly. He is the only One who won’t ever ignore you when you truly seek Him. When you pour out to God He will always pour back on you.

Paul was defending his ways before the Corinthians, who had approved of false apostles and turned away from him. He says, “I’ll tell you about great and marvelous things I have seen and done, things those “super apostles” can’t even dream of let alone demonstrate. Now God hasn’t rid me of this thorn and you all run after the false apostles and despise me, and yet I still will be spent for you. That is what is going on that is what it is all about. They care about themselves, I care about you, and the poor among you, that is why I collect funds, for them, not me.”

Here we see Paul poured out and even doing so if it meant they loved him less. He will keep spending even if they don’t spend, he will keep pouring in even if it seems unfruitful to him. We can give, and give in any number of ways. But do we resent it when we give or serve? A good way to measure this is to see our reaction when our service is unappreciated. Do we resent it? If Paul’s service was unappreciated by the Corinthian Christians, he did not resent it. We need to learn to give where we can get nothing back, to lay up treasures in heaven, to trust God that He is watching our labor. Paul cared about God firstly and was poured out to Him and that is how he stayed connected even through the trials of the thorn and the anguish of being turned away.

What is worse, feeling the pain of the physical or suffering the anguish when you try and help someone and they despise you for it? For example, when your children turn from you, or think of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, or Paul understanding what the sovereignty of God meant in dealing with the Jews. Would you do it then? Would you serve God anyway, even if it meant He didn’t rescue you, didn’t revive you, didn’t restore you, and didn’t reconcile you to your loved ones? Well, that is the place where God works. That is part of the fellowship of His sufferings. Is He worth it? Yes He surely is, and when you can get to that place you will see God work like no other way you’ve known.

Pleading prayer is a start. Paul pleaded for the thorn to go away but it wouldn’t and he still was willing to sacrifice for the Corinthians. Even through God did not help him in the way he wanted, and those he was called to minister to even turned on him, still he served. That is consecration. That is powerful. That is like Christ, and that is the Holy Spirit living through you; that is connecting to God’s heart.

That is how Jesus was, how Paul was, how I hope to be, and what I am encouraging you to be like. Poured out; this is the example I am exhorting you to follow. Now I am no Apostle Paul, and Paul was only a shadow of Jesus Christ, it is Him we look to as our ultimate example, and it is only Him that can empower us to live this way. He will do it if we will get connected.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Monday, April 20, 2009

God’s Dress Code


…everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted
(Luke 18:14 – ESV)

Humility is God’s dress code standard for the church. Those that come before God clothed with humility can wear the robe of Christ’s righteousness (cf. Jeremiah 23:6), and leave justified in God’s sight. As an illustration, Luke 18:9-14 is the quintessential summary of the difference between those whom God will justify and those that seek to justify themselves.

I am often asked what the dress code of our church is. “Can we wear jeans, can ladies wear pants, do we have to wear a tie, and will we feel out of place if we don’t dress up?” I am thankful for this because it gives me an opportunity to address the real issue. I say, “The only thing we ask is that you come clothed with humility.”

Pride was the first sin, the sin of Satan. It was the “genesis” of sin if you will (cf. Isaiah 14:12-14 / Ezekiel 28:11-19). This mother of all sins has filtered down to our age and remains as the great wall between man and God (1 John 2:16), between a righteousness that saves and one that doesn’t. It is a lack of humility that keeps the great mass of people from faith and salvation.

The Scriptures are replete with the notion that God hates pride and loves humility. Pride is an abomination to God (Proverbs 6:17), and humility is absolutely necessary for salvation. Many teachings touch on this theme in varying ways (cf. Luke 10:25-37 / Psalm 34:2 / Isaiah 57:15, 66:2). Certainly this is true of the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

Self-righteous sin takes the form of a two-pronged pride. Firstly, like the people who are using the standards of others to determine what to wear to church, the self righteous use a comparison with others as the standard of their own righteousness. The Pharisee looked at other people and determined he was doing the Lord’s will.

Many in the church today, as well as those who don’t think they need God, think that because they are “ahead of the pack”, that this makes them righteous. But the standard for righteousness to which the Bible directs us is not that of other people but that of God. The focus is wrong.

Secondly, while comparing ourselves with others is not right, neither is comparing one’s self with his own self. Even if we have made great strides in our walk with God, and lived a more holy life, it is not that life that will justify us before God. Again, the focus is wrong.

The world follows suit. Self-help, self-improvement, self-empowerment, self-esteem, self-awareness, self-actualization, “self” magazines, it goes on and on, the great focus of humanity is on self. Even in the church we often see teaching geared toward becoming a better or more successful person rather than on the person of Jesus Christ.

It seems to be about what God has done in us, rather than on what God has done for us. We feel as if we “do our best” that this sincere effort is what justifies us. This is precisely what the Pharisee thought. The world would applaud this man today, probably calling him a “true saint” or “one of God’s choice servants”.

No matter how good we are, however, it can never be good enough. What the Pharisee said about himself was true, but the Bible says that all our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). The standard is the perfect righteousness of Jesus, who said, “Be ye perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).”

Paul spoke to both sides of self-righteousness when he said, “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise (2 Corinthians 10:12).”

Often overlooked is the fact that when the Pharisee prayed he was thanking God. He was not saying how great he was by himself. He had a sense of humility, but not true humility. He knew he was not able to do good works on his own, but felt that these justified him. God does indeed develop righteousness in everyone to whom he imputes righteousness (Romans 8:1-4 / Philippians 1:6), but we never achieve perfection in this life. Works are the fruit, not the root of justification (Ephesians 2:10).

This is the great danger, the teaching that the imparted righteousness whereby we can indeed do good works is the grounds of our justification, instead of the imputed righteousness of Christ to our account. Our good works give evidence to our faith (Matthew 7:20 / James 2:18) but they do not save us (Romans 3:20). This is subtle but is explained by saying that for some to justify is to make righteous rather than to declare righteous. The difference is the difference between a saving faith that relies on an external atonement for sin and a misplaced faith that relies in an internal abatement of sin.

The snare of self-righteousness makes many feel or claim to be sanctified when they are only sanctimonious. The truth is we must continue to walk in repentance and faith even after we have been justified. Martin Luther, in writing the first of his ninety-five theses said that the whole life of a believer should be repentance.

We should be thankful that we have been given a measure of freedom from the power of sin in this life, but we must be careful to never equate this with our righteous standing before God. You are not to thank God for your righteousness compared to others, but thank Him for His righteousness accredited to you because of the Atonement.

In Christ we are righteous, yes, but being “in Christ” is the key. Considering our spiritual state, it has been said that the more light we have, the more dust we see. It isn’t about self-loathing. The Church’s dress code deals with whether we see with our true condition before God or does the lens we view ourselves from have a “wrong focus”.

The question is, simply, “Are you wearing the right glasses?”

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Inverse Universe (with audio)


Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.
(Luke 10:21)

Jesus rejoiced “in the Spirit” it is rendered in some translations, which fits our discussion here. Whenever we are praising God for His sovereign will having being done, we can rest assured that we are doing this “in the Spirit”, for no man calls Jesus Lord but by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3 / Matthew 16:17).

Here Jesus reveals one of the principles of the Kingdom, that God’s spiritual laws are unlike man’s laws. We think that we can and that we must become wise in our own fleshly ways, but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27). A person can quote every single scripture ever written, but only if the Spirit has opened their heart will they ever understand the spiritual truth contained in them.

Most never come to the realization that God’s economy works inversely to man’s laws (such as give and it shall be given to you, you must die to live, etc.) because no man can understand the things of God but by the Spirit of God, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14). The carnal mind is enmity toward God (Romans 8:7), and is not subject to (read: submitted to) God’s spiritual laws, and so only benefits by them through circumstance, not through a purposeful seeking after God.

The key to understanding the laws that govern God’s Kingdom is to realize that the processes of the kingdom are inverted; they are exactly the opposite of what the world teaches, and at first glance, they seem to be counter-intuitive. To obtain what we desire, we have to do the opposite of what we would normally do. When the world says stop, Jesus says go. When the world says go for it, Jesus says no. The laws of inversion are actually the fruits of a Christ-centered life, and this, as Christians know, is diametrically opposed to the world’s views.

The world says that tolerance is the highest virtue, it says “don’t fence me in”, and “don’t tread on me”, or “it is my right to do with my body what I want”. Jesus says that our bodies are not our own. The world says that you must have self-esteem, build up your self-image, and be self-actualized. Jesus says that you must empty yourself to be truly fulfilled by Him. The world says that you have to “grab all you can, can all you grab, sit on the can, and poison the rest”. Jesus says that you must give things away before you can truly have anything worthwhile.

The world says you have to be aggressive, that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, that you must be a self promoter to get ahead, that you have to step over people, or step on them, to advance in life. Jesus says that we must humble ourselves, and God will lift us up. The last shall be first, He says. The world says that we must stay on the cutting edge of technology, be at the vanguard of New Age thinking and postmodern philosophy, and go with the flow. Jesus says that we must become fools to the world’s ways to become truly wise. The world says that might makes right, but Jesus says that when we are weak we are strong. The world says you have got to “go for the gusto”, and have a “lust for life”. Jesus says that we must lose our lives if we are to find them. Jesus truly wants to turn your life upside down, and inside out.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Let the Garment Go (with audio)


she caught him by his garment, saying, "Lie with me." But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house.
(Genesis 39:12 – ESV)

Sometimes we will never be validated, justified, or recognized as being right by anyone but God. The scriptures depict many righteous men and women being falsely accused. Sometimes they are vindicated, and sometimes, from an earthly perspective, they are not.

Consider Joseph. Potiphar’s wife had accused him, but he was an innocent man. Yet, she had his garment, and he had probably been seen running away. She was royalty, he was a slave – it would be her word against his. So there was a claim by a more credible person of reputation, there was the physical evidence, and perhaps other personal witnesses to his fleeing the scene of the supposed crime. By all appearances, it would seem Joseph was guilty.

We always talk of how Joseph was vindicated, how he rose to fame and power, how he got out of the pit, out of the prison, and into Pharaoh’s highest courts. He was vindicated before his father and his brothers. However, we may have forgotten that Potiphar never saw him as right. There may be people who you will never look right to, no matter what you do with your life. Sometimes, you might have to let the garment go.

People saw him run away and saw she had the garment. You may say, “Well Joseph got out of that prison”. Yes but it was from the hand of Pharaoh, not Potiphar. It was likely that Potiphar held the charge against Joseph his whole life, but Joseph had to let the garment go and let God take care of it. He went to prison just like he went into the pit, an innocent man. God got him out, yet he wasn’t vindicated in the way he might have wanted to be had he wanted to hold onto the garment. God may not redress the matter now but He will judge the matter and deal with it righteously in the final analysis.

There are some things we cannot control. In the Christian life we may have to let go of friends, family, fame or fortune, if it will ensnare us in sin. Are you holding onto your self respect and worried over the views of others when you are accused wrongly for the sake of Christ? Do you feel that you must be justified and that the garment justifies you and your case? Are you concerned that God might allow you to look bad and get fired or lose your reputation?

This is not a license to not care about what others think at all. Yes, we are indeed to avoid all appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22), but sometimes it is out of our control, and God is proving whether we will flee from sin or try and hold onto the garment of our own self vindication. Sometimes, it is best just to let the garment go.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Pastor and the People (with audio)


The right way for the people in the church to treat the pastor

Galatians 4:12-20
·Their attitude must not be determined by his personal appearance or personality.
·Their attitude must not be determined by their own theological fancies or desire for advancement.
·Their attitude should be determined by his loyalty to the apostolic message in the Bible.
·They should love him with tender mercies and listen to him with eager ears.

The right way for the pastor to treat the people in the church

Galatians 4:12-20
· He must be willing to serve and sacrifice for them.
· He must tell them the truth, even if it seems to make him an enemy.
· He must love them deeply, but never for a selfish motive (unlike Judaizers).
· He must desire to see more than mere excitement, but zeal for good things.
· He must desire to see Jesus formed in them, not himself in them.

Responsibilities of congregants to elders

1 Corinthians 16:15-16
·In subjection to servant leaders (support their service)

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
·Know them (Respect them)
·Esteem them

1 Timothy 5:17-19
·17 – honor all elders, special emphasis on teaching elders
·18 – Those that labor to teach are to be remunerated so as to make their living from it and not have to worry about money but focus on the Word (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:11-14 / Luke 10:7 / Galatians 6:6).
·19 – No accusation is to be listened to against an elder unless there is evidence from 2 or 3 witnesses, they are always in public eye and accusation can be common. This also shows us importance of making sure elders are truly called and installed as elders, that they meet and live out the qualifications.

Hebrews 13:7, 17
·Watch their walk and imitate their godliness
·We should be in submission to our spiritual leaders because they have to give an account (cf. James 3:1)
·We should attempt to be a blessing not a burden

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Become a Deader You


…depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.
(1 Timothy 6:5 – ESV)

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The problem with feel good theology or the prosperity gospel or the temporal blessing agenda or the be obedient and you won’t suffer crowd is that within those systems peace, joy and fulfillment are thought to be found in the same places the culture is looking for it, money, success, position, possessions, etc. Oh they may not seem to say it, or they sprinkle a little self righteous holiness on top, or they deny it when confronted, but think about it, isn’t going after those things exactly what is going on?

The false gospels promote God and godliness as the means to happiness, and happiness is defined the same way the world defines it, as having all you want, and perhaps enough to give out some to others, so we don’t seem so self centered, as if this excuses the heart behind it all. If we are promoting this sort of false gospel, we are in effect saying that we have nothing different to offer than the world, than other systems of thought and other religions; we just have a better way to get it, or we believe that it is sanctified if we do. We are the head and not the tail after all, aren’t we? Yeah, that’s just what Jesus would want us saying isn’t it? Ridiculous.

Christianity isn’t some way to become a better you or to live your best life now. Christianity is Christ, and to live for Him now, and to trust in Him to justify and sanctify you, not in your own best efforts. It is to be conformed to His image, to glorify Him not because we are at the top of the class, but because we have Him at the top of our list no matter what class we find ourselves in. To the Christian the way of suffering is the way of true victory, as we embrace our call to become like our Master.

Yes we can desire healthy bodies, happy homes, successful careers, solid relationships, and many manifold blessings here on earth. It is not wrong to want to be successful in what you are called to do. But our call is first and foremost to Christ. The problem is when these other things become our primary motivation, for we can strive for these things without striving to be godly, it’s exactly what the world is doing, striving for those same things, only we add God to the mix. Then we gain things and think this means we are gaining godliness, supposing that gain is godliness (1 Timothy 6:5 – KJV), when nothing could be further from the truth.

Friend don’t put God on your agenda, get on God’s agenda, and let me tell you something, His agenda may not be for you to have a good life according to the word’s standards, or even your own supposedly godly standard. Are you prepared to follow Christ no matter the cost? It is wrong to think that being godly is a means to getting what we want, unless what we want is to be more like Jesus. To use God as a means to an end, and make no mistake, that is what is going on with the false gospel, to do that is putting things out of order. It is selfish, me centered thinking, and Christians aren’t me or man centered, they are God focused. Now they aren’t perfectly God focused, but their desire is to be more so. It isn’t about more stuff, but more God in their lives. Are you a Christian, or have you believed a false gospel?

What profit it a man to gain the whole world but lose his own soul (Matthew 16:26)? Of course they would answer that they have already given their soul to Jesus but they are deceived. They gave Him their soul in name only, their heart still cries for the treasures of this world, not for the One who created it.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Monday, April 06, 2009

Let’s Do Lunch


But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel…
(Galatians 2:14 – ESV)

How often do we hear it said that the Gospel applies to all of life? If we are around solid Christians or are in a good church then it would be quite often, no doubt. Because we realize the Bible teaches this truth, when we hear it we are quick to say a hearty “amen!”

But let’s get real now. Do you really believe this to be true? I mean, you may say it, but do you live it? Can you explain to yourself and to others, can you teach them why this is so, with real examples, or are you just a parrot? Now we do need to repeat this assertion to ourselves and become convinced of it, but it needs to start playing out in our everyday lives, in our everyday situations, and in every situation. The Gospel applies, but in our sanctification we must apply it. If it doesn’t, many times it is because we don’t do it, we don’t apply it. In whatever situations we don’t apply it the Gospel really isn’t having that effectual power in that part of our lives yet.

Really, it doesn’t yet because we don’t believe it yet. But it can, really. Now stop telling me you really believe it, or trying hard to make yourself believe it. Get into the Word and see for yourself, ask yourself and the text you are reading some questions. How are the situations that are presented in the Bible and the teachings that are given in the Bible affected by the Gospel?

You see, it isn’t always so easy, is it? Do you still believe, or are you silently thinking to yourself, “well, I know the Gospel is all important, but it really doesn’t apply to this or that situation?” Come on now, be honest, and maybe we can show you something today.

What if I told you that the Gospel applies to eating lunch? If you could see that the Gospel applied to something as mundane, regular, and “neutral” as that, wouldn’t that help you to see that we should be looking for ways to apply the Gospel?

Well, the Gospel does indeed apply to eating lunch. In Galatians chapter two, we see Paul confront Peter. Why? Because Peter usually ate with the Gentiles, but he shied away from eating with the Gentiles once the Judaizers arrived. The Judaizers, or “circumcision party”, were those who said you had to become a Jew, and that you had to be circumcised to be saved, or at least to become an advanced Christian. Peter knew this wasn’t true, but he was trying to avoid confrontation, or trying not to look bad in their eyes. Paul calls it fear. It wasn’t that he changed his beliefs, but his convictions were not strong enough and he was avoiding trouble for himself. He wasn’t going to tell the Gentiles they had to be circumcised, he just wanted to avoid having to deal with the Judaizers, and he wanted to stay with the cool crowd, as it were.

This conduct was not in accordance with the truth of the Gospel however, and Paul marched right over to that other table and told Peter off! The Gospel applied to lunch.

Let’s apply the Gospel lesson learned in the lunchroom standoff to our lives today. Do you avoid other Christians when you see them out while you are with your “cool” friends? Do you believe the Gospel truth that there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28 – ESV)? Or do you still separate from those who don’t dress the way you do, look the way you do, have the same social status as you, aren’t as smart as you, or aren’t the same color as you? We could go on and on, but you get the point. The Gospel means we don’t set the boundaries, God does.

Now that you have learned an elementary lesson, you may ask, “How do we learn to bring the Gospel to bear on all of our life?” Keep reading the Bible and asking questions. Pray for God to show you. As you read and pray for this, God will show you in your life experience just how central the Gospel is. It is as necessary as eating your daily bread.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Friday, April 03, 2009

The Idol of Ignorance


Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight." Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.
(Proverbs 9:6-9 – ESV)

Our old man of the self tries to protect our self-interest at all costs. If you were in error, would you want to know? Are you so sure about that? Are you actually becoming more teachable? Or do you just want to protect your pet idea, and keep it insulated by ignorance? Would you parade that ignorance as somehow showing a superior form of piety? In other words, do you think it means you have more faith, or that you are somehow a more humble or loving person?

Now in Christianity, some things are a mystery, yet some people think everything about Christianity is a mystery. Or that you can have two diametrically opposed ideas of doctrine and both are still right. Or that when shown something as false from the Bible, that they “just know” that their interpretation is right somehow. People treat conviction with suspicion, and feel that certainty is certainly a sin. They might say, “Oh we cannot know”, and think that for you to be so certain is obviously a sin, and they seem to be certain of that, don’t they?

This does not make them humble and holy but it is actually very arrogant. We are all guilty of that to some degree, but none of that excuses any of the error. Some may begin by acting humble but they soon become hostile. They are, in effect, saying, “I may not know the answer but I won’t allow YOU to teach me the truth”. James 4:17 – So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

The claim of innocence becomes invalid when forced to see the idol of ignorance. Even so, people will often want to cling to their idol rather than suffer regret. They deny and defend, they cry and pretend. It should be a relief when we have found the truth, but no one wants to admit that what they thought was precious was only fools gold, or worse. This is why we must grow up and learn to become lovers of the truth no matter what it may cost us; it is more valuable and precious than any lie that does us any amount of good, emotionally or otherwise. The end of all lies is death and destruction.

When faced with the choice of reconsidering that their notions might be wrong, many would prefer to simply retreat to the “ignorance is bliss” position, or the “you are just being mean” position, or the “but it has done me much good” position, or the “yeah I see what you are saying, but” position, or the “yeah but your way isn’t perfect” position, or whatever else saves them some face. They cannot stomach the thought of having been so wrong so long, having cherished or taught this idea and having to be known as having been wrong on it.

The truth is most of the others who they think will look down on them for “being wrong” won’t, they will be happy to see you embrace the truth. It isn’t as if you have to go back and tell everyone to renounce the false stuff that “worked” for you all this time. You don’t have say, “this didn’t really work”, but “this isn’t really right”. Repentance doesn’t try and hold on to self by trying to defend a false idea, or by trying to point out the errors of the other person before admitting the errors of their own ways. That isn’t repentance; that is rebellion.

It is not about you or them it is about the truth. If you are truthfully interpreting and teaching from the scriptures, no matter how it is told it tends to be cutting people down to size who at best are exalting their idea of themselves over you, but are actually doing worse, they are exalting their knowledge against the knowledge of God.

It is to those who are religious in this way that that the Bible reserves its harshest language. Now we are not writing scripture as led by the Holy Spirit, but using strong criticism, harsh tones, cutting remarks, sarcasm, or absurd arguments may help some see the nature of their superstitions. To underline the ridiculous with the ridiculous can be very eye opening. The Apostle Paul used these tactics, as did the Old Testament prophets at times (cf. Galatians 1:8-9, 5:12 / 1 Corinthians 4 / Philippians 3:8 / 1 Kings 18:27, 1 Kings 22:13-28 / Isaiah / Ezekiel / etc.). They didn’t do these all the time, and neither should we, but sometimes you have to shake them up to wake them up otherwise they will not hear. Even if they get mad at you at least they will hopefully get mad enough to go home and consider what you say. Even if they are trying to disprove it, at least they will investigate.

It is the same for all of us. When we are shown the truth but are unwilling to actually engage the issue, the reason it hurts so much to see the idol smashed is because we will not let it go, and so we are also hit in the process. Sometimes we can hold to deception as tenaciously as if it were Christ Himself, but it was only a projection of your best thoughts, and it was false. Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? (Galatians 4:16)

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Bad Dad?


What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
(Luke 11:11-13 – ESV)

People often say that if we ask God for something good He won’t give us something evil, and they use this text as proof. This is true. However, we might ask God for something, and yet receive something else from someone else and think it is God who gave it. Just because we ask God for something doesn’t mean anything we get is from God. True, if you ask the Father for a fish, the Father is not going to give you a snake. But that is the test – if you get a snake, you know it wasn’t God who gave it to you.

Instead of looking at your own desires for it to be something good, look at what is produced. You may want a fish, but you may be asking the wrong source. It is not “look at what is given and it must be good”, but “look at what is given and you can know where it came from”. It is not that whatever comes must be deemed as good, but that whatever comes must point to the source.

What we receive must be consistent with whatever else God has already revealed. If God doesn’t give it, you don’t want it, no matter how “good” it may seem. James 1:17 – Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

You may be wanting and hungering and needing something God isn’t going to give, but Satan will, and so when you get it you automatically think it is from God because you asked for it. To your mind it was good to ask for it, and so whatever you got was good, it was from God, or so you think. But there is the problem, we may have thought we wanted something good, but we have actually asked amiss, for our own desire to be an instrument in an area God doesn’t want us to deal with others in. We may be asking for something God isn’t giving, like some made up mantle or whatever, then when something else comes we think we got what we asked for but what we got was some counterfeit.

We must be wary at all times, not knowing the extent to which God will allow the enemy to influence our lives. If we leave a foothold to Satan, God may allow him to use it to test us to see if we are truly faithful or not. It is as if we come asking and waiting and we will wait till we get something, but perhaps God isn’t the one who gave it. As if all the asking seeking and knocking means we can always get what we ask for, even when it isn’t what God wants for us. There are things, even good things, which God in His providence does not desire for us to have. It is not about our desire it is about His.

Our motives are not what we think they are and too often we judge them by our feelings and so then God becomes a projection of our best feelings, our inclinations to do “good”.

So when we ask God for something good, it is true He won’t give us something bad, but that doesn’t mean we will get anything at all, and it isn’t true that He will prevent us from receiving something bad from someone else just because we “claim” this verse as our protection. You can “get’ something, and it not be from God.

2 Corinthians 11:3-4 – But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.

We can be Christians and receive the ideas of false spirits, not necessarily possession, but false doctrine and false signs and wonders and teachers, and false systems, etc. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

We must be diligent and on guard against counterfeits. We cannot just wait around till we get something and then declare that it is of God. We must learn to discern, to test what is going on. How can we do that if the something we are waiting on is some anointing that some prophet claims we can have if we ask for it or receive it when it isn’t found in scripture or it is twisted out of its context and made to seem like something we can have when it isn’t? That is the problem when using Luke 11:11-13 as some sort of defense against counterfeit gifts; when we ask for something God doesn’t allow, doesn’t want us to have, or simply doesn’t exist. So you may have this verse memorized, and that is good, but you cannot have it as an unbeatable weapon in your arsenal against deception.

Some think that their motives are pure, saying, “I just want to be used by God”. Well then just be used by God right now in whatever you are normally doing. Oswald Chambers said, “Drudgery is the test of genuine character. The greatest hindrance in our spiritual life is that we will only look for big things to do” (My Utmost For His Highest: June 15).

Now what we often mean when we say “I just want to be used by God” is that we want the excitement of being used by God in some mighty way, or what we think is mighty. However, anyone who can go about the daily life giving God the glory and being excellent in whatever they are doing now, that is the person who is being used by God.

If you are growing in grace, not gifts, but fruit and holiness, in repentance and faithfulness, God is using you. If you are evangelizing out there everyday without those power gifts, God is using you. Remember those in Matthew 7:21-23, they thought that doing God’s will was using power gifts to do His work. They had the power but they didn’t have Christ.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

I Don’t Agree with the Prayer of Agreement


Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.
(Matthew 18:19 – ESV)

I love praying, and I have taught on prayer and preached on prayer many times and for many years. It is one of my favorite subjects and one of my favorite things to do. Whether it is by myself or with others, it is something I am wholeheartedly committed to, without reserve. I firmly believe in the power of prayer, but of course that power needs to be defined biblically.

Many who want to make more of the power of prayer than they ought will claim that this verse teaches something it does not. They will say that if two or more Christians agree in prayer about any specific issue, God will accomplish the prayer. Is that what this verse teaches?

It is good to agree with other believers in prayer for God’s will, certainly this is true. But if this idea about the “prayer of agreement” was true, why then doesn’t God answer all our corporate prayers in accordance with our desires? It is obvious then that there are qualifications to this idea, at best, and it might not even be biblical, so we need to think about it while looking to the actual text.

It isn’t as if there are three votes to be cast, and if you and your prayer partner agree that you want things done one way, then God, His will notwithstanding, has to observe the majority rule. Now you may balk and try and explain the position away as not actually being like that, but it really does boil down to that, doesn’t it? Does your agreement automatically make God to be in agreement? Of course not, we would all say, so let’s look a little closer at this idea, shall we? Let’s not just agree to disagree, but let’s take a look at the text, and see if we can clear up our disagreement by clearly seeing what the text does or does not teach. Agreed?

There can be a real problem with certain ideas drawn from “proof texts”. While they might sound good, and be based on scripture, and in many instances the single verse provided appears to confirm the teaching, on closer examination we see that the verse has been pulled out of the context in which it was given and is claimed to say what it does not. Oh, this particular verse does “say” what it “says” but it does not clearly teach what it simply says.

We cannot simply use “verses in a vacuum”, in other words, we cannot pull them out of their context, and make them say what we want them to mean, thereby becoming “verse ventriloquists”. This is what the kingdom of the cults do all the time; they pour their own meaning into the words. Although we have all had our difficulties with misinterpreting texts and teachings, when we can by God’s grace find our way to the truth, we need to take it as it is.

When looking at texts, we can understand them to apply to Christians universally, such as Matthew 28:19-20 (go therefore and teach all nations), or to someone or something specifically, such as Matthew 10:5-6 (do not go to anyone but the Jews, a command for the disciples only and for that particular time period only, overruled by the Great Commission), or principally, such as Philippians 2:3-4 (Paul was speaking to a particular church but the principle of Christlike behavior applies to us) or not at all, as with 2 Timothy 4:13 (Paul tells Timothy to bring his papers, which we are obviously not to do). Texts meant specifically may also apply principally, so sometimes texts that aren’t teaching on a particular subject may still give us a principle to follow and apply to other matters.

Matthew 18:19 is part of a group of 6 verses, beginning with Matthew 18:15 and ending with Matthew 18:20. This section of scripture is about church discipline, and not specifically about prayer at all. The asking part is about the offended parties going to the leadership as part of the process of that discipline. Church members are asking church leaders to do something, in accordance with standard protocol. So this verse, in the asking part, is not about people asking God, but people asking people.

However, does the verse apply in principle? What about the binding and loosing aspect from verse 18? What about the Father doing something from heaven?

This verse does apply in principle, but not with respect to prayer. This was Christ telling the disciples that the Heavenly Father would ratify the decision of the church leaders. This wasn’t about giving church leaders or “prayer agree-ers” unlimited authority, it was Jesus telling us, in principle, that when proper disciplinary procedures are followed in the church, the leaders have the right to deny fellowship to the person who won’t repent of their sin that they committed against another believer. The binding and loosing has to do with the disciplinary decisions being made; God vests a certain authority to the church.

This is why other passages dealing with the handling of disputes and handing out discipline in a Christian manner, such as 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 are so important, and why church membership, once again, is seen to be an essential for the New Testament believer, not an optional ideal. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul is applying what Jesus was teaching here. If you are not part of a local assembly, you are undermining part of the foundation for your Christian life. You need to be a vital part of a local fellowship of believers. This is not just about attending this or that church once in a while, or moving from church to church, that would escape this scenario and all like it, and now YOU KNOW IT.

However, most people don’t want to submit themselves to God’s people. They don't have to worry about failing a test they don't have to take. Many will never submit to discipline, either from the church, or in some degree to the scriptures themselves. They never give up the right to be the final arbiter, and this is the glaring problem in many so-called Christians. The gospel truth is that submitting to God means that we also have to submit to one another.

Now realize that this passage isn’t about handing out punishment without any procedure; this is a very specific plan of action for grieved parties. It is not a decision in relation to the salvation of the sinning Christian, but only in relation to their association with the fellowship. The agreement part is in relation to the process employed in verses 15 through 17 that results in the decision to expel the sinning person from the fellowship.

As a matter of prayer this text does not apply at all. It isn’t about a universal prayer power, it does not specifically deal with prayer, and it does not apply in principle either. It is a good and wonderful thing for believers to dwell in unity, and to pray together in God’s will with faith. However, with regards to how it is taught and understood in some circles, I do not agree with the prayer of agreement, because the bible does not teach it, especially from this verse.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©