Thursday, April 23, 2009

What's better than life? More life!

Hebrews 11 is called the great "faith" chapter. It is filled with examples of those who looked forward to something better than what they had on this earth. For example, it is said of Moses, "He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward" (Hebrews 11:25-26).

When we read Hebrews 11, our attention is often drawn to the "headliners" ... men like Noah, Abraham, or Moses. But no verse helps us understand more clearly the point the author is making than Hebrews 11:35, "Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection."

Stop and think about that. We have two very unique situations. In the first, we have a scenario of which many dream. Consider the woman who has lost a husband or a child. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have them back again? The Lord did indeed raise some from the dead while He was on this earth. Remember Mary and Martha's sorrow at the death of their brother Lazarus? Imagine their joy at receiving the brother back again alive!

But as wonderful as it might be to have a few more years with your loved ones, there is something even greater than that waiting, which is the point of the text. Hebrews 11:40 - the last verse of the chapter - says, "God had planned something better for us ..." What's better than life? More life! More years on this earth is as nothing compared to an eternity in heaven.

Now let's consider the second scenario. "Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection." Again, imagine yourself in a position where you are being literally tortured for being a Christian. To escape the pain and the punishment, all you have to do is renounce your Christianity. Just deny your belief in Jesus as the Christ and you will live to see another day. What a real temptation!

But these unnamed martyrs knew well the lesson of v. 40 ... "God had planned something better for us." Did they want to die a painful death? Absolutely not! Did they want to die at all? Of course not. If we had our preferences, we would probably all prefer dying in our sleep at a ripe old age. But they had been put in a very specific situation ... your faith or your life! Some would just tell the torturers what they wanted to hear, rationalizing that there would be plenty of time left for them to apologize to the Lord.

Not these Christians! They understood that there is no excuse for denying the Christ. We're either with Him or against Him (Matthew 12:30). So what's your choice ... more time on this earth, or "a better resurrection"? Perhaps - like these Christians of former days - we should keep in mind that God has something better planned for us than life on this earth.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Teaching OF Christ

2 John 1:9 (NAS), "Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son."

There is much teaching about the Christ occurring in the religious world today. Preachers preach about Jesus. They speak of His love and grace. They speak of developing a relationship with Him. In fact, there are countless classes, small groups, seminars, books and blogs that share in teaching about Christ ... but that is not what the apostle John says.

The verse above speaks of abiding in "the teaching OF Christ," not teaching about Christ. Yes, we hear so much about Jesus' love and mercy, but are we connecting with that love and mercy by hearing and obeying the commands of Christ? Our Master has said, "If you love Me, you will obey what I command" (John 14:15, NIV). He has also said that such obedience is what motivates His love, "If anyone loves Me, he will obey My teaching. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him" (John 14:23, NIV).

So why is there so much being said ABOUT Christ, and so little being said of His teachings ... of our Lord's commands? Have we not received a great commission? We go ... we baptize ... but are we at all fulfilling that part about "teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:20)?

May it be our goal not just to share teachings about Christ, but the teachings OF Christ. Truly it is a life or death matter. "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36, NAS).

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Early in the Morning

The Easter Sunrise Service was scheduled for 6:30a. My wife was up at 4:45a to get ready. My alarm was set for 5:40a, but I never made it that far. I woke up with my wife at 4:45a, my mind started working, and I could not get back to sleep. I begin to think of all the things I had to do that day. Then I stopped, and began to think of all that Jesus did on such a day so long ago.

The Scriptures tell us that - on the night before He was crucified - Jesus was "in anguish." When He prayed, "His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground." Then, "when He rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, He found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow" (Luke 22:44-45). Soon after that, Jesus was arrested and imprisoned. I wonder how Jesus slept the night before He knew He would be crucified?

What about Abraham? "God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about"" (Genesis 22:2). The next verse then tells us that "early the next morning" Abraham got up, saddled the donkey, got some firewood and his son and went to do what the Lord told him to do? So how do you think Abraham slept that night?

How difficult it is for us to get our minds off of ourselves ... our plans, our work, our time. The next time you have trouble sleeping with your head so full of all the things you have to do, think of those like Abraham and Jesus. Perhaps you will find that - by comparison - your plans just aren't that significant.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Church Destroyed

In Jeremiah 1:9-10, the Lord says to His prophet, "I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant." Almost every congregation that I know of is connected in some way with a church planting group. Much is said about building and planting. Strange though ... I have never heard discussion of uprooting, tearing down, destroying or overthrowing existing congregations.

Some might suggest that God is not referring to the church, yet in v. 18 of that text God says to Jeremiah, "I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land--against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land." Jeremiah was being sent with the word of the Lord against God's own people!

At this point, surely someone will scoff and suggest that this is all Old Testament and does not apply to a New Testament people ... that the church's purpose is to build and plant, not to destroy. But is that the truth? A good portion of my life has been spent watching Indiana farmers plant and harvest their crops. Every season - before the first seed is planted - the plows and discs begin tearing up the ground in preparation for the seeds. Jeremiah was being sent to do the very same thing.

Perhaps we should listen to an expert in the field. Jesus said, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful" (John 15:1-2). Many in church leadership today believe that we must do everything in our power to bring people in. Surely that is a noble sentiment, but before we can bring people in we must - in some situations - get people out!

Have you ever wondered why so many congregations seem to have a revolving door of visitors, yet little actual growth? Perhaps because the friendship and invitations of some are being sabotaged by the surliness and ignorance of others. In many churches ministers come and go, yet the people and their leaders remain. Heads are scratched ... "Why aren't we growing?" Because growth is effected by the field in which the seed is planted (Luke 8:4-15).

When the question of building and planting is raised, too often the responses are of human design. "Let's start this program ... Let's build something ... Let's make some changes to our worship services." God knows the truth though. He has revealed to us the truth. "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 6 And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete" (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).

We are in a war, of that there is no doubt. The decision is of how to fight the war. Should we lower the standards of Christ to compete with the standards of the world? When the authority of opinion supercedes the authority of God's word, walls have been raised that must come down. The religious world today cries out for tolerance for conflicting beliefs. The apostle believes that fighting a war in hostile territory is hard enough without unsanctioned orders from imposters spreading confusion within the ranks. Such imposters must be rooted out and exposed, because they do nothing but weaken the body from within.

In Jeremiah's day, God's people were accused of committing two sins, "They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water" (Jeremiah 2:13). Have we in the church today replaced the springs of living water with our own brand of bottled water? Have we created for ourselves wells which cannot hold water, because they have been built only by human means?

Those who have called themselves the people of God have tried this in every generation ... and failed in every generation. "Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you. 13 But you have planted wickedness, you have reaped evil, you have eaten the fruit of deception. Because you have depended on your own strength and on your many warriors, 14 the roar of battle will rise against your people, so that all your fortresses will be devastated" (Hosea 10:12-14).

If we truly desire church growth - if we want to see congregations planted and built up - it must begin with the destruction of self and self-made things. "Break up your unplowed ground." Remove those obstacles - be they programs or people - which are a hindrance to the spiritual growth of Christ's body.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Christian Dream

We all know the American Dream ... lots of money, nice home, nice car, and plenty of stuff. How different is the dream of a godly man - a Christian man. Take for example Agur, who made an interesting request of the Lord in Proverbs 30:8, "Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread." What trust! "Father, I don't want to be poor ... but I don't need to be rich ... just take care of me, each and every day." How would our lives change if that were truly our desire?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Your Weary Inheritance

Psalm 68:7-9 says, "When you went out before your people, O God, when you marched through the wasteland, 8 the earth shook, the heavens poured down rain, before God, the One of Sinai, before God, the God of Israel. 9 You gave abundant showers, O God; you refreshed your weary inheritance."

I love the imagery here! Remember what God did for His people in the wilderness. Forty years of wasteland ... after four hundred years of slavery ... but God was with them. He had told Abraham of a "promised" land. His descendants finally - with God's aid - we're led to that place. Imagine the refreshment that Joshua and the people experienced as they finally crossed the Jordan River, broke past Jericho, and entered into the Promised Land.

Are we not in the exact same situation? This world we live in is a wasteland. Having been released from the chains of sin, we are still living in a world of sin. Many of our earthly soldiers have complained of long battle campaigns, yet the Christian soldier engages in spiritual warfare every day of his life on this earth. But there remains a refreshment - a rest - for God's people (Hebrews 4:9-10)! The apostle Paul certainly believed in it, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing" (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

March on, weary people! Your inheritance awaits!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

An Active Christian Lifestyle

In Romans 12:11, Paul says, "Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord." These three expressions truly seem to express an active Christian lifestyle.
1. "Never be lacking in zeal" - The NASB translates that, "Not lagging behind in diligence." In the context of the chapter, this speaks of our enthusiasm for the work of the church. Are you faithful in helping to build up the body of Christ? Laziness is a hallmark of our culture, but should not be a prime characteristic of the church.
2. "Keep your spiritual fervor" - The Greek verb literally means to boil or to be hot. Have you reached the boiling point in your eagerness to aid the body?
3. "Serving the Lord" - This is used to remind us of our relationship to Christ. We are not equals. He is Creator, we are the creature. He is the Master, we are the servants. He is the One with all authority (Matthew 28:18). God "appointed Him to be head over everything for the church" (Ephesians 1:22). This we too often forget. May we never be so active in our Christian lives that we fail to remember the One who should be guiding and directing our activities.

Eager to Preach

In Romans 1:15, the apostle Paul says, "I am eager to preach the gospel." This is the chief sentiment behind this blog. I have been in the Christian ministry for almost 25 years. Of the host of hats I wear, preaching is my chief task and desire. While so many in the secular world are growing discontented with their occupations, I am still passionate about my primary vocation. I am, therefore, eager to preach!