Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Divine Combination

I remember the old commercial for Reese's Cups. Person #1 has an open jar of peanut butter. Person #2 has a chocolate bar. They collide. "Hey, you got your peanut butter on my chocolate!" "No, you got your chocolate in my peanut butter!" Fortunately, that experiment turned out well for all of us. :)

Some combinations don't work out so well though. I can clean the siding on my house with vinegar and water ... or bleach and water ... but not with vinegar and bleach, or I will create deadly chlorine gas.

Where my spiritual life is concerned, the same thoughts hold true. Some combinations are good ... some are deadly. Consider what the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:12, "For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you." 

The conscience is a wonderful thing ... if it is appropriately trained and focused. Saul of Tarsus had a clean conscience ... as he persecuted the church and worked against Christ. He was sincere in his beliefs, yet he was sincerely wrong. Spiritually speaking, his life before Christ was a mixture of vinegar and bleach ... deadly!

But after allowing Christ to change him, he found a new combination that produced divine results ... and shares it with us in 2 Corinthians 1:12. Do you want a really clean conscience? Try combining holiness with godly sincerity!

Godly sincerity is different from human sincerity. Human sincerity is founded "in fleshly wisdom." Godly sincerity is founded in "Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:24).

Why is there so much confusion and weakness within our congregations? Because people are mixing together things that should not be mixed together. Some try to mix holiness with fleshly wisdom. It creates legalists. It produces Pharisees. It doesn't work. It produces those who are SELF-righteous.

Others try to mix godly wisdom into their worldly lives. That doesn't work either though. Such people are the very reason Jesus said, "He who is not with Me is against Me" (Matthew 12:30). To such people, James boldly says, "You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God" (James 4:4). You can't mix worldliness with godliness! "What partnership have righteousness and lawlessness" (2 Corinthians 6:14)?

The proper combination - the DIVINE combination - is holiness and godly sincerity. Live righteous lives. You can be sincerely right if you follow God's word. Your conscience can be perfectly clean, because you are building your life according to Christ's perfect pattern. According to the apostle, that kind of a life speaks volumes. It is a fitting testimony of Christianity to the world and to the church.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Just One Person

I am amazed at what the Lord asked of a young man like Jeremiah. He was commanded to speak judgment against God's people. First, please consider the types correspondent with today's church. Jeremiah was not sent to the pagans, but to those who already belonged to the Lord. Our heavenly Father's condemnation was being pronounced not upon strangers, but upon family. To properly apply this message then, we must consider it as being addressed to "we the church" not "they the world."

The Lord challenges His prophet (who was obviously hesitant to participate in bringing the wrath of God upon the Holy City), "Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares. If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city" (Jeremiah 5:1). One person? Surely Jeremiah ought to be able to find one person in a city full of God's people who can be found to deter the Lord's anger. Can't he? Just one person who deals honestly? Just one who seeks the truth of God?

There were many who claimed to be godly people. "Although they say, ‘As surely as the LORD lives,’ still they are swearing falsely" (Jeremiah 5:2). Houston, we have a problem! Again, these aren't the pagans. God's own people - who swore that they served Him - were liars. God was looking for truth, so He didn't listen merely to their words ... He examined their hearts.

"O LORD, do not your eyes look for truth? You struck them, but they felt no pain; you crushed them, but they refused correction. They made their faces harder than stone and refused to repent" (Jeremiah 5:3). God - as a Father - worked diligently to correct His children ... but they ignored the spankings. They rebelled against His discipline. They would not admit that they were wrong. Isn't it amazing how good Satan is at what he does?

Jeremiah was bewildered. How could such a thing happen in the Holy City of Jerusalem? "I thought, 'These are only the poor; they are foolish, for they do not know the way of the LORD, the requirements of their God. 5 So I will go to the leaders and speak to them; surely they know the way of the LORD, the requirements of their God.' But with one accord they too had broken off the yoke and torn off the bonds" (Jeremiah 5:4-5).

I can imagine Jeremiah's reaction: "Oh, Lord, surely You don't mean that 'everyone' is unfaithful. Yes, it's true ... I've been preaching Your Word to the people for some time now, and they aren't accepting it. They aren't repenting ... but it must be because they just haven't been taught enough of the 'basics'. So here's what I'll do ... rather than preaching to the masses, I'll go and share Your message with the religious leaders. We'll call a special meeting ... I'll fill them in ... and surely they will be on board with this. After all, they are 'religious leaders'."

Jeremiah finally came to the realization that God knew what He was talking about. When He challenged the prophet to find just one person whose heart belonged fully to the Lord, He did so knowing that Jeremiah would not find such a person ... not among the 'common people' and not even among the 'religious leaders'.

Are we so blind today that we cannot - in the fear of the Lord - apply this to ourselves? What does God see when He examines the modern church? Does He see congregation members who are dealing honestly with Him? Does He see church leaders who seek the truth of God, rather than a truth of their own making by collective agreement?

"Should I not avenge Myself on such a nation as this?" (Jeremiah 5:29). 

Doesn't sound like God was very happy with His children. They looked around amongst themselves and saw good religious people. They were happy and content with their lives. But what did God see among the people of Holy Jerusalem? "A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: 31 The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way" (Jeremiah 5:30-31).

Honesty and truth ... that's what God was looking for. He didn't find it. He saw religious people ... those who were serving and praising and ... and all for nothing, because their rebellious hearts were deceived. Yes, they loved having their own way. They loved hearing what they wanted to hear. But God asks a valid question by means of conclusion, "But what will you do in the end?" (Jeremiah 5:31). 

What will we do when we someday stand before a righteous Judge who has demanded honesty and truth? Will we tell Him of our regular church attendance, or our giving patterns, or the events we attended and/or worked? Will we remind Him of the songs we sang, or the prayers we said? Or will our pleas fall on deaf ears, because the One listening knows the truth and honesty of our hearts?

As God Almighty looks within the 'holy cities' we have built for ourselves, will He find that one person? And if He doesn't, what will He do in the end?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Narrow Way

Matthew 7:13-14 says, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Why do so many people believe that religion is a matter of personal preference? How are views held that suggest it doesn’t matter what you believe? Are we really all going to heaven?

I have often been asked why I am so “narrow” in my beliefs. Actually, I am only as narrow as the Bible requires me to be. In those things which are not Biblical, I show great leniency. But am I really that narrow? Am I any more narrow that anyone else in all of society?

When I pick up the phone to call someone here in town, I am required to dial seven digits. “Well, I’m free to dial any numbers I want!” True, but don’t expect to get the right person. They have to be the right seven numbers—in the right order—or I will not reach my party. Sounds to me like the phone company’s pretty narrow!

Consider those narrow scientists. If you want a drink of water, it will require two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen (H2O). “But I’m free to pick and choose the elements I want!” That’s fine, but if you choose to use two parts hydrogen and two parts oxygen (H2O2), you’ll be drinking hydrogen peroxide.

If exactness is required in basics like math and chemistry, why is it such a shock that exactness would be expected from the God who created those things? Jesus did not say, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) in order to exclude people … He said it so that people would know exactly how to be included. The narrow way is there for our benefit!

So the question is: Do you want to be included in the family of God? There is a way provided. Yes, it IS a narrow way … but praise God He revealed that way!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Longing for a Better Country

“Beware of your friends; do not trust your brothers. For every brother is a deceiver, and every friend a slanderer.5 Friend deceives friend, and no one speaks the truth. They have taught their tongues to lie; they weary themselves with sinning. 6 You live in the midst of deception; in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge Me,” declares the LORD (Jeremiah 9:4-5).

What an image. When you read a passage like that, you cannot help but wonder what kind of evil, monstrous people these must be that God would say this concerning them. A majority of Christians who read this would say - I'm sure - that they have never witnessed such a people.

Don't be so sure. Perhaps they are closer than you think.

First, in reading this text, one cannot assume malice. One person tells a deliberate lie, intending to mislead you ... another passes along false information, although they did not realize what they were saying was untrue. In either case, deception has taken place ... whether intended or not.

I do not believe that these people were all monsters. I'm sure there were many nice folks, just like our neighbors, co-workers or family members. ... But that doesn't mean they were not sinners.

According to the text, these people were "friends" and "brothers." The problem though was that not one of them was speaking truth. They had grown accustomed to living apart from the word of the Lord. You don't have to be a murderer or a rapist to offend God ... just ignore His word ... the end result is the same.

I wonder what the Lord sees when He looks at our "civilized" society? I wonder what He thinks of our "friendly" congregations? Actually, I don't have to wonder ... I've already been told what He thinks of anyone - be they friend or brother - who lives apart from His will. Friendliness and civility are not the measures by which God has chosen to judge us. The Holy Spirit was sent to "convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment" (John 16:8). Are we disregarding the word of the Lord? Then we are sinners, though perhaps the friendliest sinner on the planet. Do we do what God says is right? If not, we are unrighteous ... and no amount of your "brothers" who stand shoulder to shoulder with you and tell you how wonderful you are will sway the decision of an impartial and just God who was given us His word as a standard to be upheld.

Satan has already been judged (John 16:11). Now, the father of lies is doing everything he can to convince people that being good is good enough. He loves it when people are friends and brothers ... and not one of them knows enough of the word of God to speak truth.

I empathize with Jeremiah. I can relate to the prophet. As you immerse yourself in God's word ... when you submit yourself to His leadership ... truth will be revealed (John 8:32). But the more the truth is revealed, the more the falsehoods are also revealed. No wonder Jeremiah wept. He saw good people ... friends and brothers ... who had all been deceived by Satan. They had grown so accustomed to the "truths" they had created, that they no longer cared what God really said. "That's the way it is" became more important than "that's what God said."

And the prophet's reaction? Jeremiah 9:2, "Oh, that I had in the desert a lodging place for travelers, so that I might leave my people and go away from them; for they are all adulterers, a crowd of unfaithful people."
"I wish I could get away from them all!"
But Jeremiah, these are your friends and brothers!
"They're all adulterers, cheating on God by sleeping with the world."
Jeremiah, I understand. So did Jesus. Here's what He said about the good people of His day. "O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?" (Matthew 17:17).

How hard it is to live by faith. How difficult to live "without fault in a crooked and depraved generation" (Philippians 2:15). Sin so easily entangles us (Hebrews 12:1).

Friends and brothers? Civilized people? Then why have God's people been "tortured," "faced jeers and flogging," been "chained and put in prison," "were stoned," "sawed in two," "put to death by the sword," and "went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated" (Hebrews 11:35-38)?

God has declared, "the world was not worthy of them."
"They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground"
See, Jeremiah? There were others who just wanted to get away from it all. No wonder "they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one" (Hebrews 11:16).

I do, too, Jeremiah. I do, too.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Walking in Agreement ... With Sin?

Comedian Flip Wilson always used to say, "The devil made me do it."
Today, Christians have adopted similar mottos, like, "We're only human," or "We're all just sinners," or "No one's perfect."

The Bible allows for no such excuses. Amos 3:3 says, "Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?" Oh, by the way, that means that no one sins on accident; sin is a choice. Ezekiel puts it this way, "The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him" (Ezekiel 18:20).
Seriously ... how clear is that?
Yet we want to make excuses for sin ... as if it is some nervous tic which we cannot prevent.

"Oh, but that's the Old Testament," someone will say. "We're a New Testament people, and the New Testament tells us that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). See? Everyone sins!"
First, that was not offered by the apostle as an excuse, but as a fact. You cannot make an argument for a Savior, unless there is something a person must be saved from. That something is sin.
Second - and the book of Romans is a wonderful example - the responsibility for sin is laid completely at our feet. There is no one else to blame. The buck stops here. Romans 2 says, "Because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will give to each person according to what he has done.” 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, He will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger" (Romans 2:5-8). 

"Hey, wait a minute! That's exactly what the Old Testament said."
Yes, it is.

"But how do I stop sinning?"
The same way you started sinning ... make the choice. The apostle of Christ gives us that choice in Ephesians 4, "put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires [and] put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:22,24).

God gave you a free will ... use it! Say no to sin, and yes to righteousness. On the Day of Judgment, you will be glad you made the decision to walk in agreement with Christ, rather than with sin.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Real Love

The first real mention of love isn't found until Genesis 19:19. Lot has received the angelic message that Sodom and Gomorrah are going to be destroyed. His response to God is, “Now behold, Your servant has found favor in Your sight, and You have magnified Your lovingkindness, which You have shown me by saving my life” (NAS).

The second usage shows some similarity, in that “love” shows up in a time of crisis. In Genesis 22:2, God says to Abraham, “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” (NIV).

Sure are a lot of questions brought up by these two verses. God has created the universe and everything in it. The man and the woman were placed in the garden of Eden. They were in fellowship with God. Skip forward to the flood. God saves Noah and his family in order to repopulate the earth. Skip forward again. God reveals Himself to Abram, sends him out of his homeland to a “promised” land, and makes a covenant with him. Yet nowhere in any of that do we hear an “I love you”? Seriously?

When we finally get to our first two passages on love, what do we see? Hearts, flowers, candy, and a warm, ooshy-gooshy feeling? Nope. We see actions. Oh, did you notice that God isn't the One talking about His love? But apparently He's showing it. Lot recognized it immediately when God saved him from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham recognized it when – after being told to sacrifice his only son – God saved his son, Isaac, from certain death.

So why are we always focusing so much on how we feel when we talk about love? “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:3-7, NIV).

We are no different than Lot or Abraham. It is in the time of our greatest crisis that God has – not talked about love, but – shown us His love. Real love is about what God did. “Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul. Thank you, Lord, for making me whole. Thank you, Lord, for giving to me Thy great salvation so rich and free!”