Friday, November 08, 2013

A Revival Prayer


Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains might quake at your presence—
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
and that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome things that we did not look for,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From of old no one has heard
or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
who acts for those who wait for him. (Isaiah 64:1-4, ESV)



This passage, taken from Isaiah, so faithfully expresses the heart of those who truly want to see God glorified in these last days. The picture is so captivating. As if God cries, "Enough! I have heard the prayer of my beloved, I have seen the enemy's schemes, I can no longer tolerate the unbelief and indifference of those who once called me their Father. Enough is enough!" And he tears open the heavens, not like a sheet being torn from top to bottom, but like a door being busted down. The verse from Hebrews comes to mind, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!" (Hebrews 10:31).

As much as it would be wonderful and terrible to see such a sight in our day, this passage, for me, brings focus to another aspect of revival.  The person praying.

This dramatic picture was the heart cry of a humble voice for God who deeply lamented the spiritual deprivation of his nation. He wanted to see God move so badly that he could almost see it with his natural eyes.  How badly do we want to see God move?  Do we want it so badly that we will take risks?  What risks?  How about losing friends and family?  Leaving our well paying job? Giving up on our affluent American dreams?  Respect from our worldly friends? Jesus promised that if we left everything we would get so much more in return...including persecutions!   Do we want to see God move so badly that we will give up everything to gain...persecutions?   This is what waiting for God truly means.

Also note that this prayer doesn't promise that God will actually rend the heavens.  Rather it tells us that God will not forsake the one who waits for him. Isaiah knew that the only solution to Israel's current situation was for God to do something to fix it.  We can have all the revival services we want, we can buy all the "christianware" we can afford, we can join every political and social movement we have time for, we can scream and jump up and down until we are blue in the face and hoarse. But if God doesn't move we are wasting our time.

Can we make God move?  No, but I believe he will move if we do one thing constantly: wait for him.  If we are dedicated to shutting ourselves in our closets, where no one can see us and complement us for our godliness and diligence, and seek God's face, longing in our deepest being to see him rend the heavens, he will move.  Not because we made him do so, but because he longs to be so desperately wanted by his children that they will do anything for it.  Anything.

Yes, we need to be "doers of the Word and not just hearers only" (James 1:22).  However, it is a profound misunderstanding of this passage to equate doing the word with being busy.  It is a very American idea that busy=productive.  If all we are doing is "doing" then we are wasting our time (and God's).  Yes, visit those in prison, yes feed the hungry, yes take care of the widow and the orphan.  But if your day is spent doing, doing, doing and none of it involves the type of prayer mentioned above, then you are doing nothing.   Nothing, that is, that will bring God crashing through heaven's gates to storm the world of men.

Are you ready to see God move?  Are you ready to see this world turned upside down for his glory? Are yo ready to see people saved by the thousands or even tens of thousands?  Then get busy and start waiting for God!

Sunday, November 03, 2013

I wish we had Communion every day

Today, in our fellowship, we are having Communion or, what is sometimes referred to as, The Lord's Supper.  This is were we share, as the church, the wine (we use grape juice, but I wish this would change) and bread (unleavened, but again, I wish this would change too).   We do this once a month.  But I wish we would do this every day.

I have three reasons for this.  The first is due to the symbolic nature of the elements (the bread and the wine).  The bread reminds me of the body that was broken for me and the wine reminds me of the blood that was shed for me.  But more than this it reminds me that I've forgotten the terrible sacrifice that was made for me personally.  It reminds me that in one single day I have cheapened that sacrifice and I've abused the grace and mercy represented in these two humble icons of our Lord's body.

I need to repent in tears for, what many times, amounts to carelessness on my part.  Careless to let my sinful nature creep back into the control seat of my heart, sometimes without me knowing, many times with my explicit permission.  If I need this at the end of each day, can you imagine what one whole month brings?  I need this every day because I am a slow and stupid man.

Second, I need this for the actual presence of our Lord in the elements.  No, I do not believe that the bread physically becomes his body and the wine his blood.  I believe our Lord's words were spiritual (John 6:63).  But I do not believe they are purely symbolic.  Not only was this a much later addition to the Church's understanding of this holy feast, but it isn't what "spiritual" means.  I believe, as the church historically believed (akin to her teaching of the Trinity), that this is a mystery.  That, in some way that we can't quite grasp with our brains, the elements are both symbolically and actually his body and blood.  I believe the more we try to think this out the more warped and heretical our understanding of this precious feast becomes.

I need his presence, and although he is with me always, there is something special in these elements, something that brings me closer to him then any other time.  This happens through faith.  Or perhaps this happens in spite of my lack of faith.  Either way, I wish I had this every day.  I need it because I am a faithless and sinful man prone to wondering far away from my precious Savior.  I need this for the physical closeness it brings to the love of my soul.

Thirdly, Communion is called Communion because it must be participated within the communion of other  believers.  It cannot be done alone.  To do this alone, privately, is to strip from it a necessary element that ruins the experience.  We need one another.  Salvation is found in the midst of the whole body where Christ is the head.  We cannot do this alone.  Jesus didn't just die for me, he died for his Church.  When I say I want to do this everyday, I am expressing the desire to be in communion with my brothers and sisters everyday of every week of every year for all eternity.  Yes...I do know what I am asking.  I have lived with other believers in a communal type setting in the past.  It is very hard.  But it is right.

I am sure you will present the argument that Communion would become boring and common.  Yes.  It would.  I've lived with my wife now for over twenty years.  Do I take her for granted?  Have I become "bored" with our relationship?  Yes, I am ashamed to say that I have.  It is up to me to stir up that first love I had for her.  It is up to me to remember why we married in the first place.  To remember the first day I fell in love with her. To remember the beauty, the charm and yes, even the emotions.  When I do this I find my heart warming and my desire for her grow.  I look at her and fall in love with her all over again.

When I partake in the Lord's Supper whether it is daily, weekly, monthly or (God forbid!) yearly, I must stir up the first love (Rev. 2:5). I must remember when we first met 2,000 year ago on that cross when he, though I were still a sinner, died for me; his flesh broken and his blood pouring out upon the ground.

This is why I wish we had Communion every single day.


Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Fifty year old brimstone

Today I was looking for something to listen to and ran across a  recording of a sermon preached by Billy Graham over fifty years ago.  While I was listening it struck me that if he were to preach that way in most mainline churches today he would most likely be asked to never come back.

He was preaching on sin and God's judgement, but it wasn't the "You're going to Hell in a hand basket, you filthy sinful sinning sinner!" type of preaching.  It was strange really.  It was just straight forward speaking about what the Bible says, nothing more and nothing less.  But it had punch, and to my modern ears I kept catching myself flinching.

I found myself asking the question, "What is happening to us?"  I have watched as one friend after another has started preaching a gospel that is so toned down and politically correct it is almost as if they are constantly apologizing for God, the bible and the Church.  A constant walking on egg shells with an occasional  exclamation  "Oops, I'm sorry" whenever the slightest crack should sound.  Is this what Jesus really wanted?

I'm not all about hating on people or screaming in their faces. Far from it.  I hate confrontation just as much as the next person, but I am all about hearing the truth.  I don't like people beating around the bush.  Just say what you need to say and get it over with.  I'm the type of person that if I were told I needed major surgery that was lifesaving but would be painful and potentially deadly and that I had a choice between having it right now or next month, I would jump on the table and tell the doctor to start cutting.  If the truth is going to hurt I might as well have it hurt now rather than later.  But that is just me and not everyone is like me (thank you Father!).

But I really don't see a lot of dancing around the truth in the Scripture.  Sure, what we are told is very condensed so we aren't really seeing the full picture, but I do get the general sense from reading the bible that God was all about full disclosure when it came to what was good and what was bad and their related consequences.

So why do we do what we do?  I think it has to do with fear mostly.  We are, like most humans, afraid of rejection.  For all our toughness and the perpetual stiff upper lip we like to present to people, we really don't like it when people hate us for what we believe.  So we either:

1.  Avoid telling the truth.
2.  Water the truth down.
3.  Apologize for the truth, or
4.  Alter the truth or our perception of the truth to make it sound more like something other than what it is.

We've gotten so good at this that we don't even know we are doing it at times.  We make really great arguments why we do what we do, but in the end the results speak for themselves.  Everyone likes us and very few people, if any, find us repulsive for what we say or how we live.

The bible tells us "All those who live godly in Christ shall suffer persecution".  And Jesus said, "If they hated me they will hate you too."  Is this what we see?  Sure, we aren't suppose to go out looking for a fight, but that isn't what is being said in the bible and it certainly isn't what I am saying here.   I believe the message from Jesus is, "If you do what I did you will suffer what I suffered".  But all I hear are the crickets and an occasional nod from the ranks of unbelievers that says, "That boy is one of us".  Ouch!

So Bill's sermon really keyed me up.  Not to start preaching with a southern drawl, but to look to the Scriptures and get on my knees and ask Jesus, "What do you want me to say and how do you want me to live?"  Jesus once said, "Whatever I see my Father in heaven doing, that is what I do".  That is what I want to be able to say.  Whatever I see my Father doing, that is what I'm doing.  So help me God!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

What is love, really?


Love.  No single subject has been written more about in all of the history of written language.  It is hard to turn on your favorite music station and not hear a song about love.  The greeting card industry has made a sizable fortune on this topic alone.  And in our day and age nothing seems to be more misunderstood.

Recently I had a friend post about love on their social media account.  Their post underscored a deep misunderstanding of love as well as what God had to say about the matter.  Their approach was basically 'If you loved me you would accept me just the way I am.  God does, why don't you".  This friend is a homosexual.

How do I, as a Christian, begin to even answer such a statement?  God says that he does not condone homosexuality.  Not only does he not condone it, he outright condemns it:

...understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers,the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine... 1 Timothy 1:9-10.

and 

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

First let me point out that these passages are not all inclusive of the things that God hates or that will bar us from sharing in his eternal kingdom.  Basically what they are saying is "If you continue living in sin you will have no part in his Kingdom."   The reason these passages list what they do is that these things have always been considered sin and the writer (in both cases the Apostle Paul) is making it clear that the same God who gave us the Law is the same God who gave us Jesus.  And this God, although expressing to us his love through the deepest and most profound way by sacrificing his Son on our behalf is the very same God who will righteously judge everyone on the last day.   And that is where the crux of the misunderstanding of love comes in.  Who is God?

It is true that God is love.  It is also true and a necessary element to properly understanding and relating to God that he is just and holy.  To pretend to understand God as love but to refuse to even look at what it means that he is also holy is to set yourself up for a world of heart, both in your understanding of God and your relationship with others.

What I mean is this: if you insist that God is love and ignore his holiness you will insist that everyone demonstrate their love to you using this lopsided view of God.  You will tend to think along the lines of "Either you accept what I do or you don't love me.  You will either love me and accept all I do, or you will hate me".  Nothing about this statement may be true concerning the other person's love (or lack thereof) towards you, but because of how you've defined what love really is you will never get the chance to hear that dialog out.  You've basically poisoned the wells. 

It is true that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.  If we stop there we may come to the conclusion that if someone doesn't demonstrate love towards me the way I want then they don't love me.  But the bible says more about love.  It  says, "Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength" right before it says to love your neighbor as yourself.  So the question must be asked, "What does it mean to love God?" which is intimately tied into the question of "Who is God?"

The bible has a lot to say about this.  I don't have time in this post to go over it all but one verse in particular will suffice to make my point clear:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26

Whoa!  How does this even make sense?!  The answer is easy and it comes as the result of understand what it means to love God.  Everywhere the bible tells us that loving God is top priority.  Above all else we must love him and that there is no room for second place.  Even our loving our neighbor must be a consequence of loving God.  

In the case of the  above quote our love for God must be so great, so all consuming that even our love for our family will seem like hatred.  Not that we would actually hate all over them, but that from their perspective it will appear this way.  

How do you think a family (or anyone) feels when you go from hanging out with them, going to parties, talking about any subject that comes to mind, joking, etc. to all of a sudden wanting to spend time with other Christians more than family, ceasing to go to parties on the weekend so that, among other reasons, you can attend church Sunday morning or telling these family members, whom you love, that unless they too repent they will spend eternity in hell?  How do you think that makes them feel?  Probably just like my friend mentioned in the beginning of this post.  Like they are being hated.  

We must love our neighbors.  It doesn't matter if they are friends, family or enemies.  It doesn't matter if they love us back or they are trying to kill us.  We must love them.  And although this love does not have limits it does have rules.  If I truly do love you I will tell you who God is.  That he is a loving God who literally sacrificed EVERYTHING for you.  And if I truly do love you I will also tell you that he is a holy God and that the reason he sacrificed everything for you was so that you could leave your sins and follow him.  If I loved you I would tell you what these sins are so that you can know what you are supposed to be leaving.  If I really do love you I would warn you that by not turning to God and leaving these sins you will spend a sad and lonely eternity in a hell that was designed for those who decided to hold onto their own sins (regardless of how much you think you love God).  If I really did love you as I love myself, I would tell you these things.

Love, true love, isn't that I agree with everything you say or do. True love is that even though I don't agree with you I still sacrifice my life for you that you may see the truth alive in me.  You won't see many greeting cards with this sort of thing printed inside of them, but then again true love is too gritty to be captured accurately in glib and quaint little greeting card quotes.

I hope to speak more about who God is and why he must hate sin as well as what his love towards us really entails in future posts.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Battle Belongs to the Lord


The Battle Belongs to the Lord

A short exposition on Spiritual Warfare in the 21st Century.

Outline


  1. Introduction
    1. We are at war
    2. Everyone is a part of this war.  No exceptions. No Switzerland.
    3. Spiritual warfare.
  2. There is an enemy
    1. Names:
      1. Tempter (Matt. 4:3; 1 Thess. 3:5)
      2. Evil one (Matt. 13:19, 38; 1 john 2:13; 3:12; 5:19)
      3. Adversary (1 Peter 5:8)
      4. The deceiver (Rev. 12:9)
      5. Great dragon (Rev. 12:3)
      6. The serpent (Rev. 20:2)
      7. Father of lies (John 8:44)
      8. Murderer (John 8:44)
      9. Beelzebub (Matt. 12:24, 27; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15, 19))
      10. The accuser of the brethren  (Rev. 12:10)
      11. The god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4)
      12. An angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14)
      13. The devil (Matt. 4:1-11, Rev. 20:2)
      14. and, of course, Satan (Job 1:6; John 13:27)
    2. Satan is real
      1. If he is not, then Jesus is a liar or delusional
      2. The apostles assumed a real devil
    3. Many Christians now claiming Satan, demons and Hell are not real.
    4. Remove satan you might as well remove Christ and the gospel.
    5. Invisible enemies.
    6. Satan is real, demons are real, the war is real.
  3. Tragedies of war
    1. Some things Satan does or inspires others to do
      1. Demon possessions
      2. Abortion: over 1 million  babies murdered this past year in the US, 50,000,000 worldwide.
      3. War
      4. Some Sicknesses and diseases (Not all.  Compare Matt:17:15-18 and 4:24)
      5. Death
    2. This is serious business.  Not playing games.
    3. The worst and most effective weapon the enemy has in his arsenal: Deception
      1. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4
    4. So that you don’t fall into despair, let’s talk about what our role is in this war.
  4. Taking a stand
    1. 1 Peter 5:8
    2. lulled to sleep.  Easy to forget.
      1. American peace, bibles, radio, T.V.  Music styles.  What if we only sang hymns?
      2. A.W. Tozer once wrote: "It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God"
      3. This is why scripture exhorts us to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17)
        1. All called to be prayer warriors
      4. This is why we must study (not just read) scripture
        1. Matthew 4:1-11
          1. Satan knows his Scripture even if he doesn’t believe it.
          2. Rightly handle the Word of Truth.
        2. 2 Timothy 2:15
      5. This is why we must obey (Eph. 4:25-32)
        1. Opportunity to the devil.
        2. read the last verse. You do that and you will be successful in this war.  You will be a champion.  You will be a hero.

    1. Now, let’s talk about God’s role in this war
  1. And The Winner Is...!
    1. 1 Samuel 17:23-26.
    2. 17:41-47
    3. The lion and the bear
      1. David knew God would save the day because he knew God.
    4. 2 Kings 6:8-17
      1. Did Elisha actually see?
      2. Blessed are those who do not see, yet believe” (John 20:29)
  2. Conclusion
    1. Be alert!  Satan is a very real, very powerful, very dangerous enemy.
    2. Be prepared!  Pray, obey and study God’s word.
    3. Believe!  God is in change.  Satan is under his thumb and not only can Satan not do anything without God’s permission, Satan, in God’s eyes, has already lost the war.
    4. Romans 8:31-39.


Introduction


We are at war.  We have been for some time.  A vast and complicated war wh
ere the casualty count has been in the billions.  Every man, woman and child that has ever lived or who will ever live is a part of this war.  There are no exceptions.  You are either on the winning side or the losing side.  You are either on the side of the enemy or you are not.  There is no neutral territory. There is no Switzerland.  There are no sidelines.  If you aren’t on one side then you are, by default, on the other.  Period.

I am talking about spiritual warfare.  A phrase that I am afraid has been so overused that it either holds very little meaning or has been given such meaning from fictionalized accounts that it has lost its edge.   Let me say, that this war is very real and it is vital that Christians understand its ramifications for their own lives and the salvation of their souls.

There is an Enemy

Let me start off by telling you that there is an enemy in this war.  This enemy is “hell bent” on inflicting as much damage on us as possible.  He goes by many names,

Tempter (Matt. 4:3; 1 Thess. 3:5)
Evil one (Matt. 13:19, 38; 1 john 2:13; 3:12; 5:19)
Adversary (1 Peter 5:8)
The deceiver (Rev. 12:9)
Great dragon (Rev. 12:3)
The serpent (Rev. 20:2)
Father of lies (John 8:44)
Murderer (John 8:44)
Sinner (1 John 3:8)
Beelzebub (Matt. 12:24, 27; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15, 19)
Belial (2 Cor. 6:15)
The accuser of the brethren  (Rev. 12:10)
The god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4)
An angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14)
The devil (Matt. 4:1-11, Rev. 20:2)
and, of course, Satan (Job 1:6; John 13:27)

It is important that we establish right off that Satan is, in fact, real.

First, Jesus believed in Satan.  If Satan isn’t real then Jesus was delusional at best or worse, a liar (Matt. 4:1-11; Matt. 16:23; Lk. 22:31,32).

Second, the apostles all assumed a real devil, a real enemy of our souls that strives to thwart God’s plans and keep people as far away from Him as possible (Eph. 4:27; 1 Peter 5:8; 1 Jn. 2:13; 3:8-10).

I am surprised at how many Christians and Christian leaders are coming out denying what the Bible teaches as fact.  They say that the Satan and hell are faerie tales of a bygone age, invented by well intentioned, or perhaps not so well intentioned, religions leaders in order to scare little children, foolish women and superstitious old men into submission.

Know this, brothers and sisters: if you strip the bible of Satan, his armies and his battle plans as they are presented to us, you not only strip the Word of Truth of any truth value but you give the enemy what any enemy of any war loves: the ability to move about freely and to do whatever he likes without ever being challenged by his victims.

Satan is real.  Demons are real. The war is real.  An no amount of playing “let’s pretend”, indifference, or sticking our fingers in our ears will ever change that.  It will only result in you becoming another casualty of war.

The tragedies of war


So, like any war, there are casualties.  These can be seen in such things as:

Demon possessions (Matt. 8:29,31; 12:45; 17:15; Mk. 5:2-4; 1:24, 26, 34; 5:2-13  Lk. 4:41; 8:26-33). A better word is demonization.

Abortion:  over 1 million  babies murdered this past year in the US, 50,000,000 worldwide.

War

Sicknesses and diseases (Not all.  Compare Matt:17:15-18 and 4:24)

Death

These are all things that Satan has his hands in and, many times, is directly responsible for.  This is serious business.  We aren’t fighting against the imaginary.  We are fighting  against a being that, contrary to what you may have been told, thinks he can actually win.  He doesn’t act like someone who knows his end is near, desperately thrashing about, fighting against the inevitable.  He is fighting to win.

As terrible as these things are Satan has another tactic that is probably his worst and most effective one.  Deception.  

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:3-4 ESV)

I have heard many of you cry out in frustration that no one seems to hear and respond to the message of the Gospel any more.  Maybe a couple here and a couple there, but nothing like what was seen in the past.  Here is, in part, the answer.  Satan, the god of this world, has blinded them.  

However, so that you don’t fall into despair, let’s talk about what our role is in this war.

Taking a Stand


Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
(1 Peter 5:8 ESV)

The scriptures tell us this for a reason.  As Christians, especially christians living in relative peace, in one of the world’s richest countries, we can become careless.  We take things for granted.  

I am always amazed when I read accounts of persecuted Christians in countries like China or Russia before the end of the cold war.  They would find a page of scripture and pass it around like it were a priceless treasure.  They would memorize chapters and books of the bible at a time in order to recite scripture to one another when bibles were hard to come by.  They would gather together, huddled with their heads almost touching, and whisper a hymn for fear the authorities would hear the singing and arrest them.  

But in free, safe America, where most Christians own several bibles, have access to multiple radio stations broadcasting songs and sermons, we have a tendency to forget to even read the Word, sometimes for days or weeks at a time, never mind memorize it.  We forget to pray except when desperate enough to remember.   

We bicker over music styles and simply hop to another church that satisfies our musical tastes better.  If we announced next week that we were no longer going to have a worship team but instead sing only hymns from our hymnals and only a capella, you would most likely find that a large number of people would leave this church to go to one that did have a contemporary worship.  But fear not, you would also probably find that those people would get replaced by those who hate contemporary music and instruments and are thus leaving their current church for ours.  
 
A.W. Tozer once wrote: "It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God"

It is easy for us to...forget.  And this is just the opportunity Satan is waiting for.  We must stay alert!  

I remember a pastor once gleefully preaching that although it was true that Satan is a roaring lion, nonetheless he is a toothless lion.  Unfortunately this is not true as anyone who has been careless and suffered at the hands of the enemy can attest.  If he were toothless why worry?  But here Peter tells us that he isn’t just a roaring lion.  He is a devouring lion.   

This is why we are exhorted to “pray without ceasing”  (1 Thess. 5:17).  I’ve said this before and I will say it again: the most important activity of every single Christian is prayer.  You have also heard me say that I do not particularly like the phrase “prayer warrior”.  I don’t like it because it sends the message that some people are called to a life of prayer while others are not.  It is true that some pray more than others, but let me stress it to you again: we are ALL called to be prayer warriors; every man, woman and child who claims Christ as their Lord and Savior.  

This is why we must study the Bible.  Notice I did not say merely read but study.  This is the word of the Lord.  I do not have time to go into an apologetic of the Bible being the very words of God.  If you do not know this then the rest of my message will mean nothing to you.  The Holy Spirit confirms to every true believer, in his or her heart, that this book contains the living, life giving words of God.

But knowing this is not enough.  We must go beyond knowing that the bible is the Word of God.  We must know the Word.  We must study it.

Turn to Matthew 4:1-11 and read it with me.

There are two things I wish to point out here.  First, Satan knows the scriptures.  It doesn’t here say he believes them or trusts them.  But he does know them.  

Second, we must be able to rightly handle the word of truth.  In each instance Satan quoted scripture, albeit out of context of its true meaning.  But scripture tells us:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV)

This is why I said “study” and not merely read the bible.  We need to know it inside and out. We need to pray over every verse and seek God for help.  Help that Jesus promised would be ours for the asking (Jn 14:26; Lk. 11:13).  Jesus rightly handled the word of truth and won that battle.  So can we if we are willing to follow his example.

This is why we are told not to give an “opportunity to the devil” (Eph. 4:25-32).  We are called to be something.  That is, Christian isn’t just a name, it is a characteristic.  It isn’t just who we are, it is what we do that makes us Christian.  If we act out of character, if we do other than what our Lord has called us to, we will give the enemy a foothold.  We will give him opportunity or, as some translations put it, we will give him a foothold.  

What opportunity?   Opportunity to take us down. To bring damage and disrepair to God’s kingdom.  To strike a blow for the enemy.  When we lie, when we steal, when we let our anger get the better of us, when we let corrupt talk come out of our mouths like dirty and crass jokes, foul language, gossip or whatever else doesn’t build up other people.  

You want to help defeat the enemy?  Read the last verse of this text:

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
(Ephesians 4:32 ESV)

You do that and you will be successful in this war.  You will be a champion.  You will be a hero.

So pray, and love you neighbor as yourself.  Not very new is it?  I’m tell you old stuff because God is old, and his message is old, and I see no reason to give you anything other than what God has already said.  


Now, let’s talk about God’s role in this war

And The Winner is...!

This is where things get good. We know there is an enemy.  We know he has it in for us.  We know that we have responsibilities as soldiers in this war.  But it doesn’t end there.  It may seem like it is all up to us, but it isn’t. To be honest, we are fighting a war, the outcome of which has already been decided.  

Turn with me to 1 Samuel 17:23-26.  Do you think that David knew something here?  It sounds like he had some inside information.  The fact is, all of the Israelites should have known what David knew.  But instead we read in verses that follow that David’s brothers derided him for his stand.

You are going to find that when you take a stand of faith that people, even friends, family and fellow Christians are going to come against you.  Stepping out in faith can be a scary thing. But it is the ONLY way this battle can be fought.   Let’s read on:

17:41-47

Here’s the inside knowledge that David had:  “...the Lord saves not with sword and spear.  For the battle is the Lord’s”.  This is the knowledge that was the basis for David’s faith.  Do you want to know something else?  You and I have this same inside knowledge!

But this wasn’t just book knowledge.  If you read earlier in this account you will find that David had his faith tested while tending his sheep.  A lion and a bear attacked his sheep at different times and David successfully killed them and saved his sheep.  David knew God would save the day because he knew God.

Here’s another account I love.  Turn with me to 2 Kings 6:8-17.  You know what is really interesting to me?  We are never told that Elisha could see the chariots.  It doesn’t say either way.  But if I were allowed a bit of conjecture here, I like to think that he couldn’t.  That he only knew that God was there and that God was going to save the day.  It was the servant who needed to see with his eyes because he lacked the faith to see it with his heart.  “Blessed are those who do not see, yet believe” (John 20:29).

Conclusion

Be alert!  Satan is a very real, very powerful, very dangerous enemy.
Be prepared!  Pray, obey and study God’s word.
Believe!  God is in change.  Satan is under his thumb and not only can Satan not do anything without God’s permission, Satan, in God’s eyes, has already lost the war.

Let me close with the scripture passage we read at the beginning of church:  Romans 8:31-39.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Body of Christ part 2


The Body of Christ, Part 2: How to be a  BodyBuilder


[Text: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31]  !Don’t read yet!


Introduction

Last time we discussed the first part of chapter 12 from Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth.   We talked about the fact that the church at Corinth was a vital, growing church but that they had a number of problems. One of those problems was the tendency to use the various gifts that God had given them in a manner that hurt other people and did nothing to bring glory to the gift giver creating an environment of discord and pain.  I also said that all gifts, talents and abilities we have, come from God and therefore are all important, and that they must be used for the two-fold purpose of bringing glory to God and building up the body of Christ.

With these things in mind, this time will we continue with our look at the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth.

 
[Read Text]

One body

Although they were a growing and thriving church with a very important ministry to the people of Corinth, a city with a world renowned sinful life style, the Corinthian church was fractured.   They were exalting people, setting them on a pedestal,  they were claiming to have special giftings from God that, in essence, made them better than everyone else and they were misusing these gifts.  People were getting hurt and out of concern a letter was sent to Paul to which Paul was responding

Paul compares the church to the human body in order to give us a clear mental image of what God intended for his people.

In vs. 13 Paul quickly dispenses with any notion of nationality or race when it comes to the body of Christ.   It is interesting to me that Paul starts out painting the picture of the church with such a broad brush.  Was the church at Corinth in danger of  making distinctions based on race and nationality?  Or maybe the Holy Spirit thought it important to include, not because of the Corinthian church per say, but because of all the fellowships that would come after.  Who knows.  But we do know that God makes no such distinctions.  It doesn’t matter if you are a Jew, a Russian, Korean, American, Chinese, Iraqi, or what have you.If you have been born again than you are a part of One Body.  And conversely, if you have not been born again then you are not a part of that one body. In a day and age (both theirs and ours) where such distinctions are made and considered important, it may be hard to appreciate the import of Paul’s words. But there they are.No distinctions.

Many Parts



Paul goes on to refine this idea by pointing out that this body has many parts.  We aren’t some sort of homogeneous entity.  I said that there are no distinctions but what I mean is that there are no distinctions that would result from us being a part of different bodies. We are a part of one body. Not a Russian body or a Chinese body or an American body, but Christ’s body.

Yet within this body there are many parts.  Parts that are to serve the purpose of promoting the whole.  We are all special and important.  

Here I do need to clarify something. Although I don’t believe that Paul’s goal was to prioritize gifts, especially not in the first half of this passage, he does make a distinction.  Partly this was to combat the Corinthians attempts to give preference to, what Paul was to call, a lesser gift; the gift of tongues.It was also to, once again, emphasize an important theme found in scriptures; considering the needs of others higher than our own.There are two distinctions Paul makes.

1st.  The vital vs. complementary. Some gifts and offices are vital to the church.That is, without them the church cannot exist for very long.These are mentioned in vs. 28:

And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers.

If we think about it for a few moments we can see why this is so.See Eph. 4:11-16.

Without these offices the church would be cut from its moorings and  be driven by the wind and waves of false teachings. These people are used by God to raise his church into maturity, without which the infant never grows but dies from exposure to the dark and cold night of Satan’s lies and animosity towards the Father. I see these gifts and offices as the heart, liver and pancreas of the body.Organs that the body cannot survive without.

Some gifts are what I would call complementary. That is, they serve to complete and augment the body of Christ.  Paul lists the following: miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.

Would the body of Christ survive without these?  Yes.  As a matter of fact, various fellowships never see one or more of these gifts their entire existence. But is the body better for them?  Is something lacking when they are absent?  Yes and yes! I look at these gifts as the arms, legs, eyes, kidneys, ears, etc. of the body.  Can you live without an arm or leg?  Yes. In fact, you can even live with no arms and legs.  But your life will be impacted.  You may be able to live without ever running because you have no legs, or never giving a hug because you have no arms, but it isn’t preferred. It isn’t something I would want, and I find it hard to believe anyone in that condition would claim that they don’t care.

2nd.  Me vs.  the Other. Paul consistently puts a premium on gifts and activities that placed others before ourselves. When Paul, in the last verse of this chapter, exhorts his readers to desire the greater gifts he is referring to gifts that could be used to build up the entire church.   

1 Corinthians 13:4 says that [Love] does not seek its own.  And it was with this principle in mind that Paul wrote “So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church” (1 Cor. 14:12).  And also back in vs. 5 of the same chapter: “Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, [why?] for the building up of the church.”    

In this way greater gifts refer to those that do the most good for the most people.  This doesn’t mean Paul was against helping one person.  Praying in tongues benefited only one person, the person doing the speaking, (unless it was interpreted), yet Paul wished everyone spoke in tongues.   But if we are going to see the church grow stronger, bigger and more mature, we are going to have to desire those things that will accomplish this.   We must desire the greater gifts.

The Suffering Church

Paul is giving us a picture of the church (both at a universal as well as local level).  But Paul writes a few things that I believe exemplify the perfect church.   If a church were to look like this I believe it would be unstoppable, the hearts of communities would change, and it would be so attractive to the hurting masses that it would have difficulty knowing where to put all the people that would be breaking down their doors.   Take a look with me at vs. 26:

And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it...

To me this says it all.  Now I know that in any congregation there are people who are supremely empathetic.  They just seem to always be in tune with the hurts of others and are there to help.  Like superman, they seem to always arrive at the right place and at the right time.   If this is you, then what I am going to say next doesn’t apply to you.  You can take a nap if you like and I’ll wake you when I’m done.

The church at Corinth had come up with a interesting solution to those who were weak, hurting or otherwise not model Christians.   vs. 21 says:

...the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again, the head to the feet, “I have no need of you”.

In this church were the pariah, the untouchables, the undesirables.  I cannot be sure, but I am guessing Paul’s words were inspired by current events in the church and I am guessing it included the shunning of or otherwise treating these people as second class citizens.

The point of the above verse was to say we all need each other.  Even those who are weak or who are really struggling are essential to the body of Christ.  Now I am not talking about those who are blatantly sinning against God. That is a whole different case that Paul deals with in this same letter.  Here I am talking about those who aren’t the superstars or star athletes of the world.  The ones people have a tendency to ignore or want to ignore.   See 2:26-31.

Someone once said, "The Christian army is unlike any other army in the world; it shoots its own wounded."

As an elder I get to see and hear all sorts of things mere mortals don’t get to.  So let me say with a certain amount of experience, we aren’t so different than the church at Corinth.  We have some of our own issues to work out.  It is with this in mind that I offer a challenge to you, to all of us, today.   When you see someone down, lift them up.   When you see someone crying, cry with them.  When you see someone in pain, hurt with them.  When you see someone slipping away,  throw them a rope.  When you see someone being attacked, defend them.  And by attack I don’t necessarily mean some uber spiritual attack like from Satan.  I also mean being attacked by those in our own congregation.  It was happening in the Corinthian church, and it happens in churches all over the world.  And yes, it happens in our body here.  

If someone comes to you and says, “Do you know what I heard about so and so...”   Be rude and interrupt them and say, “Do you know that as fact?  Have you gone to them?”  If the answer is no then you have my permission to tell them to SHUT UP!  

I had someone once share a story of a Russian battleship.  I am not sure of all the details so this may be completely wrong, but the gist of the story was that a number of men had fallen overboard and were drowning.  To save them members of the crew started jumping overboard.   They were all drowning as a result, but men kept jumping.  Eventually the officers had to hold the crew at gunpoint to keep them from following their shipmates overboard to a watery grave.

I can’t think of a better analogy of what a church should look like.  Risking our lives for each member, even to the point of sacrificing our own lives.  




A Warning


The body is important to God.  God wants us to build it up.   Now it is true that some will just never get really involved. Coming here on Sunday is all they will ever manage.  I totally understand that and sometimes it just can’t be helped. Others will get involved and really try to make a difference.  They won’t get involved to manipulate or control, but to build up and bring glory to God using whatever gifts and talents they have.

Others will try to tear down through division, manipulation, gossip, unjust criticism and such.  To these I have a word of warning: 1 Cor. 3:16-17 says:

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.

Some  people who use this verse to prove we shouldn’t be smoking or getting tattoos or what have you.  I’m not going to discuss those things here, but I will say that these verse say nothing about our bodies.  Let me read to you from the New Living Translation which says it much clearer:

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

The “temple” here is the church.   It is an ominous warning.  If you wish to help build up the body of Christ, wonderful!  If you don’t and you just want to sit there, that’s alright to.  But if you want to stand in the way of God’s work, look out. God never makes idle threats.



Conclusion


It is very easy for people within the body, either through misinformation, the interference of, perhaps well intentioned, people or any number of other reasons to feel they are not important or unwanted.   That anything they have to offer is not good enough to make much of a difference. Last week I gave you some homework.  I mentioned that there was, in scripture, an account of two people who were used by God in mighty ways and yet they had gifts and talents that were, what we may think, as being mundane.  They weren’t prophets, apostles, preachers, pastors, healers, doctors, business tycoons, movie stars or anything of the sort.   One was a waiter and the other a seamstress.   Do you know who these people were?

The first was Philip who was one of the seven elected by the church to wait on tables and his story can be found in Acts 6:2-6 and also in Acts 8:4-40.

The other was a seamstress named Tabitha and her story can be found in Acts 9:36-43.

In both these cases the Lord moved mightily through and because of them.  I wish I could preach a whole sermon on each of these people, and Lord willing, someday I will, but for now I want you to read these accounts on your own and pray, “Lord, what do you want me to do?  What can I do to bring Glory to you and to build up your body here on earth”.  If you pray that pray, God will answer it.  He has promised, in his Word, to do so, and God never breaks his promises.