Friday, March 30, 2012

All the World's a Stage

For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing?  If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?  But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.  1 Corinthians 12:14-19

 I was in a devotional time with some people at church.  The question, “how do I know what my role is?” came up.  I have a flair for the dramatic, that being said, my mind instantly thought of a play.

For Shakespeare’s play As You Like It, penned the lines, “All the world’s a stage.”  I laugh a little because Shakespeare’s theatre was the Globe.  But I think in a lot of ways he is correct.

The play is God’s story.  It began with the creation of the universe and is still going on.  The stage is the universe.  We are the actors and also the stage crew.  We all have different roles to play; sometimes we’re on the stage for a time as a supporting actor.  We may have a leading role for a time and season.  Some of us will be part of the stage crew.  And there are times when we’ll be in the audience cheering on the action on the stage.  It’s fluid, it’s dynamic.

Here’s a glimpse of the story:
Act I Rising Action: Creation and the Fall of Man
Act II Turning Points:  Patriarchs through the Prophets
Act III Climax: Birth and Death of Jesus
Act IV Falling Action: Acts to Present
Acts V Resolution: The book of Revelation

The director is God, He’s a heavy handed director.  In drama, the term heavy handed does not mean that the director is cruel.  It just simply means that the director isn’t afraid of putting his own creative spin on the script.  This play is also all about Him.

          Behind every production is a group of people who are out of the spotlight, they work tirelessly.

Every play has a crew that works entirely behind the scenes.  They’re building the sets, they’re taking care of the lighting, they’re designing the costumes.  They aren’t seen, but their presence is felt.  In our play, there are people who are interceding in prayer, they may be praying for people who they have never met and will never meet this side of heaven.  There are people who donate money to support missions.  There are people who keep church facilities clean.  Some of us will shine the spotlight directly at Jesus, while some of us shine the spotlight on one of the leading actors so they can reflect the light on Jesus.  These people may not ever get to be part of the action on the stage, but they are no less important.

          You’re in the green room, waiting for the cue.  You step out just before you were supposed to.

That’s an embarrassing moment.  Sometimes we get ahead of ourselves and say our lines at the wrong time.  Maybe we stumble on our lines.  That’s okay, remember God’s a heavy handed director.  He’s got the creative knowhow to turn even the worst of our flubs out to glorify Him and work it out for our good.  He’s a God of grace and forgiveness and He is always good in all He does.
Remember, this play is about God.  We all have our roles to fill and no one role is more important than the other.  We are all in this to glorify God, not to glorify ourselves.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Violent Love part II

Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.  But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him – Philippians 3:4-9a.

Yesterday, I had talked about the phrase “making violent love” as being a phrase used by Jane Austen.  The phrase, back in her time, had nothing at all to do with physical relations.  Instead, the phrase meant to make a declaration of love without regards to public decorum or social status.  I shared how Jesus, Himself, had no regard for public decorum (an example is where He washes the feet of  His disciples) and His social status (the Prince of Heaven came as a servant rather than a king).

How do we respond to that kind of overwhelming love?  Paul gives his response to Jesus’ overwhelming act of love (Philippians 2:1-11) in chapter 3.

Paul had a lot going on for him.  It is evident that in his former life as Saul, he had a good deal of authority (Acts chapters 6 and 7).  He was from the tribe of Benjamin which had a history of mighty warriors.  In a time where many of the Jews were educated in the Aramaic language, Saul was educated in Hebrew.  He was a Pharisee, one of those guys who followed the law to an extreme.  He followed the law according to the Pharisees even to a degree that would probably make other Pharisees look like criminals.

His credentials could be compared to having a Masters of Language from Oxford and a Doctorate in Law from Georgetown.  Yet, Paul counted all of that as loss.  Knowing Jesus was of greater value to him than anything, even his social status. 

Here’s a picture for you, imagine a half eaten, rotted carcass of a cow covered in its own dung.  That’s not a pretty picture, and I’m sorry if I’ve upset your stomach a little; but the word that Paul used that is translated as rubbish conveys that exact meaning (1).  All of Paul’s accomplishments, all that he had attained and he regarded it as a half eaten rotted carcass of a cow covered in its own dung in comparison to knowing Jesus.

In America, we tend to find our identities in our education, our possessions, our jobs, etc…  But what are those things compared to knowing Jesus and knowing that you will be found in Him?

(1)   Hawthorne, Gerald F. Philippians, Word Biblical Commentary series. Waco: Word Books, 1983.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Violent Love

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.    And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  - Philppians 2:5-8

Making violent love. 

Hold on, don’t think this is a racy or edgy thing here, get your mind out of the gutter.  My wife has been reading Jane Austen books, “Pride and Prejudice” and “Emma” to be exact.  Times have changed, much to the worse since then.  The phrase, “making violent love” had an entirely different meaning that it does today.  Back in Jane Austen’s day, the phrase meant to make a declaration of love without regard to public decorum or social status.

Here’s an example, my wife through her father’s line is descended from the British Royal line through Mary Queen of Scotts and King James.  While my wife has blue blood in her, she does not have any claim to the throne or a title.  Why?  Somewhere in my wife’s lineage, there was a an heir to the monarchy who fell in love with a commoner.  He had no regard for his claim to the throne, but rather made a declaration of his love to her, in other words, he made violent love to her.

Now consider this, Jesus did not consider His status as the Prince of Heaven when He chose to be born.  He had every right to come as the reigning King, but He instead came as a servant.  Rather than being waited on hand and foot, He stripped himself of His robe, tied a towel around His waist and washed the dirty feet of the disciples (John 13).

Rather than live in a palace; He had nowhere to lay His head (Matthew 8:20).

Rather than sitting upon a throne in a royal court; He took a place between two thieves on the cross.

Jesus had humbled Himself with no regard to His status to make a declaration of love to the world (John 3:16).  He made violent love to us.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Weapons of Warfare

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.  – 2 Corinthians 10:4-6

Imagine a world at war against sinister creatures from another world.  They are invisible, they spit deadly poison, they are bent on the destruction of all goodness.  This is the worst movie monster Hollywood special effects could ever come up with times 10.  And, these creatures are real, they are the original Hell’s Angels, a thousand times as mean as the biker gang.  They are dirty, deceptive, dubious demons.  Oh, and their favorite lie is to get us to think that they don’t even exist.

No gun will can harm them, even a nuclear bomb would be rendered ineffectual against them, they are spiritual beings.  Thankfully, we are not without defense against these evil things.  Since they are spiritual beings, they require spiritual weapons.  The weapons are given to us by God and through Him they are mighty.

The demons like to attack the saints on two major battlegrounds: the world (culture, media, other people, etc…) and our mind.

In the battlefield of the world, the strategy is distraction and temptation.  The world is always providing distractions to our lives to try to tug us away from spending time with Jesus.  A hair dryer would do no good without being plugged in to a power source.  If a Christian is not constantly being plugged in to The Power Source (that is God) then we become powerless.  A powerless Christian may still be saved, going to heaven, and all of that; but when it comes to making a difference in the world for the Kingdom of God, they are useless.

With temptation, the object is to pull us into disobedience against God’s word.  The demons take our sinful desires and use that against us.  James 1:13-15 tells us that we are tempted by our own desires.  The desires lead to temptation and temptation leads to death.  Also, when we are in direct disobedience, we are not under the blessings and protections of God.

The battleground of the mind is an entirely different battlefield.  Here the strategy is to use fear, self-defeatism, depression, anxiety, etc… to stop or hinder spiritual growth.  When we are hindered in our mind, it is difficult for us to live out the purposes God has for us.  Our problems, in our mind, become greater than God.  We separate ourselves from the truth of God.  You say, “I am afraid.”  God says, “I did not give you a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7).”  You say, “I am anxious.”  God says, “Do not be anxious, I am taking care of you (3 times in Matthew chapter 6).”  You say, I am worthless.  God says, “I have chosen you as an adopted child, therefore, you are a prince/princess in my Kingdom (Romans 8:15).”

Satan loves to plant these lies in the minds of believers, because when we believe these things it’s like calling God a liar.  The worst thing is that sometimes the demons will twist our perceptions and distort other peoples words to plant these lies in our minds.  Sometimes, a demon can convince a person to tell an outright lie to speak against you.

Here, we are told to take every thought captive.  Taking captive is not passive.  If an army invaded a fort and took all of the opposing soldiers captive, they would storm the gates with siege weapons and swords swinging.  That’s the picture we’re supposed to get here.  We must storm the gates of our mind, tear down everything that opposes Jesus.  This is a constant battle, one that must be fought every day.

Here are some spiritual weapons that God has given us:

Prayer – Prayer is communicating with Jesus to whom all authority and power has been given (power over every demonic force even), Matthew 28:18

Fasting – Fasting when mixed with prayer is a hugely powerful weapon.  Mark 9:29

Declaration of God’s Word – When Jesus was tempted, He matched Satan with Scripture.  Matthew chapter 4

Repentance – When we experience godly grief, we can repent.  Repentance leads to salvation without regret.  2 Corinthians

Monday, March 26, 2012

First Love

I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.  I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary.  But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.    – Revelation 2:3-5Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

One of the big problems in marriages today is that people’s love for one another just grows cold.  Life gets in the way and before you know it, you have a couple of married singles.  They live out their separate lives together, sometimes barely communicating to each other.  They may spend their lives under the same roof, but they may not know each other.  The only thing that holds them together is some sense of duty.  They may help each other cook and clean and the usual stuff, but that flame of desire that brought them together wanes.

I think, a lot of us treat Jesus the same way.  We ask Jesus into our hearts (He proposes to us), we give our life to Him (marriage), and He fills us with the Holy Spirit (consummation).  He is the bridegroom and His people are His bride.  He loves us with a passion so deep and great that He suffered intense pain and death for us.

Yet, we go on about our lives.  We get consumed with the day to day things.  I think that’s what happened to the church at Ephesus, too.  They had suffered persecution and endured through that.  They did not tolerate sin like the church at Thyatira.  They did not hold worthless philosophies like the church at Pergamum.  Everything the church at Ephesus did was good, and yet…  Here they are, bound to the Bridegroom by duty, but living as married singles. 

Marriage between two humans involves people who are prone to sin and things can tend to fall apart on either end.  But the marriage between Jesus and His people involves us and an ever loving, sinless, ever patient, holy Bridegroom.  Unlike humans, Jesus fulfills His every promise.  He loves us unconditionally and with a love so great that it’s indescribable.  But yet, we don’t hold up our end.  It’s easy to forget about how the depths of His great love and to return in kind.

Thankfully, relationships can be restored and Jesus is in the restoration business.  So, how we find that love we once had?

Here’s just a couple of my own ideas, it’s not an exhaustive list nor is it something to add to your to do list.

  • What was it that drew you to Jesus?  You were overcome by His love once to have accepted Jesus into your life, what captivated you about Him?
  • Open and honest communication can do a lot to restore a relationship.  Write a letter, poem, or song.  Read through a couple of the Psalms, not all of them were “happy” but they honored God.
  • Get somewhere to spend time alone with Jesus, read through the Gospels and reflect on His love for us.
  • Don’t be afraid to have an affectionate display of worship, love, and adoration for Jesus.  Love doesn’t always make sense.  People in love do crazy and senseless things.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Walking Out God's Will part II

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.    1 Thessalonians 5:23-24He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

For the last several days, I have been going over what God’s will is for us and I have gone over a little about how to walk that out.  I’ve been building on what our part is, but that’s just building up to the big finish.  These last two verses in the paragraph that’s the climax, these verses are so monumental in living out God’s will.

Hi, my name is Keith and I’m a complete failure, and I’m okay with that.  I have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and for my sin, compared to the holiness of God, I deserve to stand before God the Judge, guilty.  The sentence I deserve, death (Romans 3:23; 6:23).  Thankfully, I have the best lawyer (advocate) on retainer (the price of which He already paid) who has pleaded my case before the Father and has taken the death penalty upon Himself (1 John 2:1-2).
I have no power to do anything on my own.  I am not good enough to live up to God’s standards.  If I stood before God right now, I cannot say, “Hey God, look at all these great things I did, look at all the money I gave to my church.  Let me into heaven.”   That’s not going to get me anywhere.

Obedience is my part, and on my own, I’m not very good at that either.  I’m human, I stumble.  What’s so amazing to me is this, I cannot live up to God’s standards alone, He gives me the power to enable me to do it on His power.  I’ve studied other religions, and this is a feature unique only to the Gospel.
Let the words, “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it” sink in.  Those words are so overwhelmingly powerful. 

I picture a father working on a carpentry project and has his little child helping.  The father is cutting the wood and pounding nails in with his tools, the child has his Fisher Price plastic tool set.  The father stops periodically to let the child “hammer” in a nail using his little plastic hammer so the child thinks he’s really helping, but the father is doing the real work.

When we’re called to do something, we think we are doing something, but it is really God working in and through us to get the job done.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Living out God's Will

Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.    Abstain from every form of evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
So I’ve gone on about what God’s will for our lives is, now I want to talk a little bit about walking that out.  First we start off with the command, do not quench the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is our guide, councilor, and teacher.  He enlightens our mind to the truth of God.  To quote the Evangelist Charles Finney,

“the Spirit enlightens the mind into the meaning and self-application of the Bible. It takes the things of Christ and shows them to us.

Now there is such a thing as refusing to receive this light. You can shut your eyes against it. You have the power to turn your eye entirely away and scarcely see it at all. You can utterly refuse to follow it when seen;--and in this case God ceases to hold up the truth before your mind.

Almost every one knows by personal experience that the Spirit has the power of shedding a marvelous light upon revealed truth, so that this truth shall stand before the mind in a new and most impressive form, and shall operate upon it with astonishing energy. But this light of the Spirit may be quenched.
Again there is, so to speak, a sort of heat, a warmth and vitality attending the truth when enforced by the Spirit. Thus we say if one has the Spirit of God his soul is warm; if he has not the Spirit, his heart is cold.
This vital heat produced by the divine Spirit may be quenched. Let a man resist the Spirit, and he will certainly quench this vital energy which it exerts upon the heart.”

In other words, quenching the Spirit is when we resist the work that the Spirit is trying to do in our lives.

Prophecy, there’s a tricky one.  Today, a lot of people think of prophecy as dealing with the end of the world (i.e. Harold Camping).  End time prophecy like the book of Revelation is only a small part of what prophecy is.  There are three types of prophecy; forth-telling, foretelling, and testimony.

Forth-telling prophecy is speaking out what God has already spoken and has done.  It would be like reading the Bible and applying a certain passage to a specific situation that is happening right now.  It may be as simple as quoting a verse from the Bible to a friend who needs a little encouragement.

Foretelling prophecy is speaking out what God has revealed he will do.  The book of Revelation is the best known example of foretelling prophecy, but again, most foretelling prophecy does not deal with end times.  Sometimes, God gives people a message of specific warning.  Have you ever heard of someone getting a sense that they shouldn’t go somewhere, so they don’t and it turns out that if they had not listened to that sense, they would have died?

A lot of people don’t think of testimony as a prophecy, but the Bible says it is (Revelation 19:10).  Testimony is all about what Jesus is doing in your life.
No one person has a monopoly on the truth (only God does).  People can be wrong, even me.  Don’t just take my word, or anybody else’s for that matter.  Take the Word of God first, above all else.  God will not do anything against His Word.  It is so important to be very careful to test the spirits to see if the word of prophecy comes from God or not.

This is an evil and wicked world.  We must keep ourselves clean (James 1:27).  We must always hold to the truth of God’s word.  The world is fixated on movies, books, and video games that promote all kinds of evil.  What is better, to be entertained temporarily by these things so that we can fit in with friends or to be in the company of Jesus for all eternity and fit into His kingdom?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

God's Will VII

God’s Will VII

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  1 Thessalonians 5:18

I know it’s almost cliché, but we must develop an attitude of gratitude.  Life is messy, let’s just admit it.  There’s bills to pay, work, friends and family and a whole host of other distractions in our lives.  When things start falling apart, it is so very easy to become overwhelmed.

The seeds thrown among the thorns in the parable of the sower come to mind here (Matthew 13:22).  The meaning of this part of the parable is almost telling a story about someone who received the Gospel and started going to church.  But the person got caught up under in financial pressure and possibly started playing the lottery or got involved in get rich schemes.  Rather than trusting God through their problems, they turned to their own power.

Over and over again, the theme remains the same.  We must take the focus off of ourselves and our problems and we must turn the focus on Jesus.  The story is not about us, it’s about Him.  We are just the supporting characters in God’s divine novel, our stories weave together to show His divine love story.  Gratitude is a tool that takes the focus off of us and turns the spotlight back on God.  If we give thanks with a grateful heart, it puts our situations into perspective.

When you see that the price of gas has risen, give thanks that you have a vehicle to put it in.  I remember when I was in Africa, I saw women hauling two or three cases of water (each weighing 30-40 pounds) on their back, a car would have been useful for them. 

When you can’t join friends to watch a movie because you can’t afford it, give thanks.  If you have a couple dollars in your pocket, a roof over your head, and food in the fridge; you are richer than a significant portion of the world (look up world poverty statistics).

When you get that electric bill, give thanks.  The convenience of electricity will guarantee you a much better living standard than so much of the world.

We are commanded not to be jealous or envy (Exodus 20:17).  Jealousy, envy, or covetousness of other people’s possessions in today’s society is called “keeping up with the Joneses,” but I call that idolatry.  Sticking your desire in things rather than the Living God turns those objects into an idol.  We are told to guard our hearts from covetousness (Luke 12:15).  Being grateful for the things you have is a safeguard against envy of things.

There is so much to be thankful for.  Here’s just a short list of things we can always be thankful for, no matter what the circumstance:

  • Give thanks for the local body of believers (Ephesians 1:16)
  • Give thanks for the leadership of the church (2 Corinthians 1:11)
  • Give thanks for the God who reigns over everything (Revelation 11:17)
  • Give thanks for the grace that Jesus gave you (1 Corinthians 1:4)
  • Give thanks for because God is good and His steadfast love endures forever (Psalms 118:1)Give thanks for the victory that we have in Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:57)

That’s a list to get you started.  And I’ll leave you with this thought, there are only a few incidents where the Bible records Jesus giving thanks.  The most notable incidents are when Jesus had only a couple of loaves and fish and fed tens of thousands!  The final incident in which Jesus gives thanks is for His body broken for us and His blood that was shed for us.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

God's Will VI

Pray without ceasing:  1 Thessalonians 5:17

Prayer is vitally important for the Christian, in fact, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”  But to pray without ceasing; have you ever tried that?  Man, is that ever hard.  On most days, I have the attention span of a red squirrel who’s spotted a shiny object (Hammy, if you’ve seen the movie Over the Hedge).  I’ve caught myself praying to God and soon I find myself thinking, “if ‘C’ is the happiest note, is F# a more serious note (seriously).”

I don’t think of prayer as a thing to do, but rather a lifestyle.  Rather than focusing on the problems around me and all of the negative news on TV (CNN on constantly on the TV by my desk), I try to turn my heart to God and let God have control over those things and I feel better.  But I don’t pray because I have to, but because I want to.  Were you ever forced into talking to somebody (like maybe that annual call to your mother)?  I be the conversation wasn’t the greatest.  But, have you ever had a conversation because you genuinely wanted to get to know someone?  I bet the conversations were different and had a deeper level and more fulfilling.

How about this, have you ever been around one of those people who constantly talk about themselves?  That’s pretty annoying, isn’t it.  Country singer Toby Keith wrote a funny song about that, the name of the song is I Wanna Talk About Me.  Part of the chorus goes like this:

“I like talking about you you you you, usually, but occasionally I wanna talk about me.” 

The common view of prayer is one-sided, us talking to God.  God, of course is deeply interested in our lives, and we should ask Him and take everything in prayer (Philippians 4:6), but I believe He wants to tell us things as well.  Put it like this, if I only talked about myself when I first met the woman that would become my bride, I doubt that a true relationship would have ever happened.  A true relationship needs real communication and real communication requires both talking and listening skills.

Go ahead and tell God what’s on your mind, that’s part of faith.  I challenge you on this, take a moment to listen to what God has to say, maybe even be so bold as to ask Him what is on His mind and heart, you might be surprised at what God has to say to you.

Monday, March 19, 2012

God's Will part V

God’s Will V

Rejoice always -  1 Thessalonians 5:16

True joy is unnatural, really.  The natural reaction to difficult situations is not joy; anger, outrage, disgust, etc… those are the natural reactions to difficult situations.  Yet Paul tells us to rejoice always, not just when things are going our way, when the sun is shining, when we have food on the table and money in the bank.  No, Paul said to rejoice always, that includes times when things are going tough, when the car has broken down, when there’s not enough money in the bank, when there’s no food on the table.  Those are the challenging times, the times when our flesh can get the best of us.  The joy that Paul is writing laughs in the face of the worst of circumstances.

The apostles were imprisoned for merely preaching the Gospel.  The books of Acts says that they suffered dishonor on the count of Jesus, yet they rejoiced because of it (Acts 5:40-42).  Paul was stoned (by rocks being thrown at him), imprisoned, and beaten; yet through his suffering he rejoiced for the sake of the Colossians (Colossians 1:23-24).

So, why is rejoicing so important?

1.  The Bible tells us to (Philippians 4:4)

2.  Rejoicing helps to change our focus from our problems.  When we’re focused on our problems, we’re focused on ourselves.  When we’re focused on ourselves, we lose sight of what God is doing in our lives and we also lose focus of others around us. 

3.  Rejoicing no matter what the circumstance shows faith in God and His ability to come through whereas turning to our problems shows a lack of faith in God to come through.

4.  It confuses people and messes with their head (it’s true).  There have been Christians in situations where it appears that their world has fallen apart and they are facing desperate situations, and yet they are able to rejoice in God.  Then people around these Christians ask, “How are you able to have such peace even though you are going through all of this junk?”  This is a ready and instant segue to share the Gospel of Jesus which empowers that ability to rejoice.

5.  Lest we forget, the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).

Rejoicing doesn’t take away the pain or the damage during hard times or rough circumstances, but it does is bring things into perspective and puts the focus back on Jesus where it should be.

Friday, March 16, 2012

God's Will part IV

Finding God’s Will part IV

 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. – 1 Thessalonians 5:15

God says, “Vengeance is Mine,” but the flesh says, “Vengeance is fine.”  It’s basic human nature to want to get someone back when they’ve hurt us.  But when we get someone back, we take God’s roll of Judge upon ourselves and take justice into our own hands.  I’m not skilled in law, and I certainly would not want the job of being a judge in a court according to the laws of the United States.  I could not imagine myself presiding over and deciding the fate of another individual.  When I take things into my own hands, I’m placing the role and responsibility of the Judge of the Universe into my own hands, that’s a scary thought, right?

One of the big themes in the New Testament is that we must overcome the natural to perform the supernatural.  In other words, when the natural flesh tells us to take revenge, we must overcome that desire and rather than get even we should perform good to them.  I think the Bible does a much better job of explaining the point of 1 Thessalonians 5:15 better than I can.
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’”  - Romans 12:18-20

Really, doing good to others, even when they do bad to us is an example of the grace that was afforded to us as while we were still sinners, Jesus died for us.  Even the slightest sin is an offense to God and His laws, all sins are equally punishable by death, yet Jesus took our punishment upon Himself and offered us forgiveness from the debt of sin.  The point of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-35), the servant owes his master a debt of 10,000 talents, if it was a silver talent the total debt would be would be $3,303,790,140.91.  If the talent were gold the servant would owe a total debt of $16,788,956,403.74 (the weight of a talent as 31,560 grams and using the current market price of silver $1.05/gram and gold at $53.19/gram).  Can you imagine someone you owed almost $17 billion telling you that your debt is forgiven and wiped clean?  So after having $17 billion written off, what does the servant do, he goes out and finds a guy who owes him 100 denarii or $6,600 (a denarii is worth a day’s wages so using $8.25/hour for an 8 hour workday) and demands repayment at the threat of choking.

The point is that we owed a huge, overwhelming debt to God that was written off and forgiven.  If God has forgiven us of such a huge debt, why should we hold other people to smaller, insignificant debts?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

God's Will part III

I cannot say specifically what God’s will is for your life, but in the book of Thessalonians, Paul clearly outlined what God’s will is for us.  I will continue to explore that.

“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:14

Admonish a : to indicate duties or obligations to b : to express warning or disapproval to especially in a gentle, earnest, or solicitous manner
2: to give friendly earnest advice or encouragement to.

The Thessalonians got into the mindset that Jesus is will return very soon, so there is no need to work.  But work was always in God’s plan from mankind, even before the fall of mankind (Genesis 2:15).  In Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians Paul further tells them that if they do not work, they should not eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10).  We should continue to work for the glory of God, but be careful not to get ourselves overworked.

There’s a wonderful quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven played music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry.  He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

We all face issues in our lives.  Some of us deal with fear and faintheartedness.  We all are important to the Kingdom of God and we all have something to offer.  We are like spices in God’s master stew.  We bring out a different flavor, something fresh.  But the enemy doesn’t like this, and tries to put fear in our hearts.  We should be encouraging everyone to bring their unique flavor.  Maybe someone has a gift with comedy, and maybe through that gift of comedy, they are able to tell someone a joke that becomes a segue into sharing the gospel.  But how will that person with the gift of comedy share the gospel with anyone if they are afraid.  But what if the comedian were encouraged to use his gift for God?

I think there’s something inside us all that repulses us from people who are in a weak state, I admit feeling this way myself.  It seems like people want to overlook other people in pain, but focus on those who are successful.  We want to be around people who are strong because we think it makes us feel strong.  If being around people who are in a lowly state were an easy thing for most people, we wouldn’t need to be told to do it in the Bible.  So it is important that we reach down to people to lift them up.  I remember a person ministering to youth speaking at a convention about how to minister to youth.  He told a story of a young lady who walked up to him and told him, “If you can buy into my pain, then I can buy into your ministry.”

Sometimes, all a person needs is someone to cry with, they don’t need a lecture.  I read about a woman who had just lost her baby in a stillbirth.  The woman was making arrangements to have a small funeral service for her baby and had called on a pastor for the service.  The pastor, upon entering the house without saying a word, took the child in her arms and wept solidly for thirty minutes before saying anything.  This made a huge impact on the entire family because the pastor was able weep with the family over such a tragic event.

A person in a fainthearted or weak position is in a very critical state.  They may be turned away from serving Jesus or turn away from friends and family if they are hurt by bad advice or good advice given with a wrong heart.  On the other hand, this could be a time where they are truly impacted and may set their hearts on the Kingdom of God.  That is why patience is one of the most important Christian virtues.  We need to deal with everyone in the deepest love that Christ Jesus gives  us.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

God's Will part II

This is the second part of finding God’s will for our lives.

1 Thessalonians 5:13b “Be at peace among yourselves.”

It’s been said that Christians (at least here in America) eat ourselves.  We may not have the intense physical and very real persecution that is experienced in third world countries; however, we do have different types of persecution.  And unfortunately, some of that persecution comes from those that should be our own brothers and sisters.  Yesterday, I wrote about the petty squabble that a church had over which side the piano should be, it wasn’t even over a doctrinal issue.  How many other churches have split over issues that don’t matter at all?

Paul wrote to Titus giving him guidance, “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.  For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another”  (Titus 3:1-3).

Ever since the beginning of the Church, there’s been divisions (like whether Gentiles should become Jews before accepting Jesus).  So important that we, as the people of God, get things together.  We need to figure the things that are worth fighting for (like the deity of Jesus) and the things that aren’t so important (like serving grape juice for communion vs. serving wine).  There are a lot of various theologies and doctrines being taught out there, most of these are just feeble attempts made by a human mind to comprehend the incomprehensible.  That’s why it is so very important for us to put everything to the test of God’s Word and Spirit.  We must always ask ourselves; is this important?  Is this uplifting?  Will this build and encourage the body of believers or will it tear it down?  That’s why Paul further tells Titus, “ But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless” (Titus 3:9).  These things will only turn people away from faith in Jesus.

James wrote about the divisions within the church in James (4:1-3).  He asked, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?”

Then he stated the problem, “Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. Remember that anyone who hates his brother is a murderer (1 John 3:15).  We have three great enemies to face; Satan, the world, and our flesh.  The flesh, the sinful part of ourselves, is one of the greatest weapons that the enemy can use against us.  We can become jealous of the leadership within the church.  We can become jealous of someone’s testimony.  We can become jealous that someone got a blessing when we didn’t.  And the list goes on.  We must learn to take mastery over our flesh and discipline it.

But thankfully, James also gave us the solution to the problem.  “You do not have, because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”  We must always put our faith in God.  The Bible tells us to ask Jesus for our every need (Philippians 4:6).  When we ask Jesus to meet our needs, we put our faith in Him.  If we do not ask Jesus for our needs to be met we do not put our faith in Jesus and that’s outright sin (Romans 14:23). 

Also, we ask Jesus, we should ask with a right heart.  For example, if my car broke down and I needed a new one, it would be right for me to pray for a new one.  But, it would be wrong for me to ask for a shiny new 2013 Shelby GT500 Mustang (I like Mustangs) so I could look cool.

The main point here is that we should always be on the lookout to bless one another, to support one another, to rejoice in the blessings of others, and to mourn for those who are in mourning.  We must work at being peaceable with one another.

God's Will part I

One of the most common questions is, “What is God’s will for my life?”  Well, I can’t answer the specifics of what God’s exact will for your life is, but 1 Thessalonians 5 gives us very specific guidance as to what God’s will is.  So for the next little while I would like to break that down.  This is some pretty important stuff.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”

The pastor of the church I attended when I lived in Montana runs a ministry to ministers.  He has seen so many pastors who are just burned out.  Ministry (whether paid or volunteered) is an overtime job.  Most paid ministers receive 3-5% of what their marketable skills are worth in a comparable secular field.  Think of all the people they minister to on a daily basis.  A pastor’s job does not start at Sunday morning and end Sunday afternoon.  That’s just a small portion.  Pastors are involved in community development, the spiritual development of their congregation, counseling, etc…  And the pastor is just one part of the five fold ministry (Ephesians 10:11-12).  Even a Sunday School teacher can quickly become overwhelmed.

Those in leadership need a solid support, people that lift them up in prayer.  When the Israelites were battling Amalek, Moses held up his hands and the Israelites were winning the battle, but Moses grew tired and lowered his hands and the Israelites were getting beat.  So Aaron and Hur held Moses’ hands up and supported them with stones.  It’s a picture of how we need to hold up the ministers in prayer.  They do so much work and most ask for so little.  No wonder we are told to respect those who labor among us and those who are over us in leadership.

Faith is a Verb

For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”  When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.  – Matthew 8:9,10

Being in the Marine’s, I know what it is to take orders.  From the moment I stepped off the bus at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot for Boot Camp, we learn the correct response to an order is, “Yes Sir!” followed by the appropriate action.  We learn to take orders, and follow them through.  The point of following orders in the Marines was not to create robots, but to save our lives in battle.  You see, when bombs and bullets start flying, it gets mighty confusing and it sure helps having an experienced leader calling the shots.  That’s why Marines are trained to follow orders from the beginning of Boot Camp, so that following orders becomes automatic in a high stress, life or death situation.

Let me set the context for today’s verse.  Jesus had just entered the city of Capernaum, and he was approached by a Roman Centurion.  We must understand the culture of this day.  The Romans had invaded Israel and were really occupying the country.  Culturally, Jews were not supposed to have dealings with Gentiles at all, let alone the Romans who were occupying the Holy Land.  Now we have a leader of the occupying force approaching a well known Rabbi, Jesus, this was very audacious.  So the centurion asked Jesus to heal his paralyzed servant.  Jesus said that he would go to the centurion’s house to heal his servant; but the centurion basically told Jesus, “I’m not worthy to have you in my house, but if you command my servant to be healed, he will be.”  Then Jesus turned around to the crowd and told them that this Gentile centurion has more faith than anyone in Israel.

So what’s so different about the faith of the centurion?  I believe that it is the centurion’s understanding of the authority of Jesus is the answer.  The centurions were disciplined and trained soldiers, they knew how to give orders and follow orders unquestionably.  So, it would seem that obedience is a part of faith and Jesus confirms this, read Luke 17:5-10.
“The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”  And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’?  Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’?  Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
Understand that chapters numbers, verse numbers, and headings are helpful, but not inspired.  Even though most Bibles have a heading between the two paragraphs, this is one complete narrative.  The apostles came to Jesus asking for Jesus to increase their faith and Jesus answers with teaching about servanthood.
Faith is a verb, an action.  If I have faith that Jesus can heal the sick, I should pray to Jesus that He would heal the sick.  If I have faith that Jesus will provide for a financial need, I should ask Jesus to provide for the financial need, and I must align my finances accordingly by being a good steward.  To have faith in someone means that you trust them because they are looking out for your best.  A good commander should look out for the best of their troops, and knowing that the commander is looking out for them, the troops should trust the commander’s orders.  God always has our best in mind and there is no reason not to trust Him and follow Him.