“...that I may gain Christ and be found in him...”—Philippians 3:8-9, NIV1984

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

When the Church and State Play Well Together

4 One day King Joash said to the priests, “Collect all the money brought as a sacred offering to the Lord’s Temple, whether it is a regular assessment, a payment of vows, or a voluntary gift.  5 Let the priests take some of that money to pay for whatever repairs are needed at the Temple.”  6 But by the twenty-third year of Joash’s reign, the priests still had not repaired the Temple.  7 So King Joash called for Jehoiada and the other priests and asked them, “Why haven’t you repaired the Temple? Don’t use any more money for your own needs. From now on, it must all be spent on Temple repairs.”  8 So the priests agreed not to accept any more money from the people, and they also agreed to let others take responsibility for repairing the Temple.—2 Kings 12:4-8, NLT

US Navy 031029-N-6236G-001 A painting of President John Adams (1735-1826), 2nd president of the United States, by Asher B. Durand (1767-1845)-crop
John Adams by Asher Brown Durand [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Here is a good example of the “Church” (really the religious community of Jews) and State playing well together. In this case the king urges the priests to collect money to repair the temple. The priests didn’t follow through, and the king rebuked them. Then the priests followed through and the money was properly collected and paid to the men who repaired the temple. They actually had an excess of funds (see 2 Chron. 24:14 [part of the parallel account]).

Compare this to what is commonly done today: The church has responsibilities of caring for people. The church neglects these responsibilities. Religious and secular citizens complain and say we need a government solution. They form committees. They write laws and prepare to collect new taxes. The laws fail to pass a vote. Then an election comes. The people who like the proposed laws get elected. They revisit the proposed laws and they pass. After several years of forming new departments and offices to oversee the responsibilities, the laws finally go into effect. The outcome is plagued by mismanagement and wastefulness and more problems. Citizens take advantage of the system. The laws are reformed in an effort to fix the problems. The government says more money is needed and taxes are raised and things get really complicated. The root of the problem is that many citizens and government officials are morally corrupt. They don’t fear God, and no amount of new laws will stop the corruption.

The church is equipped to handle morally corrupt people, because Jesus Christ transforms people from the inside out. Yet, the church can’t just take the responsibilities back because people have learned to depend on the government, and now the financial burden of all the taxes has affected everyone, including the people who comprise the Church. Restoring responsibilities back to the church can be done, but it takes cooperation from the State and the Church. It takes the efforts of all citizens to fulfill their responsibilities for themselves, their families, their churches, and their civil government since “We the People...” are our government. Rather than complain, let’s act biblically and fulfill our responsibilities on every level, including voting for people who have a more biblical worldview.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Chariots of Fire

15 When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” 16 He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”  17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 18 And when the Syrians came down against him, Elisha prayed to the Lord and said, “Please strike this people with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness in accordance with the prayer of Elisha.—2 Kings 6:15-18, ESV

I imagine that this event was no surprise to Elisha since he knew what the king of Syria said in secret, but this alarmed Elisha’s servant. He could not see both the seen and unseen elements of the battle. Elisha had confidence that God would protect him and defeat his enemies.

While we may not see like Elisha did, we can be confident that God protects us in a spiritual sense from shipwrecking our faith and ultimately being separated from Him eternally. Yes, we may face persecution and suffering in many forms and could ultimately lose our physical lives for the sake of proclaiming Christ. Yet, we have confidence that comes from trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation (see Rom. 8:31-39). We are confident not because we lived “good” lives or had strong faith, but because Jesus paid it all. This is cause for rejoicing and moving forward in the work God has prepared in advance for us to do (see Eph. 2:8-10).

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Downward Spiral

Charles g finney
Charles Finney. See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
29 In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab the son of Omri began to reign over Israel, and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years.  30 And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him.  31 And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him.  32 He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria.—1 Kings 16:29-32, ESV

It’s inevitable. When a society approves moral values that are not based on rock-solid, biblical truth, the society only gets worse in every way. This downward progression does not happen overnight, but with each new generation. This happens, because the natural human tendency is to do evil, not good. We only do good by the grace of God, and we only get better by the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit who transforms every true believer who has believed in Jesus’ redemptive death and resurrection.

We must not yield, in any arena in life, to moral values that are less than biblical, however harmless or appealing they may seem. We must not give in to the philosophical argument, “How does the decision of two adults, in the privacy of their home affect others outside their home?” Disobedience of God on any level consequently affects more than those directly involved. This is self-evident as we witness the breakdown of the foundational institution of any society, the family, affecting every aspect of the society. Rather than concede, we must influence. Rather than remain apathetic, we must act. Rather than complain, we must vote. Rather than curse, we must bless our neighbors and win them faith in Christ who is the bedrock solution to any society’s problems. Only He transforms people and their beliefs and actions from the inside out.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

When History Matters

Frederick Douglass portrait
Photograph of Frederick Douglass by Photograph by George K. Warren (d. 1884). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
26 And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David.  27 If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.”  28 So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”  29 And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.  30 Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one.  31 He also made temples on high places and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not of the Levites.—1 Kings 12:27-31, ESV
History always matters. The people of Israel were between a rock and hard place. If they followed Rehoboam, they would be subjected to severe labor and punishment. If they followed Jeroboam, they would follow him into great sin, since, for political and economic gain, he re-told history to deceive the masses by claiming that his false gods rescued Israel from the land of Egypt. Most of Israel chose to follow Jeroboam into sin and then disciplined from God for this idolatry.

It’s the same today, and we must be careful to make sure that we know the truth found in the Bible and in our own history and test the words of men by checking their sources of information. A great example of a man who did this is Frederick Douglass. Once he escaped from slavery, he was taught by some abolitionists that the U.S. Constitution was a pro-slavery document implying that the Founding Fathers were pro-slavery. However, since he was a spokesman for the abolitionist movement, he thought he should read the Constitution and discovered, in fact, that the opposite was true (see this article). He stood for the historical truth and biblical truth and became very influential in shaping the Civil Rights movement in the mid to late 1800s.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Marry Wisely!

1 Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women,  2 from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love.—1 Kings 11:1-2

The most consequential decision a person can make is whether to believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. The second most consequential decision is choosing a spouse, especially since, as a Christian, you should only marry once, considering reconciliation, not divorce as your only option. Even though God gave Solomon wisdom beyond measure, he acted foolishly and chose to disobey God regarding marriage.

It’s extremely important to get counsel from parents, roommates, friends, and church leaders when choosing a spouse. They know what you are like under stress and when your character is tested. They also see things about you that you don’t see. They can tell you if you are even ready to be married and whether a potential spouse is like-minded (see Philippians 1:27, 2 Corinthians 6:14-15). Will she help you accomplish what God wants you to do, or will she be like one of Solomon’s many wives and cause your heart to turn to wicked idolatry?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Grace for All Nations

William Carey is known by many as the  "father of modern missions." Image from  Wikimedia Commons
41 “Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name's sake  42 (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house,  43 hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name.— 1 Kings 8:41-43, ESV
God has always had the purpose of making Himself famous throughout the whole world (also see Galatians 3:7-9), not because He is egotistical, but because He wants the entire world to know Him and be transformed by His love. How can we possibly keep our faith to ourselves?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Walking as Children of Light and Exposing the Darkness

John Quincy Adams - sixth President of the United States and mentor to Abraham Lincoln. He exposed slavery and Free Masonry for the wickedness that they were. Photo by By Southworth & Hawes (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  7 Therefore do not be partakers with them;  8 for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light  9 (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth),  10 trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.  11 Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them;  12 for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.—Ephesians 5:6-12, NASB
Certainly no sound-minded person wakes each day with the intention of deceiving or being deceived, but how is it that people are deceived so much? Think about it. In every aspect of life, you find deceivers, even many calling themselves “Christians” who intentionally or unintentionally purport lies. They do it for a variety of reasons. Some do it for financial gain, some for attention, and some do it with good intentions.

This brings to mind a recent Wallbuilders radio show (June 11, 2012) that I listened to about the culture of death in our country and in Europe. To summarize one point the guest, Dr. Mark Mostert, made is that in the Netherlands polls are starting to show that the elderly are sensing a growing social pressure to get euthanized because they can be a burden to others and the medical system. Euthanasia is legal in some cases in the Netherlands, but it is becoming a slippery slope that is leading people to believe that they have the right to put themselves to death (or urge others to) for any reason. This is exactly what the devil wants.

Proverbs 14:12, NASB, says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Jesus said that the devil is a murderer and the father of lies (John 8:44), and the devil is good at making lies seem tasty and pleasant to swallow. His intent is to kill you physically and keep your soul from being saved by Jesus Christ (if you are not already saved. I don’t believe you can lose your salvation).

Accepting, approving, and affirming ideas that go against God’s morality always leads to more death, both physically and spiritually. I’ve had more than a few conversations with Christians who say, “I don’t believe ____ (abortion or marriage between homosexuals are the usual issues) is O.K., but I don’t think it is fair to take the right to ____ away from others.” Therefore, they don’t vote or they vote in support of false morality, and in this way are partakers (v. 7). They also fail to convey the truth and expose the lies in order to counteract the slippery slope (v. 11).

The reality is that someone’s morality wins when there is a conflict of moral views, and if we want to love God and others, then we have to help them understand that God’s morality is the best (only) morality, and this must be done in a winsome way using reason, not just by spouting Bible verses without understanding the rationale behind them. Besides, the Bible is not the only proof that God’s ways our true. Nature reveals His truth as well.

As Christians, our goal is not to win non-Christians to our political beliefs. Our goal is to win them to faith in Jesus Christ, but when it comes time to vote, voting for candidates the assert godly moral values among other biblical worldviews is the most loving way to vote. It leads to life and blessing and prosperity in many ways (not necessarily materially). It is what is good for the proliferation of the gospel and society in general.

We must be careful. We must seek to know God through careful study and application of what He tells us in the Bible. This is the primary way to know the full, complete truth about the world around us. We must think critically about the words of others. We must ask, “What is this person really saying, and why?” Many public figures tell people what they want to hear, and the masses swallow it and are poisoned by it. Don’t let this happen to you! Discern what is good.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Put Off and Put On

John Newton was a British Slave trader who became a Christian and fought for the abolition of slavery.
But that is not the way you learned Christ!—21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus,  22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,  23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,  24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.  25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.  26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,  27 and give no opportunity to the devil.  28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.—Ephesians 4:21-28, ESV
This passage describes a simple truth regarding overcoming sinful behavior. Knowing Jesus Christ allows us to put away our old, sinful ways by replacing them with new, righteous ways. You can’t do one without the other. Notice the contrasting phrases: Put off the old, and put on the new. Do not nurse your anger, but resolve it quickly. Don’t steal, but work and be generous. What do you need to put off and put on to live in a way that glorifies God, loves others, and wins them to faith in Jesus Christ?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Making Known the Mystery of His Plan for My Life

11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.—Ephesians 3:11-13, ESV
All of the perceived “bad” things, like imprisonment, that happened to Paul and other believers in Christ happened as part of God’s plan of eternal purpose that was revealed through Jesus Christ. Paul’s life, and ours as followers of Christ are no accident. They are part of God’s grand, mysterious plan that has been revealed through Christ. This plan included giving everyone, no matter who they were born as or where they were born, the ability to know God, to be redeemed by Him, and to belong to His heavenly kingdom and family. This plan includes giving us a specific purpose in this life. Paul knew that his purpose was to reveal the gospel to the Gentiles. God has decided that He wants to use each one of us in a specific way to carry out His plan. These are some of the reasons why we do not need to lose heart (v. 13). Our lives are not a waste!

I’ve found that many do not know how God wants to specifically use them to affect this world. They try to serve God in some ways and for whatever reason, this does not seem to work out for them. They get discouraged. This is a hard place to be.

When we find ourselves in this situation, I think that we often have to persevere in doing the general things that we know God wants us to do like praying, reading, studying, and obeying the Bible, loving Him and others, serving in our local church however we are able, and sharing our faith. Often as we mature and understand God, others, and ourselves better, as we understand more of the needs of the world around us more clearly, God will help to refine our desires and give us the opportunity to live them out (see Psalm 37:4). Is there some simple way that you can start living out God's plan for your life today?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Making Known the Mystery of His Will

Jim Elliot along with several others paid the ultimate price to bring the hope of Christ to one of the most murderous indigenous people groups in the world.
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight  9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.—Ephesians 1:7-10, ESV
Here Paul states very plainly what God’s will or desire is which, hidden for past ages, has now been revealed through Jesus Christ. This plan is to unite all things in Jesus Christ. Is there any question, then, what Christians should have as the general purpose to their lives? No. All of us Christians should have the same general plan for our lives—to live with the goal of uniting people to Christ. The way that we carry this out will look differently for each person, but it is a sad day in America when the purposes and dreams of Christians’ lives look just like the rest of Americans and have no eternal purpose of reconciling people to Jesus Christ.

It is also a sad day in churches when the extent of the teaching to this end is “Invite your friends.” That’s well and good, and God does use it, but the people that have the greatest spiritual needs are not going to come to a church building. They are most likely disillusioned by the church, and we must go to them and love them and tell them the truth of the gospel.

When we do live out God’s general purpose or will, we will experience every spiritual blessing (v. 3) and the riches of his grace (v. 7). This precludes many material blessings, but those things are passing away. They don’t matter in heaven. What matters now is knowing God and making Him known to people. Let us not lose sight of this, and let us do all that we can to win the lost and build up the found to pass on this Great Commission lifestyle.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Fellowship Through Suffering

10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death...—Philippians 3:10, NASB
Will Lammert, Memorial Tragende (Woman with Burden) for the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp memorial site, 1959 By Flechtheim (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. This is the last concentration that imprisoned Corrie ten Boom before she was released due to a clerical error.
[Note: This is a continuation of thoughts on Philippians 3.] There are countless ways that Jesus suffered for righteous causes, not as a consequence of sin. As we begin to live in a Christ-like way, counting things as loss for the sake of Christ and dying to our old ways, we will experience suffering. Our flesh will suffer when we put to death our sinful desires, especially if we have indulged in habitual sins for a long time. For example, if we’re addicted to drugs, there are definitely physiological side-effects associated with halting their use.

If we’re sharing our faith with the lost, we will experience some level of persecution. When we purposely deny ourselves the pleasures and comforts of this world for the sake of the gospel, we will suffer mentally, possibly feeling like we’re “missing out” on what others get to enjoy. After all, Jesus didn’t even have an earthly home once He carried out His ministry (see. Matt. 8:20) so of course He was not concerned about whether He would experience the 100 best places around the world before He died or live out the lifestyle that His culture hoped for.

We will suffer as we take up our crosses daily to follow Jesus (see Luke 9:23), and this necessarily means that put our sinful ways to death as God gives us the grace and strength to do so. This is how we’re conformed to Jesus’ death.

The benefit to living this way, of course, is that we can better know and relate to our Savior who experienced the ultimate suffering, beginning with leaving His heavenly home and taking on the humility of mankind. If this was not bad enough, he was falsely accused, betrayed, abandoned, mocked, and brutally, murdered by His enemies, whom He came to save.

When we suffer for righteous reasons, we identify with Christ and find our hope, ultimately, in His resurrection, especially if we suffer to the very point of shedding our own blood. No one can take away our hope of eternal life.