Friday, March 28, 2014

Be Careful With Anger 3/28/2014

"But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.”  Numbers 20:12

Have you ever been angry?  Of course you have.  Have you ever done something you should not have done and later seriously regretted due to anger?  Probably.

At a certain point in his life, Moses had really been through the ringer at the hands of the people of Israel.  They constantly whined, complained, challenged his authority, fashioned and worshiped other gods and threatened to go back to the slavery of Egypt from which he had lead them.  The people were too obstinate and faithless to go into the Promised Land which God had provided and were now, as a result, in the midst of a 40 year period of wandering in the wilderness.  To top it off, his sister had just died and now the people were again complaining that they had no water while pointing out that there was plenty of food and water back in Egypt.

Moses was despondent and fell on his face before God.  Fortunately for him, God was attentive to his and the people's need and, as He had always done, made provision for them by instructing Moses to speak to a rock and that from it, enough water would flow to quench man and beast alike.  Unfortunately, Moses was angry and instead, the following ensued: "And he said to them, 'Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?'  Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank," Numbers 20:10-11.

The mistake here was two fold.  It was not that Moses had become angry (as indicated by referring to the people as rebels and striking the rock).  This was quite understandable under the circumstances.  The problems were that he violated the specific command of God to speak to the rock and that he did not give God the glory for providing the water but instead said, "shall we bring forth water."

Beloved, anger is a normal human emotion.  Even Jesus was once famously angry at the money changers working around the temple.  Anger is blamed for causing us to do a lot of unfortunate things.  Scripture warns us that it is okay to become angry but it is not okay to let that anger lead you to sin (Ephesians 4:26).  Anger unchecked and uncontrolled can have disastrous results for us and others.  The dangers of road rage or the speaking of ill thought out but extremely hurtful words come to mind.

When we become angry, let us be sure to remember who God is, who we are and who we are in God.  We have an example to follow in Jesus regarding how to handle anger and even, broadly, what we should be angry about.  Moses' anger cost him the ability to lead his people into the Promised Land.  Be careful what you allow anger to cost you.



Monday, March 24, 2014

Leaving the Promised Land 3/24/2013 (rp)

"Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife, Naomi; and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. Now they entered the land of Moab and remained there." Ruth 1:1-2

Times were tough during the reign of the judges in Israel's history. In fact, the last verse in the book of Judges (21:25) states, "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit." An even cursory reading of the text shows that the people were their own biggest enemy. God had given specific instructions to clear the land of its inhabitants because He had given it to them. Instead, they equivocated, failed to follow God's instructions, began to worship the Gods of the land's inhabitants and began to suffer at their hands. Evident from Ruth 1:1, even nature suffered in that the "land of milk and honey" now became challenged to produce.

This is the backdrop for a man named Elimilech making the decision to move his family out of Israel. The implication of this decision is vast. Remember that the children of Israel had been given the land as a promise. It had been given to them as a gift and a legacy by the God who had taken care of all of their needs. Recall also that they had recently completed wandering landless for 40 years. For a Hebrew to leave the land and therefore provision of God was a display of no confidence in God.

Beloved, when we look at our circumstances, be they the congregation we attend, the Christian friends we have or the righteous lives we strive to lead, and find them perhaps wanting, we must truly evaluate our position. Many will depart based on what they perceive to be famine conditions. We must all ask ourselves honestly what our contribution to the famine has been. We must remember how we got to where we are. Did God guide and direct us there? Did we think so when we arrived? Is there a way to be part of the solution for self and others by staying and working? Would God be pleased if you departed?

The reality of the situation regarding Elimelech's decision is that in a relatively short amount of time, both he and his sons died, leaving three widows to fend for themselves. Further, one of the daughters-in-law, a local, also departed. This left wife Naomi and daughter-in-law Ruth (who steadfastly refused to leave her side) to fend for themselves. Naomi decided to return home (to the promised land) and was ultimately fed, redeemed, fulfilled and saved by God through His people in the land.

Let us think long and hard before leaving the place where the Lord has brought us. As the saying goes, the grass isn't always greener on the other side.



Friday, March 21, 2014

When You Are Converted 3/21/2014

"And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." Luke 22:31-32 (KJV)

Are you in need of a conversion?  You might be thinking, "No.  I'm already a Christian.  I already believe."  First, we must uncouple the thought that if one believes (in God, Jesus and their relationship to each other and us) that it makes you a Christian.  "You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder," James 2:19.  Are demons Christian?  Of course not.

Secondly, let us consider the case of Simon (Peter), considered by some to be the foremost apostle.   Though he was often the "go to" guy, one who was part of Jesus inner circle, who had faith enough to walk on water and issued the God inspired confession that Jesus is in fact the son of God (Matthew 16:16-17), he was also one who denied Christ three times when the Lord, arguably, needed him most.  The context of the Scripture indicates that Satan had requested permission to attack him and weaken his faith.  This may seem odd, but one only need think back to Job to see that this was not a unique occurrence.

Beloved, we are all at different places in our spiritual walk.  We likewise are all under a constant barrage of temptation both from Satan and our own lusts (James 1:14).  This can have the effect of us failing in our faith.  That can manifest itself in many different ways in many different people.  It may cause us to "play church," wearing a mask of piety to cover a life of sin induced inner conflict and despair.  Some are married to their positions, responsibilities or reputation in the congregation and community and hang on to them even though their hearts may not be right. Some fall out of fellowship altogether due to their inner struggles.

Whatever the effect may be, rest assured that Jesus knows and understands our trials (Hebrews 4:15) and prays that we will be delivered from them, or more to the point, that we will be converted.  This is not to say that we are not Christians or never were, but that he is praying for a return to righteousness and triumph over trials.  And he prays this not just for our own sake, but for the sake of those who we can help who may go through similar seasons.

Challenges to our faith will surely come.  Let us do all we can to remain steadfast and never have a reason to return to that which we should never have departed.  "Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you," James 4:7



Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Let it Shine 3/19/2014

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." Matthew 5:14-16

One of the things I grew up with (and I suspect most kids did and still do) is to be sure to be in the house by the time the street lights came on.  Why was this such an important rule in so many families?  The simple answer is that it gets dark and in the words of my mom, "nothing good happens after dark."  The implication was that those who were up to no good used the darkness as a cover and that I was not to be up to no good nor confused with anyone who was.  

If you think about it, street lights were created to provide illumination against the dark, but their effect is limited.  The admonition was to come into the house where it was and is safe and that the whole place could be lit up and the family could be together.  Even if a room was dark, you turned on the light before entering.

Beloved, though there were no street lights in Jesus' day, forms of light against the darkness were available and he analogizes the exercising of our faith to them.  It seems that the darkness of this world is ever increasing and there are more and more people up to no good.  As Jesus beckoned us to come to the light that he himself is, he has also said that having been illuminated by him, we too are light.  And as light, we can attract others from the darkness into the safety of the house of the Lord where all the family is located.  We do this simply by sharing with others what he has shared with us.

Do you share your light with those in need of it or do you hide it so as not to attract a "bad element"?  We must be willing to do just as Jesus has done: let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!



Monday, March 17, 2014

Be Careful What You Pray For 3/17/2014

"Now the sons of Israel arose, went up to Bethel, and inquired of God and said, 'Who shall go up first for us to battle against the sons of Benjamin?' Then the Lord said, 'Judah shall go up first.'  So the sons of Israel arose in the morning and camped against Gibeah.  The men of Israel went out to battle against Benjamin, and the men of Israel arrayed for battle against them at Gibeah.  Then the sons of Benjamin came out of Gibeah and felled to the ground on that day 22,000 men of Israel."  Judges 20:18-21

It was during the time of the judges that Israel seemed to be caught in a never ending cycle of turning away from God to other gods, being punished at the hand of invading armies, crying out to God, being saved by God through the agency of a judge and repeating the whole thing over again.

In this case, a great crime had been committed by one tribe of Israel against a Levite and by extension, all of the rest of Israel.  After an attempt to bring the responsible individuals to justice failed, the decision was made to go to battle against all of the offending tribe of Benjamin.  This was, in effect, a civil war.  Doing what might be considered "the right thing" the people inquired of God as to the order of doing what they had already decided to do.  The outcome was disastrous.  In the face of this alarming turn of events, the question most surely asked by them and of great concern to even us today is how can we seek and receive direction from God and still utterly fail?

Beloved, we may never fully understand the action or inaction of God.  In fact we are told in Isaiah 55:9 that, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts." Nevertheless, a careful consideration of the context reveals several reasons for this outcome.  First, it is clear that the Israelites had made the decision to go against their brethren without consulting God.  The question should not have been "in what order do we go up?" but "should we go up?".  Second, while they were quick to punish Benjamin for an evil act, all of Israel was guilty of multiple acts of evil.  It was for this that they were themselves being punished.  Lastly, they did not approach God correctly nor with humility.  There was an additional time that they sought God and asked about going up, were told to go and still suffered a devastating defeat.  It was not until they approached God with weeping, fasting and offerings that God finally responded, "Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands," Judges 20:28.

When we approach God's throne of grace and mercy, we must always consider our motivation and method and always seek His will and way for our lives.  Our prayers must be consistent with who God is more so than who we are.  Most importantly, be careful what you pray for.  You might just get it.



Friday, March 14, 2014

The Purpose of the Thorn 3/14/2014 (rp)

"And by reason of the exceeding greatness of the revelations, that I should not be exalted overmuch, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, that I should not be exalted overmuch." 2 Corinthians 12:7

Most Christians and many non-Christians are familiar with the plight of Paul's thorn in the flesh. He attributes it to having visited heaven and witnessed things too amazing to describe. He then specifically states that the discomfort he was given (not a literal thorn in literal flesh) was given, for all intents and purposes, to keep him humble.

Beloved there are at least two messages here. To the Christian, the benefits of a relationship with God should be obvious. In fact, it would exceed the available space to even try to list them all, however, this would be a great place to pause and give quiet thought to how good God has been to you throughout your lifetime. That done, none of us have to look far to see those who have been so blessed by God that they think they have accomplished and acquired everything in and of themselves and therefore do not need God. These folks have missed the point entirely. In situations like this, it would be better to have some sort of reminder of both the hierarchy associated with our very existence and the source of every blessing than to lose sight of both because of His overwhelming goodness. One might think, "Why does such a reminder necessarily involve pain?" We should not assume that Paul's malady involved pain, however we know that whatever it was not only kept him in line but served as an example to others and glorified God. Have you ever been inspired by the faith of someone less fortunate than you?

To the non-Christian considering membership in God's family, it should be known that it is not all cookies and cream. God never promised us an easy row to hoe. In fact, there is full disclosure given regarding the difficulties that can be expected from faithfully living the Christian life. Our purpose in life is to glorify Him through our praise, worship, love, obedience and sharing with others. In so doing, we may become scuffed or inconvenienced, but the benefits of being a child of God are beyond imagination and eternal. Paul experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows, but learned ultimately to depend on God for everything and accept His will in all things. That is the purpose of the thorn.



Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Worship: Not a Spectator Sport 3/12/2014

"Come, let us worship and bow down,
Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.
For He is our God,
And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.
Today, if you would hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts,"
Psalm 95:6-8

Last week, I ran into two different people, both former members of congregations that now "worship at home."  Perhaps you know of someone or several someones who fit this description.  Now, rather than going to the assembly on the Lord's day, they listen to the local Christian radio station, or watch one or more of the televangelists on cable, or do nothing at all.  Of course our brothers and sisters say they still love God, still believe in Him and pray regularly but just do not currently "go to church."

There are a variety of reasons why people pursue this avenue.  Some disagree with the way things are done at their local congregation.  Some have suffered hurt associated with someone who attends.  Some have looked into the mirror of their lives and found themselves unfit, lacking the ability to forgive themselves despite believing that they have been forgiven by God.  And some just flat out do not think it is necessary.  There are many other reasons that people give for such a tragic departure.

Beloved, I will be the first to tell you that the work of the church is not primarily done inside the church building but outside.  I would likewise say that worship is not confined to the church building in that we should all be in a constant state of worshiping our God.  But I will say that the assembly is a necessary component of our relationship with God and with each other.  Let me share with you just a few scriptures that bear this out.

  • Acts 2:40-47-From its inception, the church (more accurately phrased "the assembly") has been about the people of God being and doing together
  • Ephesians 4:11-16-We together form one body, made so by divine will for a divine and beneficial purpose
  • John 10:14-16-Being identified as flock whose shepherd is Jesus, our togetherness is implicit
  • 1 Corinthians 12:12-27-Each of us has a role in the body/assembly that we are gifted to fulfill and on which others depend
  • Hebrews 10:24-26-The assembly is as much about others as it is about us and we should not forsake it
This is by no means an exhaustive list.  The word of God consistently speaks of believers as a people, a body, a flock and a church that is designed to be together in word, thought, deed and most certainly in worship.  While some televangelist have their uses, if a person is watching one, they are watching not just the preacher but those who are members of that congregation who have gathered together to worship.  Worship is not about spectating, but participating.  

May this be an encouragement to you and may you share it with those who you know that have forsaken the assembly.



Monday, March 10, 2014

Faithful Under Fire 3/10/2014

"Then the Lord struck the child that Uriah's widow bore to David, so that he was very sick.  David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went and lay all night on the ground.  The elders of his household stood beside him in order to raise him up from the ground, but he was unwilling and would not eat food with them. Then it happened on the seventh day that the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, 'Behold, while the child was still alive, we spoke to him and he did not listen to our voice. How then can we tell him that the child is dead, since he might do himself harm!'  But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David perceived that the child was dead; so David said to his servants, 'Is the child dead?' And they said, 'He is dead.'  So David arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the Lord and worshiped." 2 Sam 12:15-20

Despite being "a man after God's own heart," David was very human with all of the flaws and weaknesses that can be found in any human being.  He famously sinned with Bathsheba, impregnated her and had her husband killed when he refused to go into her during a weekend pass designed to cover David's tracks.  Despite his contrition and repentance and God's forgiveness, there were consequences for his actions.  One of the consequences unfortunately involved the death of the child. David then experienced a depth of sorrow that every parent dreads.  The illness and expected passing of his baby made him inconsolable.

Beloved, I pray that you will never know such loss, particularly as a result of your own sin. Nevertheless, we all, at some point in our lives, have known or will know despair.  If we haven't yet, we will someday experience pain that is unimaginable.  Despite the best efforts of others to comfort us, there seems to be no word that can be spoken, no medicine that can be taken and no prayer that can be prayed that will deliver us from our sorrow.  This is a normal part of our human existence.  The key is to remain faithful despite these trials and tribulations.

When there was nothing more to be said or done, David cleaned himself up and went to worship. What we learn from him is that despite his sin, punishment and pain, he never lost contact with the God who made Him.  He remained prayerful throughout his ordeal.  Through fasting, he sacrificed to the Lord hoping to find favor.  And when he found that God's judgment was final, he worshiped him.  He never broke faith with God nor lost faith in Him despite having the worst experience of his life.  When his servants asked why he despaired so when the child was still alive but recovered so quickly upon his death, he shared concerning his child, "I will go to him, but he will not return to me," 2 Samuel 12:23. Even this was an amazing display of faith in the Father.  When storms come, let us all be sure to do likewise.