Take Part in Missions

Posted on September 30, 2007. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Sometimes we bite off more than we can chew. I remember my grandfather saying to me that my “eyes were bigger than my stomach”. He was referring to the way I’d heap food on my plate and then be unable to eat everything. My eyes were bigger than my stomach.

Home remodeling projects can easily be underestimated. Diane and I shared last month about our plumbing issues. I thought we had a little leak, an air conditioning pan with a plugged drain. All we have to do is clean out the drain, right? And by the time it was raining in the master bathroom, wallpaper soaking and sagging, sheetrock being torn off the walls, ripping out old galvanized pipe to replace it with copper tubing, and three large sweaty men carrying old water heaters out of the attic… at some point I realized I had seriously underestimated the project.

I’ve discovered that following Christ is a lot like underestimating a home remodeling project. When Christ says, “yoke is easy and His burden is light” (Matthew 11:30), He means it. Picking up the yoke is easy. But as we give more of ourselves to the Spirit, we find that the home remodeling requires a lot more work than we first thought. Turning away from our surface sins, sins we could easily see, was easy. Turns out there was wood rot underneath that we didn’t know about, with termites happily munching away. Learning to lean on Christ, loving our enemies, turning from pride and materialism… that requires more time and energy.

I think about those South Korean missionaries in Afghanistan from time to time; they didn’t get a lot of media coverage, probably because Taliban fundamentalists executing peaceful Christians wasn’t a topic the news media found interesting. The missionaries certainly found the task far more than they expected. They were beaten and threatened by gunpoint to convert to Islam or die. The pastor, Bae Hyung-kyu, was executed first, and his last words to the remaining missionaries were, “Overcome with faith.” Later, they executed another man, Shim Sung-min. They remaining 21 hostages, 18 of them women, were later freed, but only after the South Korean government agreed to ban further missionary work in Afghanistan.

You know who my compassion goes out to most? Not the pastor Bae Hyung-kyu or the missionaries; their eternal destination with the Lord awaits, where there is no pain or tears. My compassion goes out to the Afghan children that will now be raised by barbarian murderers instead of being exposed to the love and peace of Christ Jesus.

Q: What are Christian missions and who are missionaries?

Our lesson begins today at Matthew 9:35-38, and Jesus tells us why followers of Christ should spread the Good News.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Jesus, of course, sets an example for us; Jesus is on the very first “mission” trip to spread the word that the Son of Man has come. Notice that Jesus went through all the towns and villages. It requires effort to spread the word; you’ve got to get up off the sofa. Jesus does three things here –

- He teaches; what do the scriptures say? How shall we live?
– He preaches; this is different than teaching; the word can also be translated “heralding.” It’s an announcement of something important.
– And he heals. Taking care of the sick and wounded shows compassion on those who need it most.

The crowds were like sheep without a shepherd; those that have not heard the good news, that we can enter heaven without being perfect, that Jesus paid the price for us, are lost. Sometimes they know they’re lost; most of the time they don’t. I know I didn’t. I only know that now I’m found.

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” I mentioned Afghanistan earlier, but there are many, many places where the good news hasn’t been heard, or if it has been heard, the word is confused or distorted. When we went to Kenya a couple of year ago, one thing that struck me was the lack of bibles. A teacher from one of the other classes donated enough money to buy hundreds of Swahili bibles; they were almost devoured hungrily when we gave them away, people that had given their lives to Christ but were now left without knowing what Christ wanted from them. There are so few missionaries with so few resources, and the need is so great. Things haven’t changed much in 2000 years; the size of the harvest is still huge, billions of people, yet so few people sharing the Word. Who owns the harvest, who is the Lord of the Harvest? And who are the workers in His field?

We are the workers. Fred and Joanna are on their way to Damascus in a couple of weeks; Michael & Aura are just back from Honduras; care to share what you saw there?

Once upon a time in our lives, we were called by Christ to follow Him. We experience the love and forgiveness and the peace and joy that comes with giving our lives to Christ. We grow, we become sanctified through Him, we become greater by becoming less. Then what? Think about this – somebody went out of their way to share the joy of Christ with you at some point in your life. Your parents, a friend, an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, a stranger. Isn’t about time you returned the favor and shared that joy with the lost? You are one of the workers in the field. You know the phrase, “they pay isn’t much, but the retirement benefits are out of this world.”

Matthew 10 begins with Jesus’ instructions to his twelve disciples. Not all of this is entirely applicable to us today; for instance, in verse 5 Jesus tells his disciples not to go among the Gentiles or in Samaria. Verse 6 tells them to stay among the lost sheep of Israel. Why the unusual instructions? Part of it was that the experience of the disciples here was limited; perhaps Jesus felt they were not yet equipped to witness among the Gentiles, especially since Jews and Gentiles didn’t get along all that great. Also, time was limited here; Jesus had a mission that would end on Calvary, and in order to use his resources efficiently, Jesus limited this mission to Israel. Also, the Jews were God’s chosen; it only made sense for God to reach out to His chosen people first. I think we can learn from Jesus’ instructions to use time and resources wisely. It’s also worth noting that it was only this first mission that was limited to Israel; later, Jesus himself went into Samaria and Jesus healed among the Gentiles. The Great Commission tells us to go to all nations.

In The Message, Matthew 10:5-8 says,

Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.

We think of missions sometimes as going off to some far off land; but sometimes the most rewarding mission is right here in our own back yard.

What sort of response can we expect when we’re on a mission? Matthew 10:16-23 -

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. Everyone will hate you because of me, but those who stand firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. “

Apparently, sharing the gospel is hard. The instructions from Jesus now have more concrete instructions to us today. What do you think the phrase “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” means?

Matthew 10:24-33 –

“Students are not above their teacher, nor servants above their master. It is enough for students to be like their teacher, and servants like their master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!

“So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

“Whoever publicly acknowledges me I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever publicly disowns me I will disown before my Father in heaven.”

If sharing the gospel is hard, Jesus tells us why we should be reassured and comforted. Jesus warns us that we can expect persecution and danger when we proclaim from the roofs that Jesus Christ is Lord. Satan, after all, “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8). When you are spreading the gospel, when you are witnessing, you are walking into the lion’s den. It’s dangerous.

But do not be afraid. In Afghanistan, the pastor Bae Hyung-kyu discovered that Satan can destroy the body… but Satan has no power over the soul. Evil men can destroy the body… but evil men have no power over the soul. Only God has power over the soul.

As a Christian, remember this: you are a new creation. When you give your life to Christ, you are already dead. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Our earthly lives have been given up, and we have already begun our eternal lives. From an earthly perspective, we’re confused; we think we’re alive, and when we die, we go to heaven. That’s wrong. From a heavenly perspective, we’re dead. When we’re born again, then we go to heaven. We can’t live until we die.

One of my favorite songs on the radio is really, really odd, but I like really, really odd. I think it’s all about missions. The Newsboys in their song, “Wherever We Go,” sing –

Hands up, Holler back here
Let’s throw this party in gear
We brought the welcome mat
Wherever we go, that’s where the party’s at.

Yeah I know, they ended the sentence with a preposition. You know the song?

Hands up, holler back now
We don’t claim any know-how
We’re giving God all that
Wherever we go, that’s where the party’s at.

Wherever we go, the dumb get wise
And the crime rates drop and the markets rise
It’s a curious thing
But it’s just our thing

Bullies make nice, crooks repent
And the ozone layer shows improvement
It’s a curious thing
And it’s humbling

Wherever we’re led, all the Living Dead
Wanna leave their Zombie Mob
It’s a touching scene when they all come clean
God help us, we just love our job

It’s a great song, and it illustrates, I think, our lesson today. It’s shrewd and innocent, certainly, and says we’re being led among the living dead, and once they hear the gospel, they want to leave their zombie mob, too. Just like us.

Once we realize that this life is temporary and real life is eternal, then Satan has no power over us. All he can do is kill us, but we’re already dead. We live for Christ now. Why? Because He died so that we may live. God loves us so much that he gave us His son. So do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Our soul is worth more than many sparrows and the hairs on our head are numbered.

Is this scary? Does this make us afraid? To risk our earthly life, our material comforts? Recognize what’s at stake – those around us without the love of Christ are dead. By risking our lives for them, we’re following the example Jesus set for us. He, too, gave His life for us. Is it too much to ask that now our salvation is secure that we risk our temporary life so that others, too, may live? Somebody did it for us or we wouldn’t be here today. The fear is understandable, but remember; the opposite of fear is faith. Faith is not believing that God can. Faith is knowing that God will.

It sounds from our lesson so far that we are called to share the gospel in unwelcome places, but Jesus tells us that He wants us to share our faith publicly. “Whoever publicly acknowledges me I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever publicly disowns me I will disown before my Father in heaven.” But what about things we’ve all been taught about respect, about peace and love and harmony and getting along and diversity and separation of church and state? If Jesus is always love and peace, then we should only share the gospel only when we’re asked, right? If they don’t want to hear it, as peaceful loving Christians we should keep our mouths shut so that we can all get along, right?

That’s not what Jesus says. Remember, when we’re sharing the Gospel among those who don’t want to hear it, we’re bringing the Living Water to those who are dead. We are to love our enemies; sharing the word of God can sometimes make enemies. If we have to choose between Jesus and peace, what do we choose? If we have to choose between Jesus and anything, what do we choose? Look at Matthew 10:34-39 -

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn

” ‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
your enemies will be the members of your own household.’

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves a son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Jesus is quoting prophecy about the Messiah in Micah 7:6 which goes on to say

But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD,
I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.

Does this sound like the opposite impression of Jesus that our culture teaches us? That Jesus loves peace, he’s passive and never raises a fuss? Jesus own words tell us differently. Jesus is indeed the king of peace, but it is His peace. People are to love people, but they are to love Him more. Sometimes that separates people. I’ve seen first hand, as I’m sure you have too, that talking about Jesus can drive people apart.

God does want us to have a good life, and God does want us to be happy, but he wants us to have goodness and happiness from an eternal perspective. Obedience to God brings goodness and happiness from an eternal perspective, but it may mean risking our comfort in this life. Is this risk worth it? Let’s see what Jesus says in Matthew 10:40-42 –

“He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”

Picking up your cross and following Jesus may mean a lot of hardship, may mean loss of comfort, may mean a loss of life. Does this mean we lose our joy? Now, we are joyous because we love Him who first loved us. Is it scary? Yes, certainly, but perfect love drives out fear. If we don’t risk our lives, do we risk our salvation? No, we are still children of God. But if we want to be disciples of Jesus and grow in the Spirit, we must learn to set aside our fear and our comfort. To love our neighbor is to want to have them in heaven with us, and the only way for them to know the love of Jesus and His perfect sacrifice is for somebody to tell them.

I think that somebody is you and me.

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Dependence

Posted on July 22, 2007. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Zechariah’s lampstandI’m going to be honest about my struggles this week to study for Zechariah books 4-6. Zechariah is full of symbolism and things difficult to explain and interpret. When I started studying it, I was lost. It was like trying to understand the book of Revelation using only a Julia Childs cookbook for interpretation. Things just didn’t make sense.

But I’m starting learn how God teaches me; the lesson I study is the same lesson God is teaching me. I pray and hope that His Word today finds you receptive to the message He would have us learn.

Fortunately an angel of interpretation visited Zechariah to help us understand what was going on. I’m glad the angel was there, otherwise the symbology of colored horses and baskets of women and flying scrolls would be completely lost on me.

In Zechariah 1-3 last week, Zechariah began seeing a series of eight night visions. These visions of prophecy revealed God’s plans and purposes to His people.

The first vision, Zechariah saw horsemen patrolling the earth. The earth was at peace, which sounds like good news, but it’s not. It meant Persia’s rule of Judah, over God’s people, was strong and secure. The second vision of four horns represented the heathen powers who had scattered God’s people, and then four craftsmen of God that defeated the heathen powers.

The third vision was a surveyor who drew new boundary lines around Jerusalem, with God Himself becoming a wall of fire of protection around it. Then a fourth vision that Joshua would take off unclean clothes and dress is splendid robes so that Joshua would be usable and acceptable in God’s sight. A messianic prophecy that God would send His son as the Branch who would take away the sins of the world so that we may all live in peace under the authority of Jesus Christ.

So far, so good. Four visions have so far come to Zechariah in chapter 1-3, and now Zechariah is plum tuckered out. We’re going to study the next 4 visions, starting with vision number 5, visions that include lampstands, olive trees, a flying scroll, a basket with a woman in it, and chariots pulled by colored horses between bronze mountains, and then we’re going to figure out how to apply these colored horses and flying scrolls to our own lives. Turn to Zechariah 4.

Then the angel who talked with me returned and wakened me, as a man is wakened from his sleep. He asked me, “What do you see?”

I answered, “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lights on it, with seven channels to the lights. 3 Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.”

I asked the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?”

He answered, “Do you not know what these are?”

“No, my lord,” I replied.

You would think that after 4 visions from God and being offered interpretations by angels, Zechariah would be fully awake, paying attention, and writing things down, but he’s not. It says in Zechariah 4:1 that “the angel who talked with me returned and wakened me, as a man is wakened from his sleep.” Zechariah’s mind was wandering, not paying attention, possible taking a little nap. How could Zechariah possibly be sleeping at a time like this?

Let me rephrase in New Testament terms – Jesus Christ died for our sins and the Holy Spirit lives within us, prompting us to do what is right and what is good, for the day of the Lord is approaching. How could we possibly be satisfying our own selfish desires when Jesus calls us to do so much more?

There, got your attention.

The angel of interpretation wakens Zechariah and says, “What do you see?” And Zechariah answers (Zechariah 4:2-3), “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lights on it, with seven channels to the lights. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” If we jump down to the second half of verse 10, the angel explains that the seven lights on top are the eyes of the Lord which range throughout the earth. Scholars have interpreted in several ways; one scholar compared it to the lampstands in Revelation 1 where the lampstand represents a church. That would imply that the lampstand here represents Jerusalem or the rebuilding of the temple. The vision goes on to explain in verse 11 and 12 that the two olive branches on each side of the lampstand continually pour out golden oil that keeps the light burning.

There’s a lot of symbolism here, but with the angel of interpretation here, we’re able to understand the meaning. The olive tree branches symbolize Joshua and Zerubbabel. Joshua was the high priest of Israel, Zerubbabel was the governor. Together, they are the priest and king of Israel. In verse 14, they are described as the “two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth.” The golden oil represents the Holy Spirit being poured out to light the lampstand. So let’s put this altogether to see what the vision means.

Joshua and Zerubbabel are to rebuild the temple. It’s a daunting task, it’s huge, it’s far to much to expect two men to do it. But through the Holy Spirit working in them, the temple, the lampstand, will be rebuilt. The temple will be visible to all the earth; through the rebuilt temple, God will shed his light on Israel and bring them out of their darkness, and God’s plans will be fulfilled.

Is everybody with me so far? The priest and king, through the Holy Spirit, rebuild the temple to shed light on God’s people. Good. Now, as we have been studying, God’s relationship with Israel is instructive to us; God is unchanging. How do we apply this to Christians today? Well, let’s see. There are 4 parts to this vision:

  1. The olive branches. In Zechariah’s vision, the angel explains that these are Joshua and Zerubbabel, the priest and king of Israel, anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth. Who would that be today? That’s right, the priest and king is the Messiah, Jesus, anointed to serve the Lord. But while we wait for the return of the Lord, who is the body of Jesus? Who are His hands and feet? That’s right, we are.
  2. The lampstand. In Zechariah’s vision, the lampstand represented the temple. Who is the temple of the Lord today? The church.
  3. The lights, the eyes of the Lord that bring light. As a church, we are the lampstand that shows the love of Christ to the world. God’s light is visible to the world when the world looks at us, His temple.
  4. The golden oil. In Zechariah’s vision, the Holy Spirit enabled Joshua and Zerubbabel to accomplish the Lord’s will. The Holy Spirit now works within all Christians to accomplish the Lord’s will.

What the vision is trying to tell Zechariah is instructions on how to do the Lord’s will. The exiles in Zechariah’s day had started to rebuild the temple, but then they gave up. It was too hard. For 15 years they had done no work on the temple. The people put their personal concerns first and allowed discouragement to take over. It’s too hard, it’s not important, and we have other things to do.

Today, we do the same thing. God speaks to us through His Word and through the Holy Spirit. But we don’t always want to obey. We don’t always want to listen. When we open our bibles and read, “Ye shall do this to glorify me,” and then we find excuses not to. Remember the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7? “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Jesus tells us that all of God’s commands can be summarized by loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. And 1 Corinthians 13 are instructions to us, to tell us what love is and what love is not. But yet, we are easily angered, we are rude, we do seek our own pleasure at the expense of others. Why do we do this? It’s because we allow discouragement to take over and we place ourselves first, exactly like the exiles that had given up on rebuilding the temple.

How else are we disobedient to the Lord? Is He the Lord of your life? Is He the Lord of my life? If He is the Lord, we give our lives to Him and obey His commands. Or is He only Lord of part of our lives, and we offer excuses not to obey? The instructions on loving one another are clear, yet we don’t always do it. The instructions on how to love those who hurt us are clear, yet we don’t always do it. The instructions on how we treat our spouses are clear, yet we don’t always do it. The instructions on how to honor our parents are clear, yet we don’t always do it. Why don’t we do it? It’s because it’s too hard for us.

Let’s admit it. It’s too hard for us. And that’s precisely the point, it is too hard for us. But it’s not too hard for God. In Zechariah 4:6-7, it says,

So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.

“What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!'”

The vision given to Zechariah doesn’t show that Joshua and Zerubbabel should rebuild the temple by relying on their own strength. The lights of the lampstand are filled with the Holy Spirit. When we find something too difficult for us, the instructions are clear. We rely on the Holy Spirit and do what the Lord tells us to do. No excuses, no discouragement, no personal reasons why these instructions shouldn’t apply to us. We pray, we rely on the Spirit, we obey. Through our obedience and the Lord’s strength, His purposes will be accomplished. The Lord put the mountain in front of us, and He can make the ground level again. Not us.

When I was studying for this lesson, this is about the time that I realized what God was teaching me this week. All the symbolism in the book of Zechariah was too hard for me. I’m a black and white sort of guy. I’m a spreadsheet guy. I’m an engineer. I don’t understand it, and therefore I can’t teach it.

Which is precisely the point. It’s too hard for me and I was relying on my own knowledge and strength to understand it. I’m like Zechariah here. The angel asks, “What do you see, and what does it mean?” Zechariah’s answer is the same each time, “Uh… I dunno.” And the angel interprets the vision for him. If Zechariah leaned on his own understanding, he’d have no idea what the Lord was saying. And isn’t that what the Lord wants us to do, to lean on Him? Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” The Lord wills us to obey and to trust in Him, even when we don’t want to, even when we don’t understand why. If we just lean on Him and do what He asks of us, He will lead us.

We are fortunate the Lord is so patient. While we’re quick to point out the faults in others and say the Lord’s judgment will come upon them, we’re not so quick to point out our own sins and ask for the Lord’s judgment. “Lord God, I’m a sinner, please punish me. And hurry!” No, the Lord’s judgment is delayed because of His mercy. We have 3 more visions to go that illustrate God’s judgment on those who do not obey.

In Zechariah 5, Zechariah sees a flying scroll.

“This is the curse that is going out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished, and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished. The LORD Almighty declares, ‘I will send it out, and it will enter the house of the thief and the house of him who swears falsely by my name. It will remain in his house and destroy it, both its timbers and its stones.'”

The flying scroll is thirty feet long by fifteen feet wide, which, interestingly, are the same dimensions as the holy place in the tabernacle, perhaps indicating God’s presence. The angel explains that this is a call by the Lord to righteousness. Every thief will be banished – those who take from others instead of giving of themselves. And everyone who swears falsely will be banished – those that claim to follow the Lord but are disobedient and rebellious, tarnishing the name of God. Possibly the text on the flying scroll contained the Ten Commandments, the law by which the Lord will judge His people. Paul tells us in Romans 3 that it is through the law that we become aware of our own sin. While the law is perfect, it is a curse to man for it shows us that we can never be righteous on our own.

The next vision is a woman in a basket. I’m so glad this angel of interpretation explains all these things so I don’t have to guess. Zecharaiah 5:5-11 –

Then the angel who was speaking to me came forward and said to me, “Look up and see what this is that is appearing.”

I asked, “What is it?”

He replied, “It is a measuring basket.” And he added, “This is the iniquity of the people throughout the land.”

Then the cover of lead was raised, and there in the basket sat a woman! He said, “This is wickedness,” and he pushed her back into the basket and pushed the lead cover down over its mouth.

Then I looked up—and there before me were two women, with the wind in their wings! They had wings like those of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between heaven and earth.

“Where are they taking the basket?” I asked the angel who was speaking to me.

He replied, “To the country of Babylonia to build a house for it. When it is ready, the basket will be set there in its place.”

One interpretation could be that women are evil and should be shipped off in a basket, but that’s precisely why we are not to lean on our own understanding. A woman is used in this imagery because the Hebrew word for evil is a feminine noun and the woman is used to show evil personified. It does not mean women are evil. For some reason, every biblical commentary I read on this passage wanted t make that point clear.

God is all powerful. God is demonstrating that He has power over evil. He measures the sins of the Israel, and takes the evils of materialism, greed, and dishonesty back to their starting place in Babylon. When God is ready, He will set the basket on its base and destroy it in the final judgment prophesied in Revelation 17-18.

Notice that it’s a measuring basket. The King James version says it’s an ephah with a talent of lead to cover it. This may indicate that the evil has its root in money and currency. That’s not too far of a stretch, the love of money being the root of all evil. As a prosperous society, we tend to trust in the dollar more than we trust in God. We trust in our 401k, our health insurance, our education, our job. If we have Social Security, do we need God? Prosperity can blind us to our need for God. We trust in our own labor and our own savings plan. When we trust in our prosperity, prosperity becomes our God because that’s where our heart is. When we trust in our own prosperity, we stop working on the temple like the people of Jerusalem did, and God’s work is delayed because we’re working on our stuff instead of His. No wonder God wants to put it all in a basket and ship it to Babylon.

Let’s look at the last vision we’re going to study today, the vision of the four chariots. Zechariah 6:1-8 –

I looked up again—and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountains—mountains of bronze! The first chariot had red horses, the second black, the third white, and the fourth dappled—all of them powerful. I asked the angel who was speaking to me, “What are these, my lord?”

The angel answered me, “These are the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world. The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south.”

When the powerful horses went out, they were straining to go throughout the earth. And he said, “Go throughout the earth!” So they went throughout the earth.

Then he called to me, “Look, those going toward the north country have given my Spirit rest in the land of the north.”

This a prophetic judgment on the rest of the world. The Lord God of Israel is also the Lord God of gentiles like us. The colors of these chariots match the colors of the four horsemen in Revelation 6, suggesting a similar purpose. The two mountains of bronze are often interpreted as Mount Zion and the Mount of Olives and symbolize God’s strength. The red horse is war, the black horse is death. The white horse is victory, and the dappled horse is disease and famine. God’s judgment in the last days rides swiftly and powerfully across the earth, and God’s Holy Spirit is only at rest when His perfect judgment is complete. That’s not good news for those of us in rebellion to His word; between the flying scroll, the basket of evil, and the four chariots of judgment, God’s perfect justice will eliminate evil. Including the evil that is in each one of us.

Our Good News – literally – is that God sent a perfect sacrifice for us. In Exodus 12 during the first Passover, God’s judgment came to Egypt, but if any household would place the blood of a perfect lamb over the door, the Lord God would pass over that household. Jesus came to be our perfect lamb and shed His blood for us. It doesn’t mean we’re perfect; it means that when God looks at us and we are clothed in the sacrifice of Jesus, God sees the blood and passes over us, too.

Zechariah 6 concludes with this Messianic prophecy, a foretelling of the coming of Jesus. Zechariah 6:9-13,

The word of the LORD came to me: “Take silver and gold from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon. Go the same day to the house of Josiah son of Zephaniah. Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jehozadak. Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD. It is he who will build the temple of the LORD, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.’

To the people of Jerusalem, this imagery was profound. Joshua was the high priest, and the high priest didn’t wear crowns. The crown belonged to the king, and so Zerubbabel should get the crown. Levitical priests were never crowned as kings, and kings were never priests. In 2 Chronicles 26, King Uzziah tried to function as a priest and was stricken with leprosy. God’s law called for the priesthood to be separate from the government.

The vision of Joshua being crowned king foretells the coming of Jesus, whose name is the branch. Jesus would become both our high priest in the order of Melchizadek, as well as king of the Jews. Jesus will build our temple of the Lord, Jesus will bear the glory, and Jesus shall sit and rule on His throne, a priest on His throne, and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Then and only then will there be true peace and harmony.

So let’s recap what we’ve learned today –

  • We are to obey the Word of Our Lord, to do what He tells us to do. The rebuilding of the temple was delayed because the people found excuses and personal reasons and discouragement. When the people didn’t obey, the temple of the Lord wasn’t built. We, too, find excuses not to obey. The Lord uses us to accomplish His will, so it is important for us to obey, even when we don’t want to or when we don’t understand.
  • It’s too hard for us to obey. We are weak individuals. But relying on our own strength misses the point of what God expects from us. We are to rely on Him who gives us strength. God can move mountains, and with the Holy Spirit pouring through us like a golden oil, we can do His work to glorify Him and light up the world.
  • The flying scroll symbolizes God’s law that shows us our sins, and the sinful will be banished from God’s temple.
  • God is in control and more powerful than evil, able to contain it in a basket and put a lid on it. Eventually, God will destroy evil.
  • This applies to the entire world, and God’s judgment will ride out like chariots over the world. Through war, famine, death, and victory, all will bow their knee to Him.
  • God knows this is too hard for us, but he expects us to try. He has provided a sacrifice on our behalf, and crowned a Messiah, a priest to intercede for us and rule over men. If we accept the sacrifice, God will see that we are covered by the blood of Jesus, and His perfect judgment will pass over us.

May the good Lord use us for His purposes this week. God bless each one of us.

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Christian Carnival CLXXX

Posted on July 12, 2007. Filed under: Christian Carnival | Tags: , , , , , , |

Christian Carnival #180 is up at Everyday Liturgy. This week’s best Christian blogging includes these entries –

Check some of the other posts, too.

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Christian Carnival CLXXVIII

Posted on June 27, 2007. Filed under: Christian Carnival | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Christian Carnival 178 is up at … Chasing the Wind! I have the honor of hosting this week’s carnival, affectionately known as Christian Carnival 178, 2^89th, hexadecimal B2, or binary 10110010. Whew, and I think there were almost that many entries.
:)

They’re presented here in roughly the order submitted; if you’re a blog author and you don’t see you entry, I’ll be happy to modify the list below. I had to exclude 1 entry from this week’s Carnival; while “positive” in nature, it didn’t represent a Christian viewpoint. And I excluded two humanistic, scientific anti-Christian blogs for obvious reasons.
:P

if you’re a visitor and curious about Carnival entries, click on a few and read this week’s best Christian blogging.

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Waiting on God's Timing

Posted on June 26, 2007. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Let me ask you a question about your prayers. I’m sure everybody here prays to God, and there are many forms of prayer. Let’s list some kinds of prayers -

  • Thanksgiving. We pray to give thanks to God. Everything comes from God; material possessions, intellect, outward appearance, everything, and we give thanks for every blessing.
  • Praise. We pray to praise our Father in heaven, to tell God how great He is.
  • Worship. We pray to worship our Father and to submit to his authority, we recognize His power and His love for us.
  • Confession. We pray to confess our failures and those specific things God calls us to do that we know we aren’t doing.
  • Spiritual Warfare. We pray in the battle against evil, to destroy what the devil has been doing. The battle belongs to the Lord, but He uses our prayers as weapons.
  • Listening. We pray for God to speak to us. Often we are quiet or in meditation on God’s word. We listen patiently for God to make His will known to us. If we are always talking, we’re not listening.
  • Intercession. We pray for others, we ask for God’s will to be done in the lives of those ill, those in need, those that are lost.
  • Petition. We pray to God for specific things we want. God knows we want them before we ask, but God wants us to ask for them. If everything comes from God, then it is only right we ask our Maker for what we want and what we need.

God answers prayers. I know and I have confidence and faith in God because God has answered specific and personal prayers in my life. God answered them in the way only God can, with a miracle. Some of them are obvious – the restoration of my marriage to Diane is a miracle from God. Some of them are personal and confidential and perhaps harder to explain, but I know God is and has been at work and it brings me peace and joy to know He is in control.

Does God always answer prayers? Who here has prayed for something specific but God has not delivered? Why hasn’t God answered these prayers?

Some unanswered prayers are easy to understand. If I pray for that rude guy that just cut me off in traffic to have a horrible accident, that’s not a prayer God will answer. God does not answer prayers that are contrary to His will. He doesn’t answer prayers if we have unrepentant sin in our life, sin that we either deny or justify that it’s ok somehow. If I pray for a yacht to float from Caribbean port to port so I can party, that’s not a prayer God will answer. God does not answer selfish prayers with improper motives. God also does not answer prayers if we do not have faith that He will answer them. And God doesn’t answer prayers if we are inconsistent and we give up and stop praying, we are to persevere in our prayers.

But what if you feel you’re fulfilling God’s will, you have confessed your sin, you’re praying unselfishly for God’s will to be done, and you know that what you’re praying for is God’s will, but God still hasn’t answered? Who here has an unbelieving family member or friend that hasn’t accepted Christ? A prayer for a child that is suffering from illness or cancer. A prayer for a righteous person to survive an accident to continue to do God’s work? Isn’t it God’s will that somebody should find Christ? Isn’t it God’s will that a godly person survive to spread His word? Who here has prayed for something that should be pleasing to God, but God hasn’t answered?

That’s what we’re going to study today. Let’s turn to the book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk, as we all know, is a Wookie, the co-pilot of Han Solo. The half-brother of Chewbacca, I think. We all love Wookies, don’t we?

The book of Habakkuk is like a Psalm, and it was originally set to music. There are notations throughout to the director of music on how to play and how to pause. In several places you’ll see the word “selah.” Apparently this word doesn’t translate very well. It means pause here and pay attention. It’s used very much like the word “amen,” but it can also mean “forever.” It’s basically a pause in the music that says, that was important, stop and pray about it, amen.

Habakkuk prophesied around 608-605 BC, just after King Josiah of Judah, mentioned in 2 Kings 22. Josiah was a Godly king whose ambition was to destroy false idols and the worship of other gods in Judah. Josiah was killed by the Egyptians and was succeeded first by his son Jehoahaz who was toppled after 3 months by the Egyptians and replaced by Josiah’s second son Jehoiakim who was the exact opposite of his father. Jehoiakim reinstituted the worship of false idols, possibly as an effort to gain favor among the people instead of favor with the Lord. Jeremiah prophesied the people should turn from these wicked ways, and wrote the prophesy on a scroll, gave it to Baruch to deliver to Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim reacted as you’d expect a non-believer to react; he burned the scroll. God told Jeremiah to make another scroll, and Jehoiakim threw Jeremiah into a muddy cistern, expecting to kill him. Obviously, Jehoiakim was not a lover of God’s word. Why oh why did I write the word “Jehoiakim” so many times, it’s impossible to pronounce. Under Jehoiakim, the worship of false idols continued, the Law of Moses was disregarded, and the covenant with God was ignored.

The prophet Habakkuk, a contemporary of Jeremiah, watched these events unfold and openly questioned God. “God, what the heck are you doing?” I’m paraphrasing, let’s look at Habakkuk 1:2-3

How long, O LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?

Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.

There’s a lot of impatience in Habakkuk’s prayer. This is Habakkuk’s first of two complaints against God. God, how long must I endure this? Habakkuk looks at the country of Judah and sees what the worship of false idols has brought. The people were defying God. Habakkuk says, “Where are you, Lord?” There is violence against innocent people. Harassment, abuse, physical cruelty. Did not our covenant God promise to protect His people? Well? Why does God not save?

Habakkuk’s complaint continues with, “why do you make *me* look at” all this? Habakkuk says, I am a man of God, I am serving you, yet I have to tolerate God’s inaction. God, why do you make me go through all this.

Violence and cruelty and destruction and strife and conflict and all sorts of godless living still abound today. Jessie Davis, the woman who is 9 months pregnant and suddenly disappeared this week, home in shambles and furniture overturned, leaving her 2 year old son at home. The two year old told investigators, “Mommy was crying. Mommy broke the table. Mommy’s in the rug.” It’s Gay Pride week, a celebration and a flaunting of disrespecting and disobeying God’s commands against sexual immorality. The murder trial in the news this week of Ashley Benton who killed an MS-13 gang member last June. Daily the news is full of celebration of sinful activities and the violence people do to each other. Where is God? It’s the same question Habakkuk asked. Where are you Lord, and why do I, a righteous person, have to look at this?

God answers Habakkuk. Of course God is in control, and God’s will be done. Let’s see how God answers Habakkuk’s complaint, Habakkuk 1:5-6 -

Look at the nations and watch””
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told.

I am raising up the Babylonians,
that ruthless and impetuous people,
who sweep across the whole earth
to seize dwelling places not their own.

God says “watch” and “be amazed.” God is in control, and in ways you would not believe. God is raising up the Babylonians (or Chaldeans, the names are used interchangeably), a ruthless, godless people to come and crush Judah. The Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzer would conquer Judah and carry prisoners away to Babylonia. The Chaldeans are described in verses 6-9 as ruthless, impetuous, feared, dreaded, a law unto themselves, promoting their own honor, swift as leopards, flying like vultures, and they gather prisoners like sand.

Hey, hey, good news. The people of Judah may have turned to ways of wickedness, the Lord says, but don’t worry, God has it all under control. He is raising up a wicked, godless army to crush Judah.

I can understand why the Lord would tell Habakkuk to be utterly amazed. Habakkuk’s prayer will be answered in his lifetime, but not the way Habakkuk anticipates. I can appreciate that Habakkuk feels God’s fix is making the situation worse, not better, by sending an invading army.

This leads Habakkuk to his second complaint. He acknowledges God has a plan. He says in verse 12 that, yes, God has a plan, a remnant will live, justice will indeed be given to the idol worshipers of Judah. But Habakkuk accuses God of being contrary to His own nature. Let’s look at verse 13.

Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
you cannot tolerate wrong.
Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?
Why are you silent while the wicked
swallow up those more righteous than themselves?

Habakkuk says God cannot tolerate sin, cannot look upon evil. So why is he looking on the Chaldeans with favor? Why is God tolerating the treacherous Chaldeans? If Judah is bad, how could it possibly be God’s plan to allow even more evil to destroy it? Doesn’t evil win? I think Habakkuk thinks he’s trapped God in hypocrisy because he says he’s going to pull up a chair and wait to see what God says about this. Habakkuk 2:1 -

I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint.

Yup, gonna sit right here, Lord, until I get an answer I can give to the people. I think it’s interesting where he chose to sit. On the ramparts, or the lookout tower, where one would wait for invading armies. Like the Babylonians.

The Lord answered this complain, too. In Habakkuk 2:2, the Lord says, “Write this down.” In Habbakuk 2:3, the Lord says,

For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come and will not delay.

The Lord tells Habakkuk that he has to wait. The revelation awaits an appointed time, and it’s not time yet. It will not prove false; God’s perfect justice will come. Though it linger, wait for it. The Lord says his justice will come at the time of His choosing; while Habakkuk is impatient, the Lord’s timing is perfect.

I sympathize with Habakkuk; I don’t know how many times I have been impatient with God. God, do this now. I was doing some research to see how Christian-friendly the new “Evan Almighty” movie is. I enjoyed the Bruce Almighty movie, and Evan Almighty looks to be just as fun but even more family-friendly. I can’t give away the spoilers because I haven’t seen the movie, but there’s apparently one scene where Evan is telling God about Evan’s plans to become a US Senator. God laughs and says, “*your* plans?” I’m like that sometimes. A lot of times, actually. Even if I feel that what I’m doing is within God’s will, that’s not the same thing as actually doing God’s will. And God may have different plans, but I get impatient with my “God, do this now” attitude.

There was an intriguing passage in a book I recently read, “The Organic God.” Sometimes people struggle to find what God’s will is. They attempt one thing, and then give up. God didn’t bless that. For example, somebody might start a ministry for, I dunno, left-handed Ethiopians. And the ministry flounders, and they say, “what’s a matter with you, God? Don’t you love left-handed Ethiopians, too? Isn’t ministering to left-handed Ethiopians something that you should bless? God, do this now!” The book points out that God’s will is not our will, and it may make more sense to simply participate in a successful ministry that God has already blessed.

So Habakkuk is impatient, sitting on his ramparts, and the Lord God says, “Patience. I do My Will at My perfect Timing.”

And what about Habakkuk’s complaint that he’s trapped God in a hypocrisy? That since God can’t look upon evil, it doesn’t make sense for God to correct the sin of Judah by raising up even more evil to crush it? God addresses that in Habbakkuk 2:4 -

See, he is puffed up;
his desires are not upright””
but the righteous will live by his faith

This is the heart of God’s message to Habakkuk. God contrasts the Chaldeans with God’s chosen people. The Chaldeans are “puffed up” with inflated egos. The Hebrew word is “aphal” which means “to swell” and implies as though the swelling comes from a tumor. The ego of a person without God appoints himself as God, choosing what he wants to do, deciding himself what is right and wrong. The tumor of his ego grows, inflates, pushes out any room for God. He becomes swollen with pride and arrogance. And “his desires are not upright” – his desires are without integrity. God is referring to the inner character of a person who lives selfishly and how it affects their outward behavior. A person who has no respect for God lives selfishly at the expense of everyone and everything. The Chaldeans were like this – unbridled selfishness, violence, wickedness. But also people within Judah were like this – also unbridled selfishness, violence, wickedness. From God’s viewpoint, it doesn’t appear to be much difference. Would it make sense, then, for God to use evil to crush evil?

How does God expect somebody like Habakkuk to live? God says, “the righteous will live by his faith.” This is a contrast to how God describes the unrighteous who are full of themselves, swelled up and selfish. The righteous people live by faith and trust in God. It’s not enough to say you trust in God, the righteous will put this trust into their daily lives. The phrase here implies a steadfastness, an unwavering trust that the Lord will fulfill all promises, even if we cannot see the big picture. That the way we live, day by day, and moment by moment, trusts that the Lord’s justice and mercy are perfect.

The apostle Paul expounds on this in Romans 1:16-17 and how righteous people that seek God ought to live.

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

In trusting in the Lord, Paul says that he trusts in God’s power to save everyone who believes in Jesus. God has the will and the power to offer eternal salvation. With this trust in the power of God, Paul has no shame of the gospel, the Good News of Jesus. And in living with this trust in God to fulfill His promises, we live by a faith in something we cannot truly comprehend and cannot truly see. When we place our trust in the Lord to do the right thing, we must place all of our trust.

So let’s go back to those unanswered prayers we talked about. How many here have an unanswered prayer? Is there an unanswered prayer anybody would like to share?

When we think of these unanswered prayers, have we studied and prayed and meditated on what God’s will is? Then we should know that God’s will is perfect and God will fulfill His promises, even if the timing is not what we expect, or even if we cannot see what God is up to. What is our responsibility as Christians? To place our trust in Him, to live our lives faithful to His teachings. It is not our responsibility to do God’s work for Him, just to do the work He calls us to do. We trust in God to do the right thing, and we live our lives as He would have us live.

The selfishness in me rebels against this. The selfish ego and pride tells me, “well, if God isn’t going to do what I want Him to do, then I don’t have to do what He wants me to do.” That is not living by faith. Living by faith says, “well, even if I can’t see what God is doing, I trust Him and I will live the way He wants me to.” No ifs, no buts. Just trust and faith and living by His word.

The rest of Habakkuk 2 is the Lord’s recognition that the Chaldeans are indeed wicked and that the Lord is not blessing them just because he’s raising them up. Unrighteous living is eventually judged by God. For some, God’s justice comes in this lifetime. For others, God’s justice comes in eternity. But God’s justice is perfect and is always done. To those who would challenge God, He says in Habakkuk 2:20,

But the LORD is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him.”

In other words, God is in control and always has been, so sit down and shut up.

Habakkuk must have been awed by the Lord’s response. I think he may have recognized a little of the Chaldean in himself. By having the audacity to challenge the Lord and questioning whether the Lord is really in control or whether the Lord was a hypocrite, Habakkuk must have realized that he was not truly living in faith. Habakkuk was the hypocrite if he claims to be righteous but questions the Lord.

Habakkuk 3 is his prayer to the Lord. Habakkuk praises and worships the Lord in verse 2,

LORD, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD.
Renew them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

Habakkuk goes on to acknowledge the Lord’s power, the Lord’s will, and that the Lord will crush evil when the time is right. The right time was coming; within 70 years of Habakkuk’s prophecy the Babylonians were conquered by Cyrus and the Persians. And by verse 16, Habakkuk responds to God.

I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.

Verse 18-19 -

yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights.

How do we live in faith? Do we challenge God to do what He promises? Or does our heart pound, and our lips quiver, and our legs tremble in recognition of God’s sovereignty? Do we wait patiently and expectantly for God to do His will in His time? Do we rejoice in the Lord and remain joyful that our sins are forgiven? Do we take strength in the Lord? The unanswered prayers we have are not unanswered. God hears our prayers. Trust in the Lord, He will always do what is right when it is the perfect time. In the meantime, you have control over your actions. Live in faith, do what God calls you to do without making excuses.

The righteous live by faith.

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God's Word is Essential

Posted on May 13, 2007. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Have y’all seen the stories on the news this week about Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda? For the last few years, Mr. Miranda has claimed to be Jesus himself. He says he had a vision in 1973, then after 3 marriages, 5 children, a heroin addiction and a couple of jail sentences for petty theft, in 2000 Mr. Miranda claimed to be Jesus himself. Mr. Miranda says there is no devil or sin because all of that was defeated 2000 years ago, prayer is a waste of time, and he teaches that his followers have a “freedom to indulge” because his followers are predestined for salvation no matter what they do on earth. He tells all of his followers that all churches and religion are heresy and they are to burn religious writings and attack local churches. He’s been banned in several countries. He’s in the news this week because he now claims that besides being Jesus, he’s also the anti-Christ. He is a “good” anti-Christ, though, because there is no such thing as evil. To mark this new revelation, Mr. Miranda now has a very prominent “666” tattooed on his forearm. Of course, his followers happily had their own “666” tattooed on their arms.

1 John 2:18: “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.” We know that this Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda is not Jesus because of scripture passages such as, well, the entire book of Revelation. It’s also clear from scripture that Mr. Miranda cannot be both Christ and the anti-Christ at the same time. If you ever watched “Star Trek” you’d know he’d explode and the universe would cease to exist.

Why are people misled by a charismatic preacher? It’s because they do not know who Jesus really is or what Jesus says. Colossians 2:4,8 says, “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Peter faced similar situations with false teachers. Peter and the apostles had been in direct communication with the Lord Jesus Christ and knew exactly what Jesus’ message was. The Word of God was shared through oral traditions and through the Holy Spirit, but the written word, the New Testament, had not yet been written. There was a vacuum of information, and men being what they are, unscrupulous or misinformed people stepped into the vacuum and began to spread problems of all kinds. Legalism was taught, authority of God was challenged, the core teachings of the gospel were challenged, and even the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus was challenged. The apostle Peter wrote this scripture specifically addressing the true theology of Christianity. He wanted Christians to know the truth, the freedom of living in Christ, and put to rest the false heresies that were being spread.

Let’s look at 2 Peter 1:12-15

So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.

Peter tells the early Christians that they already know the truth, but Peter will “always remind them.” Peter tells them he wants to “refresh your memory” for as long as he lives. Let’s see if Peter’s assessment holds true for us today – do we know the truth about Jesus? Are we firmly established with this truth and what Jesus wants for our lives? I think so. So why is it important to be reminded of these things and to have our memories refreshed?

Let me ask it in a more personal way. We are not perfect like Jesus, are we? We are tempted and fall into sin, whether it is lust of the eyes, hurt with the tongue, worshipping money and idols, sin of pride, something personal we struggle with as we persevere in our faith. When we sin, is at that moment that we stop believing in God? When we sin, is it at that moment that we stop believing in the bible? No, not at all. Of course we believe. What we have forgotten, though, is the truth of the Word. We forget that sin has consequences. We forget that Jesus paid an incredible price for that sin. When we fall into sin, we don’t become unbelievers. We become un-rememberers. We forget our need for grace. We forget God is watching every move and listening to every thought. Peter doesn’t want the believers of Asia Minor to forget. God doesn’t want us to forget.

When Peter says “as long as I am in this tent,” this of course, refers to Peter’s mortality. Our bodies are frail, they are impermanent, and they are imperfect. We have only so much time on this earth to do God’s will. When we are aware of our limited time here compared to our eternal destiny, it should give us some urgency to do God’s will while there is still time.

Peter knows that his time is short – Jesus hinted to Peter in the book of John (John 21:18) that someday Peter would also be crucified. “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Peter had an urgency to share the gospel, but we, too, have the same urgency.

Let’s read 2 Peter 1:16-18 –

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

Peter is telling us the truth; false teachers are not. Peter’s words have the strength of his conviction behind him, the truth of the Lord behind him, and the Holy Spirit dwelling within him. Myths about Roman gods were passed along from generation to generation that illustrated a particular Roman lesson, but they were myths. Peter reminds us that the story of Jesus is not a myth. Peter didn’t learn about it from others, it wasn’t hearsay or gossip passed along. Peter was there; he was an eyewitness to Jesus’ miracles. Peter was there on the mountain when he heard God speaking from the heavens. And notice Peter says “we” – Peter, James and John were there on that mountain and were direct eyewitnesses to the transfiguration of Christ. God directly spoke from the heavens that Jesus is the son of God and that God is well pleased with Him.

It’s important to remember that Jesus appeared to thousands or people. When Jesus fed the 5000, how many people were there? Ok, that was a trick question. The point is that these 5000 people were still alive and it was very easy to check to see if the story was true. These were real events that had occurred during the last 20 or 30 years, during their lifetime.

Let’s say I told you that 20 or 30 years ago that Richard Nixon was a great war hero and had fought in Vietnam and because of his great leadership the Vietnam war was won? It would not be a credible story because there are people here in this room that know that isn’t true. In Peter’s day, Jesus was well known. He had appeared to thousands of people, taught thousands of people, and after he died and was resurrected appeared to hundreds of people. They were eyewitnesses. The apostles were so sure that Jesus was the messiah, the son of God, that they were willing to die for preaching Christ crucified. Not one of them recanted their story, even though they were martyred for preaching the gospel.

Peter knows without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus came as the Messiah, as the Christ, as the Son of God, that Jesus died and rose from the dead after 3 days and ascended into heaven. False teachers could not claim that, nor could they dispute Peter’s eyewitness account. What other miracles did Peter see first hand?

That’s why Peter knows he is speaking the truth. Through divine revelation, Peter heard the very words of Jesus. The faith of Christians is not based on clever stories. Christianity is based on real, historical events with multiple eyewitnesses. Can you imagine seeing the transfiguration and hearing God speak from the heavens? Can you imagine how confident Peter was in his faith after seeing that? God wants us to have that same confidence in Him. How does God do that?

Let’s read the rest of our verse for today, 2 Peter 1:19-21 –

And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

I love that part – you will do well to pay attention to the Word of God; it’s like a light shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” God’s Word gives us confidence; even though we are not eyewitnesses, we have the words of the eyewitnesses.

The bible is a unique book. There are 66 separate books written over 1500 years, by over 40 separate authors from all walks of life. Amos was a farmer. Luke was a doctor. Ezra and James were ministers. David and Solomon were kings. Daniel was a political prisoner. Peter was a fisherman. Mathew was a first century IRS agent. It was written in Europe, Asia, and Africa, from deserts, dungeons, palaces, and battlefields. It covers all sorts of controversial topics such as raising your kids, improving your marriage, managing emotions, handling money, breaking bad habits, and inheriting eternal life, all in unity. And yet the entire bible has one hero – the Messiah, Jesus Christ. One villain – Satan. One problem – sin. And one purpose – salvation. The entire plot of the bible can be summed up by –

Jesus is coming (the Old Testament)
Jesus is here (The 4 gospels)
Jesus is coming again (The New Testament epistles)

Peter reminds us here – he’s always reminding us, isn’t he? And then he’s reminding us that he’s reminding us. He reminds us that the Word of God is not written by man. Man may have been holding the pen and using his own unique personality, but the Word of God is provided by the Holy Spirit. Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. This is repeated in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Scripture is spoken by God, every word inspired by the Holy Spirit working through men. And it’s not just relaxing Sunday-morning reading, we are to use the Word. It teaches us, it rebukes us, it corrects us, and it trains us in righteousness.

If we take God’s word that the bible is indeed God’s word, how does that affect our relationship with Him? For one thing, if this is God’s Word, does God make mistakes? No, we know God is perfect and holy and infallible. Therefore, we take every word in the bible to be true, holy and infallible.

I heard a story about a pastor who was going to be preaching about Noah and the ark and the Great Flood. A couple of boys decided to play a prank on the pastor, and they snuck into the sanctuary and glued some of the pages of his bible together. Sunday morning, the pastor started reading from the bible and it came out a little different than he expected. He read, “And Noah took a wife, and she was” (here he struggles to turn the page) “450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet tall.” The pastor stood there stunned for a minute, and then said, “I have been reading this Bible for 30 years, and there are still some things that are hard for me to believe.”

Skeptics and atheists claim the bible is full of discrepancies and inaccuracies, but theologians have a scholarly rebuttal to each claim. Some scripture, a lot of scripture, may be difficult for us to understand, but what we have to recognize is that the problem is not with the bible. The bible is incredibly consistent, and when we come across what appears to be inconsistent scripture, we can recognize that the problem is with us. We have limited understanding. With study, prayer and meditation, we can understand more and more, and when we arrive in heaven, we will understand all of it. Right now, in our mortal life, we have a limited view of an unlimited God. Eventually, if we continue to seek him, the full meaning will be given to us. We can learn to doubt our doubts.

What do we do about scripture we do not understand? In Matthew 11:25, Jesus says, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” The Pharisees knew the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law. I believe God reveals himself to us slowly over the course of our life; just as He revealed himself to Israel over 3000 years. Scripture that is unclear to us one year becomes incredibly clear to us in later years. Jesus says that if we seek Him, we shall find Him. What that means to me is to implicitly trust that the bible is true even if I cannot fathom its full meaning.

If we accept the entire bible as complete true, what does the bible say about the bible? Besides being useful for teaching and rebuking, the word is relevant. Does anybody remember the scripture that is at the bottom of each class newsletter? Hebrews 4:12-13 says, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” The bible is not dead literature, it is living and active. It’s sharp and it cuts and exposes us to God. It convicts us and shows us our sin and how we fall short of His glory and how much we need our savior Jesus Christ.

There are many ways to ask the Lord for this sort of surgery, surgery that cuts the sin out of our lives. Try asking the Lord to reveal Himself to you. Read His word and apply it to your life. The problem, I think you’ll find, is not one of understanding so much as it is a problem of obedience. Mark Twain once said, “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that trouble me; it’s the parts of the Bible that I do understand.” Many passages are easy to understand. The Ten Commandments, for instance, are very easy to understand. “Honor thy father and mother, especially on Mother’s Day.” If you want God to work within you, try committing a favorite passage to memory. Try reading your bible eagerly and accept it as God’s holy word and then submit yourself to what it says.

Let’s look at John 8:31-31 – To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

To the non-believer, Jesus has but one command: “believe in me.” But if we are to grow in our faith, Jesus wants more from us. Jesus tells us to “hold to His teaching.” Where do we find His teaching? The very word of God, the bible. His teachings are here. Hold to His teaching, and we become His disciples, followers of Jesus. Hold to His teaching, then we will know the truth. Hold to His teaching, and we are set free from the bondage of sin.

An intellectual belief in God is not sufficient. The wisdom of man pales next to the foolishness of God. Heartfelt emotions are not sufficient – emotions can mislead us. Sincerity is not sufficient – the most sincere person can be most sincerely wrong. Sincerity does not equal truth, and sometimes religious leaders can be wrong. In Acts 17:11, it says, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” While the Bereans were excited that Paul was in their midst and preaching to them, they examined scripture for themselves to see if Paul was preaching the truth. That’s how we know that Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda is not Jesus the Christ. What he preaches conflicts with the Word of God. It’s misleading. It’s false.

I’d like to close with the words of another eyewitness to the life and words of Jesus Christ. From the book of John, chapter 1, verse 1,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

Let’s give a word of thanks to our Lord who has given us His holy Word.

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Christian Submission

Posted on March 25, 2007. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

When I started studying for this lesson, my first thought was, “ooh, I’m not going to like this one.” Then it was sort of a frustration, like God is picking on me and giving me a lesson that probes specifically at my weakness. Of course, it also brings a smile; I know that God is working on me. It’s always a good thing when you realize when God is at work, even when it’s a bit uncomfortable.

Today we learn about submission, whether you want to or not. Do you hear me? “It’s a free country! You can’t tell me what to do! You’re not the boss of me!” When I hear the word submission, my first reaction isn’t good. I don’t like other people telling me what to do. So before we get in too deep into the book of Peter, let’s define what we mean by submission. What do you think it means?

Submission is Opposite of submission Too much submission is
Acceptance Arrogance Wimpy
Willing Resistance Cowardly
Humble Pride Spinelessness
Respect Conceit Slavery

The Greek word used here in the book of Peter is “hupotasso” and is a military term meaning “to arrange in a military fashion under the command of a leader.” When used non-militarily, it meant “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.” What is your normal reaction to yielding to somebody else’s authority?

In America, we value our freedom. Nobody tells me what to do. It’s a free country. And freedom is a good thing, of course, but used improperly, total freedom can be destructive. Teens that want total freedom from their parents rebel against rules and can wreck their lives. Husbands and wives can alienate each other by pursuing self-fulfillment. Workers lose jobs because they don’t like the idea of obeying the boss or being told what to do. Many people nearing retirement are looking at meager years because they spent their money in search of freedom in their younger years.

Freedom can be misused to the point of harming ourselves or harming others. God’s plan is that as Christians, we are to lead lives of submission in service to one another. Our submission first is to God and to God’s Word. But when we think about submission, it can make use feel uncomfortable because we are voluntarily surrendering authority to somebody else. We’re agreeing to let somebody else tell us what to do. I think part of that reason is we’re afraid to surrender, to give up control of our lives, but that’s exactly what Christ calls us to do when we follow him.

Does submission mean we become second class citizens? Not at all; the bible is clear that whoever would be first will be last; whoever would be last will be first. Submission is far more challenging than anger or rebellion or arrogance. The natural reaction is to rebel; the Christ-like example is to serve. Rebelling is simply reaction; submitting is a conscious decision not to rebel. We are called not to be a slave to sin, not to be a slave to our rebellious nature.

Our scripture today is 1 Peter 2:13-25. It’s only 12 sentences long, but they’re powerful sentences, so we’re going to step through them one at a time.

Peter is living as a subject of the Roman Empire. The Romans at this time were not especially kind to Christians; Christians who confessed Christ as their Lord were often punished or killed for treason for not obeying the Roman Emperor. The Romans were suspicious of early Christians, suspecting them of insurrection and planning to overthrow the empire. So in a brutal repressive society, how do you reconcile that with the Christian teachings of freedom in Christ? Did this freedom allow rebellion? What about slaves who worked for cruel masters? What about Christian wives who were married to harsh, unbelieving husbands? Peter points to the Lord Jesus Christ to see how we are to live.

Let’s start with verse 13, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority.” I told you I wasn’t going to like this. Studying this week as focused my attention on my rebellion and how I rebel in a hundred little ways, my natural tendency toward passive aggressiveness. Here are ten simple words that we all might want to rebel against, but what does Peter call us to do? Submit ourselves. Why? “For the Lord’s sake.” Not because those in authority can crush us, but because it is the Lord’s will (and we’ll get to more of this in a moment). To who do we submit ourselves? To every human authority. The context here is that of governmental authority, that God calls us to voluntarily and cheerfully submit to legal authorities. We are to obey the law and to be good citizens. And we do this, not because the government is a huge bureaucracy that can throw us into jail, but because we are to be obedient to Christ.

Let’s continue with the rest of verse 13 and 14, “whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.” It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the President of the United States, or the local policeman, we are called to submit to every human institution, and we obey the state and the laws out of our obedience to Christ.

The Roman emperor at this time was Nero; Nero was capable of rewarding obedient citizens and punishing rebels. Even though Nero was a pagan emperor, Christians were still called to be good citizens. God creates governments to accomplish His will, whether that government is aware of it or not. Government over us keeps us out of anarchy. In Romans 13:1-7, Paul tells us:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Peter is teaching us to submit to the government because the government is teaching us right from wrong. Submission to authority, cheerfully and willingly. Being good subjects of the Roman Empire. That doesn’t mean we can’t use legal, peaceful means of bringing change in our government. Certainly as good Christian witnessed we should seek to change those government laws that violate God’s laws; our Christian duty is to be agents of change in this world, but we are to do it within the framework of existing governmental laws.

Are there any exceptions to this rule? Absolutely. We must be careful to set aside our personal desires and goals; those goals are subject to government. But God’s goals supercedes those of government. Peter, who wrote our scripture today, was faced with this exact circumstance in Acts 4:18-20. The Jewish leaders were disturbed that Peter and John were spreading the message of Christ and ordered them to stop, but Peter chose to obey God instead of man:

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

So we are called to follow authority and show respect, but not at the expense of following God’s will.

A moment ago in Romans we learned that a government agent is an angel of wrath, to enforce right and wrong. When we submit to authority, Peter tells us in verse 15 why God wants us to do this. “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” When we’re argumentative and rebellious, we are poor examples of Christ. The Romans distrusted the Christians because they openly declared Jesus as their Lord. Jesus was their king, a king that was crucified on the charge of rebellion against Caesar. Word about town is that those Christians are dangerous; they’re planning to overthrow the government. In order to silence rumors and ignorant talk, Christians are to lead a law-abiding life of respect to the government.

Verse 16, “Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.” Jesus came to set His followers free, but this is not a freedom to do evil. In order to be free of sin, we voluntarily become slaves of God. Using our freedom to conceal evil actions is hypocritical. The world only grudgingly gives respect to Christians, and quickly condemns us when our hypocrisy shows. Expressing our freedom from sin means we obey every legal authority and not our own selfish, rebellious heart. We are to lead holy lives, set apart lives, and law abiding lives.

Verse 17, “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.” I find these distinctions interesting. We are to show “proper” respect to everyone, but that proper respect isn’t equal. We show respect to everyone – after all, everyone is created in God’s image.

To our brotherhood of believers, though, we show more than respect. We show love, the same kind of love Christ showed for us. The word used is “agapao” or agape love, and it means to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly, to be well pleased, to be content with. Christ showed agape love to us to model, and we are to show this agape love to our brothers and sisters. Submission in the church, submission within this bible class leads to the purest kind of love, where we are genuinely concerned about each other and set aside our own vain attitudes. We are not in competition with each other about who can be the best Christian. Or the worst Christian, for that matter.

And to God, we show fear – not scared fear, but reverence and worship. The word used here is “phobeo” – our God created the heavens and the earth and if He so wished He could smite us so hard we’d be smitten. We are thankful for the grace He shows us through Jesus that we don’t get the punishment we deserve; Jesus has already taken our place.

We are to show honor to the king and to people in authority. The word “timao” is used here; it means to estimate or to set a value, to respect and honor. Note that it says we are to fear the Lord but give honor to the king. Jesus made the same distinction in Matthew 22:21 when the Pharisees asked Him if it was right to pay taxes. Jesus replied, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” We give our authorities respect and obedience, but to God we give reverence and worship.

Next, in verse 18, Peter addresses a particularly difficult subject, slavery. “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.” Where’s that freedom Christ promised? Many early believers were slaves. Educated slaves, sometimes, but still slaves. They served as teachers, doctors, administrators, musicians, craftsmen. Over the centuries, Christian influence about our equal worth as God’s children eventually led to the abolition of slavery, but opposition to the slavery during the time of the Roman Empire would be seen as an insurrection and would certainly bring the wrath of Rome, crushing the early Christian movement.

Peter’s not justifying slavery here in any circumstances; but if a Christian is in slavery, the Christian is to submit, to obey their master. I think we have an innate repulsion to this idea, that slavery is wrong and we should oppose it. And while that is true, slavery shows us an extreme example of how we are to behave as Christians. We are to submit and show respect. Not grudgingly and with an attitude, but respectfully and willingly. And while there are no Christian slaves today, we can extend this instruction to our workplace, to our bosses who are in authority over us. We are to obey our bosses, be a good example of Christ within us. The natural tendency of the unsaved person is to gripe, to badmouth, to fight back. As a spirit-filled Christian, we learn to submit and let God fight our battles for us.

Verse 19 tells us suffering in slavery or suffering in our job in obedience to Christ brings favor with God. “For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.” The word is “charis” and can be translated commendable, finds favor, a reward, good will, but also means grace. As a slave to God, we submit unconditionally, we love unconditionally, we obey unconditionally. How can we do otherwise? How can we set rules for when and how God shows us grace? We can’t of course; as we learn to submit unconditionally, we learn how God’s grace is provided to us. Jesus submitted unconditionally; through His submission, God brought salvation to all humanity. Jesus certainly had the power to resist, to punish the men responsible, but instead Jesus submitted to authority and at the same time showed us how to forgive those who oppress us.

Verse 20 also gives us another reason to submit. “But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.” If we do wrong and we’re punished, well, we deserve it. If I go out to the parking lot and spray paint a bunch of cars and get caught, will anybody respect me for the way I bravely take my punishment? No, they will say I deserved it. But if I am innocent and I’m punished, by freely submitting to those in authority, God will find favor in me. If we spend all day at work surfing ESPN for the latest basketball scores and our boss comes in and gives us a dressing-down, well, we deserved it. But if we are innocent in these things and our boss treats us harshly, we are to endure it patiently. We show respect because this brings glory to God. This is a true test of our faith. Being a good example when things are going well is easy. God’s not impressed. Being a good example when under stress or persecution – God will find favor in us.

We are called to do this as Christians. Verse 21 says, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” Christ suffered unjustly for us. When we think about our suffering, think about the suffering of Jesus. The Romans punished Jesus, flogged Him, and crucified Him to die a slow death on the cross. What did Jesus do to deserve it? When our boss tells us to work late, compare that to the suffering of Jesus. Why do we grumble over minor afflictions when Jesus submitted willingly to crucifixion? Think about your job for a second. Think about those things that irritate you the most. Coworkers? Bosses? Clients? Customers? That’s your suffering. Compare it to the suffering of Jesus. Who suffered more? Who complains more? Yet verse 21 tells us to follow in His steps. Here’s how Jesus set an example for us when He suffered –

Verse 22, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” Jesus suffered and died without a grumble, without a complaint and without a sin. Because Jesus was innocent, He can take the blame for us. If Jesus was a sinner, the punishment He received would be His own. But Jesus is sinless and can offer to take our punishment for us. Because He can do that, He is our savior. When we suffer, when we are punished unjustly, Jesus is also our role model, our example. No deceit in our mouth, we hold our tongue and do not condemn.

Verse 23, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” As the son of God, Jesus could threaten to destroy His oppressors. He could have said, “I’ll get you my pretty… and your little dog, too.” Instead, Jesus left us an example – he committed himself to trusting God to judge. Jesus showed us that a person can be in the will of God, be loved by God, and still suffer unfairly. Don’t fall for that “feel good” brand of Christianity that says trust in God and you will never suffer. It’s not biblical; it doesn’t reflect the life that Jesus gave for us. Instead, unjust suffering – at work, at home, in pain or poor health, in loss of a loved one – unjust suffering gives us an opportunity to showcase the Holy Spirit within us. No threats, no insults, no retaliation, no harsh words. We trust God will right all wrongs at the Day of Judgment. By the time Peter wrote this book, Peter had been preaching the gospel for 30 years and the Holy Spirit has made him into a true man of God – where once Peter took up a sword to defend Jesus, now Peter preaches submission to authorities. This is how we lead as Christians; we lead by submission.

The last two verses, Peter reminds us why Jesus is our example. It’s because Jesus is more than just an example. Jesus is the savior we all need. In verse 24, Peter reminds us what Jesus did for us and why Jesus could no what none of us can. Jesus is more than “just a good man.” “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” Jesus did not die as a martyr; Jesus died as a savior. He took the punishment for the sins we commit. Christ was wounded so we might be healed. Christ died so that we might live. Our sinful lives died with the crucifixion of Christ; we are no longer slaves to sin, but willing and righteous slaves to God. One day we will have glorified bodies, but right now, even some of God’s most favored servants suffer physically. By the wounds of Jesus, we will be healed of this physical suffering.

And in verse 25, Peter says, “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Every lost sinner is ignorant, lost, foolish, wandering, in danger, and unable to help ourselves. We have wandered into the wilderness without a Shepherd to protect us. Before we accept Christ, we have a mistaken belief that we can save ourselves, that we are all we need, yet we spend our entire lives trying to figure out why that hole in our soul won’t fill up with toys, entertainment, knowledge, service. It’s only when we recognize that we cannot do it on our own and accept Jesus that we truly begin to live in Him. Jesus is our good shepherd; Jesus watches over us and protects us, and nobody can snatch us out of His all-powerful, ever-loving arms.

After studying for this lesson this week, I’m convicted of some growth in Christ that I have to do. Not to gripe about what minor hardships I have at my job, but to respect my boss. And while I will continue to speak out against what I believe is bad legislation that goes against the will of God, I will remember that God expects me to submit to governmental authorities and to obey the rules willingly, respectfully, and without complaint. And to show love to my brothers and sisters, respect and honor to those who fulfill God’s plan of government that keeps us out of anarchy, and to remember the example Christ set for us as one who suffered unjustly.

April 15th is approaching. So who’s going to cheat on their taxes this year?

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Once Saved, Always Saved

Posted on March 5, 2007. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

We’re going return to the New Testament for the next 3 months and work through 1st and 2nd Peter, written by the apostle Peter approximately 30 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. In the 30 years since Peter denied Jesus three times, Peter has grown a lot. Within two years of writing 1st and 2nd Peter, Peter was martyred, proclaiming the glory of Christ till the very end.

I’d love to spend a lot more time discussing who Peter was, how he grew from a fisherman, and in Acts he was described as “unlearned and ignorant,” to the man who wrote these letters. Peter is a perfect illustration of 1 Corinthians 1:26-31.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Peter was in Rome when Rome burned; Nero, who “fiddled while Rome burned,” blamed the fire on Christians and martyred both Peter and Paul during this time. So you can see how much history is wrapped up in Peter’s life, but we need to delve right into 1 Peter and see what this apostle has to say to us. So let’s get started and see what the Holy Spirit has to say through this man of Christ and perhaps have hope that we, too, may become this unlearned and ignorant. So take out your bibles and turn to 1st Peter and let’s dig in. 1 Peter 1:1-2 :

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

“Strangers in the world” is also sometimes translated as “temporary residents” or “aliens residing in a foreign land.” Believers in Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit inside, soon find that their moral values are different from the world. We become new creations that don’t seem to fit with the old world anymore. We turn from partying to service, we turn from selfish behavior to loving our neighbor. We become strangers in the world. Peter defines a whole bunch of characteristics of Christians in a single sentence –

  • God’s elect, chosen according to the foreknowledge of God. God knows all, including knowing who will choose Him. It doesn’t say God makes us choose Him, we have the gift of free will He gave us. But God knows all.
  • Through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. When we accept Christ, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit who turbocharges our conscience and begins the lifelong process of sanctification.
  • Obedience to Jesus Christ. To love our Lord, we seek to find His will in our lives.
  • Sprinkling of His blood. This is a also a gift given to us, and nothing we did to earn it. Christ died for us.
  • Grace and peace be yours in abundance. Two more gifts given to Christians; as we allow the Holy Spirit to sanctify us, God’s grace and the peace from Christ lives in us. In abundance, too.

Wow. No wonder we’re going to go through the books of Peter slowly. That’s five descriptions of Christians and we’re not out of the first paragraph yet, and each description we could devote a complete study. Not today, though, we’re going to study 1 Peter 1:3-9 instead. I’d like to read this together as a class, and to make sure we’re all reading the same version, I’ve provided a handout with these verses:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Peter tells us so much here, about how to have inexpressible and glorious joy, how our faith is protected by God’s power, how we suffer so that our faith may be proved genuine. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Once saved, always saved?” I confess that before I started studying this week, I had some doubts about that. No more, no more doubts. And absolutely knowing that there’s not a thing I can do to mess that up brings me this peace and inexpressible and glorious joy. The salvation of my soul is secure, kept in heaven for me and shielded by God’s power. There’s a lot of comfort in that. Peter tells us that through Jesus we have come into an inheritance that can never, spoil or fade, that this inheritance is kept in heaven and protected by the all powerful God.

Are you pretty sure you’re going to heaven? Unless something goes horribly wrong, there’s a good chance you’re going to heaven? Or do you absolutely know, without a doubt, 100% guarantee, that you’re going to heaven? God wants you to know and be absolutely confident, because there is joy and peace in this knowledge. Let’s see if there’s any other scripture that talks about this confidence.

1 John 5:13:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may *know* that you have eternal life.

It doesn’t say “think” we have eternal life. So that we may *know* we have eternal life. It’s not arrogance to say that I know I will go to heaven. It’s confidence, not in my ability, but in Christ’s sacrifice. Once a person places their trust in Jesus, God immediately and irrevocably grants that person eternal life and salvation and a guaranteed place in Heaven that can never be lost, regardless of what they do or what they don’t do. It’s not based on you, never was. It’s entirely based on what Jesus did.

John 5:24, Jesus says,

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.

Jesus uses certain Greek tenses of verbs here to make His point. When He says, “has” eternal life, Jesus uses the present tense. Then He switches to future tense, “will not be condemned”. Jesus says believers have it! And if that wasn’t clear enough, Jesus says the believer “has crossed over from death to life.” Jesus switches present tense to perfect tense, and is saying that the believer has already crossed, always will be crossed over from death to life. We are new creations already, we don’t become new creations after we die. We *have already* crossed over, we *have* eternal life, and *will not be* condemned. Past, present and future.

John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son *has* eternal life.” John 6:47, “I tell you the truth, he who believes *has* everlasting life.” It’s an irrevocable contract Jesus makes with us when we confess Him as our Lord, written here in the Good Book for us to read the fine print anytime we wish. What does Jesus promise to do for us as our Lord? Well, here’s the fine print of the contract.

  • Hebrews 10:17, God says, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” You and I can’t forget, as hard as we try, but God will remember no more. Poof, it’s as if they never happened. With the blood covering from Jesus, we become pure in God’s sight.
  • Philippians 4, our names are inscribed in the Book of Life. Again, not *will be* inscribed. They *are* inscribed.
  • Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Now. No condemnation. Freedom.
  • Micah 7:19, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” Deeper than the Titanic, our sins are buried in the sea.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” The Holy Spirit lives in us, takes up residence, and gives our conscience a kick-start.
  • Galatians 4:6, “So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” We become adopted by God, we are His children, His heirs. We are no longer slave to sin and the death that comes with it.
  • Romans 8:31-33, God has chosen us, we are God’s elect, and if God is for us, who can be against us?
  • Ephesians 1:13-14, “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.” Marked, sealed, identified, stamped. Seems like every translation I read used a different word here. Signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours. We are indelibly branded, permanently stamped, and guaranteed our inheritance.
  • John 10:27-28, Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Jesus becomes our shepherd, we becomes His sheep, He gives us eternal life, we will never perish, and no one can change that.
  • Any loopholes left in this contract? Romans 8:38, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Looks like an absolutely iron clad contract to me, how about you?

This salvation we already have. This eternal life we already have. Heaven is a destination where we go when our mortal chores are through, but our place there is already guaranteed. Peter says praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that our inheritance awaits us and to rejoice. Rejoice! Again I say, rejoice! I rejoice because I know if I could do something to lose my salvation, I’d have done it already. I’ve messed up so many times and if I was given a second chance, I’d just lose it again. Sometimes I can go for 6 or 8 hours in a row without sinning, but then I wake up and have to get out of bed. This is great news, knowing we’re eternally saved. In order for us to lose our salvation,

  • somebody would have to find some sort of loophole in the contract that isn’t up or down, present or future, angel or demon, and convince Christ not to love us anymore,
  • change us from Christ’s sheep into a toad,
  • remove the brand He sealed onto us,
  • snatch us right out of the hand of Jesus even though He chose us,
  • cancel God’s adoption papers and write us out of the will,
  • evict the Holy Spirit out of His home in our heart and tell him to find someplace else to live,
  • dive to the very bottom of the ocean and dredge our sins back up,
  • remind God of all the things He’s promised to remember no more,
  • and make God into a liar for putting all these promises down in writing.

Ya know, I just don’t see any of that happening.

So what about all those difficult questions about “Once saved, always saved?” What if I claim to be a Christian, but don’t seem to be living a Christian lifestyle? I party and drink and do drugs and sleep around and so forth – Am I still going to heaven? And what if I say I’m a Christian and I know I’m going to heaven, does that mean I can do anything I want? Lie cheat and steal, take candy from babies or be a serial killer? Am I still going to heaven? How about if I say I’m Christian, but then I curse God to His face, turn my back on Jesus and says I want nothing do with those uptight religious freaks anymore? Am I still going to heaven? And what about when I hurt or when I’m depressed and I just don’t feel like getting up and going to church anymore? Am I still going to heaven?

Great questions. I hope somebody here can answer them, I ran out of time studying.

No seriously, they are great questions, and the answers are in this same Good Book.

Number 1. What if somebody claims to be a Christian, but doesn’t seem to be living a Christian lifestyle? Partying and drinking and so forth? I think it’s important to remember that eternal salvation is granted when you confess with all your heart that Jesus Christ is Lord. God does the rest. If we think our actions before God are better than somebody else’s actions, we have a fundamental misunderstanding of what Jesus did for us. Romans 3:20 says, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.” No one, no matter how good we try to be, is good enough for God. Any righteousness we have comes not from ourselves but from accepting the blood covering of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” It has nothing to do with what we do. We don’t gain eternal life because of our good performance, and we don’t lose eternal life because of our bad performance. It’s Jesus plus nothing; it’s a gift. The church of Galatia thought the same thing, and Paul gave them a dressing down. In Galatians 3 Paul writes, “You foolish Galatians! […] After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” 2 Timothy 2:13 Paul says, “if we are faithless, He will remain faithful.” Getting into heaven has nothing to do with our human performance and everything to do with God’s grace. We don’t sing Amazing Human Performance in worship for a reason, we sing Amazing Grace. So if somebody has truly accepted Jesus Christ but doesn’t seem to be living a Christian life, they still have an invitation to God’s Grand Afterlife Party.

Number 2. If our salvation is secure, does that mean we can do whatever we want? If I’m going to heaven no matter what I do, why does it matter what I do? Why not lie, cheat and steal? Why not cheat on my spouse? Why not party like it’s 1999? I’m going to heaven! Well, there’s a serious problem with this. You may have that invitation to God’s Grand Afterlife Party and you are guaranteed entry, but what you do in this life has everything to do with what kind of reception you’ll get when you get there. 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 says

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames

.

The foundation is Christ, and with our mortal lives we build on that foundation. We can build on it with long lasting stuff – obedience, servant hood, prayer, humility, or we can build on it with disobedience, arrogance, and selfishness. The choice is up to us. But there will come a day of Judgement where we stand before Christ, and all our earthly deeds will be exposed for what they are. Everything bad or worthless will be burned away, and if there’s anything left, there’s a reward. What kind of reward? I don’t know – I’m guessing something made of chocolate. All I know if there’s a line forming to collect a reward from the almighty God, I want to be in that line. What if your building is all gone? Well, you don’t get any chocolate, but you yourself will be saved. You’re not in heaven because of the building, you’re in heaven because of the foundation.

Another problem with living a sinful, selfish life, the Holy Spirit is inside doing a number on our conscience. We will feel guilty. Things we could get away with before accepting Christ, we feel bad when we do them now. David writes in Psalm 32 that when he kept silent about his sins, not confessing, not repenting, his bones wasted away and he groaned all day long. When we accept Christ as our savior, we become more focused on pleasing God.

Number 3. What if somebody turns their back on Jesus, renounces God, becomes an atheist. Are they still going to heaven? Let me tell you a story about Robert Robinson, a young teen who lived in London from 1735 to 1790. He was a delinquent teen, but at 17 took his gang to an open air revival service where George Whitfield was preaching to “laugh at the poor deluded Methodists.” Two and a half years later, Robert Robinson gave his life to Christ. He felt the call to preach, was appointed by John Wesley to pastor the Calvinist Methodist Chapel in Norfolk England, writing powerful sermons and hymns, and at the age of 23 wrote this powerful hymn:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet, Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Beautiful hymn, and 250 years later we still praise our Lord with these words. But these words were a spiritual, prophetic autobiography. Robert Robinson did not stay in the fold of Christianity, eventually dismissed by the church and he returned to his sinful ways, eventually turning his back on Christianity and became Unitarian who do not believe Jesus was the only Son of the Father. In his later years, while taking a stagecoach ride, and in a non-Christian condition, a female passenger offered to share a poem with him, that it might help him as it had helped her, and she began to read “Come Thou Fount” to him, and when she got to the third stanza,

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.

Robert Robinson broke down and cried and said, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.” Robert Robinson never did return to Christianity, and died denying the deity of Christ.

So what happened? We can’t know for sure, can we, because we can’t ever know Robert Robinson’s heart. But we do know this – if he ever truly trusted Christ, then yes, Robert Robinson is in heaven. Even if we are faithless, God is faithful. In Matthew 21:18-19, Jesus tells us what happens to people like this.

Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.

In order to produce fruit, you have to be connected to the sap of the Holy Spirit. If you’re not connected, the best you can produce is leaves, and Jesus says if you’re not connected to the sap of the Holy Spirit, the sap of the church of a body of believers, you wither. You become bitter and angry. I’ve never met a person who has accepted Christ and then turned his back on him that was a joy to be around. They’re hurtful, mean, selfish people. But when you’re connected to the sap, you produce fruit. So when you meet a person like this, either they never truly gave their heart to Jesus, or they did give their heart, but through circumstance, weakness, persecution, suffering, whatever, they turned their back on Jesus. It’s not for us to determine, but the Lord knows their heart, and if they truly gave their heart, they’re in heaven. But not in the chocolate line, they’re in the … carob line.

Number 4. What if I just don’t feel saved? What if I don’t feel connected to the Holy Spirit, or connected to the church. Am I still going to heaven? One of Satan’s tricks in our materialistic secular humanistic society is the “do what feels good” philosophy. Feel bad about debt? Go shopping until you feel good. Feel bad about weight? Eat until you feel better. Don’t like your spouse? Get a divorce. And you look at our society and see what happens to us when we let our feelings determine our direction. When our feelings are at the wheel, we don’t have any idea what direction we’re headed.

I know exactly first hand what happens when you let feelings rule. I left my wife because of feelings and my feelings drove me right off a cliff. But you know what? Christ caught me. Now instead of trying to get happy and going in whatever direction I wanted to, I let Christ take the wheel and let Him determine the direction, and I ended up far happier than when I was trying to be happy. Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Feelings aren’t supposed to be driving your around; feelings are supposed to be in the passenger seat.

So do your feelings determine whether you’re going to heaven? Does John 3:16 read, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” as long as he feels like it? John 5:24 says, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” How do your feelings change that? John 10:28, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Unless, of course, they’re unhappy? Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Where do feelings come into play? Your feelings are something you do, and nothing you do will gain your salvation. I think we try to make this complicated, but it’s almost too simple to believe. God gives us the gift of salvation, and we say “thanks.” That’s it, and nothing we do or feel or say will change that. No performance evaluation, no report card. Just grace. Your destiny is already safe, already secure, you are already an eternal being. When you’re not afraid to die, then you’re not afraid to live.

So you don’t have to get up every week and walk down the aisle every single week and give your life to Christ, Meredith. You already belong to him and nothing, not death nor life, not angels nor demons, not the present nor the future, nor any powers, not height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to change that one teeny bit. Your destiny is safe. And that’s why Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1:8-9, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Once Saved, Always Saved? It really is that simple. Don’t complicate it with man-made judgments and opinions. Salvation is a gift through Jesus that is eternally secure. To receive it, all we have to do is ask. And all we have to do to keep it is… nothing.

* due credit goes to Lon Solomon of the McLean Bible Church and his sermon series on Bible bootcamp for the ideas and scripture references behind the “fine print of the contract” above.

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Bloom Where You Are Planted

Posted on February 11, 2007. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

On a Christian forum website I regularly read, one of the Christians had posted some sad news. He had participated regularly with a Christian Missionary organization called Honduras Outreach. This week in a remote mountain village in Honduras, their vehicle was in an accident in rugged terrain. There were 28 adults from four church groups from Georgia. Ten people suffered various injuries from head injuries to a broken femur; three people died. They were in Mal Pais, Honduras to bring fresh water to villages, build chimneys in homes to reduce lung inflammations, lay concrete floors, and build latrines. I found the press release and made copies for everyone; it includes the names of these heroes and links to their individual churches. Pray for their families this week and this organization that is doing so much to help people and spread the love of Christ.

The Christians that participate in this forum I read were supportive and offered prayers and condolences; the original poster was concerned that people might be afraid to serve with Honduras Outreach that does so much good for some of the poorest people on the planet. That if people realized how dangerous this missionary work is, people would not sign up for it. There are a lot of non-Christians and even atheists that participate on that forum – God bless them, I’m learning a lot about what the world teaches people and it’s often not pretty. One post from an atheist begins, “Do you really believe any of this stuff yourself? Or is Christianity just one big social club?” The atheist asked, “”God works in mysterious ways” is usually a good one for you — but it solves nothing. For example, why didn’t God just keep his eye on his good missionaries in South America and save them from being killed in the first place? Do you suppose he wasn’t pleased with their ‘work’? Do you suppose he just wanted to ‘call them home’?”

Yes, God works in mysterious ways, but the more one studies God and learns these mysterious ways, the clearer answers to questions like these becomes. Many Christians – and non-Christians – believe that God’s primary function is to protect us, preserve us, prosper us. An omnipotent Santa Clause where we line up, confess Jesus as our Lord, and then hold a big bag open for God to pour in His blessings. A belief in a God like this cannot understand why God would lead people someplace where they would be uncomfortable or be in some sort of danger. Why God would send missionaries to Honduras and then not use His big supernatural hand to keep their bus from tipping over. Scripture confirms and comforts us that God loves us and He cares for His children. We can take great comfort in knowing the almighty Lord is in control. But God’s primary purpose is not to pamper us. God’s will is not what we will it to be, and rather than trying to find out why God isn’t doing our will, we can study our entire lives to find out what God’s will is. It took Moses 40 years of study before he was able to know the will of God. We only have about 30 minutes today, not nearly enough time to learn all about God. We’re going to see today that God’s primary purpose is accomplishing His will through His people. Those purposes are not always comfortable, not always safe. Sometimes it will require sacrifice; sometimes it will require great personal risk. The Lord expects His people to exercise faith in obedience to His will in whatever situation the Lord leads.

We’re continuing the book of Esther this week, chapter 3 and 4. Last week, Fred introduced us to Esther who was a poor Jewish orphan girl. Through a series of “coincidences,” she was elevated to a very high status, the Queen of Persia. How did she arrive there? Through submission to her faith, submission to her cousin who was her acting father, her inner and external beauty. This beauty is a gift from God, and like all gifts, we are entrusted by God to use it wisely, for His glory alone, in obedience to Him. The old Queen Anna Nicole Smith, er, I mean Queen Vashti, we’re told, was very beautiful on the outside. But she was not going to use her God-given beauty to further God’s purposes, so she was removed, and Esther became queen. Esther also had external beauty, but also internal beauty.

In Chapter 3 of Esther, the plot thickens, mwahaha. Enter the villain of our lesson, Haman. In Esther 3:1-2,

After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles. All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor.

This is ominous. Haman’s father was Hammedatha the Agagite, which means he was a descendant of Agag the king of the Amalekites. The Amalekites were a tribe from Canaan who had constantly opposed the Israelites throughout history, from the Exodus out of Egypt throughout the reign of David. In Exodus 17:8-16, around 1440 B.C, just after Moses struck the rock and the water flowed, the Amalekites attacked the Israelites. Joshua led the battle against the Amalekites, and Moses stood on top of a hill with his arms raised in glory to the Lord while Aaron and Hur held his arms up. When the Amalekite army fled, Exodus 17:14-16 says,

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”

Then, 400 years later around 1040 B.C, the book of 1 Samuel chapter 15, Saul is commanded by the Lord. 1 Samuel 15:1-3, it says,

Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ “

And of course the Israelites were obedient, right? But nooooo… Saul gets this idea to spare King Agag of the Amalekites and keep the sheep and cattle and fat calves and lambs. The next morning, Saul tells Samuel, “I did it, I followed the Lord’s instructions!” And Samuel is like, “Do I hear sheep?” And Saul says, “Ah, the sheep. Well, um, well we saved Agag and the sheep and cattle, but, um, other than that we followed the Lord’s instructions.” The Lord kept trying to protect Israel by ordering Israel to destroy the Amalekites, and the Amalekites kept coming back and attacking Israel.

Now, another 500 years later, around 500 B.C., we find Haman, an Amalekite and descendent of Agag, has been elevated to a position of power in the kingdom or Persia where the Israelites live as subject to the king of Persia. This is really bad news for the Jews like Mordecai and Esther living there.

King Xerxes (or Ahasuerus) of Persia does orders all the royal officials to bow down and pay honor to Haman. It’s not clear what Haman did to deserve this promotion, or exactly what his new position is. From some of the other verses in Esther, it seems that King Xerxes and Haman were drinking buddies. But Haman gets a new lofty title, like… Darth Vader, and everybody is supposed to bow down and give homage to him.

Mordecai refuses to bow down. Now, it’s not against Jewish law to bow down and give respect. The Jews bowed down before their own kings in other books of the bible, like 1st and 2nd Samuel and in 1st Kings. And Mordecai also almost certainly bowed down to King Xerxes or he wouldn’t be alive.

Some scholars believe that one reason Mordecai would not bow may be that as a descendent of Agag, Haman would believe he was devine or semi-devine, a god. Mordecai would certainly not bow down before another god. Other scholars believe it was simply because Mordecai would not bow down before an enemy of God, an Amalekite who hated Jews.

Whichever one it was, Haman certainly noticed the one man standing while everybody else at the king’s gate bowed down to him. The other royal officials tried to pressure Mordecai to comply, but Mordecai refused, obeying his faith.

Haman was enraged that this one man would not pay homage to him, and when Haman found out Mordecai was a Jew, he wasn’t satisfied with just killing Mordecai. No, Haman decided this would be his chance to destroy all the Jews. A religious, ethnic cleansing.

Esther 3:8-9,

Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will put ten thousand talents of silver into the royal treasury for the men who carry out this business.”

Haman could not come right out and tell King Xerxes he wanted to kill all the Jews. Xerxes would know that the Jews were loyal subjects; Mordecai had himself saved King Xerxes life in the second book of Esther. So Haman mixes in half-truths… a “certain” people. They’re… “different.” They don’t… “obey.” You shouldn’t have to “tolerate” them. By laying out an incomplete picture with half-truths, Haman was able to convince the King that these “certain people” should be killed.

As Christians, we’re still at war with the Amalekites. Dagnabbit Saul, why didn’t you do as you were told? The Amalekites in positions of power today still sit at the king’s gate, and we’re still not bowing down. The Amalekites sit at the gate of information. They taint Christians with half-truths:

- Control freaks. Instead of focusing on attempts to save the lives of unborn children, they paint us as trying to control what women do with their own bodies.
– Hate-mongerers because we encourage people to turn from sinful ways.
– Uptight people that do not want to have fun, or let anybody else have fun.

The Amalekites sit at the gate of entertainment:
– Movies and television that portray Christians as uptight people, like Ned Flanders of the Simpsons
– The NBC show “The Book of Daniel” that portrayed Christians as hallucinogenic, influenced by drugs and dysfunctional.

The Amalekites sit at the gate of Academia:
– No recognition of God in our schools. No Christmas, no Easter.
– We control our own destiny, evolution happens all by itself without any influence by our grand designer.
– That case in California, near Oakland, where schools used role-playing to teach seventh graders about Islamic history by making them wear nametags with Islamic imagery, memorize Islamic religious teachings as “fact”, wear Islamic clothing, recite phrases from the Koran and mimic the fasting of Ramadan. This was in 2002, after 9/11.

The Amalekites sit at the gate of the political establishment:
– The Oakland case on teaching Islam was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
– People believe the U.S. Constitution mandates a “separation of church and state.”
– “Under God” removed from Pledge of Allegiance (which is still being fought in the courts).

So with half-truths and innuendos, Haman convinced Xerxes to sign the death warrant for the Jews.

Persia was a big empire, and this ethnic cleansing could not happen immediately. Haman cast lots (v7) and decided the annihilation would occur in the twelfth month of Adar, about a year away. All the royal secretaries were summoned (v12), and the decree was written in every language of Persia and then distributed to all the satraps, governors, in all the provinces. This took a lot of time since they didn’t have email or FoxNews. In Esther 3:13-14,

Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews — young and old, women and little children—on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. A copy of the text of the edict was to be issued as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality so they would be ready for that day.

The Jews would have an entire year to fear their fate. Apparently this was met with a lot of confusion in the city of Susa. In verse 15, King Xerxes and Haman sit down to drink a toast to the destruction of the Jews, but the city itself was bewildered. The Jews had been loyal subjects. Why had the king ordered them destroyed?

Mordecai is a little troubled by all of this, if you can understand this. By refusing to bow down before Haman, he had set in motion the destruction of all of his people within the year. Esther 4:1 –

When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.

Part of this was a public display against the orders of the king, but most of it was probably genuine grief. He’s going to die. All of his loved ones are going to die. All of the people of his faith are going to die. Esther 4:2,

But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it.

Apparently they had some sort of dress code and Mordecai was not allowed inside. Esther 4:3,

In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

All of the Jewish people are scared, mourning, praying, crying. Esther apparently is oblivious, though, because she sends the king’s eunuch that was assigned to attend her to go find out what’s up with the sackcloth.

The eunuch, Hathach, went out to Mordecai to get the scoop, and Mordecai is very prepared. Mordecai tell Hattach everything that has happened, how Haman has ordered the destruction of the Jews, and also gives him proof – look, here’s a copy of the edict. Mordecai tells Hathach to explain all this to Esther and tell Esther to beg the king for mercy for the Jews.

In verse 9, Hathach reports back to Esther and tells her everything Mordecai has said, including Mordecai’s request for Esther to go before the king. Esther’s like, uh, no, that’s a bad idea. As queen, Esther did not have a husband/wife relationship like we understand it today. Esther was still a servant of the king, and she could only appear to him when summoned. The law was strict – if you crash the king’s party, you die. There was a possibility that the king could hold out his golden scepter and your life would be spared. But whatever relationship Esther and the king had, it was not currently in the best of conditions. Esther had not been summoned by the king for 30 days. She was certain that to appear before the king would mean her death.

How do we understand God, who created us and everything we see? Do we decide who He is, and then assume God will do what we want? Or do we decide to be obedient and try to understand what God wants? Do we stay safe, keep silent, avoid taking risks? Or do we try to be obedient?

God’s will will be done, whether we obey or not. We can choose to participate, be a spectator, or deny Him altogether, but we cannot thwart God’s will. God sees history all at once, past, present and future. God creates us for a purpose and plants us right where we are. Your job, your family, your pretty face, your intelligent brain, your feelings, your money, your talents have all come together for this one instant, this one instant that will never occur again. In another minute, in another hour, this moment will have passed.

In 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, Paul explains this concept to new Christians. It says,

Nevertheless, each of you should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to you, just as God has called you. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each of you should remain in the situation you were in when God called you. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For those who were slaves when called to faith in the Lord are the Lord’s freed people; similarly, those who were free when called are Christ’s slaves. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. Brothers and sisters, all of you, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation in which God called you.

In other words, Paul tells us as Christians we are to bloom where we are planted. How? It says, right in the middle of those verses, “keeping God’s commands is what counts.” Not the legalistic old testament stuff, but the attitude and love of Christ Jesus, with all your words and all your actions.

Sometimes we feel stuck in a rut and can’t bloom. I read a story about a woman who was complaining about working with heathens. The boss was mean, her coworkers poked fun at her faith, and out of a hundred employees, she was the only Christian. Her pastor complimented her and told her God must think a lot of her to trust her with 100 people. If she quit, the only light these people have would be gone. Maybe she wasn’t stuck. Maybe she was just planted.

And don’t fall for that “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” philosophy. The only reason grass is green is because it’s watered and cared for. If you want your grass to be green, bloom where you are planted.

Mordecai knows all this. Esther is exactly where God put her. God removed Vashti and placed Esther as queen. She had every resource she needed to do God’s will. But will she do it? Will she risk everything given to her to do what God wants her to do? God had given Esther so much. God gave her external beauty, and it was her beauty that gave her and her alone access to the king. Would she put her beauty on the line and risk death? God gave her position – she was queen and had access like nobody else. Would she put her position as queen on the line and risk death? Esther also had her inner beauty and love for her people. Most important, Esther had the entire kingdom of heaven behind her. She had everything she needed, but would she risk it, or would fear hold her back?

Mordecai delivers at this point one of the most memorable lines of the bible. He tells Esther that God will accomplish His purpose, nothing she does or does not do will change that fact. If Esther will not do it, the God will save His chosen people another way. Esther’s choice is whether she is going to participate in God’s plan and realize that her entire being, her beauty and position, was orchestrated by God, and God will accomplish His will through His obedient people. Mordecai also tells her that if she’s trying to save her own skin, she’s probably going to lose that, too. She’s a Jew – if the Jews are eliminated, that includes her. She cannot save her own life. All she can do is choose to be obedient, or not.

Mordecai says in Esther 4:13-14,

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

The entire purpose of Esther’s life had come to a point of decision. Her entire existence had a purpose. What was more important, being queen, or being the liberator of the Jews? God will not fail to keep His promises or fall short of His purposes, therefore, the deliverance of the Jews was certain. God had made Esther queen so that she could deliver His people. God places people exactly where they can serve Him.

Our beautiful Esther, spurred by her cousin of faith, chose to do God’s will, and fully aware of the consequences. Esther 4:15-16,

Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

And if I perish, I perish. God’s will be done. Esther did the right thing, obeying God, even though it was against the law and at risk to her life. This is a key to understanding all you are. You are God’s child and entrusted with your life to serve him. If I perish, I perish.

While Christians in other nations like Sudan are risking their lives, in America the risk to life is pretty small. In fact, we mostly just risk our own comfort. Afraid to defend the words of Jesus because we don’t want to look silly. Afraid to tithe because if we just had a few more dollars we could afford that Lexus. Afraid to serve because we might miss out on an episode of American Idol.

What are you doing with the resources God has given you? Are you using your talents, your money, your looks, your heart, in a way that is pleasing to God? Are you taking risks in service to Him who created you? Or are you afraid?

Dr. Young and Wallace Henley of the West Campus sent the following that I thought wrapped up today’s lesson well. It says,

79 years ago God brought us together as the family that would be known as Second Baptist Church. On that founding Sunday, the first pastor preached the first sermon in the life of this church. His text was Esther 4, the very passage we study today.

That pastor said to the congregation assembled in 1927—“Who knows but what God has brought us as a body of Christ to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

History has proven him right. The generations who followed caught the vision, and because of that tens of thousands of people have been transformed by Jesus Christ. They’ve impacted families, educational institutions, politics and government, businesses and the marketplace with the vision, values and worldview of God’s Kingdom.

They sacrificed, many giving sacrificially so the great ministry of this church could be carried out. They did so because they understood God’s providence and that He had a plan for them individually, and their resources.

Now the question is before us—Will there be a generation a century from now who will still be standing like Mordecai, still be using the best of the themselves and their resources, like Esther, for God’s Kingdom?

That answer is in our willingness to say of our personal lives and resources, “If I perish, I perish…”

Examine yourself and where you are in this world. God placed you right here for a reason. Our talents, our money, our selves should be used for God’s purposes, every minute of the day. Take a risk at being uncomfortable for God. Bloom where you are planted.

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Old Testament Laws

Posted on February 10, 2007. Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Do we know which Old Testament Laws apply to Christians?

It’s a good question. We know the legalistic rules no longer apply – I was just reading 1 Corinthians 7:17-20 today while studying how we are to bloom where we are planted, and Paul is clear that “Keeping God’s commands is what counts” but he says that immediately after saying that it doesn’t matter if a man is circumcised or uncircumcised, the law is nothing.

We also know that in Acts 11, Peter was told specifically to eat pork which was forbidden in Leviticus. The rules regarding food were all lifted when Peter was told “do not call anything impure that God has made clean.

Jesus told us at the Sermon on the Mount, “Think not that I am come to destroy the Law, or the Prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” So we know that many of the old legalistic laws were fulfilled by Christ, especially since Jesus reserved most of his anger toward the legalistic Pharisees.

On the other hand, some laws were strengthened. Jesus showed us that even thinking about adultery was just like committing adultery because that was where your heart is. Jesus focused us to interpret the Law with two things in mind: 1) love our God with all our heart, mind, and body; 2) love our neighbor as ourselves.

Also, many of the Old Testament Laws (613 of them!) only applied to Jews, and they still apply to Jews today. The ones that applied to Gentiles like us are the Noahide laws given to Noah. The Noahide laws were succeeded by the Ten Commandments and are binding on everyone, but not the 613 “mitzvot.” At this point, I complete reach the end of any sort of knowledge. :P

Was there a particular law you were wondering about? Is it closer to pork or adultery?

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