Archives
Tag Cloud
: Mothers Abandonment Abomination of Desolation Abortion Abraham’s Bosom Abuse Accounting Activism Adoption Adultery Affection Affliction Afterlife Alliances Altar America Analogy Angels Anger Anointing Apologetics Apostasy Armor of God Ascension Ashamed Atonement Authority Baal Babylon Bad Baptism Belief Betrayal Bible Bitterness Blasphemy Blessing Blessings Blindness Boasting Body of Christ Bondage Book of Life Borders Born Again Bottomless Pit Bride Bride of Christ Bridegroom Calling Capital Punishment Carnal Celebration Character Childbirth Children Children of God Chosen Christ Christian Life Christians Christmas Church Circumstances Civil Disobedience Clay Cleansing Comfort Commands Communion Community Comparison Compassion Complacency Complaining Conception Condemnation Conduct Confidence Conflict Conformity Confrontation Confusion Connection Conscience Consequences Contentment Conviction Cornerstone Correction Cost Counsel Courage Covenant Coveting Creation Creator Crisis Cross Crowns Crucifixion Culture Curse Darkness David Day of the Lord Death Deceit Deception Decisions Defense Delegation Demon Demons Denial Dependency Design Desolation Destruction Devil Direction Disaster Discernment Disciple Disciples Discipleship Discipline Discontentment Discouragement Disease Disgrace Disputes Distraction Diversity Divine Division Doctrine Double Fulfillment Doubt Drought Drugs Duties Duty Earth Earthly Earthquakes Easter Edom Education Elders Elect Emmaus Emotions Employment Encouragement End Times Endurance Enemies Enemy Environment Environmentalism Equality Equipped Eternal Eternal Life Eternity Evangelism Everlasting Life Evil Evolution Exaltation Exalted Exclusion Excuses Exorcism Expectations Eyes Failure Fairness Faith Faithful Faithful Servant Faithfulness False Christs False Doctrine False Gods False Prophet False Religion False Religions Family Famine Fasting Father Fathers Favoritism Fear Fear of the Lord Feasts Feasts of the Lord Fellowship Fig Tree Finances Fire First Coming First Resurrection Firstborn Flesh Flock Folly Foolishness Foreigner Foreknown Forgiveness Fornication Forsaken Foundation Freedom Friends Friendship Fruit Fruit of the Spirit Fruitfulness Future Gentiles Gentle George Wood Giving Glorified Body Glory God God’s Word Godliness Godly God's Will Good Good Shepherd Good Works Gospel Gospels Government Grace Gratitude Great Commission Greatness Grief Growth Guilt Hades Hardship Harvest Hate Hatred Healing Heart Heaven Heavenly Hedonism Hell Help Herod Hidden Holiness Holy Holy Spirit Home Homosexuality Honor Hope Hopelessness Humility Husband Hypocrisy Idolatry Ignorance Image Immanuel Immigration Impossibility Incarnation Individuals Indulgences Inheritance Injustice Inner Battle Instructions Insults Integrity Intercession Intermediate State Israel Jerusalem Jesus Jewish Temple John the Baptist Joy Judas Judgment Judgment Day Judgments Justice Justification Justify Key Keys Kids Kindness King Kingdom Kingdom of God Kingdom of Heaven Knowledge Lake of Fire Lamp Law Law of the Lord Lawlessness Leader Leaders Leadership Leftism Legalism Leprosy Lies Life Life-Span Light Like-minded Lord Lost Love Lowly Loyalty Lust Lusts Luxury Malachi Manipulation Marriage Martyrdom Martyrs Mary Master Materialism Maturity Meditation Men Mentoring Mercy Messiah Metaphor Millennium Mind Mind of Christ Minister Ministry Miracle Miracles Mission Mocking Money Mothers Mystery Nations Natural Natural Gifts Naturalism Nature Near-Far Fulfillment Necessities New Covenant New Earth New Jerusalem New Man New Testament Obedience Obstacles Obstructions Offense Old Covenant Old Man Old Nature Old Testament Omnipresence Omniscience One Mind Outcast Pagan Pain Palm Sunday Parable Parables Paradise Paranormal Parenting Passion Passover Path Patience Patriotism Peace Peer Pressure Pentecost People of God Perception Perfect Persecution Perseverance Persistence Personal Testimonies Perspective Perversion Pestilence Peter Pharisees Philosophy Piety Pilate Politics Poor Position Possession Possessions Posture Power Praise Prayer Preach Preaching Preparation Pride Priority Privilege Prodigal Promise Proof Prophecy Prophet Prophets Prosperity Protection Protestant Reformation Proverbs Providence Provision Punishment Purgatory Purity Purpose Questions Racism Rapture Reason Rebellion Rebuke Reconciliation Redeemer Redemption Refuge Regeneration Rejection Rejoicing Relationship Relationships Reliability Religion Remember Remnant Renewal Repentance Reputation Resolve Rest Restoration Resurrection Revelation Revenge Revival Reward Rich Riches Righteous Righteousness Rights Riot Risk Rivalry Robbery Roman Catholic Church Rule Sabbath Sacred Sacrifice Saint Salvation Sanctification Sarcasm Satan Savior Schemes Science Scoffers Scripture Seasons Second Coming Secret Seed Seek Self Self Control Self-centered Self-Control Selfish Ambition Self-Righteous Servant Servant-Leadership Servants Serve Service Serving Sexual Immorality Sexual Sin Sexuality Shame Share Sharing She’ol Shepherd Sickness Signs Signs and Wonders Simplicity Sin Sincerity Singing Singleness Sinners Slavery Sober Society Sojourner Sojourners Son Son of God Son of Man Sons of God Sorrow Soul Source Sovereignty Speech Spirit Spirit Realm Spirits Spiritual Spiritual Battle Spiritual Birth Spiritual Death Spiritual Gifts Spiritual Growth Spiritual Rulers Spiritual Warfare Stewardship Strength Stress Strife Stumbling Block Submission Suffering Supernatural Supper Surrender Syncretism Tags: Patience Taxes Teacher Teaching Tears Technology Temple Temptation Temptations Terminal Illness Test Testimony Testing Tests Thankfulness Thanksgiving The Curse The Day of The Lord The End The Fall The Grave The Holy Spirit The Law The Way The Word The World Theology Throne Time of Visitation Times of the Gentiles Tithing Tongues Tradition Tragedy Transfiguration Transformation Traps Treachery Treasure Tree Tree of Life Trial Trials Tribulation Trifles Trinity Triumphal Triumphal Entry Trouble Trust Truth Unbelievers Uncertainty Unity Unpardonable Sin Utopia Value Victory Vigilance Vindication Virtue Virtues Visiting Ministries Voice of God Volunteer War Warning Warnings Wars Watching Water Baptism Water of Life Weary Wicked Wickedness Widows Wife Wineskins Wisdom Witness Witnesses Witnessing Women Word of God Word of the Lord Works World World View Worry Worship Worth Wrath Yahweh Yeast YHWH Yoke Zion

Weekly Word

Monday
Sep052011

Protecting the Pure Gospel, Part 3

Today we will look at chapter 3 of the book of Galatians.  Up till now in this letter, Paul has made the point that man received the Gospel of Jesus through revelation rather than through human reasoning.  Jesus was God himself (not just a human prophet) revealing to us the perfect truth of God.  However the Galatian believers were beginning to listen to human reasoning that led them away from the revelation of God.  In a sense Paul is saying, "I have given you the truth.  So hold on to it and don't let it go.  Don't try to improve it through additions, deletions or both."

Too often people try to pit reason and revelation against each other.  But it is not intended to be so.  They do not cancel each other out.  In fact in chapter 3 Paul continues to reason with the Galatians, but he reasons within the bounds of God's revelation.  So here is the key.  We cannot reason our way into new revelation.  We can only reason within the boundaries of the revelation given by God.  When reason goes beyond the revelation of God it quickly goes astray whether through the good motivations of the righteous or the bad motivations of those who do not believe the revelation of Jesus.  Human reasoning should be restrained like a horse with a bit in its mouth.  When it is unrestrained it can cause all manner of damage and harm.

The Spell-bound Galatians

Paul rhetorically asks who has bewitched them, not because he seeks the identity of the false teachers but to contrast them to the source of the Gospel, Jesus.  You received the gospel from Jesus, but, who has bewitched you.  They are like a snake that has been charmed by some piping professor and, in fact, they are being foolish.  They are acting like they have no understanding of the gospel.

This foolishness has led them to be dissuaded from the truth.  They are no longer obeying the gospel.  A wicked person who enjoys doing wrong is a bad thing, but even worse is a person who does the same and believes they are doing good.  At least the previous person is not deceived about what they are doing and can perhaps be persuaded.  But those who believe they are doing good are difficult to persuade.  They have been dissuaded and are deluded.  That is why Jesus dealt more severely with the Pharisees who thought they had no sin than he did with the woman caught in the act of adultery.  She not only knew she had sinned but was humiliated by it.  She could receive the gospel, but the pharisees, by and large could not.  It is foolish to think that we need more than the gospel, it is the power of God for us, which brings salvation into our lives.  Paul now continues to lay Arguments for why their current position is error and foolish.

Reasoning #1, The Giving of the Holy Spirit

When there is a disagreement about one thing it is often helpful to move to an issue that is not under contention and then compare.  Paul does this by bringing up the giving of the Holy Spirit.  Both sides of this issue accept and agree on the giving of the Holy Spirit.  Thus Paul points out that it was not great performance of the Law that brought about the giving of the Holy Spirit.  Comparitively it wasn't performance of the law that brought about the gospel.  Those reading Paul's letter can remember a time when the Holy Spirit had not been poured out upon them.  The reminder from Paul is that the gospel came to them in the same way as the gift of the Holy Spirit, by their faith in Jesus, and through the means of grace.  Neither did the Holy Spirit/Gospel go out to Israel or the Gentiles because of great performance of the Law.  Quite the contrary, Jesus publically undressed the Pharisees and their false righteousness to demonstrate that they did not "deserve" the Anointed One of God nor the Truth he came to reveal.

The Holy Spirit was poured out on the faithful in spite of national and personal failure.  The apostles all testified to this when they were in the Acts 15 Council.   The Holy Spirit was sent to whosoever would believe regardless of past performance.

In verse 5 Paul contrasts the works of the law with the hearing of faith.  Even the action of this phrase is passive, hearing.  Hearing must be actively mixed with faith or belief.  It is not just hearing which supplies the Spirit, or salvation for that matter.  But the hearing that then mixes it with faith.  There is a mystery of those who hear the same message, but not all mix it with faith.  We must be careful that we do not share the Gospel with only those people "we think" are ready or deserve it.  Many who are steeped in great sin will hear and believe.  Likewise many who are very righteous by the world's standards will hear, but never believe.  The Spirit/Gospel has been made available to all, but only received by those who believe what they hear.

Reasoning #2, Abraham was Justified by Faith

Abraham is not shown to be perfect.  In fact, even his trust in God is mislead by Sarah's plan to have a "Promised Child" through Hagar her maidservant.  Now Abraham, like the Holy Spirit, that both sides were quick to embrace.  Thus Paul takes them back to the Law that they cling to and shows them that Abraham was justified by grace through faith.  He quotes Genesis 15:6 to show that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.  Yes, Abraham did some works and even circumcised himself and his child, but it was his belief that was credited as righteousness.  Otherwise we would have to talk about Abraham's slip up with Hagar a different way- "Abraham trusted Sarah and it was debited from his account as unrighteousness."  In fact, none of the patriarchs and godly kings were depicted as perfect law performers.  David's Psalm 51 forever stands as a tribute to his understanding that if it wasn't for the grace of God he would be lost.

If you want to be a "True" son of Abraham who is to inherit the Promise then you need to believe God's testimony about Jesus.  So the question, can we take over for God and perfect ourselves?  It is the Holy Spirit that works within us to perform sanctification over the top of the struggling of our flesh, which we are called to kill daily.  My hope is not that I can now fix myself, or that now that God has set me free from my sins I can do it myself.  My hope is that the Spirit of God will complete that work of making me over into the image of Jesus and that when I see him in the future, I will be like him. 

Reasoning #3, The Law can only Curse People.

Now Paul presses the point home.  The law that they are being told to lean on is quoted in order to demonstrate the curse that is on them.  In other words the very thing they are beginning to trust in is the thing that is condemning them before God.  Quoting from 4 different places in the law he points out that he who embraces the law must perform it completely to live.  But if you fail to keep all the law you are under a curse.  This highlights Jesus statement to those who wanted to stone the adulteress, "He without sin may throw the first stone."  The Prophets that they claim to believe testified that the "just shall live by faith."  If it was up to the law they were all condemned under a curse.  In fact the gospel says that not only shall the just live by faith, but they are the "just" precisely because of their faith in God.

The law operates much like a ratcheting system.  We use that system to tighten bolts or screws and to also loosen them.  Notice that the ratchet moves easily one way but takes force, power, to move the other direction.  Our sin problem causes the laws punishments to ratchet easily against us, but then we are powerless to force it back.  We keep being locked up under the curse and doom of God's wrath, tighter and tighter and less and less able to force it back.  Even our "self-righteous" actions are like filthy rags, unacceptable.  It is precisely this situation from which Christ freed us.  He bought us back from the prison of the laws judgment.  Here is the problem.  Paul tells them that they were under a system that treated them harshly and only condemned them, even when they tried to do good.  It enslaved them and cursed them.  Jesus set them free from it, why, then, would they go back to the law?

Do Christians still do this today?  Let me ask you, have you ever felt that if you did the right things or prayed the right prayer surely God would give you the miracle or answer to prayer you want?  Have you ever contemplated what good things you should do in order to get what  you want from God?  This mentality is contrary to the gospel.  Paul, elsewhere, says that this type of thinking has an appearance of godliness, but it denies the power of God.  You see God loves faith and honors it.  He does not love smug pride in our own performance.  It may look godly to others, but it leaves a foul taste in the mouth of God.

Reasoning #4, The Promise to Abraham vs. the Law.

God made a promise with Abraham and his Seed.  This seed was the Messiah, Jesus, who was to come.  Notice that the Promise was given 430 years before the law.  God did this on purpose to demonstrate that the Promise was superior and not impacted by the law.  The law was not replacing the law nor being added to it.  Next time we will answer the question, so why was the law given? 

Abraham was not called the father of Faith because he performed the law.  Neither did he receive the Promise because of his great law keeping.  God's Promise was for those who believed him like Abraham did.  In fact, it is not the biological blood of Abraham that makes one a child of Abraham and thus inheritor of the Promise.  Rather, it is the spiritual blood (life) of Abraham found in believing God that makes us a child of Abraham.  That's why Jesus charged the Pharisees of being children of the devil, not Abraham in John 8.

Let me ask you, are you a child of God?  It is not by how well you keep the law that makes you a child of God.  It is a combination of God's will and your faith.  God chose to send his son Jesus to reveal the gospel.  If you will embrace that in faith then you will become his child and inheritor of the Promise.

Christian, are you walking by faith in God over the top of your outward circumstances?  Our challenge today is not to make Jesus into the image with which we are comfortable.  We cannot make Jesus into what we want.  Rather we must receive him as he is, and he is the crucified savior.  Yes, he perfectly fulfilled the law, but then was crucified to the things of this life that he might live to God.  We will not follow him by exalting our actions of the flesh.  Rather we follow him by dying to the pride of our flesh and embracing the power of the Spirit made available through the grace of the Gospel.

 

Galatians 3A mp3

Monday
Aug082011

Protecting the Pure Gospel

We are going to be looking at the letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to the churches in the area of Galatia.  This would be central Turkey in our times.  Paul had invested himself into the Galatian churches and, like a father with his children, he is concerned by reports that he hears.  These reports tell of teachers who are misleading these Christians into thinking that they need to keep the Law of Moses in order to be a follower of Jesus.  Paul's concern arises from the fact that what seemed like a slight change that doesn't affect who Jesus is, completely changes the gospel.  It in fact changes it so much that it ceases to be the gospel, it has become a lie that leads people into bondage.  Throughout the letter Paul rebukes, reminds and teaches the Galatians what the gospel is and exactly why salvation is not a matter of Jesus plus the Law of Moses, but rather faith in Jesus alone.  Let's look at the first  two chapters.

The True Gospel

Of course Paul opens by making explicit who is authoring the letter and to whom it was written.  It is here that we see the letter was initially intended for distribution among the churches of the Galatian region.  Even in his greeting to the churches of Galatia we get a foreshadowing of his concerns for them.  He reminds them that the Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for their sins for the purpose of delivering them from the evil age in which they lived.  This was God's will.  Paul quickly moves to point out the problem that he wishes to address.

The Galatian christians are turning away from Christ in order to embrace a different gospel.  Paul sees Jesus and the gospel as so integrally connected that to change the gospel is to leave Jesus.  Paul's point is not necessarily about the finer fringe points of doctrine to which we may have different opinions.  But rather those issues that are at the heart of the gospel and define what it means to be "saved."  That is what is happening in this situation, which will become evident as the letter progresses.  Suffice it to say that they were being led to believe that faith in Jesus alone was not enough to be saved.  Rather, they also had to keep the Law of Moses.  Paul says this is a different gospel.  In fact it is no gospel at all because gospel means good news.  Thus perversions of the gospel are pointed out by Paul as temptations to draw us away from Christ, even though they pretend to give us greater teaching in Christ.

Next he makes it clear that the gospel they received from him was the "True" gospel.    Here the problem is not angels, nor apostles who have changed their minds.  But Paul starts with the stronger argument that even if he and his companions were to come back and begin teaching a different "gospel" that the Galatians should reject them and let the be under the wrath of God.  He also mentions angels.  Even if an angel were to show up and teach a different gospel then they should reject it and leave that angel to its coming wrath.  The fact that Paul says this twice demonstrates the forcefulness by which he intends to impress upon the Galatians that they already have the True Gospel.  Of course throughout church history false apostles and angelic visitations have led to many perversions of Christianity, otherwise known as cults.

Paul then highlights part of the problem.  He points out the twin issues of persuading and pleasing.  Whom should Christian's persuade and whom should they please?  We ought to persuade men and please God.  But, too often we get this backwards.  In trying to please men we adopt ideas and actions that "plead" with God to change his mind. 

"Surely, you didn't mean what you said, Lord.  You had to really mean this.....  So I will just go along believing what I want to believe.  You agree don't you Lord?"

We don't actually says these words, but our actions are presumptuous.  The presume upon God to agree with us or back us up.  Paul says, his job is not to try and persuade God to change the gospel in order to please teachers who want to add the Law of Moses to it.  Rather, his job is to hear what God says and then to please Him, by pleading with men and persuading them to believe God.

It is important to notice the personal nature of this issue.  Paul is the one who brought them the gospel.  Now that gospel is being perverted.  Thus Paul will spend more time than he is comfortable with talking about himself so that they will be confident that they already have the Pure Gospel.

The Source of the Pure Gospel

Though God used men, the revelation of the gospel came from God himself.  Paul neither made it up nor received it from "wise men."  Rather the Son of God, Jesus Christ himself gave Paul the gospel.  The gospel is not some science experiment's hypothesis, open to further tweaking and refinement by wise men. 

Paul reminds them of his history.  He was very active in persecuting those who followed Christ and tried to destroy the church.  But God powerfully and graciously confronted Paul with the truth of who Jesus was and why he died on the cross.  Paul points out that he didn't confer with the other apostles and run down to Jerusalem to make sure he had heard Jesus correctly.  He had received the gospel from Jesus himself, just like the apostles who were in Jerusalem.  In fact it was three years before Paul went to Jerusalem and even then the only apostles he talked with was Peter and James.  He then continued to preach the gospel throughout the area of Syria and Cilicia (the seacoast area around the Northeastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea).  He did this for 14 years before he ever headed back to Jerusalem again.  Paul's point is to show the confidence in which he held and gave the gospel.  He knew quite clearly that Jesus had appeared to him (more than once) and confirmed the truth of who he was and what the gospel was.  This leads us into chapter 2 of Galatians.

Paul Confronts the Apostles

Paul tells them of a trip he took, at least 17 years after his conversion to Jesus Christ, to Jerusalem after having a revelation from God.  Though he doesn't go into the details of this revelation, it clearly has to do with the "false brethren" (Gal. 2:4) who were stirring up trouble in the areas where Paul preached.  These men were coming from Jerusalem and appeared to have a connection with James, the converted brother of Jesus.  Paul went to Jerusalem to make sure that the Apostles in Jerusalem were teaching the same gospel he was.  He did not want to be risking his life to create converts that someone later would come along and persuade to believe another gospel. 

Several things come of that meeting.  First, Titus, a gentile believer, was not compelled to be circumcised at the time. The point being that if these perverters of the gospel were right then it would have come out then.  The apostles of Jerusalem did not tell Paul that Gentiles had to be circumcised.  Paul uses a term here that gives us a flavor of the gospel versus the law.  Paul says that the false brethren came by stealth to spy out the freedom that Paul's churches had in Jesus.  Thus the law is equated with bondage and the gospel of Jesus is equated with freedom.  This will be further developed later.

Paul points out that the apostles didn't "add anything" to him.  Thus Paul was not deficient in their minds.  Instead they recognized that God had worked powerfully through Paul as an Apostle to the Gentiles like He was working powerfully through Peter as an Apostle to the Jews.  The apostles instead of correcting Paul, gave him the right hand of fellowship.  The one thing they encouraged Paul to do, remember the poor, was something he was already doing.

Paul then brings up a later story in which Peter comes to Antioch to see what is happening there.  At first Peter would eat with the Gentile believers.  But when "certain men" from James came to Antioch, Peter "withdrew and separated" himself from the Gentile believers.  Why?  He feared those of the "Circumcision."  Whether this was a title that they used of themselves or Paul coins it, it becomes an apt description of what they believed and taught.  Peter knew how they thought as well and he, in trying to please men, acted hypocritically.  Notice Paul points out that though Peter knew the truth he was being manipulated into not acting in accordance with the truth.  Paul publically confronted Peter about the hypocrisy of his action and its discordance with the truth of the gospel.  The eloquent defense of Grace that follows (Gal. 2:14-21) is a powerful sermon in itself.  Here we see why Paul is making a big deal of this perverse teaching.  Even the Jews themselves knew they couldn't be justified by the law and that is why many of them followed Jesus.  If it was possible for righteousness to come through the law then Jesus' death was for nothing or unnecessary.  Of course, it was necessary and righteousness is not possible by the law.  Thus, to try and please God through the fleshly requirements of the law, especially circumcision, would be to push aside the grace that God is offering in Jesus.

Today we see all kinds of threats to the Pure Gospel.  In fact, many would throw up their hands and say how can I know that I have the Pure Gospel?  There has been 2 thousand years of people perverting it and twisting it.  This is where we remind ourselves of the Protestant cry of old- "Sola Scriptura," only Scripture.  When we hear the gospel preached today, we do not receive it from a man like Paul or Peter.  These apostles had received the gospel directly from Jesus and were uniquely empowered by his Holy Spirit to have the gospel written down for us.  No matter how many perversions have arisen, the Bible we have today is essentially what the Apostles wrote.  Thus the written word of God and the assistance of the Holy Spirit are the only witnesses that we need of what the pure gospel is.  The false brethren have continued in every generation to try and manipulate God's people into embracing that which is not really a gospel and in so doing to turn them away from the Lord Jesus who died for them that they may know the grace of God.  But their perversions are always obvious when viewed in the light of the Scriptures.  Whether it is a focus on legalism today or a plunging into the pleasures of this world the real question is not what works have you done, but do you really trust Jesus?  Those who trust Jesus will know that they can add nothing in themselves to be acceptable to God.  And, those who trust Jesus will also pick up their cross and follow him.  Let us do so today!

 

Monday
Aug012011

The Stand to Which We are Called

This sermon was originally delivered over two weeks (July 10/17, 2011). 

Much of Christianity within the West, specifically in the U.S.A. is trying to determine the best way to make a stand for Christ.  It is evident that godlessness is growing and we are seeing our society become more and more against God's laws and more and more for its own will.  So what is the best course forward? Is it a "take our nation back for Jesus" campaign that focuses on politics and politicians. Do we strategically amass our funds and efforts to election believers and reseat the courts and remake the laws?  What is God's call to us as his people?

In 2 Thessalonians chapter 1 Paul speaks to the people of this Greek city and commends them for their  stand in Jesus.  I believe we have much to learn from these commendations.  Paul no where commends believers for "fixing" their countries, laws, governments, or societies.  Instead he commends them for their faith and love- the very two things the Bible says will be in short supply in the end times.  Could it be that America has more need of Christians who are growing in faith and love instead of growing in political power?  I think the answer is obvious.

Standing in Faith

Paul commends them for their faith.  Faith has two sides to it.  There is the thing in which you are trusting and then the other side are the actions we take as a result of it.  Thus the Object of our faith and the objectives of our faith.  What are we trusting in?  I mean the church in America.  What are we trusting in?  The object of our faith is supposed to be Jesus himself.  But not just as an idea, but as he is specifically revealed to us in the Word of God.  Paul had shared with them the life, teachings, and works of Jesus on their behalf.  They were trusting in what he had given them.  Because they were trusting in the life, teachings, and work of Jesus the Thessalonians kept worshipping God in spite of persecutions.  They kept trusting Jesus though their own people turn their back on them.  But they also grew in the objectives of their faith.  They were daily living the life of Christ, laying down their lives for the sake of each other and the lost.  They were not shrinking back from fear, but rather their faith was firm and growing stronger.  They were obeying the direct commands of Jesus to love their enemies and forgive those who sin against them.  They were submitting themselves daily to the obligations of love that go beyond any command, but are the fruit of a heart that cares for others.  In fact I focus on faith first because love is impossible where there is no faith.

Standing in Love

Though we are to love one another, we cannot do that so long as our faith is in ourselves or in each other.  Our faith must firmly be fixed upon Jesus.  Only then can we love each other as the Lord loved us.  Like Peter sinking in the water, we too fail at doing the impossible because we get our eyes off of Jesus and onto everything else around us.  "But, Lord..." is the words of a person who has their eyes on the things of this world instead of on the Risen Lord.  Paul says that they had love in abundance.  That means they had more love than what they knew to do with.  Jesus said that in the last days love would grow cold.  There is nothing like persecution to make our hearts hard and unloving.  But the Thessalonians were not using this as an excuse.  Instead they were overflowing with love.  I doubt it was the kind of love where they were dancing around and singing happy songs everywhere they went.  It was the kind of love that picks up a cross and packs it up the hill where you are going to be crucified for the sake of those who are beating you.  This is the love that God calls us to.  To love those who do not deserve our love.  Why?  Because I didn't deserve His love- none of us did.  We live in a day when the enemy is turning up the heat of persecution.  Will my love grow or snuff out like a candle in the wind?

How can we do this?  You probably noticed Paul's mention of their perseverance.  I could have easily added it to the list- We need to grow in Faith, Love and perseverance.  But I think the perseverance is the point.  Because they were persevering their faith and love were growing.  What is the perseverance here?  It literally means to "remain under."  When continuing in love and faith gets seemingly too heavy to bear, we continue anyways.  Yes we may speak to God in prayer how we feel like we are going to be crushed and can't keep loving, but then we see Jesus who has gone on before us.  He has blazed the trail of love and faith for us.  As we keep our eyes on him we are able to persevere, remain under the load.  We can remain under the load because we are remaining in Jesus.  We have taken up our residence in Christ.  Though we are tempted to move because it is so hard, we keep connected to Jesus.  Why?  Because only he has the words of life.  Those who are full of love and faith are not so because it comes easy.  They only get there through great and difficult inner battles whereby they end by saying, "nevertheless, not my will but yours be done."  They have fought through the temptation that comes in the statement, "but it doesn't work."  They do not love because it works.  They love because it is the way that Jesus has led them.  They do not trust Jesus because, "it works."  But, rather, because they know he is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  Oh, sure trusting Jesus does work.  But we don't see that if we are looking at the things of this world.  The cross "works" but not for those who want to make money, drive nice cars, and travel the world vacationing in exotic places. 

When we patiently hold to faith and love they change us.  Too often we are worried about how others are responding.  But I can't control that.  I cannot quit loving and quit trusting because others don't do such and such.  I can't quit loving and quit trusting simply because others did something to me that hurt.  They can't change Jesus.  Thus they shouldn't be able to change me.  Lord forgive us and help us here in America to grow in faith and love because this world needs it like never before.

Standing by the Power of God's Spirit

In verses 11-12, Paul mentions that his prayer is for God to supply his power for them to continue in faith and love.  God will always bring us to the end of our own power so that we can learn to allow his Spirit to love through us.  We stand not by our own strength but by the power of God's Holy Spirit.  When we are submitted to the Holy Spirit, faith and love become weapons in his hands.  It sets people free from the shackles of the past changes the situation.  The issue is not whether you love someone anymore (a feeling) but whether you will love them anymore (the decisive action).  It is easy to gain a nostalgic love for the lost.  But when you are in the trenches with fellow believers and lost people you will find the limits of your own love.  Pray for God to supply his Spirit in your life that you may go beyond the limits of your own faith and love.  When you see those actions that your heart wants to back away from ask God to give you the power to carry on.  Thus Paul says we will fulfill all the good pleasure of God's goodness and it will bring glory to him.

Standing until the Judgment Day

It is in the fires of persecution that we begin to recognize the hatred that can exist for those who dare to trust God and love others.  God has set a day by which he will judge the world and it's governments.  God's judgment will be a righteous one.  Nobody wants to be judged and held accountable to "God."  It is interesting to me that the more we reject God in our society the more we increase our need for man-made laws and accountability to men.  If you plan to stand by God then plan to be maligned as judgmental and worthy of persecution.   2 Timothy 3:12-14 says, "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it."  Suffering for doing good is not a sign of God's absence or abandonment.  Rather, it is proof that we are actually standing with God and it is proof that God is righteous for setting a day when all will be held accountable.  It is proof that we are worthy to obtain the kingdom of God.  Not worthy in the sense that Jesus was worthy.  Without Jesus none of us would be worthy.  But our faith in the midst of persecution demonstrates the wisdom of God to save those who have simply believed on him even though it didn't seem to save them from the persecution.  But it did.  The persecution was unable to extinguish their faith.  It only made it burn brighter.

We will not have "rest" in this world until Jesus comes.  Yes, we can rest in Jesus, spiritually.  But outwardly we will find ourselves under the attack of an enemy that despises our faith in Christ and the resultant love that flows out of us.  We may have times of outward rest but they are not guaranteed.  We are only guaranteed that the Holy Spirit can give us an inner rest whereby we can persevere and overcome until the day that he gives all his saints rest at the judgement day.

Paul focuses on the powerful coming of Jesus in verse 7.  He is coming back with mighty angels to assist him in judgment.  He is coming in flaming fire.  This is definitely metaphorical as fire is the ultimate judge of that which is temporary versus permanent.  But it may just as well be literal as the Bible clearly states that the armies of this world will attempt to fight against Christ but will be destroyed.  He comes taking vengeance.  It is not a vindictiveness, but rather a setting to right what is out of whack.  Today when we see the weak taken advantage of by the strong and the poor by the rich we long for it to be righted.  God has set such a day and will right everything in the man Jesus Christ.  Only God can give perfect justice and he need not be blindfolded, because he plays no favorites.  Each one is judged by their actions.  Notice the statement that he will punish those who do not know God nor obey his gospel.  The world has for thousands of years heard the gospel, but more and more it rejects the decree of God and pushes the world into more and more oppression.  We replace God with ourselves and thus enter into the greatest slavery this world has ever known.

We are to stand until the day that he gloriously reveals those who are his saints and we stand in awe and admiration of the Lord our King.  Lord, help us to trust you ever greater and to choose to keep trusting you as the work of representing you grows harder and is resisted greater.  Help us to love one another, but to also lay our lives down that those who are lost may find true love in you.

Wednesday
Jul062011

Fighting For Our Nation

If it is true that sin drags a nation down to its destruction then what should Christians do in this society?  Should we arm ourselves and forcefully take over like some groups promote?  Do other groups have a point when they say Christians need to bring Christianity into the 21st century by redefining what is sin and what is not--make a compromise with modern society.  Is there a different path? 

When Jesus came on the scene of 1st century Israeli society, he came into a situation that was much like ours is today.  The nation was becoming more and more sinful.  They had not been able to govern their own affairs for about 200 of the previous 300 years.  Also, with the Roman's crushing power, it did not look like they would regain it any time soon.  I believe that Jesus represents the perfect picture of what Christians should be doing in the United States of America today.  Let's look at a point in the life of Jesus where he speaks to these issues in Matthew 23:29-39.

A Nation In Trouble

If you take the time to read the chapter of Matthew 23 then you will know that Jesus is exposing the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of his day, especially the scribes and the Pharisees.  It comes to a head beginning in verses 29.  It is interesting to me that throughout Jesus' ministry he was harsh with the religious leaders and gentle with the common person (sinner or believer).  Though Jesus is often pictured as the "couldn't-hurt-a-butterfly" type, this really is a mischaracterization.  An honest read of the gospels gives a radically different picture.  Jesus was extremely kind and gracious to the average person.  The story of the woman caught in the act of adultery sticks out as a demonstration of his wisdom and grace.  The law of Moses required she be stoned.  In that story Jesus does not say the Law is wrong (the temptation of people today), nor that the Pharisees were interpreting it wrong, nor that the woman wasn't guilty and did not deserved the punishment.  Rather, he says whoever is without sin (worthy to execute her) should throw the first stone.  To their credit the religious leaders walked away.  But they were not really repentant, just check-mated.  Jesus then tells the woman to "go and sin no more."  She is thankful to be living, but the real question is how will she live this new life that Jesus has obtained for her?   However, in the Matthew 23 passage, Jesus is harshly excoriating the Pharisees.  They should know better and just as he whipped the money changers out of the temple, so here he gives the religious leaders a public "whipping."  He accuses them of using a double standard (vs.3).  They expect from others what they do not do themselves.  He accuses them of false piety (vs. 5-7).  They act all religious in public but only to get people to marvel at them and hold them in high esteem.  He accuses them of blocking the path to heaven (vs. 13) and the list goes on:

  • vs. 14, Taking advantage of widows,
  • vs. 15, Pretend spirituality through long prayers,
  • Vs. 15, Instead of making Righteous converts, they create devils,
  • Vs. 17,19, Making foolish and Illogical rules,
  • Vs. 23, Bordering on O.C.D. when it came to tithing (a minor issue), but overlooking the main issues of the Law: Justice, Mercy, and Faith.
  • Vs. 25, Only look good, but inside they are full of evil.
  • Vs. 27, Appear good, but anyone who touches them become defiled.

In verse 29 Jesus begins to turn from rebuking them to revealing God's purpose through him.  The Pharisees prided themselves that they would never have killed the prophets.  But Jesus knew their hearts.  They were at best deceiving themselves.

You see, Israel was a nation in trouble.  A big percentage of the common people had given up on trying to serve the God of Israel and were living in ways that were unlawful.  The religious leaders did not care about the people, so long as they were able to keep their public image and power over the people.  Rome was appointing who was to serve politically, but it was also controlling who would be the religious power through appointing the High Priest.  Israel was a country that was at a boiling point.  A foreign power promoted wicked men.  The religious leaders colluded with this and demonstrated derision to the common man in order to have power.  The nation was falling apart.  In this environment zealots and rebels also took to arming themselves and conducting terrorist style warfare against Rome's troops.  Is this beginning to sound familiar?  Conspiracies and Conspiracy theories abounded throughout the land as the people groaned under the results of their own sin.  But here is Jesus and he tells the Pharisees that they are going to "Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers' guilt." (Vs. 32). 

What does he mean by that?  In fact he references a coming judgment in two more places: vs. 33-
"how will you escape the condemnation of hell," and vs. 35, "on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth."  Jesus makes it unavoidably clear that not only is judgment coming, but that there is a collective guilt upon the nation, both amongst those living and with the past.  The reference to filling up the measure of their father's guilt is the picture of a measuring cup.  Their father's sin had put a certain amount in the cup, but it wasn't full yet.  More than likely their grandfathers had also contributed a certain portion.  Jesus states that this is the generation that will "fill up" the cup.  What happens when it is full?  Much like a recipe that calls for a certain amount of something, so judgment is not ready until a certain measure of guilt has ocurred.   This is mentioned to Abraham in Genesis 15:16.  God already knew how wicked the Amorite/Canaanite people would become.  That is why he is telling Abraham (Abram) that the land would be given to his descendants.  However, the sin of the Amorites was not yet full.  Whatever the measure God uses, he does not judge until the measure of sin reaches a certain level.  What is that level?  Is it the same for every nation?  Most likely God would hold a nation like Israel who had his law more accountable than a nation like Rome or Bablylon.  Thus God gives each nation an "arc" of time.  The parabolic shape of an arrow's flight is much like that of a nation.  Throughout that flight the collective sin of the nation weighs it down until it reaches a certain measure, at which time it lands on the ground and its flight is over.  What about America?  Is our flight over?  Jesus was warning the Pharisees that they would be responsible for ending the flight of Israel.  Of course this was prophesied by more than one prophet and sets up the miracle of Modern Israel.  God had promised that though he scattered Israel to the ends of the earth, he would regather her before the end of this age.  Are we filling up the measure of the cup of judgment for ourselves?  Are we satisfying the recipe for disaster?  By all biblical measures the USA is increasing its collective guilt before God.  How will we escape the condemnation of God's judgment?

On top of this is the greater collective judgment of the whole world.  Just as God will judge nations individually, so there is a great judgment of the who earth.  We are not just filling the cup of our nation's sin, but we are also filling the larger cup of this world's sin.  Rome was judged but the world went on.  Hitler's Germany was judged, but the world moves on.  However that cup of global judgment is getting fuller and fuller.  We make a choice in life to align with God and promote righteousness or join with the rebels of every nation and of every generation in promoting wickedness.

This impasse for the believer is a critical one.  For it is exactly at this crossroads that a righteous man proves he truly is righteous.  Yes, Jesus rebuked the religious leaders, but that is a small part of the overall purpose of Jesus.  Notice that as he reaches this climax of rebuking the religious leaders, something switches.  Jesus begins to lament and speak to not just the religious leaders, but to Israel as a whole, both present and past and by extension we can hear him pleading with all mankind.

God's Heart of Sorrow and Mercy for the Repentant

 Starting in Verse 37, Jesus begins to weep over the condition of his people and his nation.  Because he is God in human flesh, he speaks from God's point of view.  How often God had wanted to gather the people of Israel together and protect them from the sins that were exposing them.  The people of Israel were scattered, plundered, harassed, and preyed upon both in the natural and in the spiritual.  God had been faithful through previous prophets to warn Israel and attempt to lead them away from the fate they were now encountering. 

2 Peter 3:9, "The Lord is ... longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."

Even those who would not repent were the objects of his weeping.  Why?  Why will you die?  Any parent who has had a child go over the top of all reason and warning in order to perish through sin and wickedness can understand this cry. Why will you die?  How often Jesus had tried to protect them like a mother hen protecting her chicks.  The chicks are ignorant of the dangers and too weak to protect themselves.  But they were not willing!  The people of Israel were like rebellious chicks that refused to come under the protection of God.  Instead they willfully exposed themselves and ran from their God into sure destruction.

Ezekiel 33:11, ‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’

Clearly God is broken over those who refuse to repent.  His desire is to give grace, but we must be repentant in order to receive grace.  Is America repentant?  Not right now.  In fact many "christians" persist in pretending that Grace covers sin when we are not repentant.  Many "christians" persist in "redefining" what is good and right in contradiction to God's word.  And, of course, many pretend under the guise of being a Christian to satisfy the evil desires in their heart.

If Christians are to follow Jesus than we need to first repent of our own personal sin.  We then need to lament the destruction that sin is bringing upon our people.  Out of that brokenness we should rebuke those who know better, and give grace to those who do not.  But how is grace given?  Grace is given when I die that you may live.  None of us can die in the manner of Jesus.  He was perfect and obtained salvation for all who believed on him.  I can't obtain salvation for someone, but I can introduce them to Jesus.  If people around me are going to find the grace of God they are only going to do it if I learn to die to my selfish self.  Am I the voice of God pleading with the lost that they need not perish?  Or am I a pharasaical voice condemning them to hell without real concern?  Am I a zealot who selfishly thinks "so-and-so" must die so that this nation can live?  Or do I see how I need to die so that my children or spouse may live?  In short we are called to love them.  Love lays down its life so that others may live.

I challenge you today, if you want to fight for our nation, then ask God how you need to lay your life down for those in your life.  Once you have brought life to them then he may expand your circle of influence.  However, until then, continue to be a faithful voice demonstrating the brokenness of God to a generation plunging into destruction.

I can tell you this.  Judgment will come to America.  Only God knows when.  But we have known too much truth of God in our history for it to be very long.  No, I believe that God's list of nations that need judged has the "Christian" nations of the West at the top, because we know too much to be living the way we have and are.

Audio: Fighting for our Nation