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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Beware of False Teachers



 

Beware of False Teachers

The book of Jude

 

 

Jude, a short New Testament book in the Bible, seems to have been written for just one purpose – the purpose of urgently warning Christian believers to stay away from false teachers!  And the book of 2nd Peter was also written for that same reason.  The Bible calls these false teachers, “wolves in sheep’s clothing”.  (Matt. 7:15)

 

Our most holy Faith in Christ is a living thing, -so costly, so precious – called a Pearl of great price in Scripture. (Matt.13:46)   And because our faith is so valuable – so holy –of course it is under constant attack from the enemy.  We must protect what we have.  Guard what is ours.  Stand lest we fall. (1 Cor. 10:12)  Jude starts out by begging believers “to contend earnestly for the Faith, which was once for all delivered to the saints.”  (Jude 3b)

 

Jude warns believers that crafty false teachers will secretly infiltrate Christian groups to try to undermine or reinvent the faith of Gods’ people.  Change our faith around to fit their wishes.  Here it is in Scripture: “For certain people have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for condemnation, ungodly people, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and they deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (Jude 4)

 

Jude has only harsh things to say about wolves in sheep’s clothing. He describes these people as heretics who lack the Spiritual insight to recognize the truth. Their knowledge is gained only by their brute senses.  So they scoff at the Truth and have no respect for God.  “But they speak evil of whatever they do not know: and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves. “  (Jude 10) 

 

Jude goes on railing against false teachers.  “Woe to them!  For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit,…” (Jude 11)  Here Jude compares false teachers to two rebellious biblical characters. Cain murdered his brother, Abel.  And Balaam was offered money to curse Israel.  After God forbade the curse, Balaam enticed Israel to sin. (Num 22-24)  

 

Jude continues against persons who would overthrow our holy Faith:  “These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves.  They are clouds without water…” (Jude 12)  The “love feasts” are thought to be the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist and Gnostic heretics during Jude’s time tried to turn these feasts into gluttonous orgies, perverting their purpose.  Jude calls these false teachers “clouds without water,” - that is, they promise spiritual refreshment, but don’t deliver.

 

“These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts: and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage.  These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.”  (Jude 16, 19)  Jude continues to make the point that these false teachers do not have the Holy Spirit.

 

False teachers were around back in Jude’s time and unfortunately they are with us now.  So who are they? – these ones who try to change or water down the Christian faith?  First of all, watch what a false teacher does with Jesus Christ.  Scripture says: “Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Holy Spirit of God can call Jesus accursed, and no one (speaking from the heart) can say that Jesus is Lord except by this Holy Spirit.”  (1 Cor. 12:3)  A false teacher will try to undermine the Lordship of Jesus – make Him into something else – a new and different Jesus - a super star or a great man or?  Anything but who He really is – God the Son, the Savior, the Light of the World!

 

Mormonism teaches that “Jesus was man’s spiritual brother (the result of the Father’s intercourse with His Eternal Wife before the earth was formed) but became a god, not equal to the Father, after his death, ascension, and exaltation. (The Gospel Through the Ages, 1958, p.21).  Our Christian faith and the Bible teach that Jesus Christ presented Himself to men as Eternal God during His earthly ministry. (John 5:18; 10:30-33) 

 

Mormonism also teaches: “Christ, before his earthly ministry, was the first spirit child born to the Heavenly Father and Mother.” (Mormon Doctrine, pp.278, 589)  Our Christian faith and the Bible teach that Christ is Eternal God, not the product of a conception. (John 1:1-2)  He is part of the Trinity.

 

Mormonism teaches:  People are saved for eternal life by:  “all of the laws, principles, rites, ordinances, acts, powers, authorities, and keys necessary to exalt men in the highest heaven hereafter.”  (Mormon Doctrine, p.331)  But our Christian faith and the Bible teach that we have the gift of salvation because Christ died for our sins.  We accept what He did for us.  (John 3:16)  (1 Cor. 15:1-8) 

 

We are not saved through laws (Romans 3:19-24) or ordinances (Cor. 2:16-17) or works (Titus 3:5-7).  “For by grace we are saved through faith, and not of ourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works lest any person should boast.”  (Ephesians 2:8-9)  It’s that simple!  

 

False teachers make it complicated -often teach a strict legalistic doctrine.  Their heresy often goes like this -- that we must save ourselves by going to church, or doing certain works, saying certain liturgies or whatever in order to be saved from our sins. Since they have rejected the Biblical Jesus – the Son of God and Savior – they have to get to heaven by their own works. Watch out for legalism!

 

The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus was a perfect man but that He is a person distinct from God the Father.  They teach that Michael the archangel became the Messiah, not Jesus.  They believe that Jesus is mighty but not almighty as God the Father is.  According to John 1:1 in their Bible, The New World Translation, Jesus is “a god”, but not “God.”  The Jehovah’s Witnesses do not read our Bible.  They changed their Bible around to fit with their own teachings.  In our Bible John 1:1 reads: “In the beginning was the Word (Jesus), and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”  This first chapter of John continues to describe Jesus Christ and then in verse 14 it says: “And the Word (Jesus) became flesh and lived among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  The Jehovah’s Witnesses can’t deal with the real Jesus of the Bible – the One who is the Son of God and Savior. 

 

The deity of Christ is taught in Scripture.  In Matthew 1:23 Christ is called “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.” We are to confess Jesus as Lord (Rom.10:9: 1 Cor. 12:3).  “Lord” in these verses is Kurios, which is the Greek word for Jehovah in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament.  It is evident from this that Christ the Lord (kurios) is Jehovah God. 

 

The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ knows all things (John 1:48; 2:25: 6:64: 14:30: 21:17) He is all powerful (Matt. 28:18) Heb 1:3) sinless (John 8:46) eternal (mic.5:2) and unchanging (Heb. 13:8).  Only God possesses these attributes.  Jesus is God the Son. 

 

The Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses are only two of many religious groups – cult groups that are not Christian. They do not worship the Jesus Christ that we worship – the Jesus of the Bible.  Mormons say some of the same words that we say – but these words have completely different meanings.  Jude warns us against these dangerous false teachers.

 

But there are false teachers in our churches, teaching in our Sunday school classes and sitting next to us in our pews. They announce that they are Christian, but watch what they do to Jesus Christ!  They do not acknowledge Him as Son of God and Savior and laugh at the rest of us who do.  Are these just folks who have honest doubts? -  folks you can encourage in the faith?  Or are they unbelievers who don’t know the good news of God’s grace and may be open to it someday? Or are these ones in our churches to spread harmful doctrines that could turn some away from the Christian faith?  Over and over Jude calls false teachers “scoffers who do not have the Holy Spirit”. (Verses 17 and 19) They scoff at or lack reverence for God’s holy Truth.  Their lack of reverence for the Lord may give them away.

 

 A friend of ours attended a Christian group where the leaders served coke and cookies instead of the bread and the wine for the Eucharist.  When our friend complained that this showed a lack of respect for the body and blood of our Lord, these leaders laughed at her.  These false teachers mock us perhaps because they lack humility – a gift of the Spirit.  A true Christian (a believer who has the Holy Spirit) will wear a spirit of humility.  Jude reminds the believers in his day who were surrounded by false teachers to “build yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit.”(Verse 20)  

 

We believe that Jude was inspired by God.  These warnings are given to us by God not to scare us but to remind us of the part we are to play when we meet false teachers. We are to reject their teaching and “build ourselves up in our most holy faith, praying in the Spirit.”  (Verse 20)  But if we do our part we don’t need to worry, because God will do His part.  Jude ends this short book with what God will do to protect us from false doctrine.  And here it is.

 

“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.  To God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, Dominion and power, both now and forever.  Amen.”  (Jude 24-25)   We don’t have to be afraid since we are reminded of the infinite resources of God, who alone is competent to keep us from falling away from our faith in this life and bring us faultless to Himself in heaven when our time on earth is over. We have a great and powerful God and He has us covered.       

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

   

 


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Joy to the World




Joy to the World

 

 

We hear the sounds of joy ringing out from every direction when we read the story of that first Christmas in the Bible.  At Jesus’ birth Mary cannot hold back her joy as she sings her Magnificat; “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior… (Luke 1:46)

 

 Zechariah, the priest and father of John the Baptist, when he hears the good news, is filled with great joy and praises God with these words “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has blessed His people and redeemed them.  He has raised up a mighty Savior for us in the house of His servant David.”  (Luke 2:26)

 

 And when Simeon, a devout old man sees the baby Jesus in the temple with Mary and Joseph he bursts into joyful praise:  “Lord, let your servant depart in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all people.  A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”  (Luke 2:29-32)  The Holy Spirit had shown Simeon that this baby was Israel’s’ Messiah.

 

On the night that Jesus was born, even Heaven celebrates with joy. In the fields near Bethlehem where shepherds were keeping their sheep “an angel of the Lord stood before the shepherds, and the glory of the Lord shone all around them…”  And then many angels filled the sky and burst forth with songs and praises to God and with the good news of great joy to the shepherds of the birth of their Savior.  (Luke 2:9-10).

 

The stories of that first Christmas are not only filled with great joy, but also with hints of persecution.  Herod plots to kill the baby Jesus.  There is resistance by this world’s rulers to the coming of the kingdom of God in Christ.  Two completely different kingdoms. The kingdom of Rome, like all worldly kingdoms that rule with wars and might, money and power and then the kingdom of God, a heavenly kingdom that rules with the Spirit, and with righteousness, love and peace.  So when Jesus comes ushering in the kingdom of heaven, persecution and murderous resistance follow not far behind.  So Christmas (Jesus) brings joy and persecution.  It did so then, and it does so now.

 

There were many people who had a role to play in that first Christmas long ago.  And also our Christmas today – Jesus entering our world – raises challenging questions for each of us too? Who are we in these stories? Each of us has a part!  What do we do when Jesus enters our world? Are we like the Magi who follow the star and refuse to go along with the ruler’s plot to find the baby Jesus and harm Him?  Or are we like Herod, threatened by Jesus’ coming and willing to use any means necessary to get rid of Him?  Could we be like the shepherds who listened to the angels and visited the baby Jesus?  Or maybe we are the inn keepers in Bethlehem who had no room for Him when He was born on that cold wintry night? Are we the soldiers who followed Herod’s orders and tried to kill the baby Jesus?  Or are we among those who yearn for the coming of the kingdom of justice and peace and so we yearn for the coming of Jesus?  What part do we play?     

 

A thousand year old Christmas hymn reads:  “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here. Until the Son of God appear.”  In this ancient song we are Israel – in exile, captive, mourning, lonely, longing.  Israel’s longing is a picture also of human longing.  But the chorus of this hymn goes: “Rejoice! Rejoice!  Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”  We experience both longing and rejoicing as we make room for Jesus in our lives-as He is born in our hearts.  And we share the longing and the rejoicing of a Christmas past now in the Christmas present.  And there will also be a Christmas future.    

 

The stories of the first Christmas are about the present as well as the past.  The first stanza of the Christmas carol “Joy to the World” reads: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” The words are “the Lord is come”, not “the Lord has come” because Christmas is about the coming in the present of the Lord who also came long ago in the past.  Jesus comes again each Christmas.  The purpose of Advent and of celebrating Christmas is to bring the past into the present.

 

Another stanza in this carol reads: “Let every heart prepare Him room”.  We “prepare Him room” in our hearts by repenting of our sins. Advent is a season to prepare for Jesus to fill our hearts by repenting. And in another Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” the words ring out: “O holy Child of Bethlehem …be born in us today.”  Christmas is about the birth of Christ within us through the union of God’s Spirit with our flesh. Christ was born in Bethlehem on that first Christmas long ago and Christ waits to be born in our hearts today.  Will we prepare Him room?

 

 

 

Many of the words and ideas in this blog were taken from the last chapter, p. 227-244 of Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan’s book, “The First Christmas”.     


Saturday, December 15, 2012

How Our Thoughts Are Important In Keeping The Peace




 How Our Thoughts Are Important In Keeping The Peace

 

 

Jesus promises His followers a gift – the gift of peace.  “My peace I give you, my peace I leave for you, not as the world gives, give I unto you….” (John 14:27)   The gift of peace is also one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that is promised to believers.  And all through the Bible God promises peace to those who love Him.  But when darkness moves in to surround our souls and pain and trouble threaten to harm our lives, can we still hold on to the peace that has been given to us?

 

So how do we hold on to this promised peace anyway?  There are such scary things going on in our world that it is no wonder we often become worried and anxious.  But God tells us not to worry but to change our thought patterns.  Change our thought patterns?  God cares about our thoughts? Scripture says: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” (Romans 12:2)  New thoughts come from new perspectives.  We don’t have to live by the world’s fearful perspectives since we have been born again into the kingdom of heaven and have been given new perspectives.  

 

So how do we break old thought habits and  start living into our new perspectives of hope and trust in God?  First of all we need to know Gods’ Word.  Isaiah 55:10-11 says that when Gods’ Word is sent out it does not return empty.  In other words, it is powerful and does a job – makes a difference wherever it goes.  So we need to let Gods’ Word do a job in our thought lives -  think over life situations and problems with scripture to guide our thought process. And stand on (believe) the promises in the Bible that are there for us.  Allow God’s Word to be a light to guide our thoughts.  

 

In His Word God promises to take care of us, forgive our sins, answer our prayers, and gives us victory in the end.  He promises to make every situation work out (eventually) to the good for us if we love Him. (Rom 8:28) When we look at our problems with God in the picture we get a new perspective. We are to exchange the old ways of worrying for the new ways of trusting in Christ.  We are to look at life through Gods’ truths.  Our thought patterns are all important. Scripture says: “As a person thinks in his heart, so is he.”  (Proverbs 23:7)

 

Scripture teaches that with Gods’ help we can accept or refuse thoughts – choose constructive or destructive thoughts. Instead of being held hostage by old hopeless thought patterns, we can learn new hopeful ones.  To have peace in our lives we will need to refuse sinful thoughts and meditate on Biblical truths.  Scripture says: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  (2 Cor. 10:5)

 

Isn’t this scripture asking us to take every thought we have and make it be obedient to Christ?  How do we do that?   This Biblical request is an invitation for us to try to follow –however imperfectly.  As we try to obey we may take two steps forward and one step backward.  We may fail as many times as we succeed at this.  But we are to keep on trying  – keep on working to make our thought life obedient to Him. Let’s see how it might work out in real life.

 

We once knew a Christian man – let’s call him Paul – who tried (imperfectly) to respond to his troubles by looking at them with the new perspective – the perspective of seeing things through the truths in Scripture.  Paul was a pastor and his small church was not able to pay him very much.  He and his wife Sue and their family lived in a small apartment and he drove an old car.  Paul’s wealthy parents were disappointed that Paul had become a pastor.  They had wanted him to become a successful businessman and make money. The parents were embarrassed that their son drove an old car.  Year after year Paul’s mother criticized him for being a “failure”, causing Paul to criticize his mother back for being so critical of him in the first place.  These hurtful exchanges stole the peace from Paul’s life and kept him irritated.

 

When Paul and Sue’s children grew up, Paul’s mother announced that she and Paul’s father were changing their will and leaving their wealth to the grandchildren only.  They would skip over Paul and Sue since they were losers anyway. Several of the children began to agree with Paul’s mother.  Since Paul and Sue did not have a big bank account, they were not important. Again Paul was hurt and angry. He tried harder to impress his mother and please his children –but to no avail.  Anger and frustration left Paul with no peace. 

 

 Time passed by and one of the grown children stopped speaking to Paul and Sue.  Paul parents seemed to encourage the son in his decision to cut off his parents.  Desperation set in for Paul and Sue as they tried again and again but failed to regain contact with their grown son.  Up to this point Paul still viewed these family problems through the eyes of this world.   Anger and bitterness took over his thoughts concerning his parents and son and he had no peace.

 

More years passed with the son and his family hardly speaking to Paul and Sue.  The devastated couple began praying and  asking God to change their son and restore the relationship they had once had with him. Paul and Sue knew that it is Gods’ will that families have good relationships so they believed that God would answer their prayers (eventually) and that their son would come back and have a relationship with them someday.  This gave them some peace – even if this prayer wouldn’t be answered until the distant future.  They could count on God to answer this prayer and they clung to this hope for their family.

 

Gradually Paul realized that the people who hurt his feelings– his parents and his son – were not the real ones that were against him.  Ephesians 6:12 reads:  “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  This was perhaps a trial that he must bear.  This helped Paul have some peace and stop blaming his family and himself.  He acknowledged that the problem was over his head and he kept giving the situation to God whenever it bothered him.  This gave him some peace.

 

Paul and Sue often cried on each other’s shoulder about their family problems.  Sue would remind Paul about the latest hurtful remark from the mother or Paul would count out the number of years it had been since they had last seen their son.  Dwelling on the negative seemed to keep Paul and Sue feeling hopeless about a solution.  But one day Paul read Philippians 4:8 and he suggested that he and Sue start thinking and talking about the good things about the mother and son.  And they would latch on to the good news that they could trust God to answer their prayers for reconciliation with family.  Playing down their problems and concentrating on Gods’ faithfulness and the good in their lives would help give them peace.  And it did.  

 

The scripture that Paul quoted was: “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy, think on these things.”  (Philippians 4:8)  As Paul and Sue reminded one another about the good times they had had with the mother in the past and the good qualities that their son had they felt more hopeful.  And they continued to remind one another that God was taking care of everything.    

 

Paul gave his anger to God and started doing what he could to love his rejecting family.  And God gave him a new view of things – a new perspective.  Paul could see that God would take care of everything.  Paul could let go and have some peace.  He remembered the words of Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” He promised himself and God that he would appreciate the good in his mother and refuse to let her criticisms make him angry.  This resolve gave him peace where before he had allowed the criticisms to keep him upset.   

 

Eventually Paul’s parents grew old and needed help. Paul and Sue were there loving them and taking care of their needs.  Paul’s mother began to mellow and she complained because her criticisms didn’t bother Paul anymore. And then finally the son began to reach out to Paul and Sue after thirty years of rejection. 

 

Surely God will finish the healing of Paul and Sues’ family ties, if not on earth then definitely in heaven.  It took time for Paul and Sue to learn to trust God.  Time to “take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor.10:5)  At first they would feel helpless when they couldn’t solve their problems themselves.  But finally they  learned to believe that God was working behind the scenes.  And then because they trusted God they had peace in the midst of their trouble.

 

Without trust in God, Paul and Sue could not have struggled through this long trial without giving up.  And without trust in God we can not go though our trials without giving up either.  Because we serve a mighty God we never have to give up on anything that is good in our lives.  Let’s get our thoughts in line with Gods’ promises – His truths.  And we will enjoy the good life – and we will have peace in the midst of our troubles.

 

“And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  (Phil.4:7)    

 

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Your Sin is Worse Than My Sin

                                                             Your Sin is Worse Than My Sin 
 
To some Evangelical Christians, divorce, and subsequent remarriage, is pretty close to being an unpardonable sin.  On the other hand, homicide, if the murderer is appropriately penitent, is acknowledged by the same people as eminently forgivable. Christians appear to have a need to develop a hierarchy of sins.
 
The author grew up a Roman Catholic – I became an Evangelical Protestant as a young man.  During the Roman Catholic phase of my life I encountered my first experience with the practice of ranking sins from not too bad to awful.  The Roman Church holds to the differential of venial verses mortal sins. If you did not confess a mortal sin to a priest and receive absolution, you would no longer be in “a state of Grace” and hence, you could not partake in the sacraments of the church. Worse yet, if you were to die with an unconfessed mortal sin on your soul you would be in danger of going to hell.  On the other hand, a venial sin is not nearly as dreadful as a mortal sin. You can remain in a state of grace while committing venial sins and still receive the sacraments.  Better yet, an unconfessed venial sin will not send you to hell if you die. However, it will add to the time you will have to spend in purgatory. The Roman Church has lists of sins which provide their members with guidance about specific aspects of sin.  Interestingly, within the last year, The Catholics have developed an I phone app (Confession: A Roman Catholic App), to help their believers navigate the sin / confessional matrix.
 
When I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior, I thought I had passed beyond the bondage of sin differentiation into the joy of freedom in Christ (cf. John 8:36).  Alas, I soon I realized that Evangelical Christianity has its own sin ranking system.  Too be sure, it is not as formalized as the Roman Church’s, but it is still very evident. Furthermore, it appears that some evangelical sins wax and wane depending on the cultural epoch.  Take for instance the sins of adultery and fornication.  There was a time, not too long ago, when almost every state in the Union, considered adultery to be a felonious crime.  One could go to jail for having an extramarital relationship.  Obviously, this sin has been in sharp declination of importance within the general culture, as well as in the evangelical sin hierarchy. One has only to notice the marital history of various political candidates, who have been supported by many evangelicals, to witness the diminished importance of this sin.
 
Likewise, there was a time when Evangelical churches taught their young people about the dangers of fornication, which was considered to be a serious sin. Around 1970, that began to rapidly change. Within the general culture the idea of fornication as a sin is now an almost ludicrous notion.  It has now become normative for couples to sleep with each other shortly after meeting. There does not appear to be much difference between Evangelicals and non-believers in terms of such sexual conduct.  To be sure, some Fundamentalists have tried to eliminate dating and switch to things like herd-dating.  Likewise, virginity pledge endeavors, such as “True Love Waits,” are another attempt to call Christians back to keeping sex within the framework of marriage.  Unfortunately such efforts seem to have little effect upon the current sexual behavior of Christians in this society.
 
The sins ranked at the awful level for contemporary Evangelicals appear to be abortion and homosexuality. These have drawn a huge amount of attention, especially during the recent political campaign.  While these behaviors are Biblically offensive to God, are they worse than an economic system that allows the poor and powerless to be savaged?  Certainly there is relatively little said in the Bible about homosexuality and abortion, compared to the substantial number of passages that relate to the mistreatment of the poor and the powerless. Indeed, if you regard the implications of just Matthew 25:24-46 alone (I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, etc.), it would seem our lack of concern for the poor is considered to be a really major offense by God.  
 
The point is not about which sins are worse – rather it is why we rank them at all.  Obviously, all sin is offensive to our holy God. Many of us rank sin largely to satisfy the pharisaical urge to be better than others.  Consider the two men that Jesus refers to in Luke 18:9-14.  One is a self-righteous Pharisee who tells God in prayer how much better he is then assorted criminals and a nearby tax collector.  The tax collector – who the Pharisee referred to – stood off at a distance, beat his breast and earnestly said, “God have mercy on me a sinner.” Jesus finishes this parable by noting that it is the tax collector who is justified by God.
 
Sin is a part of the human condition; the Bible is very clear about this. Saint Paul points out in Romans that, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (3:23). Likewise we are told that “If we say that we are without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8). So sin is inescapable, even in the lives of those who believe in Christ.  Then, to complicate this, Jesus says that “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). But we can’t seem to keep his commandments, so we sin. Does this mean we don’t love Jesus?   God has given us a way out of this in by telling us that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).  So we are back into a love relationship with God. But – wait a minute – does this mean that since we are continually sinning that we have to continual be confessing our sins, in fear that God will no longer love us?
 
This is where the love of God comes in, and it’s a two-way street.  God is not an old man in a nightgown who is out to zap us when we fail. Consider the parable of the prodigal son
(Luke 15: 11-32).  The son uses up his inheritance in really depraved, sinful circumstances.  When he hits rock bottom he goes back to his father in shame and defeat. Amazingly, the father is jubilant at his return and welcomes him back with delight. Wow!  This is what God is all about with us.
 
God really, really loves us in ways that we simply cannot comprehend.  God just wants us to love Him in return.  If we love Him and spend time with Him each day, he will show us our sins and help us to grow past them.  As God exposes our sins in love, our job is to confess them and try to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This should be a part of the normal Christian walk, an experience of joy in the Lord, rather than that of dread.  Thank you Lord for the joy of our salvation!
 
Note, the author of this piece was Brendan Furnish
 
 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Gift for You



A Gift for You

 

 

Jesus has given us a gift- the gift of peace.  This is what He said as He left us this gift.  “My peace I leave you: my peace I now give you.  Not as the world gives do I give this to you.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”  (John 14:27)   Again and again throughout the Bible we find many scriptures that promise us that this special peace is ours, and that God has us covered. We are not to be afraid or to worry – just trust God.

 

When I first read Jesus’ words promising this gift of peace to believers, I hoped that a bundle of peace would just drop on top of me and I would automatically feel calm, cool and collected.  But that didn’t happen!  Even though trusting in God has brought me a lot of peace, I still worry about many things. I want to trust God all the time and not just part of the time, but when things go wrong I still react with fear. I believe, Lord help my unbelief.  Perhaps you are like me and don’t enjoy all of God’s peace all of the time. And being anxious and fearful even part of the time is miserable enough to make us want to learn to trust God and enjoy His peace all the time!     

 

So my question is, what do we need to do to stop being anxious and fearful?  How can we trust God all of the time instead of just part of the time? What is our part?  Scripture says to “Seek and we shall find” (Matthew 7:7) so we can search the Scriptures and ask God for answers.  

 

We read in Exodus 33:12-14 that Moses was worried and fearful about how he would be able to do the job that God had commanded him to do.  God had asked Moses to lead the children of Israel across the desert to the Promised Land.  A big undertaking!  And Moses was afraid and worried.  Who would go with Moses to help?  What route would he take across the desert?  What supplies should he take along?  How would the people get water to drink in that vast dry desert? How would the people believe him and follow him out of Egypt in the first place? Would Pharaoh let them go? He was up tight and anxious and asked God to map out all of the details for him in advance.  But God didn’t do that.  God answered Moses with these words: “My Presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.”  (Exodus 33:14) 

 

God did not answer his many questions. The fact that God was with Moses was all that he needed.  And what was true for Moses is also true for us. As much as we would like to know all the answers to our problems and how everything will turn out, all we really need to know is that God’s Presence will be with us wherever He sends us.(Isaiah 41:10)  We keep our eyes on Him and not on our troubles.  If things don’t work out the way we want, we have to stay calm and trust Him to show us what to do.  Gods’ timetable and His ways are not ours. In the end God will work everything out for good.  (Romans 8:28) 

 

If we learn to lean on God and remember that He is always with us, we will have peace.  And if we come to Jesus with our problems we will find rest.   Jesus asks us to come to Him.  “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle and humble and you will find rest for your souls.  (Matthew 11:28-29)  And Isaiah 41:10 says: “Fear not for I am with you, be not dismayed for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you, with the right hand of my righteousness.” So we will enjoy our gift of peace more when we learn to lean on God and develop a childlike attitude of faith.  Rest in the arms of the Lord and let Him manage your life.

 

Psalm 63:7 reads:  “For You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings will I rejoice.”  Joyce Meyer writes about being under the shadow of Gods’ wings in her book “Be Anxious for Nothing.”  She says that a shadow is a shade, a protection from the heat or the sun. The shadow also has borders around it between the light and the shadow.  We are either in the shadow of something or we are not. 

 

She continues that as long as we choose to remain under the shadow of God’s wings, we will be comfortable and protected. But we can choose to walk out from under those wings. When we drive down the highway, as long as we stay within the dividing lines between lanes and obey the signposts along the road, we are in much less danger of being involved in a accident.  In the spiritual realm, the “lines and signs” that keep us on the way of the Lord and out of danger are obedience and trust in God. As long as we place our trust and confidence in the Lord and try to obey Him, He will keep us under the shadow of His wings. 

 

Another thing we need to do in order to enjoy a peaceful life is to learn some self control.  It’s impossible to have a peaceful life (the good life) when we don’t control our emotions. One of the gifts of the Spirit is self control.  Galatians 5:22-23 reads:  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control …”  See, it’s in there as one of the helps (talents) that we receive when we believe in Jesus. So God has already given us help (a talent) in managing our emotions.  It may be difficult but we need to learn to use what we already have and ask God for more help if needed.

 

You may be saying; “Wait a minute!  When I am upset I can’t control my emotions!”  I have a difficult time controlling mine too.  But scripture says that we can!  “By your steadfastness and patient endurance you shall win the true life of your souls.”(Luke 21:19)  And the King James Version of this verse reads, “In your patience, possess ye your souls.”  This scripture is saying that with patience we can “possess our souls” and not panic and not fly into a rage.  We can ask God to help us win this battle and He will be there with His help and strength.  

 

Scripture also says: “Be anxious in nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication make your requests known to God, and the peace of God which passes understanding will keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.”(Phil.4:6) This scripture is telling us that whenever a problem comes up not to worry but instead to pray.  To always replace anxiety with prayer.  “Cast all your care on Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

 

We also lose our precious peace when we get angry. Scripture says: “When angry, do not sin: do not let your anger last until the sun goes down.  Leave no foothold for the devil.”  (Ephesians 4:26-27)  One of the ways that we lose the peace that Jesus gave us is by not forgiving people who have offended us or angered us.  We will get angry but we are told not to sin when we do.  We are not to let the sun go down on our anger – in other words we are not to stay angry and hold resentments.  We are to quickly forgive and move on. 

 

We are to go to the one who made us angry (or who we made angry) and do what we can to make things right.  If we are unable to do that we are to forgive them in our hearts and never hold a grudge. Never gossip about them to others or harm their reputations.  God will be there to help us forgive even if we have to keep coming back to Him for help. 

 

Each time we pray the Lord’s Prayer we ask God to “forgive us our sins as we forgive others of their sins” (Matthew 6:9)   Since God has forgiven us of our sins He commands us His children to forgive also.  We will never have the gift of peace in our lives if we hold onto unforgiveness.  In fact holding on to unforgiveness will make us miserable.  Do not give the devil a foothold by holding onto unforgiveness.  

 

We have been given this wonderful gift – the gift of peace.  But part of our peace gift may still be wrapped up and un-opened.  Most of us are only enjoying part of our peace part of the time.  We learn that it may take time and practice to trade our anxieties for prayer.  And it may take patience and endurance (Luke 21:19) to gradually develop a childlike attitude of faith in God.  It may take time to learn to rest in the arms of the Lord.  And prayer and effort to learn to forgive.

 

 Let’s be patient with ourselves as we keep on learning to use our gift. Let’s cast all our cares on God and turn our back to our old worrying ways. We have been given this marvelous gift of peace - so let’s not let it go to waste.  If we had been given a million dollars we wouldn’t leave it sitting on the shelf.  And our gift of peace is worth much more than a million dollars.  So let’s start enjoying what we have!  

 

 

 

 

 

Some of these ideas were taken from Joyce Meyers’ book, “Be Anxious for Nothing.”


 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Monday, November 26, 2012

Give Me Oil In My Lamp Keep Me Burnihg




Give Me Oil in My Lamp Keep Me Burning

 

 

“Give Me Oil in My Lamp Keep Me Burning,” is the title of an old gospel spiritual.  In the song someone is asking God for the “oil” of the Holy Spirit to light up their lamp – or their life - and keep them “burning”.  I think they want to be on fire for their Lord!

 

 In describing a person who has new life in the Holy Spirit, Jesus said this: “The wind blows where it wishes: and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes.  So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  (John 3:8)  So since Jesus says that the Holy Spirit is like the wind, then it sounds like we can’t control it or make it go where we want it to go.

 

But then Jesus also said: “Most assuredly, unless a person is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  (John 3:5)   Jesus is saying here that along with water we need to have the Spirit in our lives to enter heaven.  So my question is:  If we must be born of the Spirit to enter heaven but we can’t control the Spirit, then how does the Spirit come into our lives?  Is there anything we can do to make that happen? 

 

Jesus gave us a story or parable in Matthew 25:1-13 about the importance of the  Spirit in our lives. The story begins with ten virgins who were planning to meet the  bridegroom and attend a lavish wedding feast. The ten virgins took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Jesus says that five of the virgins were wise and five were foolish.  The foolish ones left without any oil for their lamps, but the wise virgins remembered to take the oil.  The bridegroom was late so while the ten women were waiting for him to arrive they all fell asleep.  But at midnight they were awakened by someone calling out and announcing that the bridegroom would soon be there! 

 

The five who had no oil asked the five who had brought oil to share with them.  But the ones with the oil were afraid that there wouldn’t be enough to go around.  So the five without the oil ran off to the store to buy oil so they could light their lamps and meet the bridegroom. 

 

Alas, the five foolish virgins missed the bridegroom when he arrived since they had gone out to purchase oil.  And the five wise virgins carrying their lighted lamps joyously greeted the bridegroom and went with him into the place where the wedding would take place.  And then the door was shut.

 

Let’s read how this story ends.  “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’  But he answered, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’  Watch therefore, for you know not the day or the hour when the Son of Man is coming.”  (Matthew 15:11-13)

 

We have a sobering end to this story.  The bridegroom says, “I do not know you” to the five foolish virgins who did not bring any oil.  “Unless a person is born of the water and the Spirit (oil), he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.”  (John 5:8) The wedding feast represents the kingdom of heaven and without oil the foolish virgins didn’t make it.  Time was up and the door was shut.  A terrible ending!   

 

Oil is symbolic in Scripture of the Holy Spirit.  (Zeph. 4: Isa.61:1)  So in this story that Jesus tells us I believe that the oil represents the Holy Spirit. Outwardly the ten virgins all look the same.  They all act like they want to be a part of the wedding.  All ten make the trip to meet the bridegroom.  Say all the correct words.  Bring along their lamps.  If we could meet them would we be able to tell the wise ones from the foolish? – the real ones from the fake?  No, we would think these young women were all alike – all ten going in the same direction with the same purpose.    

 

But if we checked closer, the foolish five would not have oil (the Spirit) to light up their lamps (their lives?) or to light up the darkness around them. They might look good but there’s just something missing! Until the bridegroom is arriving they kick back and sleep and don’t seem to worry. Do they really need oil anyway? 

 

Aren’t they good enough on their own?  After all they are better than all of those other people who have messed up their lives.  These five are successful - the “makers” and not the “takers”. They go to church on Sunday and give their nice offerings and impress their friends.  They don’t drink and don’t chew.  Do good deeds and work hard.  Light candles and pass out fliers. Save money and drive the right car.  Life is complicated but they know the correct formula.  They have it all figured out so why would they need to worry about oil anyway? 

 

 And the other five virgins – the wise ones- the ones who bring oil to the wedding and seem to value it and hold onto it.  Worry that they could run out. Already this mysterious oil seems to be influencing their lives in ways that they can’t understand.  They don’t have things all figured out on their own so they wait for guidance.  Pray for help.

 

 And they do good deeds because they care about the people around them who are in need.  They go to church because they love to hear Gods’ Word.  They are humble and put others first.  And their mistakes and sins keep them running back to God for forgiveness.  But for these virgins who have the miracle oil, life is simple because they have the Answer – the Savior.  And the Savior has them and the oil He has given them lights their lives.  And they enter the wedding feast with the bridegroom because their lives are burning brightly with the oil of the Spirit.

 

What is Jesus trying to teach us when He tells this story- this parable about the ten virgins?  Why did five virgins have the oil and the other five did not?  How would one get the oil in the first place? 

 

It seems to me that Jesus told this story to teach us that having the Holy Spirit (the oil) in our lives is all important.  Scripture says: “There is a way that seems right to people, but the end thereof is the way of death.” (Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25)    We can go through the motions of living but if we aren’t lit up with the light of the Holy Spirit we are still walking around in our own power.  And that’s not good enough!   

 

So how do we receive this Spirit that comes and goes like the wind? Acts 2:38 says: “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins: and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  So there we have it!  We receive the Holy Spirit as a Gift when we repent (are sorry and turn from our sins) and when we accept Jesus into our lives.  When Jesus spoke those words: “ …Unless a person is born of the water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven”  (John 3:5)  He was saying the same thing.  When a person is “born of water” he repents (turns from his sin) and is cleansed of sin (is baptized in the water) as the necessary background for receiving the new life in Christ – given by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Maybe we aren’t always aware that we have the Holy Spirit (the oil) in our lives.  Maybe we forget that we have this wonderful Gift to guide and teach and comfort us along the way.  But Scripture teaches us that indeed we Christians do have the Holy Spirit in us. Let’s not quench the Spirit but instead make room in our lives for more of the Him. Let’s not hide our light under a bushel but instead open ourselves up so the Holy Spirit can light up our lives all the more. And we can be like the wise virgins and have our lamps lit and burning when the bridegroom comes.  And we can keep praying the same prayer and asking for the same oil that the singer asked for so long ago in the old gospel song,- the one that goes: “Give Me Oil In My Lamp, Keep Me Burning.”   

 

 

  

 

  

 

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