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Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Tem[ptation to Tolerate

The Temptation to Tolerate
In the book of Revelation, we read of Jesus in all His glory, appearing to John in a vision and giving him seven messages to write down and give to seven of His churches.  The year was approximately 95 A.D. and these early Christian churches were in the area of what is now modern Turkey. We can read in our Bibles in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, just what Jesus said to each of these seven churches.  Jesus is the Head of His Church (His followers) and I believe these messages and warnings are for all of His Church, then and now.     
How would we feel if our church received a letter or message sent directly from Jesus?  We would probably be very excited, and feel good when He praised us, but maybe not so good when He rebuked us.  And in His letters, Jesus rebuked two of the churches for being tolerant.  And for tolerating false teachers and not throwing them out of the church.   Are we, His modern Church sometimes too tolerant today when false teachings threaten our church? 
Haven’t we learned that being tolerant is a good thing?  We know we should be polite and take our turn and tolerate other people when we are in a crowd, or when we are driving on the road.  We know we need to forgive others and try to understand other viewpoints.  Be open minded, inclusive and flexible.  As followers of Christ we are called to be patient, kind, loving and merciful even with those who differ with us.  But our tolerance ends when we face evil.  Jesus rebukes and judges these two churches for being tolerant of the false teachers among them and for allowing them to harm the faith of the believers in their churches.
Let’s read some of what Jesus said to the church in Pergamum in Revelation 2:12-17.  Jesus introduces Himself this way: “These are the words of Him who has the sharp, two- edged sword.” His sword separates good from evil and separates those who are spiritually alive from those who are dead. Then, Jesus’ letter praises the Pergamum church for holding fast to His Name amidst persecution. But Jesus also rebukes the church for tolerating false teachings. (Revelation 2:14-15)
Terrible heresies had been allowed to come into the Pergamum church. False teachers had joined the church and had even been given leadership positions! These false teachers were teaching the church members that sexual immorality was good. And worshipping other gods in other religions was also good. The Pergamum church was allowing their church members to be taught to be tolerant of sexual immorality and idolatry.  New believers in Christ were being led astray.     

Jesus is very angry, and He calls for the Pergamum church to repent or He will war against them in righteous judgment. (Revelation 2:16) Jesus will reward the conquerors (those who resist) with hidden manna and a white stone with a new name.  Jesus is telling the Pergamum church and all Christian churches that when we take a stand for truth, we will receive a conqueror’s reward from Jesus. 
Now let’s read some of what Jesus said to the church in Thyatira in Revelation 2:18-29.  Jesus introduces Himself this way: “These are the words of the Son of God whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.” (Revelation 2:18) Jesus goes on to praise the church in Thyatira for their love, faith, service and patient endurance.  But then Jesus harshly rebukes the church for tolerating a false teacher, Jezebel, in their church.  Jezebel was promoting sexual sins right there at the altar!
Jesus calls for the church in Thyatira and for this woman to repent and stop spreading this sin and evil in their church.  If they do not repent and stop this evil, great suffering, disease and death will come to all those who follow this woman’s teaching and indulge in her sexual immorality. This will cause many little children to die, Jesus’ letter says. Sadly, innocent little ones often suffer for their parents’ sins. But all who conquer and keep Jesus’ Word until the end, Jesus promises that they will be given authority over the nations.  Holding fast to Jesus and not to false teachers leads to true ministry forever.
In these two letters from Jesus, along with many other Bible passages, we learn that God is a jealous God and He does not tolerate His children straying away from Him and worshipping other gods or other religions. (Exodus 20:3-6: the 1st and 2nd Commandment of the 10 Commandments) He is the only One we are to ever worship. We are to be His faithful witness.
 And God does not allow unrepented sexual immorality to go unpunished.  These sins, among others, are not to be tolerated in the church or there will be consequences.  We are to resist temptation by standing firm in Christ against heresies.  Tolerating false teachers in the church is often the first step toward disobedience.  We must pray for wisdom and boldness and hate what our Savior hates.   
Jesus tells both churches not to tolerate evil, even though the societies they live in will persecute them if they don’t tolerate it.  But Jesus calls them - and us- to hang on and hold fast to the Truth.  Jesus promises rewards to those who stay true to Him – the hidden manna and the white stone with a new name are His promised rewards.  And He also promises those who refuse to tolerate false teaching that they will have authority over the nations.
 Bible scholars suggest that Jesus is our hidden manna.  Our reward. He is the Bread of Life.  If we eat of Him, we live forever.  And the new name written down in Glory for us may mean that in heaven we are given new faith and new powers and talents, new strengths and new work along with our new eternal body. And Jesus tells the church in Thyatira that those who stay true to Him will be given “authority over the nations.”  If we are faithful over a few things here on earth, He will make us ruler over many things in Glory.
Jesus is telling His followers “You can do this.  You can be My light in a dark world.”  When we stay true to Him through persecution and sometimes even death, we become conquerors with Him.  And then we reign with Him!   

“…If we have died with Him (Jesus), we will also live with Him: if we endure, we will also reign with Him… (2 Timothy 2:11-12a)    .




Sunday, January 19, 2020

Rejoice, the Lord God Reigns

Rejoice, The Lord God Reigns
The declaration that the Lord reigns is the central claim in the Bible.  Psalm 99 is one of many psalms in Scripture that declares that God is holy, and He is the Almighty king.  And all the subjects of the heavenly king are called to bow in awe before their God, their King, their Creator, heavenly Father and Redeemer. 
Throughout the Scriptures God has many more names. The Scriptures call Him our Protector and our Shepherd, our Refuge and our Judge.  And He is also a Warrior.  The warrior image of God and the references to the Christian life as a war/battle is a constant in the Bible, (Revelation 17:14: 2 Corinthians 10:3-4, Ephesians 6:11-17, Exodus 15:3) 
The Holy Scriptures tell us that God is a warrior who defends His people with vigor against their enemies.  Psalm 98:1b-2 states: “His right hand and His holy arm have gotten victory.  The Lord has made know His victory: He has revealed His vindication in the sight of the nations.”  (Psalm 98:1b-2)  
And many passages throughout Scripture command us to not strike back at an enemy for wrongs they have done against us or harm they have caused to us.  Scripture says that our job is to forgive, and God’s job is to judge and avenge or punish. Romans 12:19 says: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
All the kings of the world have faults, but our God and king has no faults.  He is holy, pure, good, merciful, loving, just and righteous.  God’s holiness causes the earth to quake in His divine Presence.  (Psalm 99:1) And He is also Almighty and Everlasting.  God is the Three in One: , the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a great mystery. Psalm 97:2b declares: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne,”
 Yahweh, or God is a judge without corruption or partiality.  And Psalm 99:4-5 pictures God as a “lover of justice”.  Psalms 96:13 and 98:9 speak of God’s judgment over the whole world.  There will be a final judgment of the world when Jesus will sit as sovereign arbiter of the fate of nations. (Matthew 25:31-46) 
God is also pictured in Scripture as the One who answers the prayers of those who turn to im, HimH   Him.  God listens to those in distress and comes to their aid (Psalm 72:4, 12-14).  However, God’s watchful care carries expectation with it. Israel was required to obey the decrees of God. God calls His children not only to trust Him but to try to obey His laws.
 There are times when we must wait for God’s answers to our prayers to become apparent.  In the book of Hebrews chapter 11 there is a list of some of the great men and women of faith who fully trusted in God. Some of the people on this list received miracles and great answers to their prayers during their lifetimes.  But some of the people mentioned in Hebrews 11 – also believers with great faith in God -suffered terrible persecution and will receive their answers after they get to heaven.  God’s timetable is not our timetable. But His promises are sure.
 If we must wait for some of our prayers to be fully answered, we must wait patiently trusting that God knows how to take care of everything. “All things work together for good, to them who love Him…” (Romans 8:28) His ways are higher than our ways and they are beyond our understanding.  He has promised that believers will be victorious in Jesus.  And we can count on that, even though we cannot understand.
  God our divine King is not limited or defined by human rules.  He transcends all human institutions and He is our Creator and Redeemer. God the Son suffered and died to take away our sins and then He rose again. And God the Father, the King of the Universe, is also our personal God – our heavenly Father- if we allow Him to be.  
We humans will always be “ruled” by something.  Often, we humans allow the values of our culture, or the delusions about human wisdom and power to rule our lives instead of allowing God to rule our lives.  Sin is always at the door, so if we do not make a conscious choice to be ruled by God, we will inevitably be ruled by something that is oppressive, unscrupulous or unrighteous.   
Perhaps the best argument against the belief in God as King and ruler of our world is the apparent lack of control by God in our world today.  Wars, shootings, drug abuse, bombings, hatreds, a world gone haywire! If the kingdom of God exists, there are times when its presence is hard to discern. 
The Bible acknowledges this dilemma.  The kingdom may not yet be evident now, but it will be when Christ comes again as king and judge.  In Scripture the kingdom of God is compared to the smallest seed (Mark 4:31) and to a treasure buried in a field. (Matthew 13:44) and to yeast hidden in the dough (Matthew 13:33) Some parts of the kingdom are “now” and some are “not yet.”   
The problems and tragedies of this world today are not the last word.  The shouts of voices in heaven are written in Revelation 11:15 “the kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.”  When Jesus Christ comes back at the end of the age, He will take over the rule and reign of the world.  Christian faith declares that the kingdom of God will come.  The Bible, God’s Word proclaims it and we believe it.  Our belief in this kingdom gives us hope to defend against the false notion that the future offers no more than the drudgery of today’s world. 
The kingdom of God lies ahead of us changing everything.  It is our hope and joy as Christians. God gives us His Holy Spirit to live within us and teach us and bring us this hope and joy.  1 Corinthians 15:25 declares: “He (Jesus) must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”   
Though unseen in fulness, the kingdom of God is more real and meaningful than any other power, even the power of death.  We serve a mighty God and we have a powerful and wonderful hope.  Rejoice.  The Lord God reigns!
Some of the ideas in this blog were taken from “Psalms Interpretation Bible Studies by Jerome F.D. Creach, Chapter 6 “Rejoice, the Lord is King”    





Monday, January 13, 2020

What is a Christian Wife to do with that Verse about Submitting

  What is a Christian Wife to do with that Verse about Submitting?
Ephesians 5:22-23 is one of the passages in the Bible that I have struggled with.  Here it is: “Wives submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and He is also the Savior of the body.” (Ephesians 5:22-23)
Today most modern couples believe that wives are equal to their husbands and often as competent, and sometimes more so, than their husbands. Does this Bible passage in Ephesians mean that competent married women are not allowed to use their God-given talents if those talents threaten their husband’ ego or causes problems in their marriages?  Submit? Shouldn’t a wife demand her rights?  
Good marriages are so important, -part of the fabric that holds society together.  And couples need to give and take to make their marriages work. It seems that submitting is part of that give and take. But does this submitting mean that wives must do all the submitting while their husbands assert their dominance and order their wives around?  Could these verses be mis-used as a mandate for wives becoming nothing more than dutiful servants?  I don’t think that is what this Ephesians passage means.
Does this mean that a wife should submit to a husband that is telling her to do a sinful act?  Should she disobey God’s laws so she can follow her husband’s lead into sin since her husband is her head?    Ephesians 5:22-23 is only two short verses in the Bible.  We are not to take two Bible verses or commands out of context with all the other verses in the Bible. All the other passages in the Bible tell God’s people that they are never to follow another person into sin. I believe this verse in Ephesians should obviously be taken along with all the other commands in Scripture. 
When we try to follow the teachings of the whole Bible, clearly a woman is not to obey her husband when he tells her to sin or break God’s commands.  If the husband tells the wife to harm another person or betray a trust or stop speaking to her children or her parents, or any other unkind, unloving  or sinful act, I believe the Bible tells a wife to follow God’s Will when her husband’s orders go against God’s Will. 
This passage also instructs Christian wives to submit to their husbands as to the Lord.  It is one thing to submit to Jesus Christ our Lord, God the Son, our Savior and Redeemer, the Light of the world. But is a woman commanded to submit to a fallible, sinful man?!  I don’t believe this command in Ephesians to wives means that faithful wives are to submit to abuse or humiliation or that they must endure infidelity.  I Corinthians 7:15 says that when an unbelieving spouse (husband) leaves that the abandoned spouse or wife is not bound in such circumstances, but God has called her to live in peace.  God cares and isn’t asking wives for the impossible!    
The verse just before this passage, Ephesians 5:21, commands submission for both husband and wife: “Submit yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” The husband is also commanded to submit to his wife! Mutual submission.  The husband may be the “head,” - but the wife is often the “neck” that turns the head. 
Throughout their lives together, the husband and wife are to love each other and to submit to each other.  A loving husband will work for his wife’s best interests and a loving wife will work for her husband’s best interests.  They are not competing against each other but working together as one.  So, it comes naturally when the wife often submits to her husband’s wishes. I have watched so many good marriages where both husband and wife act as one and work together and serve each other. 
But God has more instructions for the husbands than for the wives!  Really heavy-duty instructions! We continue reading God’s commands to husbands in Ephesians: “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25) Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church!
 How did Christ love the Church?  He died on the cross for his Church.  He gave himself, naked and bleeding to suffer for His Church.  He put her needs above his own and sacrificed His life for her. I don’t hear husbands fussing about their primary command being to love their wives and to give themselves up for her.  When we read God’s commands for husbands, those verses about wives submitting to the head seem not to be such a big deal.
And husbands have another obligation in the marriage.  Scripture says: “But if any one does not provide for his own, especially for those in his family, he has denied the Faith, and is worse than an infidel.” (1 Timothy 5:8) This does not say that a man must be the primary bread winner. Or that his wife doesn’t need to work outside the home.  In biblical terms, the value of work is measured in service, not in dollars.  But Scripture says that a man’s job is to work and do his best to support his family.  Not abandon his duty.   
Christian marriage, Scripture says is about intimacy and love and about the mystery of two persons becoming one.  These commands in Scripture regarding the duties of wives and husbands won’t work without love. Love is the key! Our marriages are like a little picture of Jesus as the bridegroom and the Church (believers) as His bride.  The bridegroom (Jesus) gives himself up for us, His bride.  And the Church (the bride) follows (submits to) her husband, Jesus. But the Church (bride) is joyful in submitting to her Lord and Savior because she loves Him, and He does everything to bring her peace and joy and love and victory over sin, because He loves her.
Scripture teaches us that Jesus is our Bridegroom.  And no one comes to Jesus while holding onto our rights.  The only way to come before Him is to fall flat on our face.  He is our head and the head of the Church.  Male or female, if we insist on our rights or insist on doing things our way, we reject Jesus because He calls us to submit to Him all the way. 


Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Framing of a Building was Raising Up as our Covering

The Framing of a Building was Raising Up as our Covering
Recently I had lunch with my good friend Judy, who had just gotten back from visiting her three adult children over the Christmas holidays.  Judy is in her late 70’s and her hands trembled, and tears rolled down her cheeks as she told me that her visit with her children had not gone well.
 Judy’s daughter-in-law was angry that she had come to visit them over Christmas and intrude on their privacy.  And her son asked her to leave after giving her a long list of everything she had done wrong over the years as his parent.  She had always deeply loved her son and daughter-in-law and had been a good mother, and she was frightened and confused by their accusations.
 Judy packed up, got a motel, and drove over to visit her two daughters who lived nearby. Then Judy’s oldest daughters informed her that she has decided not to call herself a Christian anymore because she had moved on to becoming an agnostic.  She had decided that Christians were phony. 
 And Judy’s younger daughter told her that she was leaving her husband and her children and moving in with her exciting new boyfriend, who spends all day playing video games. Also, Judy’s teen-age grandson has overdosed on drugs and is threatening to commit suicide. 
Judy is a widow in her late seventies and lonely, as her husband has recently passed away. She and her husband had a good marriage and raised their children to love, serve and trust Jesus Christ. It was their life. They had such hopes for their children, that they would follow Christ.  But now Judy tells me that she feels like she is losing her adult children and grandchildren.  And that it is her job to bring her children back to herself and back to God! But she doesn’t know how. Such a big job for a faltering older woman!        
So many Christian parents are confused and frightened because of the choices their adult children are making. Many young adults are leaving their Christian faith. They are choosing a life without Christ and missing out on so much! The spirits of despair and unbelief are everywhere.  Where have all the flowers gone?
But yesterday Judy called me to share some good news.  Judy felt that God had spoken to her, helped her in her despair and given her new vision and hope!  Several nights earlier, she had been in her bed, awake in the darkness praying to God about her children.  Why did her son and his wife reject her?  What would happen now that her oldest daughter had turned away from Christ?  And what about her younger daughter and her grandchildren?  All alone now, with arthritis and heart trouble, how was she going to handle living alone without her beloved husband?  Where was family and trust and community? Where was God?  The darkness was closing in around her. 
All alone in her bed on that cold dark night, the sick spirits of darkness and fear and hopelessness swept in on her taking over her being. She broke out in a cold sweat with her heart pounding as the evil spirits of anxiety and fear, dizziness and nausea took over her body and soul. 
In the eyes of her imagination she could see all her many sins and problems, and her children’s sins and problems - all piling on top of her and weighing down on her and her family.  Desperation took over since she felt too weak and helpless to fight or free herself or her family of these things that were tearing them apart. Messing them up and leading them toward death.  Terrified with this awful vision before her eyes, Judy cried out to Jesus.
And then even though she was still afraid, she felt His calming Presence around her.  She could still see the same vision in her imagination- the vision of sins and problems moving in and taking over her family.
 But now she saw something new starting to happen.  A solid structure or a foundation was beginning to form around and over her and pushing away the messy problems and sins. As a skeleton gives structure to the body, this Cornerstone and framing of a building was slowly raising up a protective structure around Judy and her family as she prayed for them. Covering them and slowly providing them protection and victory over the evils they couldn’t conquer by themselves. Judy was not alone.  God had been there all the time.
 God had given her a Cornerstone, a building not made with hands, a Savior, (Isaiah 28:16-17 and Ephesians 2:19-21) who has the strength to free her from the sins that so easily weighed her down. Jesus is our Cornerstone too.  His job is to fight evil for us and win. To be victorious and raise us up to be victorious with Him. His job is to be our structure or covering from sin.  Our Solid Rock. And our job is to believe in Him and follow Him.