Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Persecution, the Mark of a True Christian

Blessed are those who have been persecuted
for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the 
kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people
insult you and falsely say all kinds of evil against
you because of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your
reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they
persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Matthew 5:10-12

In the Beatitudes Christ gives us the markers that describe a true disciple, one that is truly following Christ. The first seven markers are found in verses 3-9 and they are internal spiritual realities that manifest themselves in many ways in the life of a true believer. They are being poor in spirit, mourning over sin, being gentle or meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, being merciful, being pure in heart, and being a peacemaker (notice it is being a peacemaker, not being peaceful or at peace). The final marker is one that comes from the outside, and that is persecution, which is seen in verses 10-12.  

Interestingly, there are three reasons given for the persecution. They are for right living (righteousness sake, vs 10), right belief (because of Me, vs 11), and right testimony (in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you, vs 12).

In the NT we see many instances of persecution for the reasons listed above, here are a few:

Right Living
I Peter 2:20-21, 3:17,  4:4, 4:15-16, 4:19, II Timothy 3:12,
II Corinthians 3:14-16, John 3:19-21, Ephesians 5:6-11

Right Belief
Acts 4:8-21, Acts 5:41, Acts 15:25-26, I Peter 4:14, II Timothy 1:8, 12

Right Testimony
Acts 4:8-21, 14:1-6,16:19-24, 17:2-7

Because you believe the right thing (the truth), you will speak rightly and live the right way. The result of this at some point and at some level will be persecution; and blessed are you when being persecuted for these reasons. Persecution for right belief, right living, and right testimony is a marker, an identifier, that this person is truly a child of God.

Monday, November 09, 2020

Sometimes God Calls You to a Hard Place


Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go forth from
your country, and from your relatives and from
your father's house, to the land which I shall show you...
So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him...
and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came 
to the land of Canaan...The Lord appeared to Abram 
and said, "To your descendants I will give this land." 
So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared
to him. Then he proceeded from there to the mountain 
on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel 
on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar
to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. Abram
journeyed on, continuing toward the Negev. Now there
was a famine in the land...
Genesis 12:1-10a

I love this story, a story of the calling of God on the life of a man. The story of a man who was faithful to follow the Lord, and faithful to give thanks and worship. And what did the Lord call Abram into? He called him straight into a famine, in the very land that He had promised him and his descendants. Abram was faithfully following and worshiping the Lord, and the Lord called him into a hard place.

This is an encouraging story, because sometimes He calls us into a hard place. Sometimes when we are faithfully following His call on our life and His leading in our life, we look up and we are surrounded by famine, or hardness, or barrenness, or leanness, and all the difficulties that are associated with them; and just as famine does not go away over night, neither does this time of hardness. Yes, and it is from the Lord, it is where He has led us, it is where our faithfulness has taken us. Just like in Abram's case.

So, lesson number one from this story is that we can be faithfully following and worshiping the Lord, and come right into a place of famine, a hard lean place that we didn't expect, a time that lasts longer that we expected. Also, there is a second lesson here for us as well. It is seen in Genesis 12:10b-13:1.  It is a lesson from the failure of Abram. Instead of staying where the Lord had led him, he took off on his own to Egypt, and it got him in a mess of trouble. Abram was faithful to follow the Lord until it became hard, then he sought his own way out, his own path of escape. How much like all of us is this. Instead of consulting with the Lord, instead of waiting on the Lord, instead of depending on the Lord, instead of trusting in the Lord, he panicked and took off...just as we are tempted to do.   

What we must also glean from this story, is the fact that the Lord knew exactly what He was calling Abram into, and called him there anyway. Yes, the promised land was a land of famine, at that moment, but it was still the land of promise, God's intended place for him, a place of blessing. The Lord knew when Abram would arrive, and what would be waiting. Abram was there, in the famine, because that is where the Lord wanted him. The Lord had raised the ante on the testing of Abram's faith, and the hole in his faith then became visible when put to the test.  

Friends, I write this an encouragement to those who are in that hard place, or who soon will be, and are there because they are faithfully following the Lord. Be like Abram, who faithfully followed the call of the Lord on his life, but don't be like Abram, who sought his own way of escape and fled when he arrived at the hard place. There are a few verses I would like to leave with you that show us how to handle these times, and handle them in a way that is faithful and spiritually profitable.

First is Proverbs 20:24 Man's steps are ordained by the Lord, how then can man understand his way.
Second is Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.
Third is Psalm 37:23 Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.

Take heart, my friends, that you have a faithful God who is completely aware of where He has led you, even if you can't understand why. Understand that you may not understand the whats and whys of where God has led you. Trust in the Lord and His faithfulness, and lean on all that you know to be true about Him. Be patient in staying put where He has put you. Be godly in the midst your circumstances. Be faithful in your stay in the hard place, just as you were faithful in following Him there. 

May you be blessed in your faithfulnessand may you see the blessing the Lord has for you in this hard place.

Saturday, November 07, 2020

The Eternal Significance of the Ordinary Day


Whatever you do, do your work heartily, 
as for the Lord rather than for men
Colossians 3:23

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all
  in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks
 through Him to God the Father.
Colossians 3:17

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever
 you do, do all to the glory of God.
I Corinthians 10:31

Remembering these verses helps keep the dailyness and the ordinariness of our lives in perspective, eternal perspective. God expects us to work, speak, eat, drink, and do all things (all the mundane and repetitive activities of daily living) in the name of His Son, for Him, and for His glory. This gives a vital importance to the "every day" of our lives. This says that there are no wasted days, no unimportant days, no wasted or unimportant words, no wasted or unimportant activities in the seemingly unnoticed ordinariness of our lives.

Oh, BUT, when you keep these commands, when you consider why these commands were given, and that they culminate in bringing glory to our great God, and His great Son...well then, life takes on a different meaning and we begin to view our life differently.  

When we follow these commands then we begin to understand that our life, no matter how insignificant it may seem cannot, let me repeat, CANNOT be meaningless. In fact, these verses cry out loudly that our life does have meaning, even down to the smallest and most insignificant thing we do. Additionally, this also shows us that each and every day of our life has value in the eternal plan and purpose of God. 

The "whatever you do" in these verses encompasses everything we find ourselves involved in. So our life becomes a theater for our honoring the Lord with our speech, our eating, drinking, and doing; and thus, He is glorified in our living out our ordinary lives.

Now, when we grasp the concept of God's sovereignty over all of life (Psalm 103:19), it enables us to see His Divine providence in ordaining our very steps (Proverbs 20:24), even to the extent that He delights in the very way He has decreed for us (Psalm 37:23). We then see that for those who have turned to the Lord to follow Him in all His ways, each day, with all its attendant activities, has value in God's eternal plan and purpose because it is used to display His worth and glory as we live it for Him; and if its has value, even though it seems so ordinary and mundane to us, in God's plan it is significant. 

So what does this mean? It means that if you are a Mom, be a Mom to the glory of God. If you are a secretary, be a secretary to the glory of God. If you are a salesman, be a salesman to the glory of God. If you are a coach, coach to the glory of God. If you are an executive, be an executive to the glory of God. If you are retired, be retired for the glory of God. If you fish or hunt, fish or hunt to the glory of God. When you play golf, play golf to the glory of God. 

You see, there really are no "ordinary" days as we would view ordinary, but each day brims with opportunity to bring glory to the Lord, as that is how He has ordained it. Friends, let us look at each day in our life, as a day ordained by the Lord, therefore significant in His eternal plan...and therefore so are we!

Thursday, November 05, 2020

Working the Work of God

 In John 6, after Jesus had fed the multitudes, the next day the crowd came after Him on foot and in boats, all the way across the sea of Galilee. Jesus rebuked them for following after Him only to have their stomachs filled. Picking up in verse 27 and starting with Jesus, let's look at the interchange that took place at that point. "Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father has set His seal." Therefore they said to Him, "What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?" Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him who He has sent."

The question posed to Jesus was legitimate for the religious environment at that time. Israel was under the influence of the Pharisees who had reduced the Law to a system of works. They had their religious works honed finer than a gnat's eyelash, and were very zealous in the protection and promotion of their system of works righteousness. The whole system was based on works, many of which were mutations of the Law, which led them to a state of spiritual bankruptcy where they were like white washed tombs, clean and pristine on the outside, but full of death and decay on the inside. This is why Christ told the crowd in the Sermon on the Mount that their righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees, as it is not the external accomplishment of a set of religious duties, but doing the will of God from the heart that constitutes the work of God. This is what Christ expressed when he told them that the work of God was to believe in the One whom God had sent, Christ Himself.  

What then does it mean to believe in the One whom God has sent? Saving faith has two components, and both are centered in Christ. First there is the belief in the person of Christ, that He is all that the Bible says that He is; and the Bible tells us that He is fully both God and man, the Savior, and the only way to God (in fact, these were things that Christ actually said about Himself).  

The other component or element of saving faith is to believe on the finished work of Christ. This entails believing (accepting and not rejecting) that Christ lived a perfect and sinless life in our stead before God by always doing the will of God, not in a perfunctory way, but from the heart. Read through the gospel of John and see how this is laid out for us to see, and is culminated in John 14:31. This pure sinless life qualified Christ to be the sacrifice for our sins in our stead, a sinless man suffering the eternal wrath of God for all the sins of those who would place their faith in Him as the Savior and believe in the completeness of His sacrifice for those sins. This means that we trust Christ's work and not our own.

You cannot work your way to God, no matter how sincere you are nor how hard you try. The only acceptable work before God is what Christ accomplished by living the life he lived and dying the death that He died. We must accept who He is and trust in what He has done. This is what is behind the exclusivity of the Christian faith. There is only One who lived the sinless life, there is only One who qualified to be the one time for all time sacrifice for sins, and that is the God-man Jesus Christ. Christ is the One whom God sent to be the Savior for all mankind, for all of those who would turn to Him and Him alone to be their Savior.

This is the work of God, my friends, to believe in the One whom God has sent, for on Him God has set His seal of approval for the works He accomplished on behalf of all that will come to Him in repentance and faith. Don't delay any longer, cease from believing that you are good enough to determine your own way into heaven and accept the work that Christ has done on your behalf.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

What Will They Hear? A Reminder to God's Messengers

What will people hear when they come to your church? What should people hear when they come to your church? What do people need to hear when they come to church, any church? The answer is simple, really, and it is....."The Truth." What people should hear, and need to hear is "The Truth," yes, with a capital "T". 

They don't need stories, they don't need therapy, they don't need moralism, they don't need movie clips or skits, they don't need placating, they don't need pandering, they don't need platitudes, they don't need entertainment, they don't need titillation, they don't need warm fuzzies, they don't need their self-esteem boosted or their ego stroked, they don't need to be manipulated, they don't need to be sold, they don't need vision, they don't need wit or comedy, they don't need a slickly produced event, they don't even need the pastor to be a great communicator. Plain and simply they need the pastor to be a truth-teller; and they need the pastor to tell the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth, so help him God.

They need to hear the truth throughout the service, in the praying and the praising and the preaching. The entire service should carpet bomb them with the truth. In our post-modern age, truth is the great need of the hour; but that is no different than it has ever been, as man has always had an aversion to the truth, which is why people will pile in heaps those who will tickle their ears with what they want to hear, and pile on those who don't. But just because men and women are averse to the truth, doesn't mean they don't need the truth. In reality it is their very aversion to the truth that causes them to be in such great need of the truth.

Fortunately we have the great repository of the truth, the Bible, which is the very truth of God who cannot lie; and we have the Living Word, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, who is truth incarnate and personified, and the locus of the truth (Ephesian 4:21, John 14:6). So if we are to give the people the truth, we should preach and teach the infallible and inerrant word of God, and tell them of His Son who spoke truth and lived the truth (Ephesians 1:13a, John 8:40). 

In Acts 20:26 Paul testifies that he is innocent of the blood of all men. How could he make such a bold and powerful statement? Because he knew that He preached the truth, he knew that he declared the whole counsel of God. It wasn't platitudes that caused him to be stoned, but the truth. It wasn't a therapeutic sermon that caused him to be beaten with a rod, but the truth. It wasn't entertainment and titillation that caused him to be imprisoned, but the truth. It wasn't self-esteem, make them feel good about themselves, tell them God loves them just like they are sermons that caused him to be run out of several towns, but the truth. 

Man's great need is the thing he hates to hear the most, the truth. If we are called to preach, then we are called to declare the truth. Anything else, really anything less, is a betrayal of our calling. Let's remember James 4:17, and don't give lip-service to preaching the truth; but preach the truth to the best of our God-given ability, asking Him for His grace and empowerment, trusting in His truth to do what only it can do and trusting in Him for the effects. This is what makes us worthy watchmen (Ezekiel 33:1-9).

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Rejoice in the Lord Always

 Rejoice in the Lord always,
again I say, rejoice!
Philippians 4:4 

In the Greek, this word rejoice is a present active imperative, which means it is an ongoing command, one which is to be carried out continually, and is one of a list of commands that Paul gives in the first nine verses of this chapter. And, for obvious good measure, Paul couples this command with the word always, so that we see for sure that there is to never be a time when we are not to be rejoicing. Along with this I do not believe that it is an accident that Paul gives this command on the heels of reminding the Philippians about the book of life in verse three. What comes to mind immediately is the command of our Lord to his disciples in Luke 10:20...but rejoice that your names are written in the book of life. Here He was telling the disciples that their rejoicing should be in their salvation, its surety and security.

As Christians, our greatest joy should be our salvation, and it should override and overcome any and all circumstances in life. Our joy in our salvation, in our eternal standing in the Lord should always be our greatest joy, and we should exult in our salvation above all else. As a result, we should be more thankful for our salvation than anything else, and the fact of our salvation should be both the foundation and the fountainhead of all of our praise. In Hebrews it is called a "so great salvation" and, indeed, it is just that. The Scripture tells us we are to make melody in our hearts to the Lord, and if you read through the Psalms you will see the greatest praise and thanksgiving, the greatest rejoicing, revolves around salvation.

The circumstances of the Philippians when Paul wrote this also gives us some insight into this command to rejoice. They were facing opposition from without that was causing suffering of the type that they had seen Paul go through when he was in Philippi (Philippians 1:27-30). They were faced with opposition from within as there were enemies of the cross (tares) among them (Philippians 3:17-19). They were also beset with internal bickering that was dividing the church (1:27, 2:2-4, 4:2-3). There was much going on that would be disheartening and discouraging to this body of believers. This is why Paul starts of this section with the command to stand firm in the Lord. In light of all of this, we see the command to rejoice in this verse is for them to have a thoughtful response to their circumstances, not a blitheful, ignorant, Pollyanna view, but a knowing reflection of the greatness of their eternal spiritual state in comparison to the temporal circumstances they found themselves in.

Additionally, they already have joy, joy within, through the fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Joy is second on the list of the fruit of the Spirit. It is only those who have the joy of the Lord who can truly rejoice in the Lord…in His reality, His nearness, His promises, His truth. Again, you rejoice in Him because of all that He is and all that you have in Him. Nehemiah 8:10 tells us, "The joy of the Lord is our strength." Joy steadies the fainting soul, it strengthens the weak soul, it anchors the wavering soul, it gives light to the distressed soul, it soothes the anxious soul, and it bolsters the vexed soul.

However, joy is what we have, rejoicing is what we do as the outward manifestation of the joy we have within; and rejoicing in the Lord is key in standing firm in Him. Paul also tells the Thessalonians in Chapter 5 to rejoice always. So rejoicing is to be a state that the Christian is to live in, and a daily practice. In his commentary on Philippians Walter Hansen shares this, “The fulfillment of all other goals in the Christian walk flows out of the practice of the rejoicing in the Lord." If you think about it, you see how true this is. I have never seen an effective Christian who was not a rejoicing Christian. 

This command to rejoice was given to the Philippians in the context of suffering, in the context of opposition, in the context of less than perfect circumstances, and so we see who they are rejoice in, it is the Lord, Himself. They are to rejoice in the Lord, not in their health, their wealth, their prosperity, their stuff, their job, their family, or their circumstances. Their object of joy is to be the Lord, who He is and all that they have in Him, which is all wrapped up in the package of salvation. 

So with this in mind let's look at why we are to rejoice in the Lord, by looking at our reasons for rejoicing. And these reasons never change, even though our circumstances do.

II Corinthians 1:20 You rejoice in Him because in Him all the promises of God are Yea and Amen.

Philippians 4:13, John 15:5 You rejoice in Him because in Him you can do all things, but apart from Him you can do nothing.

Ephesians 1:3 You rejoice in Him because in Him you have been blessed with every spiritual blessing.

Colossians 2:3 You rejoice in Him because in Him you have all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

I Corinthians 1:24 You rejoice in Him because He is wisdom of God and the power of God.

Colossians 2:10 You rejoice in Him because in Him you have been made complete.

I Corinthians 1:30 You rejoice in Him because in Him are righteousness, sanctification and redemption.

Romans 8:1 You rejoice in Him for in Him there is no condemnation.

Ephesians 1:7 You rejoice in Him because in Him there is forgiveness of sins.

I Thessalonians 1:10 You rejoice in Him because in Him there is deliverance from the wrath to come.

Ephesians 1:10-11, I Peter 1:3-4 You rejoice in Him because in Him you have obtained an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, will not fade away, and which is reserved in heaven for you.

I Peter 1:5, 3:20-21 You rejoice in Him because in Him your salvation is protected by the power of God.

Ephesians 1:13 You rejoice in Him because in Him you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.

Ephesians 2:13, 3:12, Hebrews 4:16 You rejoice in Him for in Him you have been brought near to the throne of grace, and in Him you have bold and confident access to the Father.

II Corinthians 5:17 You rejoice in Him for in Him you have been made new.

II Corinthians 5:18 You rejoice in Him for in Him you have been reconciled to God, and are no longer God’s enemy.

Ephesians 2:22 You rejoice in Him because in Him you are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:16 You rejoice in Him because in Him you have been raised up and seated in the heavenly places.

Ephesians 1:7 You rejoice in Him because in Him are all the riches of grace.

Ephesians 4:21 You rejoice in Him for truth is found in Him.

John 1:4, 11:25 You rejoice in Him for in Him is life eternal.

Acts 4:12, II Timothy 2:10, Hebrews 5:9 You rejoice in Him because your salvation is in Him.

John 14:9, Hebrews 1:3 You rejoice in Him because in Him you see the Father.

Ephesians 2:5 You rejoice in Him because in Him you have been made alive.

Galatians 2:20 You rejoice in Him for because He now lives in you.

John 16:33 You rejoice in Him for in Him you have peace.

This rejoicing is to be a persistent rejoicing, an active rejoicing, an intentional rejoicing…not a passive, reluctant, forced rejoicing. When we rejoice like this, in any and all circumstances, the joy of the Lord is truly our strength.

Let's rejoice today in the Lord, in all that He is, in all that He has done, in all that we have in Him. Let us rejoice in the greatness of His salvation that He has so graciously and magnanimously bestowed upon us. For the circumstances of this life are temporal, but His salvation and all that we have in Him are eternal.

Monday, October 26, 2020

The Three Essential Elements of Powerful Persuasive Preaching

Preaching is both a human task and a Divine event, a combination of man and God delivering the message of God. As preachers we are both blessed and burdened in our preaching. We are blessed with the opportunity and the privilege and burdened with the responsibility and accountability, of speaking forth the oracles of God. Those truly called to preach have been gifted so as to be the mouthpiece of God, so that when we speak for God it should be as God Himself would speak. As such, preaching has been depicted as God speaking through the personality of men. 

In this vein we must realize that there are certain keys, certain requirements, certain foundational principles required on the preacher's part so that the Spirit of God can and will attend and give unction to his message. It is not erudition, articulation, or winsomeness, although those are certainly helpful. It is good to be learned, it is good to be a wordsmith, and certainly an attractive personality and engaging presentation will help; but all of these can be present and yet, the sermon can be devoid of power and spiritually impotent. 

What then are the keys to powerful, persuasive preaching? What is required of those who would stand in the pulpit and herald forth the word of God? What must we as preachers do in order for our sermons to be attended by the Holy Spirit and for us to preach in His power? I believe there are three keys, three foundational elements, that are required of the preacher for his preaching to be spiritually powerful and effective. In listening to and experiencing sermons I have seen these essential elements to be present in the preacher whose sermons have been marked by the attending power of the Holy Spirit; and all the great preachers in the church have possessed and exhibited these elements in their preaching. They are:

1. A thorough conviction of the truth.
This is ground zero for all who would be powerful in the pulpit and is the primary essential element and the guiding principle for all who would have their preaching attended by the Holy Spirit. The preacher who would be powerful in the pulpit will always believe that the word of God is true, absolutely true; not just true as regards the things of salvation, not just true in the matters of faith and practice, but true in every area to which it speaks, whether it is creation, revelation, miracles, history, or prophecy. He does not look for holes in the Scriptures, but has a steadfast hold on the veracity of the Scriptures and believes that they are truth without any mixture of error. He then preaches as presenting the truth, with the conviction that what he is saying is true, and therefore his preaching will be attended by the Spirit of truth. This gives the message authority.

2. A thorough knowledge of the truth.
Shallow knowledge begets shallow sermons, and shallow sermons are never powerful sermons. There is a saying that knowledge is power, and the powerful preacher will have a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, not just in a pet area, but in the full flow of the grand narrative of the Bible. He will understand where the passage he is preaching on falls in the scope of the Bible, he will understand its context, its historical surroundings, its audience. The preacher will have a knowledge of the subject he is preaching on, and what the Bible, as a whole, has to say about the subject. This lends weight to his sermon, this gives breadth and depth to his sermon, and thereby gives his preaching the appropriate gravitas. Alongside this the Holy Spirit of God also gives the preacher wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. This makes the preacher believable.

3. A thorough explanation of the truth.
Just as thorough knowledge makes the preacher believable, thorough explanation makes the preacher understandable. What makes the sermon finally and ultimately powerful is the explanation and application of the truth. A correct and thorough explanation of the truth is a prerequisite to the Holy Spirit applying the truth to the hearts of the hearers. People cannot apply what they do not know or understand. The truth must be presented clearly and precisely. The meanings of words, their tenses and contexts, and what other verses say about the same subject give light to the mind in understanding the meaning of the passage. Once a passage is understood the Holy Spirit will apply it to each person's heart within the context of their own walk and experience. This makes the sermon personal, this makes it powerful, this makes it effective. 

As preachers we must preach to the heart through the mind in order to bend the will. In order for this to take place we must be convinced that what we are preaching is true, we must know our subject, and we must be able to explain so as to bring clarity and insight into the mind of the hearer. When this is done, the Holy Spirit will attend our sermon and give it all the spiritual power necessary to accomplish its aim. 

I hope these essential elements are present in your preaching. They are attainable for us all, from the least gifted of us to the most gifted, from the least eloquent to the most eloquent, from the least winsome to the most winsome. Possessing these foundational and essential elements in our preaching does not guarantee us large crowds or growing churches or notoriety or a place on the conference circuit, but they do guarantee us that our sermons will be spiritually powerful and effective in the sphere in which our Lord and Master has placed us. This will lead to His approbation, "Well done, My good and faithful slave, enter into the joy of your Master."