Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What Slipped?

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Last Sunday we had a visiting preacher, Chesford Carr. You can pick up a couple of his sermons online. I won’t try to cover what he did Sunday morning – there was much more than I can fit into this space. Just know that we began in Hebrews and looked at several other verses.

The admonition in Hebrews 2:1 caught my attention early on:

Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. (Hebrews 2:1 KJV)

It’s a well-known English idiom that we are capable of letting things slip away from us, but the Greek παραῤῥυέω carries that same concept of being swept by or missing. The thought is also shown as:
lest the salvation which these things heard show us how to obtain, slip away from us
That thought is continued in the next two verses:

For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; (Hebrews 2:2-3 KJV)

We have all had opportunities slip by us. I won’t even go into examples because I know that some of mine are similar to some of yours. We let time slip by, too. We’ve lost contact with people we care about simply because time passed and we let that contact slip.

But what does happen if we let these things we’ve heard about God, about Jesus, about His followers, about His message – what happens if we let this slip away from us? What happens if we do neglect so great salvation?

That determines how we will spend eternity, if God is real and eternity exists. If it doesn’t, there is no difference. We could do as Nero did and allow our world to burn. We could do as Hitler did and be the worst example of mankind for generations – until someone else came along, but it wouldn’t matter. Philosophers, prophets, intellectuals and the most common of mankind have spent time on that question. Belief is a very personal matter.

I believe God does exist, has existed before time began and will exist after time ceases. I believe God created the universe we see and the spiritual world beyond it. I believe what we do makes a difference here and in God’s kingdom (which is a very poor manmade word to describe eternity.) I believe what we do here, determines what we do there.

I believe God inspired Paul to describe what does happen:

For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. (1 Corinthians 3:9-15 KJV)

I am not the least bit interested in what you build – I’m concentrating on being certain on the foundation, which goes back to part of yesterday’s thought from Matthew 7:24-27.

We’ve heard, haven’t we? What have we let slip?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

How Long?

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This painting by the Danish artist Carl Heinrich Bloch depicts Jesus teaching His disciples at what we call the Sermon on the Mount – Matthew chapters 5-7.

And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, (Matthew 5:1-2 KJV)

I’ll hope you click on the reference to read those three chapters, or pick up your Bible to do so. There’s a great deal of Christian beliefs defined in Jesus words. Many of these verses are used stand alone to offer solace or uplift hearts.  A few are used as pejoratives to express contempt toward professing Christians who do not live up to standards set by men.

Jesus took His disciples up into a mountain – the verse does not describe the multitudes accompanying them, but it is possible others besides the disciples heard His words. Matthew was inspired to write them down. The other gospels include the lessons, too, indicating He was consistent in His descriptions and sermons.

How they were received, though, is of interest. He was with these disciples for only three years. How long have we spent learning from one person outside of family? Our parents, yes. Our spouse, yes. Our children, yes – we do learn from them. But a non-family member? How long?

Yes, I have had friendships that lasted years, but I’ve never spent three years traveling and discussing religion with one person.

These disciples did not get the message in those three years, either, did they? They heard Him prophesy His death, but abandoned Him at Gethsemane. Peter followed to see what would happen, but ended up denying Him three times, as He prophesied. None of them buried Him and only women came to see to His funeral Sunday morning.

One was the reason He was taken at the garden. For that, he received money, which was appropriate since he saw after their finances. Judas’ guilt brought anger, regret, a change regarding his desire for money – but no indication that he turned to God to acknowledge his sin. His actions show no indication that he believed Jesus’ messages. Yet could have at the very last moment of life asked to be remembered when Jesus’ kingdom came. A thief did, and received a promise. (Luke 23:39-43)

These three chapters are filled with Jesus’ teachings – many of them familiar through multiple tellings, both in and out of churches. How we apply them to our own lives tells much about ourselves.  Too often we see other’s examples where we should see ourselves. It would do us good to remember one very short verse:

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 7:21 KJV)

How can we do the will of God until we study what is known of God? I believe that comes through scripture, as Paul wrote Timothy:

And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Timothy 3:15-17 KJV)

That’s where we get our doctrine – which astounded people as the Sermon on the Mount closed:

And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. (Matthew 7:28-29 KJV)

Monday, July 25, 2016

As In Athens

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Raphael’s depiction of Paul in Athens is similar, but yet different, from street preachers today. Instead of going to Athens, we see him leaving Berea, where his words were met with learning and researching but detractors couldn’t stand that interest in his words. (Acts 17:11-14)

In Athens, Paul reaches out to his primary audience:

Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him. (Acts 17:16-17 KJV)

He has an audience with a long cultural history with their own beliefs, along with temples, statues and monuments to their deities. As a Jew, Paul would recognize idolatry, but as a follower of Jesus, he cared about what happened to the Athenians. What he said did not condemn them, and they were interested in learning more:

Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. (Acts 17:18 KJV)

There’s a place in Athens where people expect to hear new ideas. Paul stands before them without protest signs. That’s not necessary in a city that prides itself on education and debate – they have platforms for speakers to share thoughts. (Acts 17:19-21)

Then, Paul preached. (Acts 17:22-33)

Please read that for yourself. He did call them superstitious – the Greek word used is δεισιδαιμονέστερος, a compound word that combines “more” and “religious”, which could be taken two ways:
    1. in a good sense
      1. reverencing god or the gods, pious, religious
    2. in a bad sense
      1. superstitious
I believe we can take away a serious lesson from Paul’s interaction with the Athenians as we interact with people of other faiths – and our opportunities to do just that will grow and grow as our nation diversifies. We have opportunities today. Across my work years, I interacted with devout believers of Atheism, Christianity (in its various interpretations) Hinduism, Islam (both Shiite and Sunni, perhaps Wahhabism), Judaism (Conservative, Orthodox and Reformed), Sikhism, Taoism and Wicca.
A kind Jewish gentleman taught me how to break a number of Religious Laws by eating a ham sandwich on a high holy day. A Wiccan explained how he left Catholicism for Wicca. I also heard how an abused wife left Christianity as her soon-to-be-ex-husband’s abuse was justified by their church with Ephesians 5:22 and Colossians 3:18, completely out of context.  One supervisor, a Catholic, Jesuit trained for priesthood, explained to me how wrong it was to use biblical references, which should be left up to a priest to interpret for today’s world.

I’ve discussed my beliefs under a number of circumstances, but the simplicity of Paul’s sermons is as valid today as it was in Athens. The only better of his sermons (in my view) was before Agrippa. (Acts 26:1-28)

That’s all we can do – tell of Jesus, His life, His teachings, His death – but most of all, His resurrection. We can refer to the apostles who wrote of Him, the changes in their lives. We can refer to changes in our own – but that’s all. And, we can move on when we’re told – as Paul was:

Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds. (Acts 26:28-29 KJV)


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Plain Speech

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Not all of my readers will be familiar with Dick and Jane. It was used long before I was in school, and I don’t remember using the books – but it is often shown as an easy way to teach. It was full of repetition and short, easy words for new readers. Plain speech is very important – has always been and is still today. Paul certainly thought so:

Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: (2 Corinthians 3:12 KJV)

Even plain speech is hard. Maybe not hard to understand, but hard to accept – as Peter mentioned:

Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless. And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:14-16 KJV)

Back to Paul’s “plainness of speech,” Matthew Henry’s Commentary says that remains important today:
It is the duty of the ministers of the gospel to use great plainness, or clearness, of speech.
While being peaceful, without spot and blameless while speaking of Christ’s life and a Christian’s responsibilities may take a great deal of explaining, the gospel, God’s love, needs to be spoken plainly understandable:
But the great precepts of the gospel, believe, love, obey, are truths stated as clearly as possible. And the whole doctrine of Christ crucified, is made as plain as human language can make it.
The Bible does teach God is love. 1 John explains that much better than I can. But – there are things God does not accept. The Bible even states who will not be in His presence:

And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. (Revelation 21:5-8 KJV)

Proverbs 6:16-19 speaks specifics that are hated and are abominations to the Lord. Those aren't the only items, though. A false balance, a froward heart, lying lips, way (and thoughts) of the wicked, proud of heart and condemnation of the just are all written as things that are an abomination to the Lord. And, one more, in Proverbs 15:8:

The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD: but the prayer of the upright is his delight. (Proverbs 15:8 KJV)

Speaking plainly, if using scripture to prove what is being done is in God’s will – be certain to speak as plainly about what is not. Be certain we can say with Paul:

For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. (Acts 20:27 KJV)

Friday, July 1, 2016

Why?

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The above is a screen capture from a website about the movie “Risen” – a good movie we’ve enjoyed. Not a “great” movie, but it is about a great subject. The fact that Jesus is risen changed the world.  Not His death, though it was planned without knowing the result:

Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:8 KJV)

Those who killed Him did not understand what they sat in motion. Paul understood how very important this very point was in understanding God’s message:

Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. (1 Corinthians 15:12-14 KJV)

It was very important then that Jesus was truly dead, buried and remained in the grave donated by Joseph of Arimathaea. So important that a large stone was placed before the entrance and guards assigned.

The movie is fiction, though what is shown and said does not deny nor negate biblical narratives. A bit of scripted wording is out of order, but the words are stated in the Bible and is acceptable in giving the gospel message.

I enjoyed the movie, but one phrase sticks in my mind:  Why do you follow Him? The Roman tribune Clavius asks that question – and the answer in the scene is valid. But it is difficult for us, two thousand years later to give that same answer.

Yes – it is one reason why I follow Him, but I did not see what Clavius and the disciples saw. I did not see what the disciples saw for three years, yet did not affect Judas Iscariot.

A Muslim, in attempting to evangelize, explained very carefully that we are all born Muslim, but are led astray by cultures and other religion. Since I was born in what was considered a Christian nation, I grew up not understanding his “truth.” He would not accept that the same was true for him and learning more was important.

I do not accept at face value what I am told. That attitude was necessary in most of my work environments. Questions are necessary to achieve the best results. Questions asked early and answers researched thoroughly made the work easier. We cannot assume our beliefs are valid without questions, but it still comes down to faith because not all of the answers make sense.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1 KJV)

The rest of that chapter lists a number of people who placed faith in God and we know the result of that faith. Jesus, on the other hand, had knowledge, so in the next chapter we read:

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2 KJV)

Why do I follow Him? Not only because He died for us, but because He lives. I believe He was, is and will remain risen.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Final Word

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Have you read the 29th chapter of Deuteronomy? I have a couple of times. So, why look at it again? To study deeper, not just to read, after a visiting preacher mentioned this verse:

The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29 KJV)

The final verse in a chapter that leads in with a new covenant.  As the Pulpit Commentary reminds us that Deuteronomy 29:1 is a lead into a chapter wherein . . .
. . . is contained an address to the people by Moses, in which he appeals to them to enter anew into the covenant with the Lord, which had been before concluded at Horeb; denounces apostasy as what would lead certainly to their being rejected of God; assures them at the same time of God's readiness to restore them should they sincerely repent and return to him; and once more sets before them the blessing and the curse, and adjures them to choose the blessing.
It is an explanation that should have meaning for us today. A covenant is an agreement between two entities. Here it is between God and the nation-to-be of Israel. After giving some historical background, Moses states what God offers:

That thou shouldest enter into covenant with the LORD thy God, and into his oath, which the LORD thy God maketh with thee this day: That he may establish thee to day for a people unto himself, and that he may be unto thee a God, as he hath said unto thee, and as he hath sworn unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. (Deuteronomy 29:12-13 KJV)

Moses also explains what will break the covenant – and mankind breaks it first, thus turning away from what God has promised. Then this might happen:

Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood; And it come to pass, when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst: (Deuteronomy 29:18-19 KJV)

This absolutely applies to us today. We have turned away from the Lord our God. We have told ourselves that we’re at peace with where we are, doing what God has told us not to do and not doing what He has told us to do.

Then men shall say, Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them forth out of the land of Egypt: (Deuteronomy 29:25 KJV)

No, we were not brought out of Egypt – we were bought out of sin through God’s plan defined in John 3:16. Why? That’s laid out in the final verse that begins this page. God has secrets. Secrets that unfold according to His plan. As Paul wrote:

But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:7-8 KJV)

Call it secrets or call it mysteries – there is a plan God set in motion and keeps to Himself. We see a glimpse in John’s Revelation, but God does have the final word. Prepared to hear it from Him?

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Does Loving Forgiveness Mean Approval?

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A couple of scenarios, if you will:

A child deliberately disobeys a parent, expresses remorse, promises to do better and the parent forgives them – but the child continues to disobey. Does this mean the same error is permitted in the future?

A spouse cheats outside of marriage, is found out, apologizes, promises to maintain vows in the future and their spouse forgives them and does not file for divorce. Does that mean the cheating can continue?

Yet we all know of people and situations where errors – sin, if you will – continue. What’s our viewpoint on the repetition? Should what was forgiven as an error be repeated? How often? For how long?

Society has called for freedom to do as we please though it is shown not to be God’s will. How do we know what to do? How are we to act as Christians?

Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. (Acts 11:25-26 KJV)

Do you see the cause and effect here? Barnabas and Saul went to Antioch, joined the local church and taught people what they knew about Christ. What the people saw and heard were all they knew about Christ, but they called these people by His name, acknowledging them as His followers.

When people come to Him in contrition, confession and acceptance of the grace He provides, we become His. However, if we continue in error, in willfully sinning, and He cannot be seen in us, why would anyone call us Christians? How do we show we are His followers, doing as He commanded?

Jesus taught love – God’s love. God is also judgment, tempered with mercy and grace – the grace that offered Himself as the bridge between our errors and His judgment. Love does forgive.

Consequences, however, cannot be erased. Continued sin cannot be condoned. God is the judge of our sin – and the definer of what is sin.

Many quote from Luke 6 to call Christians judgmental:

Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: (Luke 6:37 KJV)

. . . while Christians – in that same chapter after instructing verses – believe Jesus’ instructions are to be of help:

Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye. (Luke 6:42 KJV)

We’re instructed to first be certain our lives reflect Christ’s, not the sins that separate from Him, and then help others, perhaps with similar problems simply because we’re experienced. Christ did not preach approval of sin.

Why else would Jesus say:

Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee. (John 5:14 KJV)

She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more. (John 8:11 KJV)