Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Can You Handle Worse?


Michelangelo’s “Jeremiah”. Sistine Chapel, Vatican

Righteous art thou, O LORD, when I plead with thee: yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously? (Jeremiah 12:1 KJV)

Michelangelo painted him in darkness, contemplative, with his head on his hand, not looking up to God or outward to his fellow man. There is no happiness in the book Jeremiah nor its companion, Lamentations. This is the weeping prophet:

Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people! (Jeremiah 9:1 KJV)

Even his fountain of tears did not change the hearts of those who heard his message:

Then the LORD said unto me, Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, saying, Hear ye the words of this covenant, and do them. (Jeremiah 11:6 KJV)

May I tell you those words are just as valid today as they were coming from Jeremiah? And, our response:

Yet they obeyed not, nor inclined their ear, but walked every one in the imagination of their evil heart: therefore I will bring upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do; but they did them not. (Jeremiah 11:8 KJV)

We no longer have to imagine what is in another’s heart, do we? It is shown in our newscasts,our television shows and the move theaters. It’s written by individuals and shown to the world through social media. Some is uplifting and spiritually encouraging. Some absolutely obeying not.

Yet, they prosper and we ask the same question Jeremiah did – why are they all happy and we are filled with sorrow?

The answer Jeremiah received as not one we want to hear, but may be truth for us today:

If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan? (Jeremiah 12:5 KJV)

The Pulpit Commentary speaks of this verse:

The opposition to the prophet will reach a still higher pitch; and if he is so soon discouraged, how will he bear his impending trials?

Isn’t that where we stand today? Moral issues have become battles in our country and from a biblical perspective, those battles have been lost. How can we complain to God about these losses when so much is being inflicted on our country – finances, drought, floods, international wars and rumors of wars. What more will we endure? What more are we prepared to endure.

I can’t help but think of Christians in Nineveh as ISIS (or ISIL or IS, whatever they’ve chosen as a label today) offered them conversion, onerous taxation or death. From news accounts, many chose death – or it was chosen for them.

What would we choose? For ourselves? Our family? Jeremiah chose to continue proclaiming God’s words, though none are shown to have listened. None were humbled nor responsive. Yet we, thousands of years later, read Jeremiah, study the words, and look to God for answers.

Or, do we?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Cannot Do Evil

Statue der Göttin Venus (Statue of the Goddess Venus)
For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good. (Jeremiah 10:3-5 KJV)

Obviously this statue wasn’t carved from wood, but the concept is the same. There are statues of gods and goddesses from untold ages available for us to gaze upon and wonder why someone thought they were important.

Yet, we do the same. Use to be celluloid, now it’s digital. The figures are images of living, or recently living, people the public has chosen to celebritize. (Nope. That’s not a real word, but it describes what we do to public figures.) Just as the wooden or marble carvings, they do not speak to us. They can move around, go where they please – almost – but are followed by photographers who (they say) make their lives miserable when they are not posing for pictures.

Their public watch newscasts to see them, to the point that specific magazines and televised programs focus on them. Fans “follow” them on social media and pay heed to them daily. Some are sports figures, others entertainers, still others politicians or religious leaders – though it’s often hard to discern where one category ends and another begins. Mankind has been known to idolize.

Today’s celebrities do not know their fans as individuals any more than the wood / marble statues knew the names of their followers. And, there’s at least one more commonality – “for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.”

Oh, they certainly are able to both evil and good for themselves, but not for those in their inner circle and certainly not for us. That’s done on an individual basis, and the choice is ours whether or not we allow any celebrity’s lifestyle to impact ours in any way.

Do we choose to dress as they do? Wear styles and fashions they choose? To we select music and entertainment based on their selections? Why?

Once we realize that we have moved from appreciating an individual to placing them on a pedestal we may also realize they have become first in our lives. My favorite verses tell me that’s wrong, even if it my Beloved Husband:

Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:36-40 KJV)

God comes first, and He’s not on a pedestal but on a throne in heaven and as His Spirit in my heart. He is able to do good in and through my life, though I do have the ability to quench His Holy Spirit.

Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 KJV)

Take inventory regarding where your time is spent. Is most spent with God? Or things that cannot do evil nor good in our lives?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Motes and Beams

Judge not, that ye be not judged. (Matthew 7:1 KJV)

Non-believers have taken this verse for their very own, often using to justify actions that the Bible tells us is against God’s will. It would appear they are repeating what they’ve heard, not studying to see how it is applied.

It is as though they are stuck in one spot, unable to move forward, even to the next verse Jesus spoke:

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. (Matthew 7:2 KJV)

That verse tells me to be very cautious when applying judgment, but does not tell me never to make a judgment. If I were to set my own standards based on personal opinions or current social mores, I will be judged by others based on those same standards. I pray that I make judgments on God’s word simply because He is my ultimate judge.

Oh, I know I will be judged in between.now and the time I kneel before His throne. Some will judge me by current socio-political customs, and I will fail to meet their standards. I know that. I am pro-life, pro-biblical-marriage and pro-stewardship. Polls tell us those are no longer socially nor politically correct.

We all need to continue reading in Matthew 7:

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? (Matthew 7:3-4 KJV)

I really like today’s graphic illustration of the mote/beam. It does have a small problem, though. If the person on the left removes the beam before instructing the person on the right, it appears the mote will be removed, too. That’s not what Jesus described.

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. (Matthew 7:5 KJV)

The beam was to be removed – then the person would be able to help remove the still existing mote.

Yes, Christians should be very concerned that there are no beams interfering with their judgment. We must be aware of our errors and allow God to cleans them:

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalms 51:10 KJV)

We must be aware that our sins do separate us from God, where we feel the most joy:

Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. (Psalms 51:11-12 KJV)

Then we can move on to seeing clearly how to help others with motes:

Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee. (Psalms 51:13 KJV)

Do not, however, wait for perfection – other than that in our Lord. We will reach for it – not reach it in this life.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Then Things Got Worse

And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word. (1 Kings 17:1 KJV)

Most of the Bible stories about God’s calling of His messengers gives more background than a birthplace. Usually there’s a bit about the messenger’s hesitancy, which gives us a good lesson in how God uses those He calls rather than calling those prepared to be used. For Elijah, that’s not the case.

The first time we read of him, he’s standing before one of the most wicked kings in Israel’s history – the man who chose Jezebel for his wife – Ahab.

And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD above all that were before him. (1 Kings 16:30 KJV)

We would think, based on previous history, that Ahab would have understood the results of going against God’s will. We haven’t learned that lesson, so why would we expect that from Ahab? He used the full power of his kingdom to do as he pleased. God chose drought as the attention-getter.

So, what happens to Elijah?

And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there. So he went and did according unto the word of the LORD: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook. (1 Kings 17:2-6 KJV)

A good lesson on God’s provision, right? Then things got worse.

And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land. (1 Kings 17:7 KJV)

Those seven verses, 1 Kings 17:1-7, were last night’s lesson. They did not end on a happy note of repentance as Jonah’s trip to Nineveh. Even if we skip ahead to next week’s lesson, we don’t find Elijah living comfortably,  but subsisting day by day on meager rations provided by the Lord.

Which brings me to the tens of thousands who listen to sermons promising them materially abundant life here and now. The sermons which tell us that God exists for our well-being and pleasure. Then things get worse.

Are we willing to take a public stand against evil, then totally depend on God’s ability to provide for us? Elijah was. Then it got worse. The brook – not even large enough to be called a stream, certainly not a river – dried up.

I’ve read the “rest of the story.” Elijah’s prophecies were fulfilled, but there were more serious difficulties ahead, to the point he cried to God:

And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. (1 Kings 19:14 KJV)

Can we continue praising God when things go from bad to worse? Can we continue when it appears few are faithful? When we see violent hatred killing those who choose to serve God and it appears wickedness prospers? Can we continue to serve and worship Him?

Elijah did. And, he wasn’t the only one.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

It’s Empty. So?

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)

Sunday morning’s sermon was about Jesus’ trial before Pilate and the evening’s on His carrying His cross (and we carrying ours.) We haven’t reached the point in Pastor’s series of the crucifixion, but we will. We will be reminded, as we should each Sunday, that Christ endured the cross and is (not will be) set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

For this remembrance, the tiny cross I wear on my necklace is empty.

What sins I commit now are not added to a savior who remains on a cross. The sins I commit now were upon Him then, for John told of His purpose:

The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. (John 1:29 KJV)

So, the whole world is sin free? Nope. Once again I’m reminded that a single verse does not give you all the counsel of God (Acts 20:27) and it’s necessary to study to see if these things were so (Acts 17:11).

That’s why studying Paul’s writings to the Romans are so important in understanding why it takes an effort on our part to keep from sinfulness after we have accepted Christ as our savior. That acceptance frees us from the eternal consequences of our sin (but not from earthly consequences), but not give us permission to do so:

What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. (Romans 6:15 KJV)

Paul was inspired to write information before this verse – and continued in that line of reasoning for quite some time. It is a valuable study regarding sin in our lives. I find this to be true in my life, and I expect it is true for all:

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. (Romans 7:18-19 KJV)

The simple fact that Jesus died for my sins – His grace clears all of them – does not give me cause to commit more. Yet, I do. The best example I can give of my failure is based on Jesus’ “new” commandment:

By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:35 KJV)

Isn’t that one of the hardest? To love the ones we deem “unlovable”, though He loved – and died – for them? I think – no scripture to back it up, but I do think – that when we reach the point of praying for and witnessing to the most unlovable, we will be known by others as His disciples.

With God’s mercy and His grace, we can make that so.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Just Ignore It

When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. (Matthew 27:24 KJV)

Pastor's Sunday morning sermon was on Jesus' trial before Pilate. I had several thoughts to write about. When I went to look for a graphic of Pilate washing his hands, this one struck me just right. We had a tiny long-haired Chihuahua, Anni, who never would look at the vet when we had to take her in. I believe her concept was, “If I don’t see him, he’s not there.” In this graphic, Pilate is turned away from Christ as water is poured over his hands and he takes himself out of the death sentence. Yet, he knew that Christ would die based on his decision.

Jesus knew differently:

Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin. (John 19:10-11 KJV)

It takes all four gospel writers to tell what happened in the trial before Pilate. They all tell of the crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection, too. Anyone who has heard the message understands that Jesus’ story is unlike any up to that time and from that time to this. Everyone who hears it has questions, some similar to Pilate’s:

Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? (John 18:38a KJV)

Sometimes the answer to that question leaves people understanding Pilate’s reaction:

The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God. When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid; And went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer. (John 19:7-9 KJV)

Every person who hears the gospel has to make a decision regarding Jesus. He said He was the Son of God, equal to God. If He is not, the Jews and the Romans were legally correct that He must die.

If He is not, none of the promises He gave and the apostles wrote are worthwhile. None of the commandments should be followed. If He is not, there is no reason to fear consequences of our actions – except those frowned upon by our own societies.

But – if He is (and I believe that He is) then I should be serious about learning what He had to say and what His expectations are about me. I also believe the best information on that is the Bible.

Therefore, I study it.

Some just ignore it. They may pick and choose a nice verse here or there. Among favorites in this group are:

Judge not, that ye be not judged. (Matthew 7:1 KJV)

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (Matthew 22:39 KJV)

These verses do not stand alone. They are surrounded by additional, explanatory, verses. Continue reading in Matthew 7 and see that we must take care of our own beam before – but not instead of – helping our brother with a mote. Note that Matthew 22:38-40 gives not only the second, but the first of the commandments upon which all others rest. God is first. All else is second.

To ignore scripture puts us at risk. Disbelieving them puts us outside God’s promises. That’s why the decision cannot be ignored and we should share the reason why we didn't. Why we pray others won't just ignore it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

When We Hear “No.”

Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. (Matthew 15:25 KJV)

That’s just the middle of the story. I recently saw that verse posted and thought how much we’d love to hold on to it because we worship Him, call Him “Lord” and most certainly desire His help. We are just as gentile as she was, too:

And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. (Matthew 15:22-23 KJV)

How hard was it for this woman to plead with a Jew? Yet, He did not answer her. She continued. She believed He could heal her daughter. She persisted to the point that His disciples asked Him to send her away. Did you ever wonder why they didn’t send her away?

But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. (Matthew 15:24-26 KJV)

Instead of sending her away, He explained that she was not among His responsibilities.  He had a purpose, a focus on the children of Israel. She worshipped and begged for His help. His response sounds harsh, doesn’t it? He compares His work with the children of Israel as sustenance that should not be given to dogs. Did He just refer to her as a dog, an insult? Should she be angered, leave in disgust, give up?

And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. (Matthew 15:27 KJV)

She accepted the position He suggested. She was willing to lower herself to whatever position was necessary to receive crumbs.

Then we read His response:

Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. (Matthew 15:28 KJV)

What if she had accepted the initial lack of response? What if she had left after He said only Israel was to receive? What if she had not accepted crumbs? Her daughter would have died.

Our Lord approached His Father three times asking that the cup be removed. All three times the answer was “No.” He knew what to expect yet bowed to His Father’s will.

What are the lessons for us? For me, I understand that not all I want – or think I need – fits into God’s plan. I may be on the edge of the crowd crying out for His mercy just as this Canaanite woman. It may appear that He’s not paying attention. This woman’s faith in Jesus’ authority and His ability was sufficient to keep her at His side until she received a positive response.

Now, do I have sufficient faith to stay close to Him, continuing to plead my case? Is what I’m asking as important as her request? Is my faith sufficient to continue beyond one – or two – or more “No” answers?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Christ Is Preached

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

There is a video several acquaintances have shared where an attractive lady confronts a street preacher and tells him he is turning people off instead of turning them to Jesus. She tells him the correct way is to live as Jesus teaches us and others will see our lives and want to learn more. He, on the other hand, is preaching that we are sinners and without Jesus, eternity will be spent in hell.

Either way, a portion of the gospel is given. Can we say, as Paul did:

What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.(Philippians 1:18 KJV)

What does attract people to our Lord? Why do Christians even care? As a politician recently asked, “What difference does it make now?” My answer is, an eternal one.

I am very concerned about some loved ones who are ignoring God. Another who states there is no God. And, their active Christian family members who assure me there’s no problem – they are good people who help others. I agree that they are, but I’m concerned because of what the Bible tells us in all the counsel.

There are several scenes in the Bible that give us a description of God's throne. The one on my mind is described in Matthew 25:31-46. No, I won't copy all of the verses here, but it would be a good idea to read them all to understand where my thoughts led - and see if those thoughts can be followed.

But first, let's take a look at a couple of other verses:

And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. (Acts 16:30-31 KJV)

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: (Ephesians 2:8 KJV)

Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? (James 2:18-20 KJV)

To me all of this means that faith is necessary (backed up by Hebrews 11:7 - go ahead, look it up), but once there is faith, there will be good works. Please, take time to read around these three verses. Are there other verse that would negate any of them?

And think of how they fit in Matthew 12, when the sheep ask:

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? (Matthew 25:37 KJV)

Or, when the goats ask:

Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? (Matthew 25:44 KJV)

Do you find it strange they virtually asked the same question - when did we see you? One group responded to needs, while the other group did not even recognize the needs of their fellow man. Faith will bring forth good deeds – the fruit of believing Jesus and his teachings. The Bible also tells us how to have faith:

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17 KJV)

… and, why:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: (Ephesians 2:8 KJV)

There were two destinations – the same two taught throughout the Bible – heaven and hell. I am concerned for my loved ones and want to share all the counsel of God. The entire word of God, the Bible.