Thursday, July 31, 2014

Doctrine Divides

Life of Christ 121

          Jesus and His Apostles are traveling and preaching through Judea in the Autumn before His death. Our story today (Luke 12.51-53) is a continuation of a conversation He began earlier in the chapter with the same crowd.
          There are a multitude of misconceptions in the popular mind about Jesus. They result from a refusal to see Him for Who He is rather than for who they want Him to be. People often latch onto one valid aspect of Him that they like, and then magnify that in their minds until that is all Jesus is. 'Jesus? Oh, yea, He loved people. He was merciful. He was kind.'
          This is one of the reasons why it is so helpful to take an in depth look at the life of Christ, such as we are doing on this blog, so that we may see Him in His entirety rather than just focusing on the aspects that we like.
          One of the great misconceptions about Christ is that He came to unite all people. He actually didn't. He came to unite all of the people who choose to believe on Him, but where there is no common belief about Jesus Christ there is no common ground, and thus no union. 'Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are' (John 17.11). For instance, the great passage about unity, Ephesians 2.13-14, is about believers. So is Ephesians 4.5-6.
Jesus Christ spoke of mercy, grace, redemption, forgiveness, and love, but He also spoke of judgment, law, condemnation and division. And He Himself is that dividing line. 'So there was a division among the people because of Him' (John 7.43).
What a person believes about Jesus determines their eternal destiny, but it also determines, in a very practical way, my level of relationship with them. There is to be a unity in my heart, mind, and life with those who are in 'the faith', and the extent to which they are in the faith, and like Christ, is the extent to which I can be united with them. 'Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ' (Ephesians 4.13). Otherwise, if there is no common belief in Christ, and behavior like Christ, then there is a specific call for us, not to unite with others, but to separate from them (II Corinthians 6.14-15).
With that by way of a foundational explanation look at what Jesus says to this Judean crowd. 'Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one household divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law' (Luke 12.51-53).
Now let me make a statement that many will not like, but one which I firmly believe is the real life application of this story. There will never be unity in your family until they all come to Christ. It is for this reason that your family reunions and holiday get togethers are always a little tense. This is why they look at you like you are crazy and you look at them like they are crazy. You have two different allegiances to two different kingdoms. I'm not saying you shouldn't want unity. I'm not saying you shouldn't pray for unity. I am saying that you won't ever have unity unless and until everybody in question kneels in humility at the cross.
          This is why many of you have a closer actual relationship with other people where you attend church than you do with your own flesh and blood. It isn't because your church is a cult, and that it forbids you from contact with your family members. No, it is simply because there is a huge barrier between you and your sibling, your spouse, your parent, or your child, and that barrier is their rebellious refusal to believe in the claims of Christ and to live their life in accordance with His will.

          I'm not saying you should want this, but I do believe that you need to understand it. Doctrine divides. Jesus is the dividing line. The only way to stop that division is to get your loved ones on the same side of that dividing line as you.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ready? Set? Go!

Life of Christ 120

          Jesus and His Apostles are traveling and preaching through Judea in the Autumn before His death. Our story today (Luke 12.35-48) is a continuation of a conversation He began earlier in the chapter with the same crowd.
          One of the hallmarks of Christ's ministry was His tendency to introduce important subjects to His Apostles gradually, and then to ramp up His explanation of and emphasis of them as time passed. He did this in reference to His divinity, to His crucifixion, and to His resurrection. He also does this in reference to His Second Coming. If I am correct, this is His first actual mention of it, and that is worth noting certainly.
         It must have been very difficult to get the concept of the Second Coming across to His Apostles. After all, they still didn't understand His initial coming contained a crucifixion and resurrection. How then could they possibly grasp the idea of a Second Coming?
          I had a professor in college, Marlene Evans, who taught the concept of time released teaching. Just as with certain medications, you take it in now but it doesn't help you until later. Jesus was here giving them truths that they would look back on much later, and then understand and apply. Clearly they eventually did that, for these same Apostles devote much space in their writings emphasizing the fact of and importance of the Second Coming.
          In this story Jesus first gives them two illustrations about His Second Coming. The first is of servants with an absentee master. They must constantly be prepared because he could come back at any time. The second was of the necessity of a house owner to be always prepared for thieves. They do not, of course, call ahead for an appointment so the owner needs to be perpetually vigilant.
          In both of these cases the main point of His illustrations is the imminency, the doctrine which teaches that Jesus Christ could return at any moment. Thus, we are to live holy, constantly prepared spiritually to meet Him at any moment. 'Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not' (Luke 12.40).
          In the next section Jesus shifts from primarily addressing what I think of as the entire Church to addressing the leadership of the Church. The illustration is of a steward, entrusted with the management of an absent lord's household. If the steward thinks his lord is never really returning he will be tempted to use what is there for himself, mistreating the lord's servants for his own ends. The result, when the lord suddenly returns, is harsh punishment for the steward.
          If it is bad news for the church corporately to be caught doing wrong when our Lord unexpectedly returns then imagine how bad it will be for the church's leadership if they are found errant in their responsibilities. What if they are not feeding the church properly? What if they are abusing the membership, lording it over them for their own uses, and hurting them? What if they are using their position to enrich themselves?
          If the people of the church are deemed to be guilty for living wrongly when He comes how much more will the leadership be held responsible? This passage (Luke 12.41-48) is a tremendously sobering one for those who would desire leadership in the church. You can see just how applicable it was to the Apostles and how applicable it remains for pastors, evangelists, and deacons today. Speaking personally as the pastor of a New Testament church, I must lead my people to live holy in an expectation of His imminent return, and I must lead them in the right manner, with the right spirit, and toward the right emphases. I must live right myself. I must treat them with kindness, compassion, mercy, grace, and firmness. I must feed them diligently with nutritious spiritual meals.
          In this case, addressed to the church's leadership, the same main point applies as applied in Christ's first two illustrations, namely imminency. 'Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing' (Luke 12.43).
          I am a pretribulational premillenniallist, and one of the primary reasons behind my doctrinal position is that I believe strongly in the importance of holding forth the idea of the imminent return of Christ. God specifically intended the Rapture to be suddenly, without warning, so as to motivate us to live holy. We are to be patient in our dealings with others (Philippians 4.5), we are to forgive one another (James 5.9), and we are to serve Him energetically (Romans 13.11) because we don't know when He is coming for us.
          Jesus' approach to eschatology isn't simply academic. It is eminently practical, designed to keep us in a state of constant readiness. The church I pastor has a statement of faith which includes this line in relation to the Second Coming: 'We believe in that blessed hope – the personal, imminent return of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.'
          It's only 'that blessed hope' if you're ready.

          Are you ready? 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Beware of Covetousness

Life of Christ 119

          Jesus and His Apostles are traveling and preaching through Judea in the Autumn before His death. Our story today (Luke 12.13-34) is a continuation of a conversation He began earlier in the chapter with the same crowd.
          The Pharisees remind me, in some respects, of the modern day prosperity gospel types for they believed that 'whom the Lord loves He makes rich.' Thus, riches became a tangible way of recognizing whom God was blessing. Of course, this isn't remotely scriptural. It is actually highly corrosive to genuine spirituality for it begets a pursuit of riches while justifying it as a pursuit of God's blessing.
          Our story today begins with an interaction between Jesus and the man in the crowd. The man's brother had received the entire inheritance, as was customary at the time, and he wanted Jesus to persuade his brother to split it with him. That sounds fair, right? Not only that, but if this guy was a Pharisee, it was not only fair but spiritual.
          Jesus refused to get involved, and instead discerned in the man's heart a spirit of covetousness. 'Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth' (Luke 12.15). He then took advantage of the opportunity of the occasion to establish several principles about money that are designed to help us overcome a covetous spirit.
          First, let us remember that we can't take what we acquire with us into the next life, contrary to what the pharaoh's believed (Luke 12.20). There are no U-haul's on caskets.
          Second, we are to be rich toward God (Luke 12.21). We are to want Him and His work to have the use of our money and property more than we do.
          Thirdly, we are not to be preoccupied with stuff (Luke 12.22).
          Fourthly, God is already well aware of what we need. Other than following the biblical principles of hard work, saving, staying out of debt, etc. we are to trust God to care for our physical needs and wants. Coveting has, at its root, the idea of lack, that we are missing out on something. But God full well knows everything we actually need, and provides for us very well. The Psalmist said, 'The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.' In other words, I have no unmet need because I have the best Shepherd of all. Embracing such an attitude goes a long way toward defeating covetousness.
          Fifthly, we are to put God's kingdom first (Luke 12.31).
          Sixthly, we are to realize that the only way to actually keep something is to give it away. 'Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not' (Luke 12.33). Western Union doesn't reach Heaven, but the offering plate does.
          It isn't wrong to be rich. Abraham is proof of that. It isn't wrong to save and invest for a future time of need. The ant in Proverbs is proof of that. It isn't wrong to have a goal and to work hard at providing something nice for your family. Solomon built a palace for himself – but he built the Temple first. When God's kingdom comes in second place in my life, in any area of my life, I'm in trouble.
          Covetousness isn't a matter of things. It is a matter of the heart. When my heart becomes turned more toward what I want, in the way of physical, earthly, tangible things, more than it is turned toward God then I have become covetousness. This covetousness cannot coexist in a heart that loves God supremely. 'For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also' (Luke 12.34).

          What you love and what you treasure are inextricably linked. Beloved, let us keep our treasure firmly established in the next world, and our heart will be too.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Be Not Afraid of Them

Life of Christ 118

          In our story today (Luke 12.1-12) we find Jesus and His Apostles traveling and preaching through Judea in the Autumn before His death. In the course of His travels He has encountered people who would have believed on Him except they were afraid of what the Pharisees would do to them, or to their family in response (see John 9 for an illustration of this). This fear of men, and of what they think of you or can do to you paralyzes spiritual progress in timid people. Jesus knew that His disciples would need to learn this lesson (Luke 12.1), and soon. After all, they would be leading the Church without Him in less than six months.
       Jesus gives them three reasons not to be afraid of what men can do. First, because God has more power than men do. 'Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him' (Luke 12.4-5).
          Logic, all by itself, will tell you that if you are forced to choose between two people to fear you should fear the one that can do the worst. For instance, if I played on an organized football team, I would rather line up against the Little Sisters of the Poor than I would the Chicago Bears. On a much larger scale that is the comparison which Jesus gives us. We fear men but the absolute worst that they can do is to take our life. God, who can do that as well, can also follow it up by sending someone to an eternal hell. He is the more powerful by far. In this sense, I don't have to be afraid when their guy comes into the ring. My guy is bigger.
          The second reason we don't need to be afraid of men is because God values us highly. 'Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows' (Luke 12.7).
          A few weeks ago my wife and I took a large group of children from our church to summer camp. We have a five year old son, and although he is too young for camp he had to go since both of his parents went. He likes to swim, and so during the boys' swim time I put a lifejacket on him and took him into the pool. There were probably 50 boys in that pool, and although I would gladly have helped any boy who was in trouble in the water there was only one boy that I kept my eye on constantly – my own son. Naturally, I value him more highly than I did any other boy there.
          As a believer in the claims of Jesus Christ I am a child of God (John 1.10). That makes God place an incredibly high value on me, and if He notices what happens to even sparrows then I'm absolutely positive He notices what happens to me. When I am placed in a fearful situation I am absolutely positive that I'm uppermost on His mind, and that He is paying complete attention to me and to my circumstances. Another way of saying this is that He will not let anything bad happen to me accidentally because He got distracted. He notices everything because He values me so highly.
           The third reason we don't need to be afraid of men is tied directly to the institution that has driven so much fear in Christians for millennia – the government. Jesus said here that God will help us when we stand before the authorities. 'And when they bring you unto synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say' (Luke 12.11-12).
          Unlike some, I do not believe this passage teaches that we shouldn't prepare a legal defense. Such a position violates, in my mind, much clear teaching from the book of Proverbs. But in context what it does teach is that I don't need to fear governmental authorities because God will be with me when I face them.
          God instituted government (Genesis 6, Romans 13), but often government goes haywire, and fights against God and right instead of for it. The past two thousand years of Church history is indisputable proof of this. I can hear what so much of American Christianity is saying in response: 'We live in America; we won't face persecution here. This one doesn't really apply to us.'
          Such a head-in-the-sand mentality ignores not only two thousand years of Church history, it also ignores the clear tenor of the times in which we live. The Constitution of the United States of America is just a piece of paper in our day, one already riddled with holes and shot through with violations. The guarantee of religious liberty enshrined in it is only as good as the moral fiber of our generation, and that moral fiber is shrinking as fast as an ice cream cone on a hot July day. The truth is that the normal, not rare or even unusual, but normal condition of God's people in Church history has been government tolerated or sponsored persecution. And that is a fact which we pampered American Christians will, sooner or later, and I think sooner, become reacquainted with.
          You would almost think God knew this ahead of time because He repeatedly mentions persecution in the New Testament. He tells us that it will happen (John 15.20). Not only that, but He tells us that it will happen more and more as we get toward the last days (Luke 21.12-13). He also tells us how to respond to it. For instance, we are to keep a good spirit while enduring it (Matthew 5.11-12). We are to show our persecutors favor and blessing. (Romans 12.14). Specifically, in reference to ourselves, we are to keep two things in mind while undergoing persecution. First, we are to rest assured that God loves us even while we are enduring it (Romans 8.35). Secondly, we find in our story today that we are not to be afraid of them.
          So many Christians live in fear of what others will do or say if they actually live out a bold Christianity. It is a fleshly and needless fear. Are you afraid to tell your buddies you got saved? Be not afraid of them. Are you afraid to ask your boss to give you Sundays off? Be not afraid of them. Are you afraid of the reaction of strangers while witnessing? Be not afraid of them. Are you afraid to minister in a certain way lest someone sue you? Be not afraid of them. Are you afraid to read your Bible at work lest someone think you're a nut? Be not afraid of them. Are you afraid to sing in the choir lest you hit a wrong note? Be not afraid of them. Are you afraid to take a strong stand against homosexuality lest you get fired? Be not afraid of them. Are you afraid you will be embarrassed, criticized, ostracized, ridiculed, laughed at, insulted, or persecuted in your service for the Lord? Be not afraid of them. 'God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind' (II Timothy 1.7).
the young man who complained to the police on
the basis that the flyer incited hate
          In Norfolk, England just two months ago a Baptist church put a flier on its marquee that stated 'If you think there is no God you'd better be right' printed over a picture of flames. The implication was clearly that without God you will end up a hell. A young man walking by was greatly disturbed by it, and called the police. They promptly began to investigate the 'hate crime' of putting up such a flyer. That is appalling enough, but what absolutely infuriates me, as a Baptist preacher, is that the pastor of the church immediately took down the 'offensive' flyer from his church marquee. His fear proved much bigger than his backbone.

          What Pastor John Rose of the Attleborough Baptist Church in Norfolk, England needs is the same thing you and I need: an unyielding surety that we don't need to be afraid of them. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Truth or Lies

Life of Christ 117

Note: This is the eighth of an eight part mini-series on the errors of the Pharisees.

          The seventh error with which Christ reproaches the Pharisees is hiding the truth from people. 'Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered' (Luke 11.52).
          We must never forget that the devil is a liar and the father of it (John 8.44). He is, in every respect, the opposite of Jesus Christ, Who is the Truth (John 14.6). Thus, religious systems which hide from the truth and propagate lies are an anathema to God, and ought to be an anathema to people. The same is true of the religious leaders who lead those systems, and the followers who fill them.

          Granted, it is certainly true that some people will refuse to see the truth as truth when you display it, or will insist, either sincerely or insincerely, in misunderstanding the truth. These are all too human failings. But, speaking broadly, we have nothing to fear when holding and displaying the truth and everything to gain.
          I could point my finger at any number of religions, but let me hew close to our own crowd here. I've known some soul winners who lied about their soul winning results. I've known bus workers who promised promotions that they knew weren't going to happen. I've known preachers whose sermons were replete with fake illustrations. I've known Bible college students who lied about their homework. Certainly every human being has lied at one point or another, but when we lie in the process of serving God or about what we are doing for God it is abominable. We are not only hurting ourselves, but also those around us. We are hiding the knowledge of the truth from them, and no matter how sincere or good our motives may be, the result will eventually be damage rather than edification.
          As we close this little mini-series based on Jesus' diatribe against the Pharisees let us embrace the applications to our own religious system. Let us beware placing a premium on the external to the neglect of the internal. Let us be balanced, and not major on the minors. Let us avoid pride at all costs. Let us carefully teach doctrine, and whitewash the spiritually dead movements of our day. Let us be cautious that we do not produce an untenable religious system, filled with rules, and choking off a vital spiritual life from the heart. Let us embrace, rather than resist, those who would question our dogmatism. And let us speak and welcome the truth.
          We ought never forget that the Pharisees started out well, with the best of intentions, in their desire to ensure Israel remained true to God. But the devil is a master at perverting real religion to the place that it actually hinders people in relation to the Lord instead of helps them. We must needs be watchful that we do not allow our good religion, committed to the Lord in ways that so many no longer are these days, to turn into a pharisaic disaster.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ask Me No Questions

Life of Christ 116

Note: This is the seventh in an eight part mini-series on the errors of the Pharisees.

          The sixth error with which Christ reproaches the Pharisees is murder. 'Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres. Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute: That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation' (Luke 11.47-51).
Facebook page advocating beheading anyone who
insults Islam, June 28, 2013
         Without any shadow of a doubt, when your system arrives at the place that it kills people in order to perpetuate itself your system is rotten to the core. Politically speaking, we saw that revealed in the bloodiest of centuries, the 20th, in the systems of communism and fascism. Religiously speaking, we saw it revealed in the Middle Ages, via the Roman Catholic Church, with the Inquisition, and we are seeing it revealed, again, in the modern day, with Islam.
          I have little doubt that any Christian reading along would agree with this. Thus, I am more concerned to address to you what produces this, to discover the underlying causes which produce, years down the line, a system which murders people in order to perpetuate itself. If we can realistically spot such causes we can identify, beforehand, which systems are already rotten.
          A religion that is bold enough to kill in the name of its god is one which is dogmatically convinced that it alone is right. But it has to be more than that surely. The leaders of that religion have to be convinced that only their interpretation of the divine is accurate. Such a rigidness produces a black and white world, not ethnically but morally, in which there are no shades of gray. I do not mean about the big issues. I mean about all issues. Thus it is that a difference of opinion about any matter, ever so slight though it may be, becomes interpreted as an attack on the authority and veracity of that human leader, and thus of the very religion itself. Ergo, it becomes my sacred religious duty to my god to exterminate any heretical belief by assassinating the proponent of said belief.
          For instance, take the Roman Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility, for instance. Such a position holds that not only is the Roman church the only correct church, but that its human leader is right about absolutely everything he formally says and does in relation to the Church. It is true that this doctrine was not officially established until the First Vatican Council in 1870, but you can find specific historical support for it all the way back in 1087. Thus it was that the Roman church had the supposed authority to slaughter thousands of religious nonconformists during the Dark Ages.
          But let us back up even further, for again, I do not believe that any of the Christians who would read my blog would believe in the infallibility of any of their religious leaders. What is it that brings men to believe they are right about everything? Well, the answer to that is pride, of course, indisputably. What reveals that condition, a pride caused internal infallibility, to the outside world? I think it is this – a refusal to be questioned.
          If you're still following me then let me say it plainly: a religious system that is led by a person who refuses to be questioned has already within it the seeds of its own rotten destruction. Now with that statement I think I've finally backed this error of the Pharisees up to the place where we can see hints of it in our own religious world, and I do not think I have strained at a gnat and swallowed a camel to do so.

          Have you ever known a preacher who refused to be questioned? Have you ever known a preacher who believed he was right about everything? Have you ever known a preacher who believed that the only possible correct interpretation of Scripture was his own? You're thinking of somebody right now, aren't you? And it didn't end well, did it? No, of course not, because such an arrogant attitude is not only unscriptural, but additionally carries within itself the seeds of its own systemic destruction.
          Although there was vigorous debate within the pharisaic structure it was a veritable monolith when compared with the differences Jesus Christ had with it. And it refused to admit its error about anything. No matter what Jesus brought up the Pharisees insisted their interpretation was right and Jesus' was wrong. There was in them not a hint, not an iota, of humility and grace. The proof of this, and the ultimate proof of the rottenness of their system, was the blood of Christ running in rivulets down the old rugged cross.

          Beloved, let us hold the truth firmly, but let us do so in charity. Let us argue the rightness of our positions unashamedly, but let us do so with grace. We are not right about everything. Let us view no mortal man as infallible, or as an oracle of God. Let us not shrink from questions but rather let us welcome them. After all, if we have the truth, it can stand a vigorous examination in the full light of day. And if we don't, well, then we need to know that too.     

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Rules, Rules, and More Rules

Life of Christ 115

This is the sixth of an eight part mini-series on the errors of the Pharisees.

          The fifth error with which Christ reproached the Pharisees was that of having an untenable religious system. In other words, their doctrinal approach produced, in practice, an unworkable religious system. 'And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers' (Luke 11.46).
          As I've discussed elsewhere on this blog, the Pharisees originated with sincere intentions. Some good men in the centuries before Christ saw hellenization taking over their unique Torah based culture, and fought back by emphasizing a strict interpretation and application of the Law. They viewed the Law as a garden that contained wonderful flowers, and this garden needed protection from encroaching Greek and Roman cultures. They well remembered the great flaws of their great grandparents in the days before the Babylonian Captivity which saw Jewish monotheism under incredible assault from idolatry. They remembered the mixed multitude of Nehemiah's day, and admired the great lengths to which he went to maintain the religious and moral purity of the Jewish people.

          In the minds of these early Pharisees, then, it made great sense to put an unbreakable fence of various minute rules and regulations around the lovely garden of the Torah so as to protect it, and by default the Jewish people's loyalty to it. Somehow, they found a way to the erection of this fence to an Oral Torah which the first rabbi, Moses, had supposedly issued alongside of the written Torah when he came down from Mount Sinai. Thus, in one fell albeit gradual swoop, the Pharisees became the self-appointed custodian for the religious, cultural, moral, and ethnic soul of Israel.
          One of the great problems with the system they produced, however, was the very justification which produced it. If a fence that kept you six feet away, metaphorically speaking, from violating the garden of the Torah was good then one that kept you twelve feet away was even better, etc. If a five foot high fence was good then a ten foot high fence was better. There was a foundational rationale for producing an ever more complex and minute series of instructions designed to ensure that people didn't violate the Law of Moses.
          The result, by Jesus' day, was a system that was practically impossible to actually obey. For instance, I blogged earlier this year about the Pharisees approach to keeping the Sabbath (The Bankruptcy of the Pharisees). It was absolutely incredible. I realize I didn't grow up with it from my youth but I do not see, for the life of me, how in the world one could possibly make sure they kept every single one of those rules perfectly. The burden, for such it was and a great one, that rabbinic pharisaism placed on the back of the people of Israel was impossible to carry.
        This great father error produced, and I'm wording this in a way they would have loved, several daughter errors. For instance, since it was impossible to actually obey the rules they had come up with a series of ingenious ways around those rules. Corban, for instance, which I blog about here (Leave it to Beaver Land) is a prime example of this. Ergo, their system produced hypocrites who obeyed the rules in such a way that they actually didn't obey the rules. But even more egregiously than this was the daughter error of a religion that had become all about the rules and nothing about the actual heart attitude of the individual Jew toward God. Jesus addressed repeatedly in His ministry, and to greatest affect, I think, in the Sermon on the Mount.
          God never intended for our religion to be burdensome. 'My yoke is easy, and burden is light' (Matthew 11.29) Jesus said. Now that can certainly be misapplied, and has been, by all manner of antinomians in every century of Church history, but that doesn't make the statement invalid. There is a simplicity to our religion, or at least there ought to be (II Corinthians 1.12, II Corinthains 11.3). One of the best illustrations I've ever heard about the Christian life likened it to shoveling sand. It is often hard work, but it isn't difficult or complicated.
          Beloved, we must be careful here. No, our theology isn't anywhere near as unscriptural or complicated as rabbinic pharisaism, but as I mentioned a couple of days ago, we live in an unashamed pursuit of religious purity. That wonderful godly desire has a natural human tendency to breed rules. Those rules have a natural human tendency to become increasingly large, complex, burdensome, and unwieldy. We must guard against these natural human tendencies, and against the foundational errors of pharisaism. We must constantly seek to ensure that our people are free to focus on the Lord, and on the actual condition of their own heart before Him. Certainly this can be done without abandoning our desire for or pursuit of religious purity or else that very freedom becomes lawlessness and bondage in turn, but it must be done regardless.

          The Pharisees way over-complicated religion and burdened their people down with a system impossible to actually obey. The result in the people was the total absence of a heart turned toward God. Let us beware the same deadly mistake. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Graves Which Appear Not

Life of Christ 114

Note: This is the fifth of an eight part mini-series dealing with the errors of the Pharisees.

          The fourth error with which Christ reproached the Pharisees was defiling Israel. 'Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them' (Luke 11.44).
          The the Jew, contact with a dead body was the single most defiling thing, even more so than contact with a leprous person. Consequently, in Jesus' day there was a superstitious idea that one should avoid even graves whenever possible. There were some clearly marked cemeteries, but not all Jews used them. Thus it was that some Jews were buried in the ground in obscure places, and an unwitting Jew might defile himself by unwittingly stepping onto the grave. To avoid such an error it was customary to whitewash the top of the grave so that anyone walking would know to carefully step around, and thus avoid defiling themselves.
A Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem
          Jesus is saying here that the Pharisees were the equivalent of a dead body in a tomb, and that they had not whitewashed the top to warn people to step elsewhere. In a real sense, this was an important part of Jesus' ministry. He was whitewashing or marking the Pharisees so everybody would see that what was underneath was dead and should be avoided.
          It never ceases to amaze me how God's people can be so taken in by those who claim to be ministering the truth of the Gospel. For example, the megachurches of our day are packed, from Africa to Asia to South America to North America, full of Christians (though that, too, is arguable) listening to prosperity gospel preachers proclaim their heresy. But because those men are in a church, refer to the Bible, and handle a pulpit well, the mass of the great unwashed assume they are good, sound preachers. Unwittingly, then, these Christians have defiled their entire concept of Christianity by contact with and reception of the messages that come from such ungodly and corrupt men.
          The solution, in my view, is two-fold. First, the pastors of our day simply must equip their people, doctrinally, to be able to discern good and evil. We cannot simply name the names, though I’m not against that, of all erroneous preachers for those names come and go. We must teach them 'the faith', the entire body of doctrine taught in the Word of God. It isn't popular, of course, for some say it is boring and others say it is divisive. Still others say teaching doctrine isn't practical. I would beg to differ with at least the last of those three, and a good preacher can overcome the first. Doctrine is divisive, yes, and it was meant to be. That is a good thing not a bad thing. Doctrine, though accused of being impractical, is the exact opposite, and our illustration under discussion is a perfect example of it. How else can God's people know which preachers to trust and which not to trust initially but by the test of doctrine? It doesn't get much more practical than that.
          Secondly, the pastor must include as part of his active ministry, an occasional whitewash to mark the graves of the spiritually dead ministries with which his people may come in contact. Yes, he will intermittently use a broad brush when a narrower one would do, and he will sometimes make other mistakes. He also must guard against the temptation to become his people's authority, and to determine for them who they do and do not listen to. But a pulpit ministry that is bereft of warning will inevitably beget a pew bereft of discernment. Sheep need protected and led. It is one of the shepherd's most important jobs.

          The Pharisees were spiritually dead, and Israel was unknowingly greatly defiled by being so receptive of them. A loving and kind and bold Jesus Christ stepped up with a brush, and marked their doctrine and practice for the sepulcher that it was. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

I Thank Thee That I Am Not As Other Men Are

Life of Christ 113

Note: This is the fourth in an eight part mini-series on the errors of the Pharisees.

          The third error with which Christ reproached the Pharisees was pride. 'Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets' (Luke 11.43).
Chicago's Pride parade, 2013
          What an obvious sin pride is! It cavorts through the life of the openly wicked, overflowing out of them at every turn, on display in their schools, their offices, their factories, their ball fields, their parties, and their facebook pages. Solomon well said, 'Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness' (Proverbs 20.6), and one of the hallmarks of a wicked man is his willingness to do so at the drop of a hat, and to drop the hat. 'Look at me,' the wicked man thunders, 'notice me! See how amazing I am!' In its final stages it flowers openly as pride in and about rebellious sin. It is no accident that the homosexual movement has named its annual celebrations of debauchery pride parades.
           Pride, however, is more than obvious. It is often insidious. Its deceitful tendrils creep into the life of even God's people. They are not so far gone as to be proud of their sin, but the venom is just as deadly when the cause of the pride is spirituality as when it is wickedness. The Pharisees were not proud of wickedness, no sir, but they were proud of how good they were at being Pharisees, of how clean they were, of how observant they were, of how strict they were, and of how pure they were. Their pride wasn't found on display in the red light district of town but rather 'in the synagogues.'
          Pride, wherever it is found, is anathema to God for by it we exalt ourselves into His place, taking ownership of the glory that rightly belongs to Him. One could argue that pride was the very first sin, birthed in the heart of Lucifer eons before the Garden of Eden, when he looked at God and thought, 'I will be like the most High' (Isaiah 14.14). Another way of saying this is that God instinctively and immediately recoils from pride, and from the proud person, whomever he may be, whether in the sodomite marching haughtily down the big city street waving the rainbow flag or in the Baptist deacon sitting smugly in his favorite pew, proud of his position and reputation as a pillar of the church.
Pastor Jack Schaap, booking photo, 2012
         Perhaps worst of all, pride earns us the enmity of Almighty God. 'God resisteth the proud' (I Peter 5.5), the Apostle said, and that is true whether the proud man is an openly wicked one or a presumed godly one. Many a man of God, lifted up above the people as he preaches to them, find himself beginning to think that perhaps the great church he leads is actually the result of himself. This pride grows in his heart and life all the while he is actively ministering the Word of God to people around him. One of the saddest things about such a case is that God begins to fight against the very man who is doing His own work, and in such battles the man always loses, and devastatingly so.
          The Pharisees were highly esteemed by the common people of Israel. Steeped in the learning of the past, and married to the concept of a strict religious purity, they almost inevitably developed an egotistic self-satisfaction with their own spirituality. It revealed itself in them distinctly as they looked down on those around them who completely failed to measure up to the same strict standards they themselves did. 'The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess' (Luke 18.11).
          Beloved, we may rightly be glad that our theology is dissimilar from those Pharisees. After all, we have embraced the Jesus of Nazareth whom they so cruelly crucified. But we are not immune from those same temptations which befell them. Indeed, as independent, fundamental Baptists, given by definition to a pursuit of strict religious purity, we are actually highly susceptible to them. It is so easy for us to become proud of our stand, our position, our manner of life, and our firm adherence to the Word of God. In America, we live in a time of compromise and appeasement, one in which the majority of Christianity have laid aside the reproach of the cross and have embraced a pursuit of the world. But our King James Bible, and short haircut, and Saturday soul winning time are nothing to be proud about. Not now, and not ever.

          'He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, But to do justly, and to love mercy, And to walk humbly with thy God' (Micah 6.8).

Friday, July 18, 2014

Mountains, Molehills, and Mint

Life of Christ 112

Note: This is the third of an eight part mini-series detailing the errors of the Pharisees.

          The second error with which Christ reproached the Pharisees was that of majoring on the minors. 'But woe unto you, Pharisees! For ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone' (Luke 11.42).
          My small city garden is going gangbusters this year. It includes two kinds of peppers, green beans, zucchini, tomatoes, and, yes, mint. In fact, I just had a tremendous helping of green beans, and a slice of zucchini bread for lunch today courtesy of this little garden. Now that I'm thinking about it I just may make myself some mint iced tea after a while. But what I probably won't do is count all my mint leaves and make sure one out of every ten ends up in the offering plate next Sunday.
The Pharisees, however, were keen on exactly this kind of persnickety adherence to the letter of the Torah's admonitions regarding tithing. Interestingly enough, Jesus doesn't condemn them for it saying, 'these ought ye to have done'. But He does fervently condemn them because while they counted and tithed their garden produce they completely failed to emphasize the love of God. And in the big scheme of things the love of God is a much bigger part of the Scriptures than is tithing your garden produce. The Pharisees had made the classic mistake of majoring on something relatively unimportant while at the same time basically ignoring that which should have been highlighted.
Years ago, in our little country church in rural Pennsylvania, a young couple visited, and then came back several more times. They were immediately noticeable because the wife wore a head covering. My wife and I invited them over to our home, and spent some time with them in an effort to welcome them into our church. At first, things went swimmingly until I discovered that even though both of them had been saved since they were children neither one had yet been baptized. Knowing full well that this is the very first step of obedience for the new Christian, and is repeatedly mentioned in the New Testament I began to try to convince them to accept baptism. Curiously enough, although they acknowledged the validity of baptism they refused to submit to it, contenting themselves with a Christianity that consisted of visiting a round of local churches, and enjoying the singing and occasional fellowship they found. And, of course, wearing a head covering.
I freely admit that Paul instructs women in I Corinthians to pray with their head covered (I Corinthians 11.5). I happen to believe that this head covering consists of a women's long hair (I Corinthians 11.15), but if a woman of my acquaintance believes differently and wears a head covering I'm not going to quarrel with her about it. What I do find to be utterly contemptible is a woman who insists on obeying this relatively minor instruction, mentioned only one time in Scripture, at all costs, while at the same time rebelliously refusing to obey the very first command God gives Christians, and one emphasized dozens of times in the New Testament.
Years ago I heard Clarence Sexton, the pastor of the Temple Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, say that we ought to place the emphasis in our ministry where God places the emphasis. That statement rang true with me, and I set about seeking to discover what God emphasizes the most, and then replicating it in my life and in my church. It has been a wonderful study and application, and while I'm not at all sure I have succeeded in it, I am sure that I am trying.
Rabbit trails and hobby horses make for entertaining preaching, but they also make for shallow movements and weak Christians. I meet them all the time. They carry the biggest King James Bible you've ever seen, and wave it around to all and sundry, but their families are a colossal disaster, spiritually, and there is no love and grace and wisdom exhibited in their lives. They can and do vigorously debate the finer points of dispensationalism, but they haven't witnessed to a lost person in years. They eschew vanity in their outward apparel with exactitude, but they are not a member of any local church, preferring the occasional visit once every couple of months. They well up with tears at the Southern Gospel concert as the group sings about Heaven, but they haven't cried over their own, or anybody else's sins, at an altar in decades.

Such an unbalanced faith never moves on to spiritual maturity. Beloved, let us beware of this tremendous pharisaic mistake. We cannot afford to turn spiritual molehills into mountains nor mountains into molehills. Let us place the emphasis where God places the emphasis. Let us not ignore any aspect of Scripture, but let us endeavor to lay it before our people and live it out in our lives with the same sense of proportion with which God gave it to us. It is the only way we can truly be biblical Christians.  

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Mr. Outside and Mr. Inside

Life of Christ 111

Note: This is the second in an eight part mini-series on the errors of the Pharisees

Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, Glenn Davis
and Felix Blanchard, dual Heisman
winning running backs that won 3
national championships for West Point
in the 1940's
          The first error with which Christ reproached the Pharisees was that of placing a premium on the external to the neglect of the internal. 'And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness. Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also?' (Luke 11.39-40).
          This is exceptionally strong language, even for Christ, but He clearly was justified in His choice of words. How foolish is it, indeed, to painstakingly ensure the outside of a dirty cup is carefully washed while all the while ignoring the filth on the inside. Certainly, I want any dish I pick up to be clean on both the outside and the inside, but, of the two, the inside is the more important.
          In this we see the same theme that has come up so often in His ministry, and that is the importance of the heart. He must needs repeatedly emphasize this, not because Jesus didn't care about the external, but because the Pharisees didn't care about the internal. What we see so often in American Christianity is the unbalanced mistake of being in a ditch on one side of the road or the other. Contrarily, what we see so often in Scripture is a balanced approach, one which takes into account the importance of both the inside and the outside.
          Let us take the thorny example of women's dress, for instance. Take a walk through any mall in America and you will see attractive women parading around in all sorts of short, tight, low, high, revealing attire. Worse than that, however, is that you can see similar attire on almost any contemporary church youth group activity. Woe betide any preacher who dares to address the subject, for he is quickly shouted down with references to legalism, liberty, grace, and nunya business as if the Bible is completely silent about the subject of how women ought to dress.
The simple truth is that the Bible does address it. 'In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel' (I Timothy 2.9). We may disagree over where to draw the line in relation to modest apparel but we cannot disagree that there is a line, and that God's Word explicitly commands women to dress modestly.
However, by the same token, there are some religious groups in my experience who go take great care to ensure that their women dot all the I's and cross all the T's when it comes to modesty, and yet sadly and completely fail to emphasize much at all the importance of the heart. Woe betide the preacher who dares to address the subject, for he is quickly shouted down with references to weakening standards, greasy grace, and neo evangelicalism as if the Bible is completely silent about the condition of a woman's heart.
The simple truth is that the Bible does address it. 'Whose adorning let it not be that of outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price' (I Peter 3.3-4). We may disagree over what exactly a meek and quiet spirit means, and what are the evidences and foundations of an incorruptible heart, but we cannot disagree that these are an absolute necessity, and that God's Word explicitly commands women to cultivate them.
I don't think God's people ought to ink themselves with gang tats, wear clothing with swear words, or run around half naked. There is an emphasis on modesty and propriety and a clean cut exterior in the Word of God that is sorely lacking in today's culture, both secular and Christian – but you can dress up your exterior to a modest and Christian fare thee well and still be as wicked as the devil inside.
The Pharisees were foolish in Jesus' view, not because they emphasized an external cleanliness, but because they did so while completely ignoring the inward 'hidden man of the heart.' The solution to this great pharisaic error is not to abandon any teaching or correction in relation to the visible part of life, but to place, without fail, a tremendous emphasis on the invisible part of life.
Holiness is being like Christ. That doesn't come natural to humanity. We are greatly blessed in that He has furnished us with the Holy Spirit enabled grace to do what is unnatural, and to progress in holiness. But a holiness that is never seen by others isn't a genuine holiness, and a holiness that is only tacked up like a false front isn't a genuine holiness either. Let us make clean the outside of the cup, but let us, at the same time, make clean the inside of the cup.

If you don't you are a fool.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Woe Unto You Pharisees

Life of Christ 110

Note: This is the first of an eight part mini-series on the errors of the Pharisees.

          Jesus and His Apostles are on a preaching trip through Judea in the months immediately prior to His crucifixion. Along the way, in some village, He was invited to eat at a local Pharisee's house. This sounds strange, but hospitality was ingrained in their culture, and from the Pharisee's perspective it would put Jesus' on his turf, and give him an opportunity to berate and/or convince Jesus of the error of His ways. In so doing, said Pharisee got a whole lot more than what he bargained for on this occasion.
Woes of the Pharisees by James Tissout, 1886
         What is so remarkable about our story today (Luke 11.37-54) is the utter vehemence with which Jesus tore into the Pharisees. It is matched or exceeded on only one other occasion in His entire ministry. It seems, on the surface, completely disproportionate. The Pharisees reprove Him for His lack of ritual washing before the meal, and His response is a veritable tirade of accusation and judgment that goes on for the rest of the chapter. If you didn't know better you would think Jesus was having a bad day, and lost His temper. Of course, that isn't the case, but something clearly set Jesus off here, and it behooves us to look at this a little closer.
          For years now the Pharisees have been, not only antagonistic to Jesus personally, but taking the Jewish people that He loved so much in the completely wrong direction, religiously. Their desire to erect an extra-biblical fence around the garden of the Torah had resulted in a religion that was full of an astounding number of rules, and one that tore the heart out of the people's obedience to the Lord.
          On this occasion, that of a meal, it is helpful to see some of the Pharisees' concept of approach. The psalmist said, 'The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof' (Psalm 24.1). Thus, if you ate without thanking the Lord for the food you were stealing. So far so good, but they wanted to ascertain if a separate blessing was needed over each item, or just the principle item? If it is just the principle item how do you determine that? Doesn't that depend on the dish and the ingredients in the dish? And since we now have classes of items in which we have ranked, in order of importance (so we can know when to bless which one) each ingredient we also now have an opportunity for tremendous theological argument. Which blessing should be used for which ingredient when?
The caper plant
This sounds silly to us, but to the rabbis of Jesus' day this was prime debating territory. For instance, the schools of Hillel and Shammai had a terrific row about whether the blessing should be said over the berries or the leaves of the caper plant. And this was just about the blessing before the meal! There were similar kinds of pharisaic theological arguments over who should sit where, and who ought to wash, in what way, in what order, and at what times. It was all a useless pre-occupation with completely superfluous details, and it was further set within the context of a religious group that totally missed the main points of the Law.
The Pharisees had chosen to spend an exhaustive amount of time and energy debating and establishing arcane rules for items of minute importance, and had absolutely neglected the matters of primary importance in the Scripture. On this day, in that Judean Pharisees' home, Jesus has had enough. He is driven to a sudden, justifiable, righteous anger at their whole religious system.

Over the next seven blog posts I am going to walk you through this diatribe against the Pharisees, and reveal seven specific areas in which He reproves these Pharisees and lawyers. I invite you along for the journey. It might not be fun, but it will certainly be educational.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Life of Christ 109

          Jesus and His Apostles are traveling through Judea in a last ditch effort to convince the Jews to accept Him as their Christ. Such a spiritual effort must include prayer, as all spiritual work must, and after Jesus finished one such prayer session His Apostles asked Him to teach them how to pray like He prayed. Our story today is His response (Luke 11.1-13). Much more is here taught about prayer than I can cover in one blog post, but I can at least give you the broad strokes of what Jesus meant to convey.
          Before I go any further let me just openly say that most people do not like to read about prayer. In fact, I suspect that very few people will choose to read this post. It isn't about anything controversial, and it is about something that is convicting to all of us. And since we don’t like being convicted we usually skip anything that has to do with prayer. But the simple truth is that you and I desperately need the truths taught by Christ about prayer. If we are breathing we need God, and we need to know how to get a hold of God, and we need to know how to get things from God.
          We find here, firstly, an example of prayer (Luke 11.2-4). This section is familiar to most people. It is very similar to the section in the Sermon on the Mount known as the Lord's Prayer. When Jesus repeated Himself He did so, I believe, not because He had run out of things to say, but because He desired to emphasize the importance of a particular truth. The Lord's Prayer, then, must be very important.
          I do not believe He meant it simply to be repeated mindlessly, a la the Catholics, and their chanted Hail Mary's and Our Father's. In fact, Jesus specifically said otherwise. 'When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think they shall be heard for their much speaking' (Matthew 6.7). No, He meant it as an outline of how to pray, and that is how I've used it for years.
          I begin by praying 'Our Father'. I take a few minutes and enter into the privilege and the sweetness of this relationship. I tell Him of how this encourages me, and motivates me to ask boldly, as only a child can ask.
          I then pray 'which art in Heaven'. Robert Browning, that great Victorian poet, once said so eloquently, 'God's in His Heaven – All's right with the world.' The omnipotence and sovereignty of God bring me great peace, and as I look at the troubles in the world around me I find that they vanish like fog on a summer day as I contemplate 'Our Father which art in Heaven.'
          I then pray 'hallowed be Thy name'. I tell God that His names are very important to me, and I bring my heart into a respectful and worshipful view of them. I pray for those around me who so often carelessly take His names in vain.
          I then pray 'Thy kingdom come'. I believe this speaks primarily of the Second Coming, and I, like John in Revelation 22, urge Him to come quickly. At the same time I also realize that while I am awaiting His imminent physical arrival He is supposed to be sitting on the throne of my heart at this very moment. I yield to Him the kingship of my life, and I ask Him to be the unreserved King of my marriage, my family, my church, and those I love so much.

          I then pray 'Thy will be done'. I seek to rest in what He wants for me rather than in what I want for myself, and I seek to yield my will for His.
          I then pray 'as in Heaven, so in earth'. I think of how the angels obey God in Heaven, and I ask Him to help me and mine to obey with the same delight, the same alacrity, and the same thoroughness.
          I then pray 'give us this day our daily bread'. I ask Him for provision.
          I pray 'And forgive us our sins'. I ask Him for forgiveness.
          I pray 'for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us'. I ask Him for a store of forgiveness that I will need to give away to those around me who, like me, are plagued with the curse of their humanity.
          I then pray 'lead us not into temptation'. I ask Him to guide me and mine in the way of holiness, protecting us, not just from sin, but from the snares and traps of temptation planned by the Evil One.
          I pray 'deliver us from evil'. I ask Him for His hand of protection.
          When I am done with this, and I get up off my knees, I find myself centered in Him and what He wants for my life, dependent upon Him, and seeking to glorify Him. I have not repeated the Lord's Prayer, but I have prayed it as He meant it to be prayed, as an example prayer.
          Secondly, we find here a call to perseverance on prayer (Luke 11.5-8). Perhaps the greatest mistake that God's people make in relation to prayer is not to. And perhaps the second greatest mistake we make in prayer is to give up. We ask once, or twice, or thrice, and then we cease. Or perhaps we continue to ask for a lengthy period, but, discouraged when we see no movement, we quit in frustration. Is your prayer scriptural? Is your prayer yielded to His will? Then keep on asking.
          Lastly, we see here an illustration of prayer (Luke 11.11-13). It has been my privilege to be a father for 13 years now. Something happens in a man when he looks down, for the very first time, on his own flesh and blood. A maturing happens. A knowledge that he is now responsible to care for someone besides himself happens, someone who is tiny and helpless, and he resolves to do it.
Such a father, a good father, when he sees a need in his child, will he torment that child by providing something different than is needed? Will he needlessly refuse, or force a lengthy wait for provision without good reason? Of course not, and God is a much better father than we are.
Jesus ends with this thought lest we feel, after the admonition to perseverance, that the Father is reluctant to help us. Such is not the case at all. What we see as reluctance is often simply God preparing the answer for us, or God preparing us for the answer. I am convinced that He desires to give us even more than we ask. I am convinced that He desires to give to us even more than we desire to get. He is the ultimate example of a loving, providing father.

In conclusion, then, we come around to the basic point: ask. 'Ask, and it shall be given you' (Luke 11.9). Ask because you can. Ask because He asked you to. Ask because He wants you to. Ask because He is all powerful. Ask because that is God's ordained method of getting it to you. But, for crying out loud, just ask.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Serve Him With Him

Life of Christ 108
          Jesus, in the months immediately preceding His death, is making a final preaching tour of Judea. In the course of this trip He travels through Bethany, the hometown of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. They were dear friends of His, as the scripture narrative later makes clear, and so naturally He and His apostles stay in their home (Luke 10.38-42).

          This is one of the more familiar stories from the life of Christ. It is familiar because it is often preached, and rightly so. As these thirteen men descend on this home they create a veritable mountain of work for the ladies of the house.
          The Word of God says that a pastor is to be given to hospitality (I Timothy 3.2). Consequently my wife and I have hosted hundreds of people in our home through the years so I can appreciate just how much work this must have involved. Every room must be cleaned. A menu must be planned. The food must be purchased and brought from the store. Each child must be bathed, dressed, and kept still long enough so as not to disturb the now clean house. The food must be prepared. Then, at some point, you must also prepare yourself as well. If they are staying with you it is even more work. People in the family have to be re-arranged in order to organize proper sleeping accommodations. Bathrooms and showers must be freed up. An entire room has to be, not just cleaned, but meticulously prepared with the myriad of items the guests will need for a comfortable stay.
          Most of this work can be done ahead of time, but if they suddenly show up, or if there is an exceptionally large group, the result is an huge and ever-growing pile of work. So it is that we can see how incredibly frustrating it was to the hard-working Martha to see Mary sitting, careless of all that needed doing, and talking with Jesus.
          Before we examine what this story is teaching let us first see what it is not teaching. Luke is not here showing us that it isn't important to serve God. The simple truth is that it is tremendously important that we serve God. He didn't save us to sit, but to serve (Ephesians 2.8-10). If we want to be like Jesus we will actively serve (Matthew 20.27-28). If we want to glorify God we will serve (Matthew 5.16). If we want to please Him we will serve (Colossians 1.10). If we want taken care of later we will serve now (I Timothy 5.10). It was for service that He saved us (Titus 2.14). We ought to be constantly provoking each other to serve God (Hebrews 10.24). In fact, as a pastor one of my primary responsibilities is to remind God's people of the importance of serving Him (Titus 3.1, 8).
          Don't tell me that your Christianity is doing just fine when you have no place or area of service for the Lord. Don't plead your schedule. Don't plead your health. Don't plead your inexperience. Don't plead your age. Don't plead your lack of money. Don't plead your ignorance. It is true that some of these may adjust how you serve, but what I refuse to believe is that they adjust if you serve.
          There are those who call this kind of teaching a guilt trip. I call the people who call this kind of teaching a guilt trip lazy and backslidden. There are those who excuse their lack of service by labeling this 'performance based Christianity'. They assert that God is pleased with us simply because we are His children, regardless of what we do or don't do. In one theological sense they are completely right. 'He hath made us accepted in the beloved' (Ephesians 1.6). But in another theological sense they are completely wrong. 'Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him' (II Corinthians 5.9). We aren't accepted into salvation by our works, but we aren't fully accepted after salvation without them either.
          God has called all of His children to serve Him, and He places a great emphasis on it in the Bible.
          So if this story is not teaching us that serving God isn't important what is it teaching us? Simply this: while serving God is important, it is even more important that we be with Him than it is that we serve Him.
          Did you ever wonder why God structured Christianity in such a way as to make prayer such a huge part of it? I mean, couldn't He have come up with some easier way to give us what we need and want? After all, He already knows all of our needs before we even speak them, and He is powerful enough to provide whatever those needs require. So why does He encourage, demand, and even beg us to spend time with Him, asking Him to provide our needs?
          The simple truth is that He wants to be with us. This is why He instructed us in I Thessalonians 5 to 'pray without ceasing.' Does this mean we aren't to sleep, or eat, or relax, or work, or think, or read, or spend time with our families? No, for in fact He tells us to do all of these things in scripture. It simply means we are to do all of these things with Him right alongside.
I often see my mailman talking on his Bluetooth phone while walking his route down our street. He is doing his work while at the same time being in constant fellowship with someone else. What Andrew Murray 150 years ago called ‘abiding in Christ’ and what Brother Lawrence 300 years ago called ‘practicing the presence of Christ’ and what Thomas A’Kempis 500 years ago called ‘the imitation of Christ’ and what the Apostle Paul 2000 years ago called ‘pray without ceasing’ is what Moses 3500 years ago called ‘walking with God.' It is simply me living my life during all my waking moments in constant fellowship and communication with God. It is constantly being with Him.
If you aren't serving Him in some capacity He isn't pleased with you. But if you are serving Him, yea, even with all your heart and soul, but you aren't spending time with Him He isn't pleased with you either. His great desire is that we become 'labourers together with God' (I Corinthians 3.9).

Serve Him with Him.