Tuesday, February 2, 2016

How Many Times Can You Forgive Somone?

Showing others mercy as God has shown mercy to you is a visible mark of genuine conversion. In this article I deal with Peter's question to Jesus about mercy in Matthew 18:21-22. My post can be viewed over at Western Seminary's blog, Transformed. To view my article click here.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Enjoy Him Forever

Has Christianity become a chore? For a lot of men it has. In most churches the number of women is greater than the number of men. It appears that Christianity or church is just another chore for many men. This was my attitude for a season. I worked a lot of Sundays because there was work that needed to be done on the ranch. My attitude didn’t change quickly. For a time, shooting trap and bird hunting was more important than Christianity. Those activities brought me joy. Unfortunately my heart toward God was cold. Christianity became a chore without much joy. 

I’m writing this from our couch where I’m ill, but I’m grateful for this illness because in it I’m reminded to enjoy God. Perhaps one of the reasons God takes our physical strength away is to remind us to enjoy him. Enjoying God is the best we can do in situations like this, and may be the only thing we are able to do. I didn’t have the strength to preach last Sunday, and haven’t felt well enough to leave my house. However, I can enjoy God by singing to him, praying for you, reading my Bible, and meditating upon his wondrous grace and faithfulness.

As a church, have we forgotten to enjoy God? Think about the first line of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “What is the chief end of man? Answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Glorifying God is not complete without enjoying him. Remember Lazarus’s sister Mary? She enjoyed God, but Martha was too busy for Jesus. 

Jesus entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him as a guest. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he said. But Martha was distracted with all the preparations she had to make, so she came up to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work alone? Tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the best part; it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42, NET). 

Mary chose to enjoy Jesus instead of the chores, and she made the best choice. Who do you think made the best choice? Was it Martha who was busy working, or was it Mary? Mary wasn’t afraid of Martha, the Lord had walked into her house and she was going to savor each moment. Perhaps the better question is, why isn’t Martha enjoying Jesus with Mary? And why don’t we enjoy Jesus like Mary did?

Philippians 4:4 reads “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” Paul wrote that with enthusiasm because he had learned how to enjoy God in every circumstance. And now he tells the Philippians, and us, to always rejoice in the Lord. Enjoy God in your poverty, or in your wealth. Enjoy God in your sickness, or in your health. We must learn to enjoy God at all times without letting circumstances get in the way. Martha allowed kitchen work to pull her away from joy in Christ. You may allow your job to pull you away. Whatever it is that is pulling you away from enjoying God at home, and with your church family, set it aside and come back to Jesus. 

As we begin 2016 we could start a new list of chores, but all that matters is Jesus. If you make a list, put Jesus at #1. Determine to enjoy him every day of your life in 2016, enjoy him by hearing his word read, preached, and taught. Enjoy him as you pray to him. Enjoy him as you worship him at home and with our church family. Enjoy him when we take communion. Enjoy him as you care for your children or your grandchildren. Set aside time each day to spend with Jesus, to read and to pray. Then the next day, do it all over again.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Christmas Questions and Answers

     For the past several months I have had the privilege of working with many of the children and youth during Sunday School. One of the tools we use to teach is a catechism. This little booklet consists of 114 questions and answers, it guides us to understand what the Bible teaches about our Triune God, and us humans. Below you’ll find the catechism’s questions that help us understand the meaning of Christmas, or Advent, if you will. There is much more to Christmas than decorations, buying gifts, preparing food, and hanging lights. All of those cultural traditions are great but let’s remember the true meaning of Christmas this year as we are gathered with family and friends. Let these questions and answers from the catechism assist you and your family to remember why it is that we Christians celebrate and emphasize Christmas. 
     1. What did God do to save his people from his anger and punishment? 
He sent his Son so that whoever believes in him would not perish but have everlasting life. 
John 3:16  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (NIV).

     2. Who is God’s Son? 
The Lord Jesus Christ
Luke 1:35  The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (NIV).
     3. How did he come to this world? 
He was born in Bethlehem in a stable. 
Luke 2:4-7  So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them (NIV).
     4. Who was his mother? 
The virgin Mary. 
Matthew 1:18  This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit (NIV).
     5. Did he have an earthly father? 
No. He came into the world by the power of the Holy Spirit. 
Matthew 1:18 (see verse above) 
     6. Why did he come in this way? 
So that he would be free from original sin.
Hebrews 7:26 Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens (NIV).

     I numbered these questions 1-6 for our purposes here, but they are questions 43-48 from Carine Mackenzie’s booklet, My First Book of Questions And Answers. (Christian Focus Publications, 2011). 

     The Lord Jesus Christ is the Son who was born to die and rise again. He is the Lord of life. May he be given his rightful place among our families and around our dinner tables this Christmas season. Have a very merry Christmas! 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

You Are Not Alone in The Fight

Halloween tends to remind us about spiritual warfare, at least it does for me. The verse quoted frequently for spiritual warfare is; “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness [...]” (Eph 6:12). These are good reminders, but what can we actually do about it? We often attempt to work through them alone but spiritual struggles are not just hidden within individuals, nor are they to be fought alone. The spiritual struggles we engage in involve the whole church, and are visible since they include people. 

An example of spiritual battle is the one that occurred on Crete. Titus was the appointed pastor to the small island, and his first job was to engage in spiritual warfare. That is, there were “many rebellious people, idle talkers, and deceivers, especially those with Jewish connections” (Titus 1:10). This battle against the gospel was obvious to everyone, and it included many churches on the island, and it had to be stopped. Moreover, we can learn a lot about engaging enemies by reading Titus but there are two items that prove to be especially helpful: First, nobody is in this battle alone. Second, this battle is frequently visible. 

You are not alone. By taking a step back we realize that the spiritual fight for the gospel includes more than just one individual. This is why Paul wrote this letter to Titus which was then read to all the churches on Crete. Paul wasn’t going to handle this by himself, nor was Titus. In fact, no one can engage such things alone, not even you or me. 

We are not to engage in warfare alone. Paul specifically told Titus to recruit faithful elders to stop the rebellion (Titus 1:5-11). Please note the “s” on the end of “elder” in verse 5. That is, each local church was to have more than one elder so as to engage the enemies together, and when we engage the enemy together we often win. On the other hand, sometimes we face struggles as individuals. Perhaps you may be evangelizing a person and they keep refusing to trust in Christ. That is heavy stuff; we are not to engage in these struggles alone. Bring it into the light by teaming up with a Christian brother or sister for prayer, or talk to an elder. 

Whatever the fight may be, from any color of temptation to those people who are trying to get you to doubt your faith, please get the help that you need quickly. The church exists to help one another. This is why we emphasize ministries like grief share, Sunday school, and our worship service. We need each other, and the enemy tends to stay away when we are gathered. You’ve never seen a pack of coyotes try to devour a herd of deer, but we all know what happens when a pack gets a young deer by itself. 

Speaking of deer, here in eastern Oregon they are fairly visible. If you’ve ever lived on the west side of the Cascades you remember that the deer over there are not as visible through all of the brush, which makes them harder to hunt. So like the deer around here our spiritual enemies don’t really lurk in the brush, they are visible. We often think that spiritual warfare happens in some other world, a demonic world, where God and the devil are fighting each other. But when we read the Bible we learn that isn’t the case so much. As it turns out, it isn’t the case at all. The church’s enemies are visible. Titus was facing very real and visible enemies. They were the false teachers. Likewise, Paul instructed the Ephesians to put on the full armor of God, and to pray for him as he preaches the mystery of the gospel (6:18-20). Make no mistake, anytime the Bible is read, taught, proclaimed, lived out, memorized, or meditated upon, you are engaging in spiritual war, and it may be with a person close to you. And the very thing that we pick up to engage in this war, is the very thing that protects us. Ephesians teaches us that our armor is truth, righteousness, the gospel, salvation, and the word of God (Eph 6:10-17). So it shouldn’t surprise us when we read that Titus was to give careful instructions to his men, so that they would use the word of God to stop the enemies of the gospel. Thus we use the word of God to guard the gospel.

The marvelous thing about all of this is that we have no reason to be fearful. We have every tool that we need to engage in this war, specifically, the Bible and prayer. Importantly, you have a church family who loves you and does not expect you to struggle through life on your own, in fact, Christian living is impossible to do alone. You need the church and the church needs you. Also, remember that you can usually see and hear your enemies. Unfortunately, we are exposed to the world which provides a variety of temptations, along with people who are trying to get us to stop believing in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Be sure to bring those struggles to the light. Furthermore, as we engage others face-to-face or online remember that our aim is that they would become healthy in the faith (Titus 1:13). When Jesus draws unbelievers to himself, that is the true victory. So let’s not worry about those Halloween ideas of spooky invisible spirit worlds, let’s face spiritual life together today, and plan on victory in Jesus. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

For The Interests of Others

"Then Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David with cedar trees and carpenters and stonemasons; and they built a house for David. And David realized that the LORD had established him as king over Israel, and that He had exalted his kingdom for the sake of His people Israel" (2 Samuel 5:11-12).

Loving our neighbor as ourselves isn't easy, but with God it is possible. We see love in the life of David, who is at the center of the story in 2 Samuel 5. It is here that we read of the third and final anointing of David, which unites all Israel's people under him. Life in Israel with David as king is what life should be like. That is, David was different than Saul. He was a king who loved God so much that he believed Him and was good to His people. But David's God was better than David, He loved His people so much that He gave them a king for their sake.

Speaking of people, a neighboring king named Hiram became friends with David. Although Hiram wasn't Jewish, he recognized the distinctiveness of David and David's God, so he wanted to do good to Israel. Perhaps he saw the power of God as Israel grew and though it best to became an ally to David rather than an enemy. Whatever the case may have been, he sent his timber and his men to build David a new house. After all, David was Israel's new king. And this would be the perfect time for pride to well up in King David since the king of Tyre recognized his authority. Was it David's popularity that made Hiram like him? Was it his military prowess? Or did David's promise keeping and loving God have something to do with it?

In His providence, God used Hiram to help establish David. Many years before all the elders of Israel anointed David he was anointed by Samuel to be the king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:1-13). God selected David; the most unlikely king there ever was. But through him God would someday establish His kingdom and, because God's promises never expire, David became king. And he knew it was Yahweh that did it. "David realized that the LORD had established him as king over Israel (2 Samuel 5:12a). It wasn't David's ruddy appearance or his military prowess, it was God who made him king over Israel, and his new custom built gift palace from Hiram the king was proof positive that the nations viewed David as such. But why did God do this? Couldn't he have just shown Israel that He loved them another way? Perhaps, but with David we learn that God uses men to be mediators between He and his people. David was there to extend God's love to the people.

Now, we all know that King David was far from sinless, but 5:12b teaches us something special. "and that He exalted his kingdom for the sake of His people Israel." Yes! David understood that God made him the king not for his own self-interests but for the interests of others.  We too must understand that we exist not just for hobbies, or to have fun, but to benefit other people.

We often use our positions for ourselves rather than for others. The employee who hogs as much free food and other nice things from the workplace isn't looking out for the sake of others. I once had a boss who screamed and cussed a lot, which never helped his employees, although it made him feel powerful. True power comes from God and living for the sake of others, which starts with your family.

David's example is not only instructive for us, but it also points us forward to another, better king that would be established for the sake of His people. The king came but his own people didn't recognize him so they killed him. But his death and resurrection were for the sake of His people. This king is Jesus Christ. Dearest reader, please remember that God loved his people so much and kept his promise so well that he sent Him, who is another David, only this One is perfect in every way and will not die.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What's Love Got to Do with It?

“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11).

Think of someone you love deeply. How much could you say about this person? Seriously, how much? I expect that you could write pages or talk for hours about your knowledge of and experiences with the object of your love. The framed photos on the walls of your home tell of your loves. When we look at photos we remember times, places, and special moments with the ones we love. Love precedes knowledge. If we love something, we want to learn more about it. If we love someone we want to know more about him or her. Love is the pathway to knowledge.

For example, a mother can recall the details of the birth of each of her children. She can recall surgeries and sicknesses that each child had. She can tell you their achievements and failures, their likes and dislikes, their hopes and fears, and so on. She remembers all of that knowledge because love is the pathway to knowledge. When you love deeply you seek to know everything you can about the object of your love, as a mother knows the details of her children.

When Paul wrote his letter to the church at Philippi he begins by expressing how much he loves them and reminding them that he prays for them (1:3-4). He also reminds them of who they are in Jesus, and tells them that he loves and misses them (1:5-8). He says this in Christian love as a mother would write to her own child. Then in verse 9 Paul bursts forth into prayer for his people.

In his prayer he asks God to cause their love to grow greater every day (v 9). He wasn’t speaking of love as a mere sentimental feeling but as a growth in knowledge and in keen perception so that the Christian would be able to tell between right and wrong. Love precedes knowledge. Just as when we love someone, we want to know more about him or her, the same is true of our love for Jesus. When we truly love Jesus, we will want to learn more about Him (William Barclay 18).

Now, there is a result of this chain of love, knowledge, and discernment. It leads to righteousness. If we really love Jesus we will live to please Him; the more we love Him, the more we will stay away from what is evil but cling to what is right. Real love is not blind, it actually gives us spectacles to see and know the things that are excellent. And by choosing the excellent things, or that which pleases Christ, we become blameless and prepared for the day when He will return (vv 10-11).

Speaking of His return, are you prepared? In a wondrous way, love, knowledge, and righteousness work together to prepare you. Your love for Christ will grow as you know Him more. But if you don’t love Him you’ll have no desire to learn more about God, and no desire to please Him with your choices, this grieves Him. I liken it to my marriage; I want to know more about my wife because I love her. Now, I know much of what she likes and what she does not like. And the more I get to know her the more I love her and make choices according to what she likes. The result is that I bring flowers to her rather than wild mushrooms. I take her to concerts with the Bend Symphony rather than hip-hop concerts. And I do my best to not ignore her when she is talking to me because I know her, love her, and do not want to grieve her. Life with God is much the same. As you learn more about Him, and as you choose to please Him, you start abounding in love, and love leads to obedience. Jesus said it this way, “If you love Me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

Friday, January 2, 2015

An Old Worn Out NIV: On Personal Bible Reading

The greatest gift that was ever given to me is from God. It is given by His grace and through faith. It is salvation. And those of us who have this great gift are His workmanship; we are created in Jesus so that our lives would reflect God’s goodness and glory, rather than our sinfulness (Eph 2:8-10). Another great gift that was given to me came from my parents in 1982. It was purchased at the Bible Bookstore in Saint Helens. It is a brown NIV Bible with tiny print, and it was my first Bible. It went with me each Sunday as we met with the saints of Yankton Baptist Church. I read that little NIV a lot by myself. I remember reading Jesus’s sermon on the mount while sitting on my bed and struggling to fully comprehend it. 

Now, 32 years have gone by and not much has changed in my ability to read and quickly understand the Bible. Bible interpretation can be difficult; I suggest that one major reason why we don’t read the Bible routinely is because we often read it just for comprehension, like it were a textbook. We are, however, to read it in order to be fed by God. 

Bible reading, as Pastor Willard Fenderson aptly said, was not to master the Bible but that we would be mastered by it. When we read the Scriptures God shepherds us. For example, in our reading we might discover a sin we need to repent of, a truth that we need to learn, or a promise from God. Here, in Bible reading, we are fed by God Himself. Yahweh said it this way: 

“Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the LORD promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 
He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you” (Deuteronomy 8:1-5). 

Jesus quoted a verse from the above passage, and note its context: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:1-4). 

Yahweh said it, and Jesus said it too: God feeds us with the Bible, which brings life. The analogy teaches us that just as we need to be fed food to survive, we need to be fed the Scriptures to survive. Likewise, what happens to one who does not eat food also happens to one who is not fed the Holy Scriptures. Did you eat today? Did God feed you with His Bible? 

Therefore, based on this teaching from both Yahweh and Jesus, I suggest that you make Bible reading part of your daily routine just as you routinely eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Read your Bible to be fed. As good as devotional books can be, they cannot replace Holy Scripture, because devotionals are not God-breathed. Let the Bible be your primary food source. And if you do not have a Bible, please take a pew Bible. It is the church’s gift to you, and it is a great gift. 

Over the years I’ve received a lot of gifts, some good, others not so good. But the one that sits up on my shelf to this day is the brown NIV from my parents. 1982 was a long time ago but my Bible has not begun to rot or perish; the pages may be falling out, but I still get it down and read it. Even though I cannot fully comprehend it, God still masters me by it, and I am fed. “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” 

May God bless you in Christ Jesus our Savior!