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FEBRUARY 2008

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Matthew 18:3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

The story is told of a man who wanted to teach his young child to be a businessman. He sat the child on a short stool and asked him to jump into his arms. The child jumped and the father caught him. So the father stood him on a chair and told him to jump. The father caught him again. Once the child was getting comfortable with the game and had developed trust in his father, the father put him on the top of a step ladder and told him to jump. When the child jumped the father let him fall. He told him, "That will teach you to never trust anyone." He assumed he was teaching his child self-reliance by teaching him that no one including his father could be depended upon. This is the message that many of us get from the time we are young. That is why we need to be "converted" and become like little children are in their innocence in order to trust the Lord.

We need to be simple when we read the Word of God and we need to be simple when we teach the Word of God. Because of the educated opinions of men, no one feels qualified to say "God says!" anymore. We do not approach the Scriptures and their promises in the way a child would. When we read the Scriptures and find what seems to be an obvious truth, there will always be an educated person somewhere with a popular book someplace that will disagree with what it appears that God has said. I have always felt that the Bible was written to the common person with enough sense to know that we can't understand God but we can believe Him. We don't need to explain away what God has said, we need to believe what God has said. Our eternal destiny depends on being like an innocent child and just taking God at His Word. The Lord Himself says in John 5:24, "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life."

While the whole Bible is written for us, the New Testament epistles were written directly to us and we need to be child-like as we read them. Just because they were addressed to specific churches or to specific men does not limit their truth to those churches or those men. Good teaching from the whole Bible will be consistent with the message of the epistles and should leave us thinking that we should have seen the truth we are being taught on our own. We should walk away saying, "Why haven't I seen that before?" Unfortunately, much of our teaching today leaves us walking away saying, "Wow, that must be good because I would never have seen that on my own." But if we are to be converted and become like little children, our approach to the Scriptures must be, "If the plain sense makes sense, we should seek no other sense." Abraham "believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness (Romans 4:3)." He obviously didn't understand how God was going to do what He had promised. But he believed God. May we be like a little child and do the same.

Meditation for the week of February 3, 2008

Luke 15:6 "And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'

John 10:14 "I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own."

John 10:26 "But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you."

John 10:27 "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me."

 

God says we are all sheep and as sheep we are all part of a flock. According to Isaiah 53:6, before we are saved, we are in the wrong flock following the wrong shepherd. Isaiah says, "All we like sheep have gone astray." But David in Psalm 23 was not following a shepherd that would lead him astray. He was following a shepherd that cared for him. We tend to follow leaders and the leaders that we follow make all the difference in whether we are useful and happy spiritually or whether we would just as soon "go astray."

Some shepherds own their sheep and some shepherds are hired to care for the sheep. A hireling will flee when danger comes according to the Lord in John 10:12-13. He doesn't have the same love for the sheep that a true shepherd has. The shepherd who owns the sheep, knows the name of every sheep in his flock. He considers every sheep important and, if one strays, he leaves the ones who have not strayed and goes to find his one lost sheep. When he finds it, he throws a party.

Men who claim to be shepherds of the Lord's sheep may not always consider us to be important, but the Lord Who is our Shepherd does. I have heard those who claim to be shepherds say, "If that person wants to leave, let them leave." They really don't care if the person remains in their congregation or not. That seems contrary to the way the Lord works. If a person is in charge of a flock, every sheep in the flock should have no doubt that the shepherd is taking care of them and has a personal interest in them. He feeds them, he leads them, he protects them and he tries to keep them healthy. He also goes looking for any that get lost.

Most people join groups where the they are made to feel needed and wanted. The minute they feel that they are just a cog in the wheel and that they are dispensable, they will begin looking for another place where they can truly belong. When basic needs are being met in a business setting, most management experts say that money is not a major motivator. Feeling valued is important however. Being able to make a difference is important. In the spiritual realm, this would translate into being in a congregation where our gifts are needed and wanted. We all want to make a difference and we all want to feel that our life has a purpose. Shepherds in the church should consider every one of the sheep in their flock important. They need to make them feel needed and wanted if our congregations are going to be true fellowships where everyone feels at home and where no one wants to stray.

 

Meditation for the week of February 10, 2008

Matthew 15:9 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.

Matthew 28:20 Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.

 

I get confused when people talk about legalism. Being legalistic is supposed to be wrong, and I do believe that some kinds of legalism are wrong. But obeying the Lord and teaching others to obey Him is not wrong and is in fact required of us in order to be saved and to please the Lord. In order to obey Him we need to know what He commands. Is it legalistic and therefore wrong to obey God? Of course not!

It is not legalistic to recognize that there is only one way of salvation (John 14:6). It is not legalistic to teach that there is only one God (James 2:19). It is not legalistic to expect believers to be baptized, that is immersed in water ceremonially, to identify with Christ after we are saved (Acts 10:48). It is not legalistic to tell Christians to obey the laws of the land (Romans 13:1) or to live moral lives (Romans 13:8-9). It is not legalistic to teach Christians to love one another (John 13:34).

So what does it mean to be legalistic? In some cases, people use the term to describe autocratic teaching and leadership. We may ask people to obey us instead of obeying the Lord. The reason that the commands in the above paragraph are not "legalistic" in the autocratic sense is because the Lord teaches these truths. He says in Luke 6:46, "And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" The Lord is our creator and our redeemer and has the right to tell us what we should and should not do. He has the right to be autocratic. We do not. Some people who would never consider themselves legalistic are very autocratic when pressing for their points of view.

Sometimes we talk about people being legalistic when they try to make people live under the Old Testament law. For example, it is legalistic to tell people that they must tithe or give a tenth of their income to the Lord when the New Testament does not teach that. The New Testament teaches proportional, regular, cheerful and sacrificial giving, which may require giving far beyond a tenth. To say that we have to live under the dietary laws of the Old Testament is legalistic when the New Testament says that all food is sanctified by prayer (1 Timothy 4:4-5).

However, Biblical legalism is making rules where God has not and teaching them as though they were laws that God has made. In Matthew 15:9, the Pharisees, who were experts in the Old Testament law, made their own laws and taught them as though they were God's laws. Sometimes as Christians we put burdens on people in the same way. We can be legalistic by demanding things that the Bible does not demand. However, we must be balanced. It is also possible to be just as wrong by autocratically teaching people to ignore things that God does command. For example, some are adamant that we should not deal with the public moral sins of 1 Corinthians 5, because "we must not judge." Others want to ignore the truth that in the church, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15), a woman is not to teach or to exercise authority over a man (1 Timothy 2:12).

We must obey God (Acts 5:29) and we must obey the Gospel (1 Peter 4:17). We should do it out of devotion, but we must do it whether some would consider that to be legalistic or not. Submitting to the Lord is simply a matter of showing our devotion to the One Who knows best.

Meditation for the week of February 17, 2008

Ephesians 4:32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.

 

Sometimes when we preach the Gospel, we play "gotchya". We preach that salvation is not a lifestyle, it is a relationship with the Lord Jesus. We preach that salvation is by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We preach that you don't have to DO anything to be saved because the work that saves is already DONE. Now that sounds pretty good to someone who is burdened by trying to do enough good to get to heaven. So they begin to listen to the Gospel, they are convicted about their sin and they turn to Christ and Christ alone for salvation. That's when we tell them the rest of the story and start playing "gotcha". We tell them that they gotta do this and they gotta do that. We explain that now that we have "gotten them" to profess faith in Christ, they must conform to certain rules or we won't believe that they are really Christians. This has always been difficult for me because I am one who believes that God does want us to obey Him and that we show our faith by our works (James 2:18), but I also believe that we are saved by grace through faith alone and not by works.

Maybe we need to be honest with those who are listening to the Gospel and explain that the reason that we all need to be saved is because of sin and that after we are saved, there should be a change in our lives. Yes, salvation is a new relationship, but a new relationship will always affects our lifestyle. However, any lifestyle change will be inspired by devotion to the Lord who has forgiven us. The Holy Spirit will control us and not other Christians.

The works that people need to see in one who is 'born again" are not always the list of rules to which other Christians have decided that all Christians should conform, but the rule that we find in our verse for this week. We are commanded to be kind one to another, and to be tenderhearted and forgiving. We are not to be hard and unforgiving. That is one of the big lifestyle changes that I see when a person comes to know the Lord. Instead of wanting to control others, they now want the Lord to control them. Instead of being hard and critical and unforgiving, they now realize that have been forgiven much and so they should forgive the little that others have done to them (Matthew 18:33).

If unsaved people saw us living according to the principle of Ephesians 4:32, I suspect most would be attracted to us and our lifestyle and they might even be attracted to our Lord. When people see kindness and a forgiving spirit; when they see people who are tenderhearted when people make mistakes; then they are seeing Christ in us. When they see us being critical, hard, and unforgiving even though we don't cuss and drink and smoke and abort babies and live homosexual life styles, likely they are not going to be very interested in the God that they think we are serving.

I believe that every home should have two verses of Scripture prominently displayed in the home. One is John 3:16. The walls of our home can be a witness to the truth that it is Who we trust and not what we do that gives us a life from eternity that fits us for eternity. But we should also have Ephesians 4:32 displayed to remind us that there is a lifestyle change that should occur when we have trusted the Lord. Obviously, the Ephesians needed to be reminded of the need for that lifestyle change or Paul would not have written this to them. We need to be reminded as well that technical adherence to the things that are right and moral will be meaningless if we aren't first kind and considerate and tenderhearted and forgiving.

Salvation is freely offered to all of us, but it only seems right that the saved who have been shown kindness, tenderheartedness and forgiveness by the Lord should want to be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving to others.

Meditation for the week of February 24, 2008