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NOVEMBER 2009

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Preaching is not a Popularity Contest!

 

2 Timothy 4:2-3

Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers.

 

What are "itching ears?" Itches are irritating, and we usually want to sooth the irritation. Unfortunately, Biblical teaching is not always "soothing". Sometimes it is convicting. None of the words used in connection with faithfully preaching the word in today's verses would have to do with telling people what they want to hear. If teaching is going to convince, rebuke and exhort, it is going to give people what they need. It will not always give people what they want unless they want to know what God is saying. Good teaching should not be a popularity contest.

The prophets of the old testament usually told people what they did not want to hear. Many of them died for doing that. Jeremiah ended up in a dungeon for being faithful to the Lord, but he preached that people needed to give themselves up to Babylon in order to live. His message was considered to be treason. Yet because He knew the plan of God, listening to Jeremiah was the only way to live and not die.

Today, people go to church meetings for an hour or maybe two on Sunday morning and they listen to men preach to them who have been educated in today's seminaries. The preacher is hired and he must maintain the good will of the congregation in order to keep his job. Many congregations want the Truth so this works for them, but it is a set up for disaster in many churches. Many people are going to the "church of their choice" and are listening to those who tell them what they want to hear. Preaching can end up being a popularity contest. I have a few suggestions that will help us know if we should rely on a teacher:

Make sure you listen to someone who is clear about the new birth. It is a must (John 3:7). Must means must. John 1:12-13 explains this. You don't grow into the new birth. You should grow in your faith after being born again. Paul often gave a version of his conversion story when he wrote, and I suspect he did this when he preached. I would not want to listen to someone unless I was convinced that they had been regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

Make sure that you listen to someone who has been baptized. The word that was translated baptism in the Bible really should have been translated "immersed". Baptism is always an expression of one's personal faith in the Lord Jesus. Thus, it always occurs after salvation and not before. Be careful of people who practice a form of baptism that doesn't conform to Scripture. Also, be careful of those for whom baptism is not important. Baptism does not save, it is an expression of the faith of the saved. But it is important. If a person cannot follow the Lord on this basic issue, why would they be clear on the things that follow baptism?

Be careful of people who have turned their ministry into a money-making operation. The Gospel is free (1st Corinthians 9:18, 2nd Corinthians 2:17).

Trust your instincts. If you are really saved, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit who uses the Word of God to teach us. If teaching that you hear seems seems wrong, don't ignore that. It may be that you have something to learn, but it also may mean that your teacher is just trying to make you feel good. He or she may be trying to get you to follow him instead of encouraging you to follow the Lord.

John writes in 1st John, to give us full joy (1 John 1:4). He also writes to keep us from sinning (1 John 2:1) and he writes to give us the assurance that we are saved (1 John 5:13). Good teaching still does these three things today.

These are safeguards that will keep us from listening to those who are serving self rather than serving God. We need to be careful that we aren't just listening to those who tell us what we want to hear. Preaching is not a popularity contest.

 

Meditation for the week of November 1, 2009

Sometimes it is Good to be Foolish!

 

Matthew 7:12 "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

 

The other day, I did one of the most foolish things that I have done in quite a well. I got involved in a potentially violent situation outside the library in our home town.

As I came out of the library, a girl was sitting there with a cell phone in her hand. She yelled at me to do something. Her girl friend was being held on the ground by a young man. I would guess they were all between 16 and 20 years old. At first I thought they were all just having fun and were scuffling; but as I looked at the situation, I could see no reason for a young lady to be on the sidewalk leading to a back door of the library with a young man over her holding her down. They were in full view of the street; but there was no one on the street, and no one was coming out of the library—except me. It was just getting dark. So without thinking, I yelled at the young fellow and told him to let her go. He seemed startled and looked at me. When he did the young lady was able to get to her feet even though the young man was still holding her by her wrists. I yelled at him again to let her go, and when I did the girl broke free and ran for the library. I turned as though nothing had happened and walked to my car. Fortunately, the young man did not follow me. He probably thought that anyone foolish enough to confront him was probably an expert in the martial arts or was packing heat. If he thought that, he was wrong.

Now if I had thought that situation through, I would not have done what I did. I am not sure if the young lady was in real danger or not, but obviously, I could have put myself in real danger. And maybe I did. It just may be that there are angels who take care of us in situations like this. All I know is that my rational side says that what I did was foolish. But if it was foolish, then why does it feel so good to have done it? I am not a fighter unless it would be in a debate or word duel. I have lost a few friends because I usually don't lose those fights. But when it comes to physically winning a fight, I don't remember that ever happening. I do remember as a youth being on my own back a few times because of some of the juvenile delinquents who lived in our neighborhood.

So why does this foolishness seem so good? Because what I did was the right thing to do. It fulfilled the golden rule that I have quoted above. That young gal could have been one of my daughters. Would I have walked off then? It could have been my wife. Would I have hoped someone would help her? We are to do what we would want others to do for us. I would want someone to get involved and to help if it was me or my loved ones or my friends being attacked. But it would have been awfully easy to have said, "I don't know these people, this is not my responsibility. I don't want to get involved." And frankly, if I had thought the situation through, I am sure that is exactly what I would have done. I am no hero.

I know that the Lord understands our weakness. He calls it sin. I realize that we don't go to heaven by keeping the golden rule, we get to heaven by having our sins forgiven. That happens when we put our trust in the Lord Jesus who was willing to take the punishment that our sins deserved. We fall so short of keeping the golden rule that we really should understand why we need to be saved from the punishment that we deserve for constantly breaking this law.

I have been thinking about how different life would be if Wall Street, business men, insurance companies and the government all operated by this rule. Some organizations and individuals do operate this way, but most do not. It usually isn't profitable to do this. When banks foreclose, when insurance companies won't pay, when the government is more concerned about lobbyists than it is about doing what is right, when Wall Street pays its key people extravagant bonuses after getting the working man's tax dollars, they are just doing "business". It is common place to say, "business is business, there is nothing personal about the decisions we are making."

But once in a while, we do something contrary to nature and we do what we ought to do even if what we do makes no logical sense. I suspect that the Lord smiles when that happens.

 

Meditation for the week of November 8, 2009

So Loved!

 

John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

 

Whom do most people see as the most despicable person in the history of mankind? Would it be Nero the Roman emperor who burned Rome and blamed it on the Christians? Would it be Hitler who killed six million Jews and possibly eleven million other people that he didn't happen to like? Would it be John Wayne Gacy the serial rapist and murderer of at least 33 young men and boys? Would it be Jerry Dahmer who raped, murdered and cannibalized 17 young men and boys? Would it be Ted Bundy who raped and killed at least 30 young men and boys or would it be Osama Bin Laden, the master mind behind the plot to destroy the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001? These are all evil people to be sure, and yet they are part of the world. The world is the society of people that Satan has control over right now, and it consists of good people (from man's perspective) and evil people. Our verse says that God's love extends to each person in the world including the really evil. That is why God didn't just love, but He "so" loved the world.

I cannot imagine God loving the men that I have mentioned. I don't love them. It would be all right with me if they were all to rot in the eternal torments. But the truth is that all of these men were loved by God, and He proved His love by offering them all a gift. That gift was salvation through the crucifixion of His unique and only Son with whom He was "well pleased (Matthew 3:17)". Why would God give the best of heaven for the worst people on earth? Because He "so loved" the whole world and the whole world by nature is lost in sin.

If God could love rapists and murderers and evil dictators, could He love me? Could He love you? I think He could. Some days when the going is tough and you are all alone wondering if anyone cares, think about what happened on the cross of Calvary. Think of the hatred, ridicule, pain and suffering inflicted on the Lord; and then remember, He endured that for you and for me. I know that most of us haven't committed the kinds of crimes that serial killers and some dictators have committed, but even so I suspect that all of us have done things that we should not have done. But God's great love takes us all in. That is why we read that God "so" loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.

Normally love is proven by deeds, and in God's case it was proven by offering to the world a very costly gift. But while the gift is offered and while the gift is precious, many people sneer at the love that it represents. Some say God doesn't exist. Or they say, that they don't want the kind of God who would allow His Son to suffer the way the Lord suffered. Or they say that God is unfair and they don't want an unfair God. Or they say that God's rules of behavior are out of date and should be modified because they don't reflect the conditions of the society in which we live. Or they are afraid that they won't fit in with their current friends if they accept God's gift. But all of these reasons are just excuses to reject the greatest love that the world has ever been offered. That great love is the love of God for his fallen creatures. It is a sacrificial love. But it is often a spurned love. And spurning that love is truly evil.

We who are saved just might meet one of these evil people In heaven if they repented and believed in the Lord before they died. I don't expect that to happen but because of God's love, it would certainly be possible. But if any of us have an evil heart of unbelief (Hebrews 3:12) and we reject the love that has been offered to us, no matter how good we may think we are, we will die in our sins. The Lord says if we do that we can't be with Him when we die (John 8:21).

Which is worse? The evil men do to each other or the evil many people do by rejecting love, particularly when that love is the love of God?

Meditation for the week of November 15, 2009

Embarrassing!

 

Ecclesiastes 12:12-13 And further, my son, be admonished by these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man's all.

 

I have been reading a book that seems to make a lot sense. Unfortunately, I have found out that what makes sense to me doesn't always square with Scripture. The author made the case that the miracles of the new testament did not produce faith but that faith produced the miracles. He rightly said that sometimes it was the faith of friends or relatives rather than the faith of the person or persons benefiting from the miracles that seemed to cause the Lord to act. This author concluded that the Word of God and the preaching of the Word produces faith where miracles do not. While I believe that to be generally true, I found out that it is not always true. Recently, I went to pass the truth that miracles do not produce faith along to a group to which I was speaking. While I was preaching I mentioned that when Lazarus was raised from the dead, the Pharisees wanted to kill him. So apparently, the miracle had not produced faith. To prove my point, I quoted John 12:10-11: "the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus." I thought that the first part of the verse proved my point, but unfortunately the last part of the verse showed that faith had been produced so sometimes the Lord's miracles did produce faith.

I was embarrassed because while preaching another man's truth, I realized that I hadn't really thought through what the author had said. Then the Lord drew my attention to what John says in chapter 20: 30-31, "And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name." Unfortunately, the whole chapter in that book that I was reading needs to be rewritten or perhaps omitted.

Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes, seemed to be one who liked books and studied them. Obviously, all of the knowledge that he obtained did not draw him closer to the Lord since he ended up worshiping pagan gods at the end of his life. The universities of his day must not have been much better at finding the God of creation than our present day universities are. But in our day, religious books abound in addition to secular and scientific books, and people are reading them. Reading a good doctrinal book can be wearisome since understanding doctrine requires diligence and study. Because of this, many books are anecdotal and in some cases they are fiction. But they all are supposed to be presenting "Biblical truth". Unfortunately, if we are not careful, that Biblical truth may not be Biblical.

Over the years, I have made it a point to read a different version of the Bible or a different study Bible every year. I have always tried to meditate on what I read. When I seem to be stuck on a passage, I go to books that are available to see how other people understand the passage. I try to use language helps and anything I can find to help me understand the culture of that day so I can understand what I am reading. But I have not generally spent a lot of time reading religious books. I have sometimes felt that I have missed out because I don't know all of the different "good authors" and "good books" that are available. And just as oral ministry is helpful, shouldn't written ministry also be helpful? Yes it should. But the people I listen to orally, are people I know. I know something about their background, their point of view and their lives. The authors of many of the religious books that I read are generally people I do not know.

After my embarrassing experience, I realized that we are all sheep and we all follow the leader. I am glad that for the most part, I have not had time to read all the current authors. There is only one Good Book and I don't want to be embarrassed when I account for my teaching to the God who inspired that Good Book.

The Good Book is clear that there is only one way of salvation and that is through faith in Christ. The Good Book is clear that we were not always believers. The Good Book allows for only one way to be baptized as a believer and that is by immersion subsequent to salvation. The Good Book is clear that we need to "fear God", that is we need to reverence Him, worship Him and recognize that He is not only our Savior but He is also our judge. The unsaved do not fear Him or they would turn from Idols to serve Him. But we who are saved should fear Him and we need to "keep His commandments" and that means that we need to "guard His Truth". That is our duty and that is what I hope the Lord graciously helps me to do.

 

Meditation for the week of November 22, 2009

Our Reason for Getting up in the Morning

 

1 Peter 1:3-5 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

 

We all need something to look forward to when we get up in the morning. The unsaved find that something in the things this world offers. They want pleasure and power and fulfillment at the present time. Those who are born again find that something in looking forward to a life with the Lord Jesus throughout eternity. The unsaved live for the here and now. The saved look forward to something better than the here and now. That is why we bless God.

God is to be blessed because of the new birth. The first birth gave us life that must end. The new birth gives us life that never ends. The new birth is produced by the Word of God (1 Peter 1:23) which is eternal. The first birth prepares us for this life. The new birth prepares us for eternity.

God is to be praised because of His great compassion or abundant mercy. All of us are sinners and we all sin. Some of us sin one way and some of us sin another. We like to point fingers at other people's sin while not admitting our own. But God has concluded us all "under sin" (Romans 3:9). And He has graciously provided abundant mercy to us through the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Peter 3:19).

God is to be praised for the living hope that He has provided us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because the Lord was raised from the dead, we have confidence that the Lord can and will raise us from the dead. So when we stand at the grave of a loved one who trusted in Christ, we have confidence that death is not the end and that God will raise our loved one from the dead. We have hope or confidence in the future. We don't hope to be saved but because we are saved we have hope or a reason to get up in the morning. The unsaved will also be raised from the dead, but they are raised to experience the "second death" (Revelation 20:14). They have "no hope" (Ephesians 2:12).

God is to be praised because He has provided the saved with an eternal inheritance that will never decay nor will it be lost. Many people have large inheritances left to them in this life. Those who were not named in the wills as beneficiaries often try to obtain some of the money. All of the wealth is left behind when a person dies. We who are saved may not have an earthly inheritance that benefits us for a little while and then is left to someone else, but we do have an inheritance in heaven that will last forever.

God is to be praised because He guards those who have faith in Him by His power so that we will be saved eternally when Christ is revealed in the last time. We have been saved from the penalty that we deserve because of our sin, we are being saved from the power of sin so that we can live "as obedient children" (1 Peter 1:14) , and we are going to be saved from the very presence of sin when Christ is revealed in the last time.

Those of us who are saved have it made! Praise the Lord!

 

Meditation for the week of November 29, 2009