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OCTOBER 2016

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Great Preaching?

 

But He answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.  (Matthew 12:39-41)

 

Jonah's disobedience

If we were to prepare a curriculum on evangelism, we probably would not include Jonah, and yet Jonah had great success.  He was disobedient and saw sailors saved.  He was recommissioned and preached a message that he did not want to preach and saw a whole city saved.  I wonder what would have happened if he had been a willing evangelist?

 

Why did Jonah resist His call?

The Assyrians were a ruthless bunch and Nineveh was its capital.  No doubt Jonah had seen and heard of the cruelty of the Assyrians.  As a prophet he likely knew that ultimately, they would be the instrument God would use to punish the nation of Israel for worshiping the same gods that the Canaanites before them had worshiped. There is no doubt that Jonah was not interested in seeing the city of Nineveh saved from destruction.  To put it simply, Jonah did not like the Assyrians and possibly even hated them.

 

What happened when Jonah refused to obey?

Jonah fled from the presence of the Lord and paid a fare to go down.  And that is always what happens when we disobey God.  It costs us and we go down.  Usually we end up in a pit of despair.  Jonah certainly did.  But in Jonah's case, the Lord used his disobedience to see a bunch of sailors come to faith in the Lord.  They wanted salvation from a storm.  They got that and they also got eternal salvation.  When Jonah told them his story; and when the sea was calmed by casting him into it,  they realized that His God was real.

 

We know that Jonah was thrown overboard and was swallowed by a great fish.  Jonah, of course still needed to go to Nineveh to preach. but he needed an attitude adjustment.  God preserved him by having a great fish swallow him when the sailors threw him overboard to calm the sea.  In the belly of that fish he realizes that "Salvation is of the Lord."  God saved the sailors, God was saving Jonah, and God would save the Ninevites. 

 

God gave Jonah a second chance.  A person would think Jonah would have been happy for that,  but he wasn't.  He went to Nineveh and preached just eight words, "Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown."  He didn't preach a message of love or of hope.  He preached about coming destruction.  When the Ninevites heard his message they believed God and showed it by fasting and mourning.  When they believed God about the coming destruction, they looked for a means of salvation and they found it.  God didn't destroy them.  They were saved. But Jonah was still angry with God.  He complained because he knew that even though Nineveh deserved to be destroyed, God would be merciful to them.  This caused him to go down into the pit of depression.  He wanted to die.  This is his second pit.  But his preaching had been effective.

 

Lessons

First, a person cannot run from the presence of the Lord.  Second, God can use our disobedience to fulfill His purposes.  Third, we need to keep the preaching simple and we need to preach about sin and coming judgment.  Fourth, if God can do such miracles with one who disobeys and is angry, maybe there is hope that he can use some of us who perhaps are a bit defective as well.

 

Meditation for the week of October 2, 2016

What do we Know of Contentment?

 

Philippians 4:11  Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.

 

Contentment, What is it?

This Greek word for contentment is only used here in the Bible.  I am not enough of a Greek scholar to know if variations of the same word are used elsewhere, but whatever Paul was talking about in this letter seems to be a unique experience as far as Christians are concerned.  I suspect that if the truth were known, most of us are not really content--no matter what our circumstances are.  I confess.  I have trouble being content. 

 

Whenever I think of contentment, I think of a slogan on some canned milk we bought when I was young.  It said, “From contented cows.”  Now I don't know if there are other kinds of cows; but when I would see cows in their summer pastures, laying down under shade trees, chewing the cud, I always thought of that slogan.  The cows had been fed, they were keeping cool, they were relaxing and they were chewing the cud.  That is, they were digesting what they had previously eaten.  Maybe that is really what Paul means by contentment.  This chewing the cud would speak to me of meditation on the word of God.  So maybe if Christians were being fed good spiritual food, if they were keeping their cool and relaxing, if they were meditating, maybe they would be able to say,  “I have learned (by experience)  in whatever state I am to be content.”  .

 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the state of contentment as follow:  Pleased and satisfied: not needing more. In Philippians 4:6, Paul admonishes Christians not to be anxious.  I assume a contented person would not be an anxious person. He goes on to mention the value of prayer in keeping us from being anxious.  He then tells Christians how to think.  The qualities mentioned can only be found completely in the Lord Jesus, so I suspect he is really asking us to keep our focus on Him.  If we commit things to God in prayer and live a disciplined thought life, we will have the peace of God.  This peace of God comes from a God of peace in this chapter.  Wow! Paul almost acts like a spiritual counselor.  He gives us the key to getting rid of anxiety and living in a state of contentment or satisfaction.

 

The Misunderstood Verse

 In Philippians 4:13, Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Paul was not superman.  Paul was not spider-man.  Paul could not do all things.  But he could do all the things that are mentioned in this section of Scripture through Christ who strengthened him.  Paul could be abased, he could abound.  He could be full, he could be hungry.  He knew what it was to have plenty and how to suffer because he had unmet needs.  He could be content, but the only reason he could do these things is because of Christ who strengthened him.  It wasn't a situation where he was striving to achieve these goals.  He recognized that through prayer and through proper disciplined thinking he could have the peace of God and it would come from the God of peace.

 

Personal Application

My wife is having surgery as I write this for a bulging disk.  Many people have given us advice—well-meaning advice I might add.  But ultimately, we had to make a decision.  Should she do it?  And if she should do it, what doctor should do it and which of two surgeries should she have? There were two surgery paths suggested.  There were other doctors that could have been consulted.  We finally asked the doctor we were seeing to consult with another of his colleagues and then schedule the surgery that he would schedule if my wife were his mother.  We have prayed about this, and we have agonized about this.  We probably shouldn't have agonized, but we have.  My wife certainly cannot continue living in the pain that she has suffered over the last six months.  We have together after much prayer committed this to the Lord and we are going to believe that the surgeon He has sent us to is the right surgeon.   We have prayed and now we are going to think about our blessings and about the Lord's care and we are going to expect a positive outcome.  Frankly, I am at peace.  I am satisfied with the decision we have made.  We are trusting that the Lord who loves us has guided us in the right way.   I am content.  I think my wife is as well.

 

Meditation for the week of October 9, 2016

It is Really Pretty Simple

 

1 Corinthians 13:13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

 

The Problems

The Corinthian church had problems.  I am always encouraged when I read the letters that Paul wrote to the saints or set apart ones at Corinth.  We tend to complain about the problems in our churches today, but would you recommend a person fellowship today with a group of Christians who were getting drunk when they remembered the Lord?  I don't think so!  But that was just one of the problems in this church that had abundant gift and ability but that was divided and that tolerated immorality in the church.  So our problems tend to pale in comparison and I realize that while the problems need to be addressed, we are not unique in our day.  I don't suppose that should be encouraging but it is.  It is sort of like having a problem with a compulsive sin and then finding out that you are not alone.  Knowing that others also have the problem and are trying to deal with it always seems to be encouraging.

 

The Solution

After addressing the problems, Paul teaches that the solution is a thing called love or charity.  If they had love for God and love for one another, they certainly wouldn't be behaving in the manner described in the letter.  Chapter 13 becomes an essay on love.  It is one of the most loved and one of the better known passages in our Bibles.  It is sort of the high point of Paul's writings in my opinion.  In the essay, he tells us how we can do everything right, but if we do it for self instead of out of love, we are profitless as far as God is concerned.  Then he gives 15 characteristics of love.  We could truthfully put the Lord's name in each one of those descriptive statements about love but could we put our own there?  Could the Corinthians put their names there?  At the end of the essay, he says that faith, hope and charity or love are abiding or lasting or eternal.  But the greatest of these is love.

 

Faith, Hope and Charity

Why should we love God and love our brothers? I think Chapter 15 gives us the motive for that love.  Chapter 15 verses 3 and 4 summarize the Gospel which is the object of our faith.  Then in chapter 15 verses 51-52 Paul encourages us with the "mystery" of the rapture where we who are saved will not all die but we will all be changed.  The coming of the Lord is our hope.  Because of that hope we should live charitably toward others.  After all the Lord loved us and gave himself for us. That is why Paul concludes the essay with the statement that now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

 

Petula Clark recorded a song in 1974 that summarizes what Paul has been saying.  Others recorded this song but I remember the version she sang:

 

What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It's the only thing that there's just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
No not just for some but for everyone.

 

Not Just for some but for Everyone

Recently my wife had surgery on her back.  It was eight hours and a big deal.  There were a few hiccups but mostly everything went well except she developed excruciating shooting pain in her right leg when she sat down or got up or twisted it just right.  After bringing her home, the pain got so bad about 9:30 one night that I called the hospital in order to talk to the doctor.  The answering service didn't want to call him because it was after hours.  I told her that I had been told to call if we needed him and we needed him.  She said ok and in less than 5 minutes he was on the phone and told us to go to the emergency room and we would talk to the Physician’s Assistant that had been working with him on our case. When we got there he showed up as well.  It was interesting to watch the two doctors try to help Geneva.  They ordered some tests, gave her some medication and then admitted that they didn't understand why she was having the pain.  But even though those doctors had just recently met my wife, the concern that they showed in that emergency room showed true charity that went far beyond the fact that our bills will probably bankrupt Medicare.  Our doctor is trying to do everything possible to keep from having to open her up again to see if there is something wrong that the CT scans and X-rays are not showing.  But they were examples of the kind of care and concern that we should all be showing one another. 

 

Yes, what the world needs now is love, sweet love.  Not just for some but for everyone.  And the real example of true love is seen in the Lord Jesus as He SUFFERED for our sins.  The Christian life is really pretty simple.  We need faith in the Lord, we need hope for the future and we need to love one another.  This meditation is reminding me not to foul up that which is so simple and so beautiful. 

 

Meditation for the week of October 16, 2016

I am Jesus!

 

Act 9:3-6

(3)  As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven.

(4)  Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?"

(5)  And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" Then the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads."

(6)  So he, trembling and astonished, said, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" Then the Lord said to him, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."

 

Paul's Conversion

In this passage we have the story of Paul's conversion from Judaism to Christianity.  He was converted from a religious zealot to a follower of Christ.  He was converted from a man who was forcing his religion on others to one who preached the Gospel and expected the Holy Spirit to do the convicting and converting.  He was the persecutor, but now he became the persecuted.  His life took a 180 degree turn that day on the road to Damascus.  Paul never got tired of telling what happened to him.  He knew why there was a MUST in John 3:7 where the Lord says, “Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'"  Paul knew how he was born again, he knew where he was born again and he knew when he was born again.  Of course we are not given the date when this experience occurred.  But it did occur, and Paul remembered the experience

 

Have we actually been Converted?

Many of my friends cannot relate to Paul's experience.  They say it was unique and that they don't remember becoming Christians.  They say that they don't need to remember that because they know they are Christians now.  They say that they know that they believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.  I am concerned about my friends who say that because we are not born Christians, we are born sinners who are children of disobedience.   We have to be born again to become Christians.  We are lost before we are saved or born again.  We are converted when we are born again.  I realize that this experience is not as dramatic for children as it would be for adults.   But finding out one is lost and about to be condemned eternally, and then realizing that Christ died for us so that our sins can be forgiven is a hard thing to forget in my mind.  I often wonder how people are going to respond when they meet the Lord and He asks them, "What makes you fit for heaven, why should you be allowed through the Pearly Gates?"  What answer will people give?  To tell the Lord that you always believed because of the way you were raised, or that you grew up in a church and were baptized as an infant and that you tried to do right just isn't going to cut it.  All of those answers give the glory to something man does.  Answers that will please God are answers that give all the glory to the Lord Jesus.

 

Paul's meeting with the Risen Lord

Paul had thought he was doing right in persecuting the Christians.  He was also trying to advance in the political ranks of the Pharisees, a sect of Judaism.  But his religion had become cruel.  Not only had it caused an innocent man to be crucified, but now it was trying to stamp out the followers of this man.  Why?  Because the Pharisees wanted to control the people.  And just like today, they were using religion as a club rather than as a means of salvation and service to others.  But Paul had held the clothes of those that stoned Steven in Acts 7.  He had seen a man who prayed, "Do not charge them with this sin."  Paul certainly wasn't living his life in that forgiving way.  Likely Paul had heard the Lord preach in the temple since Paul was a Pharisee and would likely have celebrated the feast days by going to the temple.  Paul may even have witnessed the crucifixion of the Lord though I am perhaps using a little sanctified imagination when I say that.  He surely heard others that were there say that the Lord had cried, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do."  That was certainly not Paul's attitude or life. So when he began thinking about these things, his conscience began to bother him.  It was hard for him to kick against the goads, sticks that are used to prod the oxen into moving.  But even so, wasn't the Lord dead?

 

When Paul heard those words, "I am Jesus", all of a sudden everything he had believed about this Man was proven wrong.  Jesus was the Messiah.   He was alive.  Paul had been wrong in persecuting his followers.  Paul was stopped in his tracks.  On the one hand hearing those words had to hurt.  On the other hand hearing those words gave his life purpose and hope that he had never had before.  Hearing those words and believing them, changed everything. 

 

What is your Story?

Paul never got tired of telling this story.  My story is different but I never tire of telling it either.  However, I get concerned when I preach it publicly to people who claim to be Christians and they get exasperated with me.  They say we should be teaching the Christians how to be Christians. Reminding them of the great change that should have occurred in their life is redundant and boring and just not needed.  I do not understand how Christians can ever tire of telling about how they met the Lord or of hearing how others met Him.  I never tire telling people how I met my wife.  I suspect those who get the most exasperated do not have a story to tell.  And if you don't have a story to tell, I wouldn't trade places with you for five minutes.  In those five minutes, the Lord might decide your time on earth is ended.  Maybe a person can be "born again" without a story to tell, but I certainly wouldn't bet my soul for eternity on that.

 

Meditation for the week of October 23, 2016

The Mark of the Beast

 

Revelation 13:8  All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. 

 

Evil Personified

I know some of you are waiting for me to tell you what the mark of the beast is and how you can recognize it.  I am not going to do that because I cannot do that.  But the day will come when those who have taken that mark will be damned forever.  A Christian is marked or sealed by the Holy Spirit.  But the day will come when a man energized by Satan will make sure that buying or selling in the market place cannot be done without his EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) card.  Some people will take the mark because they will say that they have to in order to eat.  Many will take the mark willingly because of the power that this man wields and because he has a second lieutenant doing miracles to prove that this man is "some great one."  (See Acts 8:9).  But the world that has rejected the Man of Sorrows will accept the Man of Sin. (See 2 Thessalonians 2:3).   Even with all that power, ultimately he will go into perdition and perish at the hand of the Lord.

 

I am thankful that I believe that i will not see the day when that evil beast is worshipped by the whole world.  I know that there are many who have different views of Bible prophecy and I respect that.  I used to be dogmatic about how the plan of God would play out; but I have learned that in this area, sometimes it takes hindsight to realize that God meant what he said and said what he meant.  However, I do believe that Christians are going to be delivered from the wrath to come (see 1 Thessalonians 1:10),  and that they will not see the evil day that is coming after the Lord takes the church home by way of the rapture.  However, that does not mean that we won't see evil in our day much like the evil of the day when this beast reigns on the earth.  I am sure that many people thought Hitler was this man.  I know I would have thought that too except for the fact that the Christians were still present on earth telling people that their political solution was in Christ and not in a man.  But how did Hitler convince so many people to follow him and how will this man do the same?

 

Sheep Going Astray

Isaiah 53 verse 6 says that all we like sheep have gone astray.  I think the Lord is saying that we tend to follow the leader and if the leader is wrong we follow him or her anyway.  The story is told of a student who was trying to learn math.  He could do addition but he could not do subtraction.  His teacher knew that his family raised sheep so she tried to use sheep as an illustration to help him.  She said, "Johnny, if there is a pen with four sheep in it and one of them finds a hole and gets out of the pen, how many sheep will be left in the pen?"  She expected him to say three.  But he said none.  She said to him, "Johnny, you don't understand subtraction."  He said, "Teacher, you don't understand sheep."  He knew if one went through the hole the others would follow. 

 

Absalom in the Old Testament is a lesson in how Satan and those energized by Satan work.  He came between David, the rightful king, and the people.  He kissed them and judged their issues in ways that pleased them.  In other words, he professed his love for them and told them what they wanted to hear.  He became powerful and many followed Him.  He was also very attractive and people were drawn to him.  But ultimately, he was destroyed and many were destroyed with him. 

 

When we have people who lie and repeat the lies over and over again, when we have people who tell us what we want to hear, when those people are attractive and charismatic, it is easy to follow leaders who are destined for destruction.  So what is the solution?

 

The Solution

There is a verse in the Bible that says, "Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the LORD (Jeremiah 17:5)."  There is another verse that says, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me (John 10:27)."  Men who want to deceive us can.  All of us are like sheep that can be led to the slaughter.  But the Lord will never deceive us.  He may tell us things we don't want to hear.  He may discipline or chastise us, but when we follow Him we will never be deceived.  Instead of being a part of the coming destruction, we will be part of an eternal home in the Father's house (John 14).  How do we know that the Lord is telling the truth?  Deep down in our hearts we know that He gives us what we need and not always what we want.  The liar will always promise people what they want whether he or she can deliver on the promise or not.  But ultimately we find that God gives and the liar takes.   God cares about us, the evil people in this world care about themselves and their power.  Fortunately, God has used evil for good and he can still do that.  But our confidence should not be in sinners and liars.  Our confidence needs to be in the one "gave Himself" for us.

 

As sheep we need to be following the right shepherd.  We should not be following the hireling who really has no love for the sheep.  We should be following the shepherd who gave His life for the sheep.

 

Meditation for the week of October 30, 2016