Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Bystander Effect

Back in the college days I took just a few classes in psychology, but they left a lingering impression.  While many may regard psychology to be a pseudo-science at best, I found the field to be very interesting.  I particularly enjoyed learning of the various theories on why people behave the way that they do.

It was through these studies that I first heard about something called the “Bystander Effect”, which has haunted me ever since.

Social psychologists regularly perform experiments to learn more about human behavior.  One such experiment involved a staged scene in which a male actor grabbed a young girl actor and ran away with her as she kicked and screamed in front of a crowd of people.  Out of 6 of trials with this scene being reenacted with different test groups, only once did people step in to help the little girl!

Hence, the term “Bystander Effect” is now used to refer to instances in which individuals do not help out a victim because there are other people, usually large crowds, present.

One of the most disturbing and well-known cases of the bystander effect was took place in one night in New York, 1964.

28 year old Catherine “Kitty” Genovese was just outside of her apartment building when she was approached and subsequently attacked by a man waiting in the shadows.  Almost 40 neighbors heard her screams as she was stabbed repeatedly.  They watched the crime take place but did not do anything.

Nobody ran to the woman’s aid. Nobody even called the police.

Think about that:  These people watched as a woman was brutally murdered but did nothing; absolutely nothing at all.  When questioned about the incident later, the unmoving witnesses stated that they didn’t do anything because they thought “someone else would do something”.

This is called the “diffusion of responsibility”:  when someone fails to act because they believe that someone else will.  Another word for it is Apathy which can be defined as a “lack of interest, concern, or emotion; indifference”.

From a spiritual perspective, how often do we allow ourselves to become bystanders?  How often do we fail to take action because we believe someone else will?

Passing by on the Other Side

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus speaks of the apathy and lack of compassion that many people display today: Luke 10:30-37 Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. 

Two spiritual men, a priest and a Levite, both saw the man and “passed by on the other side” rather than show compassion to the injured man.  Do we do the same?

How often do we pass by someone in physical need?  James 2:14-17 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

More importantly, how often do we pass by an opportunity to share the Gospel?  We know that sin leads to death (Romans 6:23), yet we fail to share the soul-saving Word of God with the sinful.  If we truly loved our neighbor, wouldn’t we care about their spiritual welfare?

Also, I think we pass by on responsibilities within the work of the church and expect others to do all the work.

Are we focused on serving or being served?

A Preacher’s Responsibilities 

Oftentimes, I think we fail to do the Church’s work because we assume it is someone else’s job, namely: The preacher’s.

We don’t visit the sick because we think it is just the preacher’s job.

We don’t comfort the grieving because we think it is just the preacher’s job.

We don’t talk to members who have left the congregation or the faith altogether because we think it is just the preacher’s job.

If I’m not mistaken, the preacher’s primary job is to preach!

I’m not saying that a preacher shouldn't be involved in visiting the sick, comforting the grieving, or talking to those that need encouragement, but it seems that all too often the preacher gets unrealistic expectations placed upon him.  Many congregations expect the preacher to do ALL of the work and then blame him for the congregation falling apart.  And then we wonder why so many young men are afraid to take on the responsibility of becoming preachers!

Failing to Preach the Gospel

While the preacher does have the responsibility to preach the Gospel, we must be mindful that is also a responsibility belonging to each and every one of us as well!

Matthew 28:19-20 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 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 don’t think Jesus said this just to one of the Apostles, “OK, now Peter, you go do all the work…”   He was talking to all of them!

Likewise, I don’t think that Jesus was just addressing the Apostles, I think he was talking to every Christian!

Do we have an attitude like the one described in Isaiah 6:8 -  Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: “Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?”  Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”

Take a moment to consider the lyrics from the hymn we often sing, There is Much to Do, which I assume gets its inspiration from Isaiah.  Notice that the lyrics don’t say, “send that other guy.”

“There is much to do, there’s work on every hand.
Hark the call for help comes ringing through the land.
Jesus calls for reapers, I must active be.
What wilt Thou, O Master, here am I, send me.”

I’m afraid that many times our attitude is “Lord, why me?”

John the Baptist stated that we must be active to be considered worthy.  Matthew 3:8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance…

Are we bearing fruit or are we just filling a pew?

Individual Members in the Body of Christ

Even when we understand that something isn’t the preacher’s job, too often we expect a small number of individuals to do the rest of the work.

Romans chapter 12 compares the individual members of the church to being individual parts of a body.

Romans 12:4-5  For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.

Every part of the human body has a purpose to fulfill; a specific function that another body part cannot perform. Likewise, the Church (the body of Christ) is made up of individual members who each should partake in the work.

1 Corinthians 12:18-21 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

Likewise, the eye cannot turn to the feet and expect them to do their job.  The feet cannot be doing all of the work!  If a human body cannot operate this way, why do we expect the body of Christ to?  Why do we expect one person or a small number of people to do all of the work?

How often do we call for teachers and the same people end up volunteering over and over again?

How often do we expect the same people to stand up and take the initiative on various projects to further the work of the church?

Recall in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 in which each servant was given talents based on their ability.  Each  servant set out to increase their talents to please their master, but the servant who received one talent, rather than doing anything with it, put it away: Matthew 25:18  But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. 

When the master returned, he was pleased to find that his servants had increased his investments; All, except the servant who was given one talent.

Matthew 25:24-30  “Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’ “But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed.  So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest.  Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. ‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Are we using our talents to serve God or are we attempting to bury them?

We must change our way of thinking

We must understand that Christianity is not a religion (I think that when we call Christianity a religion, it puts it into the same category of secular world faiths).  Christianity is a way of life that requires action, work.

My dad once pointed out to me something that he had read about the ancient Egyptians.  They had no word for “religion” in their vocabulary.  The reason for that was that their life was religion.  Everything that they did was done with the purpose of appeasing their gods or attaining a better afterlife.

I believe that should be our attitude toward Christianity.  Christianity, if we are fully committed to Christ as we should be, is our very being.

Acts 17:28 For in Him we live and move and have our being…

Notice the language used in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 - Rejoice always,  pray without ceasing,  in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you..

Following Christ is not just something that we do on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings and Wednesday nights.

Following Christ is a 24/7/365 job that we must be fully committed to!

We should follow the example of Abraham, who left everything to follow God.

We should follow the example of Paul, who was so zealous that he threw himself into the Lord’s work whole-heartedly regardless of the consequences.

Most of all, we should follow the example of Christ.  I often wonder what if Christ was as committed to His work as we are?  Would He have even made it to the cross?  Christ was willing to give his life for us!  We should be willing to do the same for Him!

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
We are commended in Ephesians 4:1 -  I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called…

 “Live according to your calling” applies not just to acting like a Christian day in and day out, but also regularly being involved in the work that a Christian should be involved in.

The Lukewarm Church, Dead Faith, and Hidden Light

In conclusion, I have three final verses and thoughts for us to consider:

Revelations 3:14-16 “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God:  “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot.  So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth..." 

Are we hot, cold, or lukewarm for Christ?

James 2:18-24 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my[e] works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.

Faith is important, but so are works.  And without works, faith is dead.

Let us strive to always be actively involved in the church’s work, always dedicated to Christ and His cause.
Let us pledge to not push all of the work on somebody else and take a risk from time to time.
Finally, let us engage in the work of spreading God’s Word.

As we said earlier, we know that sin leads to death, and yet we fail to share the Gospel with others.
 It’s almost as if we had a cure for cancer and rather than sharing it with the afflicted, we hoard it for ourselves!

Matthew 5:14-16  You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

There is a saying, “In the absence of light darkness prevails.”

And another saying, by Edmund Burke - “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Let’s not allow ourselves to become bystanders in our spiritual walk!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Empty Words

We live in a society in which we can't avoid being constantly bombarded with advertising and propaganda.  Social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and (oops...) blogs add to the noise, giving everyone a voice that can be heard all around the world.  

But are all of these messages worthwhile?  

Ephesians 5:6-7 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  Therefore do not be partakers with them.

We must make a conscious effort to differentiate between empty words and messages that have substantial, lasting value.

2 Timothy 4:3-4  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; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.

Likewise, we must practice caution even in listening to our preachers.  We must always be willing to check what these teachers are saying and compare it to the Bible itself, for that is our standard.

Worldly messages that are contrary to God's Word are creeping into the Church.  Believers are allowing themselves to be deceived, seeking "feel-good" prattle over God's Truth.  Words like "sin" and "hell" are uncomfortable words, yes, but the Truth is not always cuddly.

We must seek out Truth over empty words.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Danger of Pride

Jesus warned His disciples in Mark 7:18-23  So He said to them, “Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,  thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”

Jesus said that what comes out of us is what defiles us.  Some of the sins He mentions are things that none of us (hopefully) are guilty of: adultery, murder, theft, blasphemy.

Unfortunately, I think Christians make the mistake of tuning out some of the other sins that Jesus lumps together along with these deeds that we consider “really bad”.  Even the very best of us are very capable of sins of the mind such as evil thoughts, covetousness, deceit, lewdness, foolishness and perhaps most of all: Pride.

Proverbs 16:4-6  The Lord has made all for Himself, Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom.  Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; Though they join forces, none will go unpunished.  In mercy and truth Atonement is provided for iniquity; And by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil.

Notice the attitude God has toward pride, He calls it an abomination, which is strong language reserved for few other sins.  Pride is something that we need to take seriously.

Pride is associated with arrogance, conceit, smugness, self-importance, egotism, vanity, immodesty, and a sense of superiority.

Proverbs 21:24  A proud and haughty man— “Scoffer” is his name;  He acts with arrogant pride.

Why is Pride Sinful in Nature?

The children of Israel, time and time again throughout the Old Testament, drifted away from God and pride was a great contributing factor.

Nehemiah 9:16  But they and our fathers acted proudly, Hardened their necks, And did not heed Your commandments.

Are we guilty of the same?  Do we, out of pride, ignore the commandments of God?  Do we purport to know better than God and spread falsities?

Pride Leads to Other Sins

Proverbs 13:9-11 By pride comes nothing but strife…

Psalm 10:1-3 Why do You stand afar off, O Lord?  Why do You hide in times of trouble? The wicked in his pride persecutes the poor;  Let them be caught in the plots which they have devised.  For the wicked boasts of his heart’s desire;  He blesses the greedy and renounces the Lord.

Habakkuk 2:4-5  Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith.  “Indeed, because he transgresses by wine, He is a proud man, And he does not stay at home.  Because he enlarges his desire as hell, And he is like death, and cannot be satisfied, He gathers to himself all nations And heaps up for himself all peoples.

Pride Taints Righteousness

1 John 2:15-17 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.  And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.

Pride can lead to error and greed.

1 Timothy 6:3-5  If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness,  he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself.

Pride can lead to ignoring sin, which can defile a church.

1 Corinthians 5:1-3  It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife!  And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you...

Those that are young in the faith are not permitted to become elders because the position could lead to pride and grave consequences.

1 Timothy 3:6 …Lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. 

As a preacher, one of my greatest fears is the temptation of pride.  One of my favorite things to do is to debate and I like being right.  I have to be careful in how I approach matters at times to keep these traits from getting out of hand…

However, Christians in general can fall into this trap easily.  Pride can lead to a critical and judgmental attitude which is detrimental to spreading the Gospel.  Our pride can further develop into self-righteousness.  We must not forgot from whom our blessings come from!

Pride Leads to Destruction

We know that sin is progressive in nature and that if we are not quick to repent and make corrections, we can find ourselves drowning in the consequences.  The ultimate consequence of pride is destruction.

Proverbs 16:17-19  Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, Than to divide the spoil with the proud.

Pride Provokes God’s Wrath

We see time and time again throughout the Scriptures that God has no tolerance for arrogance.

Ezekiel 16:48-50  “As I live,” says the Lord God, “neither your sister Sodom nor her daughters have done as you and your daughters have done.  Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.  And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit.

Isaiah prophesized the fall of the proud country of Moab.

Isaiah 25:10-12  For on this mountain the hand of the Lord will rest, And Moab shall be trampled down under Him, As straw is trampled down for the refuse heap.  And He will spread out His hands in their midst As a swimmer reaches out to swim, And He will bring down their pride Together with the trickery of their hands.  The fortress of the high fort of your walls He will bring down, lay low, And bring to the ground, down to the dust.

Likewise, Obadiah prophesized that Edom would fall due to sinful pride.

Obadiah 1:1-4  The vision of Obadiah - Thus says the Lord God concerning Edom (We have heard a report from the Lord, And a messenger has been sent among the nations, saying, “Arise, and let us rise up against her for battle”):  “Behold, I will make you small among the nations; You shall be greatly despised. The pride of your heart has deceived you, You who dwell in the clefts of the rock, Whose habitation is high; You who say in your heart, ‘Who will bring me down to the ground?’ Though you ascend as high as the eagle, And though you set your nest among the stars, From there I will bring you down,” says the Lord.

It would appear that we basically have two options when it comes to pride:  To humble ourselves or God Himself will humble us by putting us in our place!

Humility:  The Cure for Pride

Proverbs 11:2  When pride comes, then comes shame;  But with the humble is wisdom.

Proverbs 29:23  A man’s pride will bring him low, But the humble in spirit will retain honor

The first part of this verse tells us what we already know:  Pride makes us sink into the depths of sin.  But the second part tells us that there is hope through humility.

As Christians we must remember that our salvation is not based on actions, but the grace of God through His Son.  Likewise, our talents and material blessings come from the Father.  Really, we have nothing to boast about when we look at it this way!

 1 Samuel 2:2-4  No one is holy like the Lord, For there is none besides You, Nor is there any rock like our God. “Talk no more so very proudly; Let no arrogance come from your mouth, For the Lord is the God of knowledge; And by Him actions are weighed.  “The bows of the mighty men are broken, And those who stumbled are girded with strength…”

King Ahaz was one of many kings of Judah who led the people in the worship of Baal.  However, his son Hezikiah led the kingdom away from idol worship which saved the kingdom from destruction for a time
2 Chronicles 32:26  Then Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the Lord did not come upon them in the days of Hezekiah. 

Likewise, whether it be as a nation, a church, or individuals, we must repent of any pridefulness we find ourselves guilty of.  Let us instead commit ourselves to pursuing a spirit of humility.

James 4:6-10  But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”  Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

Let our prayer be:  Psalm 36:11  Let not the foot of pride come against me,  And let not the hand of the wicked drive me away.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Heavens Declare...

Psalm 19:1 - "The heavens declare the glory of God;  And the firmament shows His handiwork."

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Excuses Offered to God

Proverbs 22:13 The lazy man says, “There is a lion outside!  I shall be slain in the streets!”

We tire easily of the excuses of others, but we are pretty good at making them ourselves!

Depending on the character of the person, we are more or less likely to accept excuses.  But God knows our character completely!  What do you think His attitude toward our excuses must be?

Let us examine some excuses that are commonly offered to God….

“My sin is someone else’s fault!”

Genesis 3:12-13  Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”  The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Adam and Eve were given one rule in the Garden of Eden, to not eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  When God confronted Adam and Eve about their sin, they began playing the “blame game”.  Adam instantly blamed Eve for his own sin, even going as far to blame God Himself when he says, “The woman whom YOU GAVE to be with me…”  God also confronted Eve, who in turn blamed the serpent.

How often do we do the same thing and blame others for our own wrongdoing?

It is vital to understand that we will all be held accountable for our own sins.

Ezekiel 18:20 The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

Ezekiel 18:30  “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,” says the Lord God. “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin.

“Everyone else was doing it!”

How often do we engage in sinful deeds because that is what the crowd is doing?  This “mob mentality” is responsible for countless atrocities throughout history.  Many of the Nazis that worked in concentration camps when tried for war crimes would plead that they were “just following orders.”

Matthew 7:13-14  “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

We recall the account of the golden calf from the book of Exodus.  While Moses was up on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from God, Aaron was put in charge.  The Israelites grew restless and began to complain amongst themselves and to Aaron.  They wanted Aaron to make a false idol for them to worship in the place of God, Aaron relented and did as the people demanded, and it does not appear that he even attempted to restrain them.  When Moses finally returned from the mountaintop, he was angry to find the chosen people of God worshiping a false god!

Exodus 32:22-24  So Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord become hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. For they said to me, ‘Make us gods that shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’  And I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them break it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out.”

Aaron didn't accept the responsibility for his own actions in creating the golden calf and chose instead to blame the people for being so wicked, basically saying, “Well, you know how they are…”

A similar situation takes place in the book of Matthew as Jesus is before Pilate.  The Jewish people could not put anyone to death without approval from a Roman authority, and so the people brought Jesus to him, accusing Jesus of blasphemy.  Pilate was in control of Jesus’ fate at this point and could find no fault with Him, but…

Matthew 27:24  When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person.  You see to it.”

Instead of releasing Jesus, who was innocent in his eyes, Pilate turned Him over to the mob to appease them and protect his position of power.

“I just can't..." 

Recall that in the book of Exodus, Moses witnessed the miraculous burning bush and heard the voice of God, telling him that he was chosen to lead the Israelites out of captivity in the land of Egypt.  Moses was reluctant to do what God asked, saying in Exodus 3:11, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

God assured Moses that He would be with him.  This did not convince Moses and he began offering several excuses to God.  

Exodus 4:1  Then Moses answered and said, “But suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice; suppose they say, ‘The Lord has not appeared to you.”

Again, God assures Moses that He would be with him and provided him with the miracle of his rod changing into a snake and his hand changing from leprous to healed by putting it in his tunic. God said that these miracles would prove to the people that Moses was still not convinced.

Exodus 4:10 Then Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”

God once again pointed out that He would be with Moses and would teach him what to say.  But once more, Moses attempted to get out of serving God.

Exodus 4:13 But he said, “O my Lord, please send by the hand of whomever else You may send.”

By this point God was getting frustrated with Moses and He told him to take his brother Aaron along with him to be his spokesperson (Exodus 4:14-17).  God sent Moses on his way and didn't listen to anymore of his excuses.

It’s amazing (not in a good way) to see the audacity that Moses exhibits toward God through the course of giving Him his excuses for not wanting to serve, even to the point that God gets angry with him!  In spite of all of the excuses Moses offered to God, Moses became the great leader that God saw in him from the beginning.

Are we guilty of the same?  Do we attempt to make excuses for not wanting to serve God?

I hear a lot of excuses from Christians that are reluctant to use their talents for God’s work.  They will say that they are not well versed enough in the Scriptures, or, like Moses, are not eloquent enough to share God’s Word with others (“I just don’t know what to say”)

In times when we want to offer excuses for not serving God, we need to remember, that as Christians, like Moses, we are chosen to do His works!

1 Peter 2:9  But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light

The Bible is full of accounts of people that had various circumstances and handicaps that they could have used as excuses, but instead they chose to serve God, and with His help, they were able to do great things through His will!   I came upon the following post that sums this point up nicely:

The next time you feel like GOD can't use you, just remember...

Noah was a drunk
Abraham was too old
Isaac was a daydreamer
Jacob was a liar
Leah was ugly
Joseph was abused
Moses had a stuttering problem
Gideon was afraid
Samson had long hair and was a womanizer
Rahab was a prostitute
Jeremiah and Timothy were too young
David had an affair and was a murderer
Elijah was suicidal
Isaiah preached naked
Jonah ran from God
Naomi was a widow
Job went bankrupt
John the Baptist ate bugs
Peter denied Christ
The Disciples fell asleep while praying
Martha worried about everything
Mary Magdalene was, well you know…
The Samaritan woman was repeatedly divorced, and "living in sin"
Zaccheus was too small
Paul was too "religious"
Timothy had an ulcer
...AND Lazarus was dead!

...No more excuses now. God can use you to your full potential. 
Besides you aren't the message, you are just the messenger.

2 Corinthians 12:9  And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

It is also important to remember that, just like Moses, we have God on our side.

Philippians 4:13  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  

We must have confidence in ourselves, but most importantly, faith in God!

“I didn't know it was not Your will…”

Jesus is describing a judgment scene in Matthew 7:21-23 - “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

On the day of Judgment, I imagine that there will be countless excuses that Jesus will not accept from those who say that they are His followers in this life, but chose to ignore God’s Word instead of obeying it.  Too many that claim to be Christians allow themselves to be ensnared by false doctrines, false teachers, or just substituting their own will for God’s.

Acts 17:29-31  Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising.  Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

We have been given the very Word of God which tells us the will of God.  The Bible is sometimes difficult to understand, but I don’t believe that God would give us a set of instructions that are beyond comprehension.  We must study God’s Word to understand His will.

2 Timothy 2:14-16  Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.  But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness.

We must not pick and choose from God’s Word what to obey and what not to.  James 4:17 Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.

“I’ll serve God when I’ve taken care..."

Jesus told a parable in Luke 14:16-24 that dealt with this particular excuse:  Then He said to him, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’  But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’  And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’  Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’   So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’   And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’  Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.  For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.’”

The guests invited to the supper made excuses for not being able to come, so the master of the house invited anyone who could come!  There is no shortage of lost people in the world, if God’s invitation is ignored, He will invite others!

Luke 9:59-62 Then He said to another, “Follow Me.”  But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”  Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”  And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.”  But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

This section of verses is difficult to deal with because it seems that Jesus is being insensitive to this man who just wanted to make funeral arrangements.  I don’t think that God intends for us to outright ignore our Earthly obligations, but He does want us to have our priorities in order and wants us to put Spiritual work ahead of Earthly work.  How many times have we not served God because of Earthly things?

The man who wanted to bury his father had a pretty good excuse by our standards, but how many of us have not followed Jesus because we were “too tired” after a long day of work, or we were on vacation?

“I don’t have time for God right now.”

Through the course of his ministry, Paul was at one point brought before the governor Felix, being accused of blasphemy.  In the process of defending himself before Felix, Paul essentially preached the Gospel to him.  Felix seemed to be swayed by Paul’s teaching and kept him around for a while and listened to him preach about Christ.  But in Acts 24:25 we read:  Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.

Felix put off becoming a Christian because it was inconvenient for him to do so at that time.  That is all the scriptures says of this.  We do not know whether Felix ever called for Paul and obeyed the Word of God or not...


“Excuses are the nails used to build a house of failure.” - Don Wilder

God offered us His Son, what are we offering in return?  Are we offering our best to God?  Or are we just offering excuses?

Today we have studied a multitude of excuses that are commonly offered to God, but I think that the bottom line:  No excuse is sufficient.

I think that some people intentionally choose not to study God’s Word because “ignorance is bliss”, and they might find out that they have to change something about themselves or their actions in order to please God.

But Jesus says in John 15:22: If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.  

Thursday, March 6, 2014

What do YOU see?

When I was growing up my mother would read the books from the Dinotopia series to me before I went to bed.  In the second book in the series, The World Beneath, the characters are travelling through a subterranean cave when they encounter a stalagmite formation, depicted in the illustration above.

Each character sees something different.  The scientist sees a natural formation created by hundreds of years of chemical erosion and weathering.  The thief sees the gruesome visage of a skull.  The dreamer sees the image of a mother comforting her children.

Depending on our upbringing, our values, our beliefs, we all see the world in a different light.  This is true even in our studying of God's Word.

Hebrews 4:12 states, "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."

The Word of God means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.  But it essentially comes down to two very basic viewpoints:  The Bible is either the most comforting of books or the most terrifying.

Take this series of verses from Revelation for example:

Revelation 21:1-8  Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”

And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

To the Christian, this provides a great hope.  This New Jerusalem described by John sounds like a wonderful place!  Dwelling with God.  God wiping every tear away.  No more death nor sorrow nor crying.  No more pain.  All things made new!

But, to the nonbeliever, or the others described in the latter part of this section, this is a terrifying prospect!  The idea that we will be held accountable for the life we lived here on planet Earth does not sit well for those in a lost condition.

What do YOU see when you read these verses?  Do you despair at the idea of being judged by a just and righteous God?  Or do you rejoice at the great hope of an eternal home with your Maker?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Lord, I Believe - In Memory of John Baxter

My long-time preacher and spiritual advisor, friend and brother in Christ recently passed away.

I think one of the things I will miss most about John Baxter is hearing his voice amdist the rest of the congregation as we praise God in song. I don't know that this was among John's favorite hymns, but it was certainly one of my favorites to hear him sing.

I was honored to be asked to speak at John's funeral.  Below are some of the words I shared:

Regarding his successes and achievements in life, Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen any further, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”

In my life, and surely the lives of so many others, John Baxter was such a giant.  I can confidently say that without John’s example and influence I would not be the person that I am today and my life would be very different.

For over half of my lifetime, John served as the preacher at Northside and later Science Hill church of Christ.  He was an exceptional spiritual advisor.  Any time I had any questions concerning the Bible or matters of faith John would eagerly lend a listening ear, impart the wisdom I sought, and supply a verse that lent some perspective to a particular situation.

John taught me how to lead public prayer.  John baptized me.  John trained me in how to properly outline and preach a sermon.  John encouraged me to lead singing.  When it came time to select someone to officiate my wedding, John was the only choice.

John was for many years (before I was even born) a Chemistry teacher, a man of Science (John was actually a candidate to participate in the Challenger shuttle mission in 1986, but, thankfully, that was not meant to be).
John taught me that science and faith are not mutually exclusive, that the two inform and enrich the other.  John taught me to look at the beauty of the outdoors and the complexity of natural processes and recognize God's wise, creative hand in it all.

John was one of the most intelligent and eloquent men that I have ever known and yet he was also very humble in his ways, never flaunting his intellect.  He didn't “talk down” to anyone and was always careful to voice his opinions on a matter in a well-worded, diplomatically tactful fashion.

John was a very quiet, private man, but you never doubted that he cared for you.  In his own quiet way he always managed to show his love and admiration for others.  He often bragged about his beloved grandchildren and was always eager to tell everyone about their latest accomplishments.

John was an excellent song leader.  I dearly loved to hear him lead a song.  As I mentioned earlier, I suppose that one of the things I will miss the most is hearing his voice praising God in song.

Finally, John was a great preacher.  I wish I could adequately describe just how John preached.

In attempting to do so a verse that came to mind was Matthew 7:29 in which the people were astonished at Jesus’ teaching, “for He taught them as one having authority.”  Certainly, Christ taught in such a way because He was indeed the very Son of God.

In a different way John also taught “as one having authority.”  John’s authority came from a sure and unwavering faith.  He was always purposeful and concise. When John taught from the Word of God, there was no doubt that he was a man that was confidently firm in his faith.  This is something that I have strived to emulate in my own preaching.

In Matthew 22:31-32, Jesus said “But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying,  ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?  God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”

Jesus essentially says here that – in spite of their physical death – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are still living in eternal spirit because of their faith.

What should be most comforting to us at this time is the knowledge that this “God of the living” is the God of not only Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but certainly also the God of John Baxter.

John, we will miss you but our loss is your gain.

The Wages of Sin versus The Gift of God

One of the greatest blessings that we receive from God is free will.  God basically allows us to choose how we want to live our lives, whether or not we we to believe in and seek Him, and - ultimately - where we want to spend eternity.

Notice the contrast between the two choices in the following verse.

Romans 6:23 - "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord."

The "wages of sin is death".  The word wages implies that we have done something to earn our fate, which in this case is death.  We see that this is certainly true here on Earth in many cases.  We see people that get involved in certain sinful deeds often meet an untimely demise as a consequence.  But this I believe this verse is referring to an eternal  consequence.  When we live a life that is separate from God, when we live in an unrighteous manner, death is what we deserve as a reward.  That's what we've earned.  That is a just judgment.

But looking at the next part of this verse, we see that the "gift of God is eternal life."  Rather than receive death as a reward for unrighteous living God offers us a second choice.  God offers to give us a gift.  When someone gives you a gift, you did nothing to deserve it.  They give it to you freely and willingly out of the kindness of their own heart.  It's the same with God.  The gift of eternal life comes through acceptance of Jesus Christ.

Basically we are left with two choices:  Will we work to earn the wages of death?  Or will we gladly accept the gift that God offers us?