Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Firmer Foundation


1 Peter 2:6-8 Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture:  “Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient,  “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling And a rock of offense.” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.

Maybe I just get too easily frustrated by things I see in the media...  Maybe not.

Recently, it seems that there is a big push for morality by public service announcement campaigns featuring celebrities.

"Character counts", "manners matter", etc... All worthwhile messages to be sure, but the approach is questionable, especially considering the movies, music, and "entertainment" that they create on a regular basis tell us the exact opposite.Why should we listen when everything else we see from the culture these people contribute to is completely contrary to the message they preach?

The problem is that they are trying to push morality without calling it morality, righteousness without acknowledging the source of righteousness.

No matter how well produced, no matter how many celebrities cast, no matter how striking the catchphrase...  A PSA will never compare to the impact of Truth.

Isaiah 55:8-9 "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," says the Lord.  "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts."

The majority of our society's problems stem from the decline of the family.  The family unit began to breakdown due to a disinterest in values.  Generation after generation, families have fallen apart and values aren't being taught like they used to be...  And so we turned to schools, the government, and celebrities to provide us with guidance in how we ought to conduct ourselves as a society.

If we hope to truly change the world for the better, we need to start with a firmer foundation.

Matthew 7:24-27  “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.  But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”

Man's morality is but a shadow of God's Truth; It pales in comparison.

If we only we were to fully submit ourselves to God's will...  What a wonderful world it would be!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Church Clothes


Proper Attire for Christians

There are clear scriptural references that provide guidelines for how we ought to dress as Christians.

1 Timothy 2:9-10  In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works.

While this particular section of verses applies primarily to women, for all of us “professing godliness” we must be aware of how we are presenting ourselves.  As Christians we are told to dress modestly, decently, and, as with all things, self-control.  If we are walking about half naked or overly adorned with expensive attire there would be little to visibly differentiate us from the secular world.  As Christians we are called to be “in the world, but not of the world.”  This applies to our conduct as well as our attire.

However, beyond these guidelines, there is little to suggest that we, as God’s people, need a “dress code”.
In fact, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Himself tells us to not worry about such physical things.

Matthew 6:30-32  Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

It is society that develops and dictates particular protocols for fashion deemed appropriate for various occasions, not God.

“Church Clothes”

 “It’s time for church!  Put on your church clothes!” is something we may have heard our parents say when we were younger.  “Church clothes” or “Your Sunday Best” is attire that we associate with what church-goers wear to attend services and while it varies from place to place, it typically constitutes dressing up, wearing your finest clothes.  Interestingly enough, “church clothes” are often considered to be the same clothes that were appropriate for weddings, funerals, and formal events of every other sort.

It’s understandable that we want to give our best to God and that we want to render the respect that is due to Him as we go to worship.  However, if we are not careful, this idea of “church clothes” can actually be detrimental to our cause of seeking to bring the world to Christ.

There is no dress code for the Church!

Imagine a situation in which we encounter two men:  one with fine clothing, dressed to the nines with a nice suit and tie and the other wearing nothing but rags.  Both of these men walk into the church building.  I wonder how we would respond to these individuals.  Would we respond with a welcoming love to both, or only the one dressed in what we deem the “appropriate attire”?

James 2:2-4  For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

John 7:24  Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.

We must remember that we are commanded to not judge others and to not show partiality!

I’ll never forget a particular instance in my life that I will probably always regret.  While in college I had been asking a friend of mine for some time to go to Wednesday night Bible study with me at the local church.  He had turned down the offer on many occasions, so I was surprised when one day after he had gotten off of work that he finally said that he would like to go.

Having just got off of work, my friend had changed into his “lounge clothes”:  shorts, a t-shirt and sandals.  Hoping to spare him some possible embarrassment, I attempted to tactfully ask him if he was going to change, telling him what I normally wore.

Well, my friend decided not to go after all following this discussion, and I don’t blame him.  I had misrepresented the church by implying that there was a “dress code”.  I should have just told him to come as he was.  Perhaps I could have changed clothes myself to reflect his attire to make him feel more comfortable.
Think about the attire of the righteous in the Scriptures.  Jesus Himself in His fleshly body was the son of a carpenter; it is doubtful that He wore the best robes.  Likewise, many of the Apostles came from the working class.  Jesus commanded them to be prepared for travel in their journeys, telling them to wear sandals and only one tunic.

Think about John the Baptist, whom Jesus said “among those born of women there is not a greater prophet…” (Luke 7:28) was "clothed in camel’s hair” (Matthew 3:4)!

Clothing did not hinder these individuals from serving God!

A quick clarification before continuing:  I understand the desire to give our best to God in all things, including our attire when it comes to worship and I am by no means condemning that.  However, I think that dressing one’s “best” varies from individual to individual based on a variety of social and economic factors.  As long as we are dressing modestly, I believe that God is pleased.

However…

Our Spiritual “Dress Code”

Rather than focusing on our outward attire, I believe that God is far more concerned with our spiritual condition.

1 Peter 3:2-4  Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.

We often forget that our physical bodies are temporary and that it is our soul that is what will linger on after our bodily death.  As the author C.S. Lewis stated:  “You don’t have a soul.  You are a Soul.  You have a body.”

If we were able through the means of some sort of super x-ray to look beyond our physicality and to see our own soul, that “hidden person of the heart” spoken of in 1 Peter, what is it that we would see?  In what condition would our spiritual clothing be?  Would we be presentable to God or not?


The Parable of the Wedding Feast

Jesus speaks of this type of clothing in the parable of the wedding feast, in which a king arranged a wedding for his son and sent out servants to invite guests.  Eventually, guests were found and brought to the feast.

Matthew 22:11-14   “But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment.  So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.  Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’  “For many are called, but few are chosen.”

This is a situation in which attire is very important!  If we are to be called the chosen of God, we must act accordingly, being clothed in righteousness!  If this is not the attire we are found wearing upon the Day of Judgment, we will be cast out.

Clothing for the Priesthood/Clothing for the Bride

The book of Leviticus primarily details instructions to the Levites, the priests of the Israelites.  Among the commandments given to the priesthood, was a strict code of how they ought to dress.
While we are not under the Old Law as the Israelites were, we must remember that as Christians, we are also chosen as priests to God.

1 Peter 2:9-10 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;  who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.

The Levites were the priesthood in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament it falls to each individual Christian to assume this responsibility.  And just as the Levites were given a strict code of dress, Christians must also adhere to a certain standard of spiritual attire…  We have a wedding of our own to prepare for!

Ephesians 5:25-27  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,  that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. 

The Church is sometimes referred to as being the Bride of Christ.  Just as an earthly bride wears the color white to signify her purity, the Church must present itself pure and white to Christ on the Day of Judgment!

Revelation 19:6-9  And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns!  Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.  Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.”

Conclusion - “Put on Christ”

But we can’t become pure and white on our own.  We need the power of Christ to make this possible.

Romans 13:13-14 Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.

How are we representing the faith through our words and actions?  Do people see a reflection of Christ when they see us?

How does one “put on Christ”?

Galatians 3:26-27  For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

It is through baptism that we put on Christ.  Following baptism our soul is cleansed, free from sin.  Now we must seek to keep our new adornment spotless…

Ephesians 4:17-24  This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind,  having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ,  if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus:  that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts,  and be renewed in the spirit of your mind,  and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

As Christians, we must realize that we are ambassadors of Christ to the world.  We must “dress” accordingly.  Are you ready to put on your “church clothes”?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Low in the Grave He Lay


This is another one of my favorite hymns.  I love how it perfectly captures the feelings evoked by the sacrifice of Jesus.  Robert Lowry really knew what he was doing when he wrote this song!

Appropriately, the verse starts out slowly, like a somber dirge, reflecting the solemn, tragic nature of Christ's death...  But then the tempo increases as the lyrics go on describe His resurrection which kindles a feeling of triumphant hope!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Boundless Power, Boundless Love


God's Boundless Power

Job 26:5-14 - The dead tremble, those under the waters and those inhabiting them.  Sheol is naked before Him and destruction has no covering.  He stretches out the north over empty space; He hangs the earth over nothing.  He binds up the water in His thick clouds, yet the clouds are not broken under it.  He covers the face of His throne, and spreads His cloud over it.  He drew a circular horizon on the face of the waters, at the boundary of light and darkness.  The pillars of heaven tremble, and are astonished at His rebuke.  He stirs up the sea with His power, and by His understanding He breaks up the storm.  By His Spirit He adorned the heavens; His hand pierced the fleeing serpent.  Indeed these are the mere edges of His ways, and how small a whisper we hear of Him!  But the thunder of His power who can understand?

We could spend all day picking out individual examples of God’s great power, but I think it is best demonstrated through the creation of, well, EVERYTHING.

John 1:3 - All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.  

Psalms 102:25 - Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.

Nehemiah 9:6 - You alone are the Lord God; You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens with all their host, the earth and everything on it, the seas and all that is in them, and you preserve them all...
God’s Boundless Love

With all this power, you would think that God would look down on humanity as insignificant, as we do to the insects.  But instead, God loves us.

Matthew 10:29-31 Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Even before we were born, God knew us and loved us.  We can’t go anywhere or do anything without Him watching us.  This should be a comforting thought, that our Creator is always looking out for us.

Psalm 139

O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.
 You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high, I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,

And Your right hand shall hold me.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.
For You formed my inward parts;
 You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
 And that my soul knows very well.
 My frame was not hidden from You,
 When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.
How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand;
When I awake, I am still with You. 

His love is so great for us that He was willing to offer up His only Son so that we might be saved from our sins.

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.

The reason Jesus died was so that we could be forgiven of our sins.  We read in Isaiah that our iniquities separate us from God.

Whenever we sin, there is a rift created between us and God.

When we sin, we willingly turn our back to God by doing things that are contrary to His will, His Word and His Law.

When we sin, we basically spit on the sacrifice of Jesus and His love for us.

How could God possibly forgive us?


This is an old illustration, but nonetheless apt:

If someone was to offer you a $100 bill, you would take it.  Even if it was folded, crinkled, creased, stepped on and put through all kinds of abuse, wouldn't you still take it?

Why?  Because you see value in that $100 bill!

Likewise, on a much deeper level, God sees value in us.

He sees potential for great things.  He longs for us love Him, to serve Him, and to be with Him for eternity.

Conclusion 

Mark 10:27 - But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”

Knowing that God is so powerful that all things are possible, one of the things that amazes me is to hear someone say is that they have done something so bad that they don’t think even God could forgive them.  If God is powerful enough to do all of the things mentioned in the Bible, then He is certainly powerful enough to forgive and forget sin.

No sin is “too big” or “too bad” for God to forgive, nor is any person “too lost” to be saved!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Only in Thee


Bearing Good Fruit


Jesus said in Luke 6:43, "For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit."

During the course of his preaching, John the Baptist rebuked the multitudes that came to be baptized by him, using this same imagery.

Luke 3:8-9 - Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.  And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

John basically stated that the Israelites could not rely on their heritage for salvation.  Yes, their lineage reached back to Abraham and the Israelite nation was the chosen people of God, but that was not enough to please God.  John told them that they must "bear the fruits worthy of repentance", in other words, change their ways and live for God.  Some action was required on their part.

This section of verses reminds me of James' writing concerning faith and works.

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.

Many are quick to point out that it is not works that save us, but the grace of God.  While this is true, we cannot deny that, as Christians, there is a call for action on our part.  We must not neglect Christian duties.  We must strive to be active lest our faith wither as a dying tree.

Jesus tells us that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30).  In submitting ourselves to God's will, we become Christians; We take on the work of Christ.  This work becomes easier with time as we strive to become more Christ-like.  Before long, I think we begin bearing that "good fruit" as naturally as a tree develops.

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Against such there is no law.

Do we have the love for our neighbor that our Lord commanded?

Do we abide in peace through a longsuffering attitude of kindness, goodness, and gentleness?

Do we exhibit self-control in all that we do?

Do we do all of the above faithfully?

Jesus Himself tells us that our actions define us.

Luke 6:43-44 -  For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush.

What kind of fruit are you bearing?