Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Why I Believe: An Examination of my Faith


You may have at some point encountered someone who asks you about your belief in the Bible and your faith in Jesus.  Sometimes that’s a hard question to answer and you find that it’s difficult to articulate.  Perhaps after making your initial commitment to Christ, you kind of just took your faith for granted and assumed everyone else had similar convictions.  And so, you might stumble in your words only and ultimately give the most unfortunate answer: “I don’t know… I just do!”

As Christians, we all want to be able to defend our faith and aspire to bring others to Christ.  While we may feel comfortable in our faith and unwavering in our acceptance of what the Bible teaches without a second thought, we can’t allow ourselves to make the mistake of failing to look at things from an unbeliever’s perspective.

Therefore, I think it is crucial that we first revisit and examine our own faith.  We must be ready to answer the tough questions curious unbelievers might ask.

1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear…

Admittedly, my faith has been directly influenced by my upbringing.  My parents, grandparents, and fellow Christians in the churches I grew up in have had a major impact in shaping my beliefs.

But through the years my faith has increased and strengthened through my own studies.  I was encouraged by my preachers to not follow their (or anyone else’s) teachings blindly, but to seek out the answers for myself.  Indeed, the Bible itself encourages active questioning and searching for truth.

1 Thessalonians 5:21 tells us to “test all things…” and Proverbs 18:15 states “the heart of the prudent acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge”.

For this lesson I would like to share with you some of the reasons I believe in God and the Gospel.  I will describe secular evidences that inform my faith as well Scriptural confirmations.  It is my hope that perhaps this lesson will likewise inspire you to examine your own faith through the pages of the Bible and beyond.


The Order of the Earth and the Universe

My faith has always been inspired by the natural world.  When I was young, my parents instilled in me a great sense of respect and awe for nature.  We would go hiking and camping to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors on a regular basis.

Many years later, I still have that same awe for the nature now coupled with an appreciation for Science.  For me, Science and faith have been inexorably linked; I have never viewed the two realms as mutually exclusive because it is difficult for me to look at the natural world and not see a guiding hand behind it all.

To me, all of Creation is evidence enough for the existence of God.

Psalm 19:1-3  The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.  Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge.  There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.

Furthermore, the Bible tells me that God is a being of order, not chaos.

1 Corinthians 14:33  For God is not the author of confusion but of peace…

Looking at the universe around us, it is easy to observe that there is natural order governing all things.  The precision of the movement of planets, the patterns of weather and regularity of the seasons, the perpetuation of life through the balance of complex ecosystems, these are just a few of the evidences that I believe point to the existence of a Creator.


The Improbable Existence of Life in the Universe

Through my studies I found that scientists have discovered that the odds of life as we know it existing at all in our universe are very slim and all but improbable.  The way I understand it, a wide variety of factors have to be precisely tuned to allow even the possibility of life.  Yet, incredibly, our planet seems to be engineered for living things.

One example of such fine-tuning is Earth’s placement within our Solar System.  Scientist call our planet’s location a “Habitable zone” or – my preferred term – a “Goldilocks zone” (because everything is “juuust right”).  The idea is basically that we happen to be positioned just the right distance from the Sun.  A change in Earth’s location of just 2% in either direction would result in worldwide extinction.  If we were closer it would be far too hot, the oceans would evaporate, and life could not exist.  If we were farther away it would be far too cold, the oceans would freeze, and life could not exist.  (Additionally, the Sun itself happens to be just the right size; were any larger or smaller, we would either roast or freeze.)

Earth’s proximity to the Sun is just one of an assortment of factors that must occur for life to exist on our planet.  Did you know some scientists speculate that without Jupiter Earth would constantly be at risk of being bombarded by meteors?  Apparently, the gas giant acts as a sort of sling shot that captures these potentially devastating space rocks in its strong gravitational pull and flings them away from the inner Solar System, protecting us from disaster and allowing life on Earth to continue.

Another interesting fact is that the composition of gases within our atmosphere is also just right.  The atmosphere contains 21% of life-giving oxygen, but if it had just 50% more the air would be much more combustible and a single flash of lightning could ignite an entire forest into fire instantaneously.  On the other hand, if we had just 10% less oxygen, we wouldn’t be able to even start a fire.

This is but a sampling of the type of fine-tuning required for life on Earth that scientists have discovered.  Astrophysicist High Ross states that the probability of a life-sustaining planet such as Earth with all of the correct parameters is about 1 in 1030.

We on Earth appear to have hit what scientists refer to as “the Cosmic Jackpot”.

It is difficult for me to believe that these conditions occurred by random happenstance.  It is facts and statistics such as these reinforce my belief in a benevolent Creator.

Romans 1:20  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…

Hebrews 11:3 By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.


The Reliability of Scripture

Some of the most compelling evidence for the Bible being the Word of God is the fact that it proves its credibility time and time again.  The Bible has continued to hold up to scrutiny throughout the centuries and even into the skeptical and cynical modern era we find ourselves living in today.
With the next several points, I would like to focus on just a few of the Bible’s credentials attesting its divine inspiration.


Multiple Authors, Same Story

I often find myself frustrated with continuity errors found in movies, television series, and other story-telling media.  The writers just can’t seem to keep characters and events straight and inevitably they make mistakes that contradict within the narrative and end up confusing the audience.
Keeping the fallibility of human writers in mind, it is amazing to realize that the Bible’s 66 books were written by 40 different authors over a period of 1500 years, in 3 different languages and on 3 different continents!  In spite of this, the authors (many of whom did not know each other personally) managed to tell a cohesive story without contradicting each other.

I cannot conceive of any possible explanation for this aside from acknowledging that the Bible is true and was inspired by God Himself!

2 Timothy 3:16-17  All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.


Archaeological Evidence

Additionally, secular history supports the claims made by the Bible through the studies and accounts of scholars and historians.  Archaeologists regularly make discoveries that further authenticate the Bible and have been known to turn to the Old and New Testaments to aid in finding of ancient geographical locations long forgotten by other sources.  At the very least, the Bible stands as a significant historical document supported time and again by outside sources.


Fulfilled Prophecy

It is also intriguing to me that prophecies within the Bible have a tendency of coming true.
For example, the Old Testament contains over 350 prophecies about Jesus.  Various details and circumstances surrounding Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection are foretold in books written hundreds (and in some cases thousands) of years beforehand.  Someone did the math and figured that probability of one man fulfilling just 8 of those prophecies is about 1 in 1028.

Those are extremely narrow odds bordering on the impossible… and yet we read in the New Testament that each of these prophecies was fulfilled by Jesus Christ!

It is highly unlikely that the authors of the Bible were merely making guesses about future events and just happened to get them right.  Therefore, I believe that these men were inspired by God who revealed future events to them.

2 Peter 1:21  …For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 2:12-13  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.  These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.


The Fallen Nature of Man

Another point on the credibility of the Bible I find interesting is the fact that the human characters are regularly found to be fallible.  Within the pages of the Bible we can read accounts of murder, rape, and other sinful acts.  At first glance, this does not seem to make any sense.  After all, if anyone were to set out to write any kind of text meant to be the basis for a religion, wouldn’t they want the characters in their story to be perfectly flawless?  Instead, the Bible exposes the fallen nature of man.

While unbelievers would highlight passages of biblical characters involved in sin as evidence against the Bible’s moral message, I think that this instead enhances the credibility of Scripture.  The Bible tells the Truth in its entirety, blemishes and all.  This is a consistent message throughout the Bible and it’s a fact confirmed by our day-to-day reality; we all recognize that we are imperfect, susceptible to temptation, and capable of horrendous deeds.

Romans 3:23 …For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…


The Compelling Nature of the Bible

Finally, I believe because the Bible reveals a message that could only be divine in essence.


Jesus’ Divine Wisdom

While many in the world believe that Jesus was merely a prophet and not the Son of God, few can dispute the revolutionary nature of His teachings. To me, the very idea of “treating your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:38-39) is completely the opposite of mankind’s prevalent attitude of self-interest.

Jesus’ teachings of self-control, servitude to others, and forgiveness transcend and exceed man’s own concepts of right and wrong.  While man’s teachings put an emphasis on right and wrong actions, Jesus put a greater emphasis on the heart, recognizing that the attitude of the heart results in action.  Jesus’ standards for morality our much higher than man’s!

For example, look at Jesus’ teaching on adultery.  While man might concede that the action of adultery is wrong, Jesus condemns both the action and the lustful thought that precede the action!

Matthew 5:27-28 You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.


The Greatest Story Ever Told

Finally, I believe that Bible tells a powerful story unlike any other.

Beginning with the fall of mankind and the entrance of sin into the world, Scripture convinces us of humanity’s need for a Savior and offers us a means of redemption.

Thus, we read that Jesus, the very Son of God, left His home in Heaven to live as a man.

Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

The Bible tells us that we have a Savior who knows our struggle.  He can understand what it’s like to be tempted because He faced the same temptations we all do.  The major difference being that Jesus managed to do what no other human could possibly do as He rose above the temptations and led a perfect life while on Earth.

Philippians 2:5-8  Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

As we previously discussed, mankind does not deserve to be saved.  We constantly rebel against God’s will as we are enticed by our own desires.

And yet, in spite of our willful shortcomings, we read of a Savior who loves us beyond measure.

Through this love He allowed himself to be beaten, tortured, and ultimately put to death on the cross.  He offered Himself as a sacrifice to save us from our sin.  He offered Himself as a sacrifice to save me from my sin.

Romans 5:8 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

I acknowledge that I am imperfect and in need of a Savior.  I find myself guilty of sin, time and time again.  The Bible has convinced me that Jesus is my only hope.

1 Peter 1:6-9  In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.

John 3:16-17 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. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.


Conclusion

There you have it.  I have shared just a few of the reasons for my faith in God and the Gospel.  Who knows?  Maybe one day I will compile a "part 2".

 I hope that this lesson has been beneficial to you and serves as a means of encourage to you to likewise examine your faith and your reasoning for believing.

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Ultimately, we may never be able to convince unbelievers of the intangible.  This is not a defeatist attitude, but a reality we must face and live with.

However, regardless, we need to at least have an answer ready in case the occasion ever arises and we are called upon to defend our faith.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Slavery in the Bible


The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound...
- Isaiah 61:1

Slavery is an ugly part of human history.

It’s no secret that our own country continues to struggle with the shadow of slavery's legacy from our nation's beginnings.

The practice is as old as civilization and, unfortunately, it remains a problem even into the modern era around the world through the sex trade and other forms of human trafficking.

As such, slavery is a part of the historical context of the Bible.


What is the Bible’s Stance on Slavery?


When reasoning with unbelievers it is likely that at some point in the conversation the topic of slavery will come up.  Many unbelievers contest that the Bible has a favorable stance on slavery and even endorses the practice.  They will argue that since the Bible does not flat-out condemn slavery that it is fair to say that the Bible is immoral and, therefore not credible as the Word of God.
 
However, upon a closer examination it is not difficult to find that this is not the case at all.

Unbelievers will frequently point to the Old Testament’s content in an attempt to discredit the Bible’s moral message.  Admittedly, lots of bad stuff is recorded in the Old and New Testaments.  Murder, war, rape, incest, slavery, the list just goes on and on.

But just because these heinous acts took place and are mentioned in the Bible this does not mean that God approves of these deeds.  Context often reveals that God actually condemns such actions.

Additionally, it can be counter-argued that the writers of the Bible were obligated to record these events as part of disclosing Truth, thus solidifying their reliability and the credibility of the Word of God.  Wouldn’t the Bible be far more questionable if its authors stated that nothing horrible ever happened?  Wouldn’t that be far less believable if that were the case?

We must acknowledge that the Bible reveals the ugly truth about the fallen nature of mankind.  The human race is separated from God due to sin.

Isaiah 59:1-2 Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear.  But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.

We are collectively and individually imperfect and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
The Bible reinforces this timeless truth by unflinchingly showing us humanity at its worst.  Thus, it is little wonder that horrid acts such as slavery are included in its text.


Slavery in Israelite Society


One would think that it would be hypocritical of the Israelites to have slaves after 400 years of captivity in Egypt, but we see in the Old Testament that the Israelites did have slaves.

However, we see time and time again that the Israelites were regularly reminded that they were once slaves in the land of Egypt (For example:  Deuteronomy 5:15, 15:15, 16:12, 24:18, 24:22).  Perhaps this would account for the very different treatment that slaves received while in service to the Hebrew nation.

It is interesting to notice that the guidelines laid out for slavery in Hebrew society were very different from what we recognize slavery as today.  “Slavery” under the Old Testament Law was more akin to indentured servitude than what we think of as slavery today.

For this part of the lesson, let's notice the differences between conventional slavery and the type of slavery practiced by the Israelites.

First of all Hebrews that had slaves did not seek them out and enslave them by force.  In fact, this practice was condemned by God.

Exodus 21:16 He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death.

Deuteronomy 24:7   If a man is found kidnapping any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and mistreats him or sells him, then that kidnapper shall die; and you shall put away the evil from among you.

In some cases during Old Testament times, slavery was considered an alternative to poverty, even in Israelite society!  Some servants submitted their services as a means to escape their lack or to pay off debts.  Thus, they were given a salary and they could even eventually work their way out of their contracts of servitude

Leviticus 25:39-43  And if one of your brethren who dwells by you becomes poor, and sells himself to you, you shall not compel him to serve as a slave.  As a hired servant and a sojourner he shall be with you, and shall serve you until the Year of Jubilee.  And then he shall depart from you—he and his children with him—and shall return to his own family. He shall return to the possession of his fathers.  For they are My servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves.  You shall not rule over him with rigor, but you shall fear your God.

Leviticus 25:47-53  Now if a sojourner or stranger close to you becomes rich, and one of your brethren who dwells by him becomes poor, and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner close to you, or to a member of the stranger’s family, after he is sold he may be redeemed again. One of his brothers may redeem him; or his uncle or his uncle’s son may redeem him; or anyone who is near of kin to him in his family may redeem him; or if he is able he may redeem himself.  Thus he shall reckon with him who bought him: The price of his release shall be according to the number of years, from the year that he was sold to him until the Year of Jubilee; it shall be according to the time of a hired servant for him.   If there are still many years remaining, according to them he shall repay the price of his redemption from the money with which he was bought.  And if there remain but a few years until the Year of Jubilee, then he shall reckon with him, and according to his years he shall repay him the price of his redemption.  He shall be with him as a yearly hired servant, and he shall not rule with rigor over him in your sight.

The regulations that God set before the Hebrews in regards to treatment of these slaves were humane in nature.  The slave’s health and well-being were always considered in these laws, which is a stark contrast to the barbaric treatment slaves received in other nations at the time.

In regard to runaway slaves, study further reveals that Israelites were commanded to give them compassionate treatment.

Deuteronomy 23:15-16 You shall not give back to his master the slave who has escaped from his master to you.  He may dwell with you in your midst, in the place which he chooses within one of your gates, where it seems best to him; you shall not oppress him.

This is another major difference between slavery in the Israelite culture and other cultures of that time.  Historically, escaped slaves were known to be treated even more harshly by wrathful masters.

It’s also interesting to see that the relationships between the Israelite masters and their slaves were sometimes more akin to that of extended family members.  Occasionally, slaves were so well treated by Hebrew masters that they did not want to leave!

Deuteronomy 15:12-18  If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you.  And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed;  you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. From what the Lord your God has blessed you with, you shall give to him.  You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this thing today.  And if it happens that he says to you, ‘I will not go away from you,’ because he loves you and your house, since he prospers with you, then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his ear to the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also to your female servant you shall do likewise.  It shall not seem hard to you when you send him away free from you; for he has been worth a double hired servant in serving you six years. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all that you do.


Jesus and Slavery


Unbelievers today argue against Christ’s divinity because He did not outright condemn slavery or come as an abolitionist, the argument being that the benevolent Jesus ought to have seized the opportunity to free any and all slaves.

But we recognize that during Jesus’ time on Earth, many of Jesus’ followers were similarly disappointed by the fact that Jesus wasn’t a revolutionary who had come to overthrow the Roman government and establish an Earthly kingdom (Matthew 22:21).

Perhaps - keep in mind that this is merely speculation on my part - Jesus recognized that oppression would always be a problem that would plague mankind, like poverty (Mark 14:7).  Regardless of Jesus' reasoning, we know that throughout His Earthly ministry that Jesus put greater emphasis on spiritual matters over physical, Earthly matters.   Jesus came to save souls, not reform society (John 18:36).

However, Jesus recognized that action results through the conditioning of the heart (Luke 6:45). Even though Jesus did not actively promote the liberation of slaves, it is important to realize that Jesus’ teachings laid the ideological groundwork for future generations who would rightly oppose slavery.  Don’t forget that American abolitionists were predominantly Christians who were inspired by the Word of God to put an end to slavery.

It is a fundamental teaching of Christianity that through Christ all – regardless of race, gender, or social status – are considered equal.

Colossians 3:9-11 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.

Galatians 3:28  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Abolitionists regularly acknowledged this truth as they sought to free slaves and grant them equal status within the United States.

"The slave-holder's rule contradicts this fundamental truth of God's word, that 'God has made of one blood all the nations of men,' and if of one blood, they are of equal blood." – Jonathan Blanchard (1811-1892)

While it is true that American slave-owners (who identified themselves as Christians) sought to justify the practice of slavery by utilizing the Bible, we recognize that anyone can attempt to twist Scripture to their advantage

2 Peter 3:16  …As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.

The fact that these wicked individuals would seek to distort God’s Word to justify their wrong-doing hardly serves as evidence of Christ’s approval of slavery.


Paul and Slavery


The Apostle Paul is often unjustly criticized for a number of reasons.  On the issue of slavery, detractors accuse Paul of being a supporter of the wicked practice because of the various instructions regarding slaves in his writings.  Let us examine a few of the passages in question.

Ephesians 6:5-9  Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.  And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.

This passage, critics assert, indicates that Paul considered slavery acceptable.  They fail to take into consideration that, like Jesus, Paul was concerned with the spiritual rather than the physical.  The audience Paul was addressing in this passage was under Roman rule and slavery was a reality that had to be dealt with during that time, like it or not.  Therefore Paul teaches Roman slaves and masters how they ought to conduct themselves as Christians.  

1 Corinthians 7:21-23  Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it.  For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ’s slave.  You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.

At first glance it would be easy to misinterpret Paul’s comment, “Do not be concerned about it…” as indifference to the plight of those in the bondage of slavery.  Again, however, just like Jesus, Paul is focused on the spiritual rather than the physical.  Slaves through the ages could take comfort in the fact that in spite of their Earthly slavery they were counted freedmen in Christ.  Additionally, Paul went on to say “…but if you can be made free, rather use it” and “do not become slaves of men”.  That does not sound like support for slavery to me.

Another instance that Paul’s critics seize upon as evidence for his apparent support of slavery is the book of Philemon. If you do not recall, this book of the Bible is actually a letter Paul wrote while in prison to Philemon who may have been a leader in the Colossian church.

Philemon had a slave named Onesimus who had apparently departed from his master and somehow crossed paths with Paul.  In his letter, Paul explains that he is sending the runaway slave back to Philemon, which is where some find fault with Paul, claiming that he was in the wrong for doing this.
However, a closer reading reveals that Paul speaks very favorably on the behalf of Onesimus, who had become a Christian during his time with the apostle.

Philemon 1:15-16  For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever,  no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. 

Paul appeals to Philemon’s conscience and encourages him to embrace his former slave as a fellow Christian!

Philemon 1:21  Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

Reading through the letter in its entirety, one can clearly see that Paul all but commands Philemon to do the right thing and set Onesimus free!

Finally, if Paul supported slavery, why in the world would he include the practice in his listing of lawless, ungodly, and profane deeds?

1 Timothy 1:8-10  But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,  for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine…  

The NIV translates “kidnappers” as “slave traders” while the ESV says “enslavers”.

Taking this all into consideration, it is not difficult to reason that Paul was not a supporter of slavery.

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Spiritual Slavery


We have spent a good portion of this lesson focusing on Earthly slavery, however, for the remainder I would like to switch gears and put emphasis on slavery in the spiritual sense.


Slavery to Sin


God has blessed us with free will, allowing us to choose our own path in life.  Unfortunately, this means we can willfully make the wrong choices.  When this happens, we sin and find ourselves enslaved by our own desires.

John 8:34  Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.


How do we Free Ourselves from the Bondage of Sin?


If sinning, giving in to our own desires and lusts, is what causes us to be slaves to sin it just makes sense that we would give up sin, right?  Furthermore we would repent of sin and seek to not be ensnared by it any longer.  Christ offers us forgiveness of our former sins.  When we are baptized (a reenactment of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection – Romans 6:3-11) we become free from sin!

Romans 6:5-7  For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.  For he who has died has been freed from sin.


Slaves Once More?


However, what if we do not repent or, even worse, turn back to sin after becoming a Christian?  If we are not careful, this could become the case when we allow ourselves to once again succumb to that which tempts us.  We can once again be brought into the bondage of sin.

2 Peter 2:18-20  For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error.  While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.  For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.

Think of how sad it would be to have once been a slave who had escaped a harsh master only to willfully put on the shackles of bondage again.  It would be similarly tragic (and incomprehensible) that one would become free from sin only to willfully return to its entanglements.  And yet, so many do just that!


Slaves to Righteousness


It sounds odd, but the Bible tells us that the alternative to one form of spiritual slavery is yet another.

Roman 6:16-23  Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?  But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.  And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.  I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.  For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.  What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.  But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The text compares physical bondage to spiritual slavery.  We are told that we have but two choices in this matter:  Slavery to sin or slavery to righteousness.  The contrast between being a slave of sin and a slave to righteousness couldn't be greater.

We could choose to serve our own lusts and desires and thereby become slaves of sin, rightfully earning the wages described in the previous passage.  Or, we could pursue the alternative and submit ourselves to God, commit our life to Him, and thereby attain the gift He freely offers.

Enslavement to sin only results in death while submission to Christ leads to everlasting life.  The right choice is obvious.  Rather than being slaves of sin, we ought to commit ourselves to Christ and become slaves of righteousness!

Not only does Christ offer us salvation from the bondage of sin, but He even offers us a chance to be an heir of God.

Galatians 4:6-7  And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. 

Reading this passage I can't help but think of the servants of the Israelites we studied earlier in the lesson who so loved their masters that they chose to stay and were made part of the family.

Similarly, God is a just master who loves and treats His servants as His family.

Why wouldn't we choose to serve such a God?


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Hard Sayings


"Wait...  Was Jesus just preaching cannibalism?!?"

In the 6th chapter of John, Jesus told his disciples that in order to properly follow Him, please God, and live eternally that they should eat of His flesh and drink of His blood.

Obviously, Jesus was speaking metaphorically in this instance...  but it is evident that His words did not sit well with His audience!

John 6:60  Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” (The NIV translation of this text reads “Who can accept it?”)

Some of Jesus’ disciples could not understand or weren’t willing to accept Jesus’ statement.  We ought to notice that the problem here wasn’t what Jesus had said, but rather how His disciples interpreted it.

Jesus, recognizing that some of His followers were upset, bluntly asked them in John 6:61, “Does this offend you?”

Apparently, many of His disciples were offended and John 6:66 tells us that “from that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.”

It’s obvious that if these disciples, like those that remained, had hung around just a little while longer that they would have come to understand and accept what Jesus was actually saying.  But instead of continuing to follow Jesus, they let just one “hard saying” stand in the way.

Do we make the same mistake and let the “hard sayings” of the Bible stand between us and our Savior?

Let us examine several “hard sayings” from God’s Word, which people allow to keep them from being the best followers of Christ that they could be.


Deny Yourself; Serve God and Serve Others

Matthew 16:24  Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

1 Corinthians 10:24  Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.

Many of the “hard sayings” of the Bible that people struggle with concern putting the needs others before their own.  This seems to be completely against human nature!  After all, if we are brutally honest with ourselves, there are many people in this world that we feel don’t deserve our time, our effort…  And certainly not our servitude!

In spite of this, however, we must remember that Jesus did this for us, even when we didn’t deserve it!

Romans 5:8  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

As sinners who constantly rebel against God’s will, we don’t deserve the love, mercy, forgiveness and salvation that God offers, but He gives it anyway...  Because He loves us!

Likewise, Christ commands that we love each other!

John 13:34-35  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

Along with loving one another, we are commanded to serve each other!

Galatians 5:13  For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.


Put Family Second; Put God First

Luke 14:26  If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. 

I want to take a moment to point out that Jesus is not teaching literal hate in this verse!

In this case, the word hate means to “love less.”  According to Strong’s Concordance the Greek word used in this instance is miséō which means to “to detest (on a comparative basis); hence, denounce; to love someone or something less than someone (something) else, i.e. to renounce one choice in favor of another.”

Jesus is not saying that we shouldn’t love our earthly families (or shirk our familial responsibilities), but that we should love them less than we love Him.  We ought to love Christ above all.

This is an extremely difficult command to follow!  It is hard to put God before your earthly family and/or friends, and, unfortunately, this leads to a stunting of spiritual growth for many people.

Matthew 10:37  He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.

God, as our Heavenly Father and Creator, deserves and should therefore receive the majority of our love!

It’s important to note that putting our Heavenly Father before our Earthly family is by no means a disservice to them; a genuine love for and dedication to God actually allows us to love everyone else that much more deeply!


Do not Love Riches; Trust God

In Matthew 16:16-22 Jesus counseled a rich young ruler on what he ought to do attain eternal life.  The successful young man must have felt pretty good about himself as Jesus told him to keep the commandments he was already following.  He told Jesus as much and then asked what he still lacked.  Perhaps hoping to hear Jesus say, “Nothing,” we read that the young man ended up walking away sorrowful after Jesus told him to sell his possessions.

Matthew 16:22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Jesus pointed out that in spite of the young man’s dedication to keeping the commandments; he still harbored a love for his possessions and worldly riches.

As Christians, we too must recognize that our mission in life is not to fill our wallets or our bellies.

Matthew 6:24  No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Mammon is another one of those fancy Greek words which means “worldly riches”

We know that the Bible teaches us that we should trust God instead of riches.

1 Timothy 6:10  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

1 Timothy 6:17  Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.

What a shame it would be to live life in such a way that we attain everything, yet in the end find that we cannot take it with us.  Even worse, to find that we condemned ourselves in the process!

Mark 8:36  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?

Matthew 6:19-21 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
 
Earthly treasures ultimately deteriorate, but Heavenly treasures are eternal and incorruptible.


Forsake Lusts of the Flesh; Live for God

Galatians 5:16  I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.

This is difficult for human beings because we so love fulfilling our lusts.

As if it wasn’t difficult enough, we live in a society in which we are constantly tempted and succumbing to lust in all of its various forms is actually encouraged!

"Carpe diem!"

"YOLO!"

"Just do what makes you happy."

For many, this is a huge road block to becoming a Christian.  Instead of focusing on the relationship they could have with God, they choose dwell on and pine for the lusts of the flesh that they will have to leave behind. Worse still, even Christians will allow themselves to give in to such enticements, being drawn back into the quagmire of sin!

Galatians 5:19-21 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Are the fleeting works of the flesh really worth not inheriting the kingdom of God?

When we become Christians, we must forsake the world and not look back!

Luke 9:62  But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Proverbs 26:11  As a dog returns to his own vomit, So a fool repeats his folly.

We should turn our attention to serving God and seek to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit

Galatians 5:22-24  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.  And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 

Colossians 3:2-3  Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

We have to deny our lusts and exhibit self-control if we want to please God.  We should follow Christ’s example and do the will of God instead.

1 Peter 4:1 -2  Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,  that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.

This may be one of the most difficult aspects of becoming a Christian; the transition between a self-centered life to a God-centered life is not easy.

Matthew 7:13   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.

Despite the destructive consequences foretold in the Bible, many choose to go their own way instead God’s way.


Reject False Doctrine; Obey God’s Word

Matthew 15:8-9  ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me.  And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

Sometimes it is not just a single hard saying that prevents one from following Jesus, but entire passages of God’s Word!  There are so many that genuinely seek to serve Christ only to fail by not following His teachings through Biblical illiteracy.  Despite their faith and sincerity, they are being misled by false doctrines.

Whether it is by ignoring the Bible’s stance on homosexuality, avoiding uncomfortable truths on topics such as Hell, or rejecting baptism as a necessary part of salvation, many cling to false doctrine in one form or another.

2 Timothy 4:3  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...

Galatians 1:8  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.

Regardless of what any human chooses to teach (or not teach), whether it is based on long-held manmade tradition or “progressive” changes within culture and secular society, it is the Word of God that is ultimately meant to be a Christian’s standard.  In a world that embraces pluralism, the Bible teaches but one, singular path that we ought to adhere to.

Ephesians 4:4-6  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

John 14:6  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.


You Need to Change:  God Loves You, but You Need to Change

Luke 13:5  I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.

“God loves me just the way I am,” is a saying we commonly hear.  This statement, however, is only partially true.  Indeed, God does love you (unconditionally even), but He wants you to change. This idea likely causes many to recoil in disgust and indignation!  “Why should I have to change to please God if He loves me unconditionally?”

However, this is actually a consistent message throughout God’s Word and is central to the Gospel.  The terms repent and repentance occur some 78 combined times throughout the Old and New Testaments.  God wants us to have a change of heart and turn away from sin!

Acts 26:20  …but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.

To many this would seem to be an incongruity:  the idea that God loves us unconditionally... and yet He wants us to change!  But - as always - God knows best.  Not only does repentance bring us closer to God, it is also a necessary step toward salvation.

Acts 2:38  Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

2 Corinthians 7:10  For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.

2 Peter 3:9  The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.


The Ultimate Hard Saying: “I never knew you.”

In the 7th chapter of Matthew, Jesus describes a judgement scene and the ultimate hard saying that none of us would hope to ever hear.

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!’  

Jesus tells us that those who don’t do the will of God will not be recognized by Him and will perish.
But...  If we read on to the very next verses we find out that this does not have to be the case!

Matthew 7:24-25  “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.”

Can you accept the hard sayings that the Bible presents us with?  Will you be like the wise man who built his house on a strong foundation and build your life on the strongest of all foundations?

If you desire to serve God, become a Christian and accept the salvation He offers, please do not delay!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Be A Living Example


I don’t want to downplay the importance of preachers, but all too often I think we lift up preachers as being the most important members of a congregation in regards to the spreading of the Truth.
In actuality, however, it is every single individual in the congregation who has the potential to make the greatest impact.  The lesson presented by a preacher from behind a pulpit, no matter how eloquent or thought-provoking it may be, can only affect those sitting in the audience.  Again, it is actually each member of the church who is tasked with doing the legwork of going forth and spreading the Gospel.

I look back on my own life, for example, and realize the impact of Christians who were not preachers.  I think of my grandparents in particular.  Though they never (aside from my grandpa) delivered a formal sermon, they had an extremely deep and meaningful impact on the rest of the family and others they came into contact with through the life they led by merely trying to serve God.  Through their dedication to Christ they led others to seek salvation!


We Are All Living Examples

Whether we like it or not, we all serve as an example to others.

Romans 14:7 For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself.

As we go through life it is impossible for us to not come into contact with other people.  Since this is the case, as believers, we ought to always be mindful of the type of example we are to others.

“You are an example.  Whether you are a good example or not is up to you.”  - Steve Ferrante

Psalm 90:12  So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom.


Bad Examples

“If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.” - Catherine Aird

Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites proved to be a “good example of a bad example”.  As God’s special chosen people, the Israelites did not act like it!  Whether it was rebelling against the prophets, engaging in idol worship, or just blatantly breaking God’s commandments, the Israelites often served as an “example of what not to do.”

Unfortunately, Christians – God’s chosen people today – are no better in many cases!


Leavening the Whole Lump - The Negative Influence of the World

We can become hypocritical if we are not careful and allow the world to influence us negatively.
The Church at Corinth was rebuked for some of their membership being involved in sexual immorality, but as if that wasn't bad enough, the rest of the church were somehow not ashamed and apparently even boasted about the situation.

1 Corinthians 5:6-7  Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?  Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us…

Paul points out that negative influence can spread if it is left unchecked.  Before long a whole church can become corrupted if we are not careful!  We must not allow anything or anyone to cause us to deviate from God’s instructions.

We as Christians have countless opportunities to influence others and lead them to Christ.  Conversely, however, the opposite can also be true; the world can affect us as well if we are not careful and lead us away from Christ.

Galatians 5:7-9  …Who hindered you from obeying the truth?  This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you.  A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

We must be careful.  Christianity loses credibility when Christians are indistinguishable from the rest of the world!

Proverbs 25:26  A righteous man who falters before the wicked is like a murky spring and a polluted well…

 “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi’s words, unfortunately, reflect the perception that many in the world have concerning Christians.  Let’s prove them wrong!  Let’s commit to live a life that pleases God and leads others to Him!

1 Peter 2:11-12, 15 Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation ; For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men…

When we strive to live blamelessly, when others seek to attack us, they have no ground to stand on.


“Actions speak louder than words…”

This is a phrase we are all familiar with.  We see examples every day in the workplace, in politics, and in religion.

Probably the truest judge of character is a person’s actions.  They can talk about possessing responsibility or any number of traits, and yet, if their actions do not coincide with their words, we recognize that their words were not a genuine representation of who they are.

As Christians we must not only “talk the talk”, but – far more importantly – “walk the walk.”

1 John 2:6  He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. 

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.

John 13:17   If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

“People may doubt what you say, but they will believe what you do.” – Lewis Cass

It’s so easy to listen to a sermon or read a passage from the Bible or merely identify yourself as a  “Christian”, but it is only when we actually apply what we have learned and put those lessons into action that we are truly followers of Christ!


The Divine Example 

Throughout the Bible we are beseeched to follow the example of God.

Luke 6:36 - Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.

Likewise, we are also urged to follow the example of Christ.

“He the Great Example is a pattern for me.” – From the hymn, Where He Leads I’ll Follow

Jesus commanded many things of His disciples, and we recognize time and time again that He Himself practiced what He preached!

Jesus example of servitude - John 13:13-17  You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.  Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.  If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

Jesus’ example of love - John 13:34-35  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

Jesus’ example of humility - Philippians 2:5-8  Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

Jesus’ example of longsuffering, sacrifice, and righteousness - 1 Peter 2:21-24  For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:  “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;  who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.


Salt and Light

As mentioned earlier, we are all examples whether we like it or not, but we must realize that Jesus actually commanded us to be good examples to others.

Matthew 5:13-16  You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.  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.

We are called to be that flavorful salt and shining light.  Therefore we ought to live our life in such a way that others are led to Truth.  We should always make an effort to be a positive, Godly influence on those around us.

Titus 2:7  …In all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility…

Regardless of our profession, speaking ability, age, whatever… we can always be an example to others.

1 Timothy 4:12  Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.

The Thessalonians were commended by Paul for the great influence they had on others.

1 Thessalonians 1:6-8   And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe.  For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.  For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come...

Notice that the Thessalonians influenced others by their actions.  The peoples around them, those in Macedonia and Achaia noticed the change in the Thessalonians’ conduct.  Their turning from idol worship to serve the one true God had such an impact that the Apostles credited them with doing a good portion of their work for them!

Likewise, we must always be aware of those that are around us and realize that we are always being observed.  No doubt many people are already aware of our Christian faith and many times we might find ourselves under the microscope.  Everywhere we go people are watching and listening.

Ecclesiastes 10:20  Do not revile the king even in your thoughts, or curse the rich in your bedroom, because a bird in the sky may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say.

1 Thessalonians 5:22  Abstain from every form of evil.

Since others are always around us, witnessing our words, behavior, etc.…  We must do our best to make sure that our actions are consistent with the conduct of a faithful Christian.

“The best sermons are lived, not preached.” – A Cowboy Proverb

Matthew 5:48 - Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

We may never be a perfect example to others, but we certainly should strive toward perfection.

What kind of life are you leading?

What do others see when they observe your actions?

What kind of example are you?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Idolatry and Adultery


I remember several years ago when I first started preaching I did a lesson on the works of the flesh (Galatians 5).  As I’m sure you’ll recall; listed among these sinful works are the acts of idolatry and adultery, which, pronunciation-wise, sound an awful lot alike!

I remember that after the lesson that I was approached by a member of the church who sought to educate me in the proper pronunciation of the two words.

“It’s IDOL-UH-try and UH-DUL-tery.” I remember him saying.

I’d like to examine these two works of the flesh that sound so much alike and examine what exactly makes them so different, why they are so destructive, God’s attitude toward them both, and then bring it back around to discuss the striking similarities.

…And I’ll do my best to pronounce them correctly…

What is Idolatry?


According to the dictionary…
1:  the worship of a physical object as a god
2:  immoderate attachment or devotion to something

Basically, idolatry is the worshiping of idols or false gods.  In Old Testament times, many ancient societies subscribed to the belief in numerous deities and often turned to idolatry as a means of worship, whether the idol was meant merely as an aid in worship or the actual object of worship.

The Israelites – A History of Idolatry


We recall that among the Ten Commandments was a warning against the practice of idolatry.

Exodus 20:3-6 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me.  You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments."

Unfortunately, despite God’s warning and commandments, the Israelites, God’s chosen people, were constantly tempted by idolatry.  In fact, shortly after Moses received the Ten Commandments from God, he came back down from Mount Sinai to find them worshiping the golden calf.

Exodus 32:1-6 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”  And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”  So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf.  Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”  So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to theLord.”  Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.

Following this incident, God nearly destroyed the children of Israel, but this wasn’t the only time the Israelites would turn to idolatry instead of the true God.  Throughout their history, the Israelites would be enticed by the idols and false gods of neighboring nations.

The Israelites were warned time and time again to avoid idolatry.

Deuteronomy 4:15-19  “Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire,  lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure: the likeness of male or female,  the likeness of any animal that is on the earth or the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air,  the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground or the likeness of any fish that is in the water beneath the earth. And take heed, lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you feel driven to worship them and serve them, which the Lord your God has given to all the peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage."


The Futility of Idolatry


Isaiah 44:8-10 speaks to the futility of idolatry:  Do not fear, nor be afraid;  Have I not told you from that time, and declared it?  You are My witnesses. Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock;  I know not one.’”  Those who make an image, all of them are useless, And their precious things shall not profit; They are their own witnesses; They neither see nor know, that they may be ashamed. Who would form a god or mold an image That profits him nothing?  

Why in the world would anyone bow down and worship something they created with their own hands?

Isaiah 2:8  Their land is also full of idols;  They worship the work of their own hands, That which their own fingers have made.

Habakkuk 2:18  What profit is the image, that its maker should carve it, The molded image, a teacher of lies, That the maker of its mold should trust in it, To make mute idols?

God’s attitude toward Idolatry


God’s extreme disdain for idolatry described in Ezekiel 6:4-6 - Then your altars shall be desolate, your incense altars shall be broken, and I will cast down your slain men before your idols.  And I will lay the corpses of the children of Israel before their idols, and I will scatter your bones all around your altars.  In all your dwelling places the cities shall be laid waste, and the high places shall be desolate, so that your altars may be laid waste and made desolate, your idols may be broken and made to cease, your incense altars may be cut down, and your works may be abolished.

As the Israelites made their way through the Promised Land they were commanded to destroy idols of the people they conquered and, in many cases, to utterly destroy that civilization, people and all!

What is Adultery?


Adultery is defined in Nelson’s Bible Dictionary as “willful sexual intercourse with someone other than one’s husband or wife”.

Concerning Adultery, the Ten Commandments simply state in Exodus 20:14 - You shall not commit adultery.

We can see God’s attitude toward adultery is much like his attitude toward idolatry.

Leviticus 20:10  The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death.

Adultery, like all other sins, is not victim-less and opens the door for other sins to take place that will have long-lasting effects.  Just look at the account of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11.

David allowed himself to be enticed by Bathsheba and committed adultery with her.  When she was found to be pregnant, he attempted to cover up his sin through deceit, but when that didn’t work, he arranged for her husband to be killed.  David’s sinful deeds did not go unnoticed by God and as a result, the king faced the consequences of his sins for the rest of his life, despite being forgiven by God.  The child he fathered by Bathsheba died.  He was a bad influence on his sons: One of David’s sons, Amnon, raped and humiliated his own half-sister while another of his sons, Absolom, rebelled against him and tried to overthrow him by force.

Adultery and the Sanctity of Marriage


Proverbs 6:32  Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding; He who does so destroys his own soul.  

How often do we hear of people cheating on their spouses with other individuals who are also married?  The adulterous couple will proclaim that they never truly loved their current spouse and that their new relationship is “true love”.  In many cases these adulterous couples will get divorces from their original spouses, only to get married to the individual they committed adultery with that they are “truly in love with”.  What do these people expect to happen with their new marriage that was founded on adultery?  What happens when they wake up one day and decide they don’t love their new spouse?  How many families are destroyed by the sin of adultery?

Jesus taught that marriage is sacred and binding and that getting divorced for any reason other than sexual immorality is a form of adultery.

Matthew 5:31-33 “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery. “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’

We must remember that marriage is not just an oath between two individuals and the government, but additionally (and most importantly) God Himself!  This should show how holy marriage is and how seriously we should revere it!

Matthew 5:27-28  “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

Jesus points out that all sin, including adultery, begins in the heart and just the act of lusting is equivalent to the act of physical adultery. How easy it is to commit adultery in this modern age!  We are all constantly bombarded with temptation on our television, movie, and computer screens!

Idolatry and Adultery:  Less different than we think? 


From here on out, the line blurs between idolatry and adultery.

Notice that the words are almost synonymous in Ezekiel 23:36-38 -  The Lord also said to me: “Son of man, will you judge Oholah and Oholibah? Then declare to them their abominations.  For they have committed adultery, and blood is on their hands. They have committed adultery with their idols, and even  sacrificed their sons whom they bore to Me, passing them through the fire, to devour them.  Moreover they have done this to Me: They have defiled My sanctuary on the same day and profaned My Sabbaths. 

Likewise, the idolatry of Israel is described as spiritual adultery in  Hosea 4:10-12  For they shall eat, but not have enough; They shall commit harlotry, but not increase; Because they have ceased obeying the Lord. “Harlotry, wine, and new wine enslave the heart. My people ask counsel from their wooden idols, And their staff informs them. For the spirit of harlotry has caused them to stray, And they have played the harlot against their God.

Think about it…  As Christians we are members of the church, which the Bible states is likened to being the Bride of Christ.

Ephesians 5:25-33  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.  So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.  For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.  “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.  Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Just as we should take our earthly marriage seriously and protect its sanctity, we should likewise protect our spiritual marriage with a similar respect and love.

But how many times do we commit adultery against Christ by turning to modern false idols?  How often do we “cheat” on Christ by giving preference to earthly things?

Covetousness and other self-seeking sins are essentially idolatry.

Colossians 3:4-6 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, 

Even preachers/religious leaders can become idols if we allow them to!  This was case during the in the instance of Paul and Barnabas' healing of a crippled man.  This miraculous work of healing astonished the crowds who then sought to worship them as false gods (Acts 14:11-18).

We are just as susceptible to this deviation from true worship today.  Consider the modern false idols many worship in the place of God today:  Money, sex, political affiliations, sports, entertainment...  The list goes on and on.

We must recognize that anything we allow to take the place of God can become an idol and force us into a spiritually adulterous state.

“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.” 
– CS Lewis

We must ask ourselves:  Are we serving the creature or the Creator?

Romans 1:24-26  Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves,  who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Ultimately, we must realize that the things of this world are temporary and pale in comparison with the glory that await the faithful in Heaven.

2 Corinthians 4:18  While we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Jesus said in Matthew 6:19-21 -  Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Where is your treasure laid up?

What are you truly worshiping?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

All to Christ I Owe


"Sin had left a crimson stain;  He washed it white as snow."

This hymn is also sometimes called "Jesus Paid It All".

Monday, February 16, 2015

(Late) New Year's Resolutions and Bible Reading Plan 2015 (Or Whenever)


I don't know about you, but for me it's just now setting in that it's actually 2015!  

So, suffice to say, I've got some catching up to do on my New Year's resolutions...

Normally, I'm not one to make resolutions.  Such things have always struck me as being a bit superficial.  

However, I was recently reminded by a friend of the power that the right kind of resolution can have, especially if one sticks it out and musters the resolve to see it through: 

She recounted to me that last year she decided to make a simple change, to listen only to Christian radio while commuting.  At first she struggled to do this day in and day out (missing the familiarity of her usual pop/rock favorites), she muscled through it and managed to make it through the whole year.  While she admitted that it all sounds kind of cheesy, she told me that she noticed subtle changes in her attitude.  She found herself, in situations in which she would normally be frustrated (road rage), having a more forgiving and merciful attitude toward her fellow travelers on her route.  Driving in her car, which used to be a menial chore of sorts, became a time of quiet reflection in which she redirected her focus to God.  

Ultimately, my friend realized the positive and profound outcome that this seemingly insignificant resolution made on her relationship with God.  

Hopefully not, but by now many have likely forgotten or given up on any resolutions that they made.  I'd like to encourage you to give any resolution you might have made another shot, especially if it's one that will strengthen your walk of faith.  

If you're like me and never made a resolution to begin with, I have a suggestion for you...

1 Timothy 4:13 - Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.

I'm embarrassed to admit, that as long as I have been a Christian I have never actually read the Bible in its entirety.  I consider myself to be very familiar with God's Word and regularly apply myself to studies of the Scripture, but for whatever reason I've never read the thing cover-to-cover.  

I'm feeling particularly inspired by my friend's story, but since it's too late to make a resolution at this point, I'll make a pledge instead and take the plunge.  I pledge to actually read the Bible in its entirety this year.  Of course, you are more than welcome to tag along!

The following is a link to a great resource that I would like to recommend called "Read the Bible in a Year": http://www.ewordtoday.com/year/

After clicking on the link you will find that you are presented with a variety of options.  You get to choose the translation you prefer as well as the type of plan you would like to follow (Chronological, a mixture of Old and New Testament, etc..).  

As great as all that is I think the best thing is that the site develops a plan based on a date of your choice, not pinning you down to a plan that started back on the 1st of January.  Not only that, but you can click on the link entitled "Go to Today's Reading" and it will conveniently direct you to the appropriate section of verses.  

Just use the link in your browser's address bar to create a shortcut or a bookmark on your computer, tablet, or phone for easy access each day.

With all of this convenience, it might become very easy to forget or put off your daily readings, but I encourage you to stick with it and make it a routine.  In doing so, before long it will become second nature.  I plan on doing my readings in the morning just before I do my morning prayers.

I hope this post has been beneficial and, again, I encourage you to join in!