Friday, August 31, 2012

It Is Written


It is interesting to note that in the original manuscripts on which the books of the Bible were written, there were no chapter numbers or headings to break up the flow of the text.  Most of the time, this doesn’t really matter.  Yet, one place where the flow is important is the transition from Acts 4 to 5, where we have the story of a generous Barnabas leading into a story concerning selfish Ananias and Sapphira.  Another place where this matters is here…from Matthew chapter 3 to chapter 4.  An important principle is borne out in Jesus’ life that I believe is common to all Christians.  The highlight of Matthew 3 is the glorious event of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River.  What immediately follows is that Jesus is led into the wilderness for a time of testing.  This is significant for a couple of reasons.  One is – when we pledge our allegiance to God in baptism, it doesn’t go unnoticed by the enemy.  He often does what he can to see if we are serious about our commitment to the Lord…and to see if he can convince us to abandon the pursuit of Christ-likeness and fall back into ranks with him.  Paul shares with the Ephesian Christians concerning the reality of the spiritual battle for their souls.  It is certainly just as real for us -- we must keep our commitments to the Lord.  I believe that all of this, in turn, is proof concerning the importance of our conversion to Christ and in showing our allegiance to the Lord.

In the scenario that plays out in Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus is tempted by Satan.  This was not so that the Father could learn anything about His Son, because the Father had already given Jesus His divine approval.  Jesus is tempted in order that everyone might know that Jesus is the victor…that is the overcomer of Satan, sin and death.  There are some interesting parallels that can be drawn between Jesus and Adam...who was the instrument by which sin first came into the world.  Just as the first Adam met the evil one, so now the last Adam, Jesus, meets the enemy (1 Corinthians 15:45).  Adam met the deceiver in a beautiful garden…Jesus meets him in a terrible wilderness.  Adam had everything he would ever need…Jesus is hungry after 40 days of fasting.  Adam did lose the battle and plunged humanity into a realm of sin and death…Jesus wins the battle and ultimately goes on to defeat Satan, sin and death (John 12:31).  Jesus’ temptation experience ultimately will help to prepare Him to be our sympathetic High Priest (Hebrews 2:16-18, 4:15-16).

It is important to note that Jesus faces the enemy as a man…as His first words are, “Man shall not live by bread alone…”  We must not think that Jesus would use His divine powers to overcome the enemy, because this is precisely what the enemy wants Him to do.  It is a matter of fact that temptation involves the will, and Jesus came to do the Father’s will and not His own.  Likewise, we must continually yield our own wills to the Father.  Satan’s first test involves the love and the will of God (v.3).  Satan’s intent is – if your Father loved you, He wouldn’t have led you into this wilderness for you to get hungry.  Isn’t that Satan’s way?  He always lies or exaggerates matters in order to accomplish his purposes…as he did with Adam and Eve – “you will not die from eating the fruit, it will make you like God.”  This is all followed by the suggestion that Jesus use His divine power to meet His own needs.  When we put our physical needs ahead of our spiritual needs, we sin.  Jesus uses the spiritual resources that are available to us today – the power of the Holy Spirit, and the power of the Word of God -- when he says “It is written…”  When we allow circumstances to dictate our actions, instead of following God’s will, we sin.  Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 in order to defeat Satan’s scheming.  God’s Word is our food, spiritually. 

The second temptation is even more subtle.  This time, Satan uses the Word of God, taking Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple, probably about 500 feet up, then quotes Psalm 91:11-12.  It is here that God promises to take care of His own.  In effect, Satan is saying, “if you really believe the Scriptures, then jump!  Let’s see if your Father truly cares for you.”  This second temptation is particularly galling, because Satan is actually quoting Scripture to the author of the Scriptures.  This is remarkable in a number of ways.  Note Jesus’ reply, as seen in His quote from Deuteronomy 6:16…as Jesus defeats Satan yet again…“It is written” (once again).  We test God when we put ourselves in circumstances that force Him to work miracles on our behalf. 

For Satan’s third temptation, he offers Jesus a shortcut to His kingdom.  If Jesus would bow down and worship him…just once…He could enjoy all of the glory without enduring the suffering.  Of all of the temptations, I believe this would have been the most challenging.  But, Jesus did not need Satan’s offer, because the Father had already promised Jesus the kingdom…but, it would come through suffering (Psalm 22:22-31).  If Jesus did not suffer and die for us, not a single one of us would have the opportunity for eternal life.  So, we can be thankful that He answers with Scripture once again.  Jesus replies with Deuteronomy 6:13 (read).  He knows that whatever we worship, we will serve…for worship and service go together.  Jesus then says, “Be gone!”  Satan goes away a defeated foe…although he does not give up tempting we see with Peter, where Jesus has to tell him, “Get thee behind me, Satan.”  Once Jesus’ temptation is over, angels come and minister to Him.  Jesus is now ready to begin His ministry.

If Jesus is the Lord of our lives, we are not going to habitually, willfully run headlong into sin.  This is not to say that we are not going to make mistakes, because we do…but we have never been expected to live “sinless”…just that we are to be “blameless”.  Satan’s biggest scheme is to try to get us to be our own god.  He has more resources than ever in this day and time in which we live in order to seek to accomplish this.  We must not regularly give in to Satan and his schemes, but fight the good fight of faith and trust.  The way that we respond to the temptations that come our way, in a great way determines our spiritual character and shows where our allegiances lie.  Will we stand by the Spirit and “It is written” in order to achieve victory over sin and the flesh(?) or try to go it alone according to your own will power…and fail.

I want to close with an encouraging story…A saintly teacher was held in great esteem and admiration by his pupils.  One day, a student in one of his classes asked him, “Sir, we want to know the secret to your serenity, even under provocation that would cause us to go down in defeat?  Do not the pleasures of sin ever cause you to go onto forbidden paths?”  Smiling, he said, “I know something of the things of which you speak.  The appealing enticements to sin that trouble you do come to me as well…but, when these temptations knock at the door of my heart, I simply say to the tempter -- this place is occupied.” (1 John 4:4)

Blessings, Don

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Value of Spiritual Leadership


Scott Chambers shares this -- An item in Leadership magazine illustrates the importance of giving attention to needs, not just paying attention to numbers. "During World War II, economist E.F. Schumacher, then a young statistician, worked on a farm. Each day he would count the 32 head of cattle, then turn his attention elsewhere. One day an old farmer told him that if all he did was count the cattle, they wouldn’t flourish. Sure enough, one day he counted 31; one was dead in the bushes. Now Schumacher understood the farmer: you must watch the quality of each animal. "Look him in the eye; study the sheen of his coat. You may not know how many cattle you have, but you might save the life of one that is sick." This is great advice, whether it’s for the Sunday school teacher or a church leader. A full class or a crowded church isn’t necessarily a healthy class or a spiritual church.  To find out people’s spiritual condition, we must "look them in the eye." Then we can minister to their needs.  I believe that this is some good advice for us today.  It is easy to get distracted from being who we need to be as God’s people.

Under the old revealed in Leviticus...apart from the ministry of the priests, the people had no way to approach God.  It was a serious responsibility that the leaders of God’s people pay attention to their own lives.  Even though every believer has access to God today, the responsibilities of leadership are not any less significant or important today.  God provides the leaders of Israel, the priests, some instructions concerning how they were to lead and instruct the people as to how they should live for Him.  The priests and their families had some great, albeit tedious, responsibilities.  Perhaps the greatest was to be above reproach and to be examples to the rest of the nation.  Since they served with him, the high priest’s sons were also required to meet qualifications.  The high priest had obligations to serve the Lord faithfully, and this section of the book (chapters 21-22), reveals many facets of the priests' responsibilities.  Among some of those responsibilities -- an ordinary priest might become defiled by the lifeless bodies of their immediate family…but this could not happen to the high priest.  The Lord told the priests how they were to express grief or to show sorrow…yet, act like servants.  We see an example of this with Aaron regarding the death of his sons Nadab and Abihu.  He also shared with them concerning selecting a wife and gave them instruction concerning their children.  If a son or daughter began living wickedly, he wouldn’t lose his ministry, the son or daughter would lose their life.  There was some serious accountability.  The high priest’s first born became the next high priest, and he was to marry a virgin…because to marry an alien would defile his offspring and also the priesthood.

Because of the fall of Adam and Eve, all men are sinners…but, our physical and moral defects aren’t an obstacle either to salvation or service.  God invites all people to come to Him.  Yet, for the priests of Israel, God required that every priest be free from defects and blemishes.  Because the animals brought for sacrifice had to spotless, so did the priest.  This was an example of the Great High Priest to come, Jesus Christ, who had no fault or defect in Him.  Some of the defects that could have affected the priests are mentioned – birth defects, and the consequences of sickness or an accident.  This all seems a bit stringent…and it is.  Nonetheless, this passage and others like it should not be used to intimidate or humiliate anyone…that was not the purpose.  Unfortunately, there have been a few radical believers who have interpreted such passages in this way.  There are no second class citizens in the kingdom of God…all are special!  The priests were a unique class of people with an important job to do in relationship to God and holiness.  God wanted them to be their very best in every respect.

The priest had to have his heart in his work.  It would be relatively easy for them to turn sacred ritual into a shallow routine.  The greatest protection against hypocrisy is fear of the Lord as revealed in a tender conscience.  The conscience is like a window that lets in light.  When the window becomes dirty or stained, the light gradually becomes darkness.  We believers today need to keep our consciences from becoming hardened…but, keep them sensitive to God.  This can be a tall order given the plethora of conscience staining opportunities that people have today.  A priest could eat portions of specified offerings and share the food with those in his family who were qualified to eat, but if he was too generous and included outsiders, he sinned against the Lord and his guests.  I don’t know about you, but it is amazing to me how our Christian walk often seems to be just the opposite of what was required of those under the old covenant.  The priest had to have the honesty to say “no” to himself and to others…which can be a most difficult thing for us humans to do.  As the priests had to be free from physical defects, so also the sacrifices that they offered had to be perfect or the Lord wouldn’t accept them.  I have to wonder, how many times did the priest have to reject an inferior sacrifice brought to the altar?  Reflective of Abel, not only must God’s servants not make it easy for people to sin, they must also encourage people to give their best to the Lord.

Kevin Miller, one of the editors of Leadership Journal, describes leadership. He talks about his days as a kid driving down the street to Hooper Wolfe's hardware store with his dad. "Hooper Wolfe's," he says, "had an old wood door, painted white -- except where the paint was worn off near the handle. You walked in, and you could hardly move. There were two narrow aisles. The counters were filled with merchandise, shelves were overflowing, and stuff was hanging from the ceiling. You'd think, 'No way am I going to find anything in here.' "But you didn't need to. As soon as you walked in, Clarence from behind the counter would say, 'Help you today?' My dad would say something like, 'I want to hang a light out back.' Clarence would come out from behind the counter and ask questions, 'Where do you going to hang it, over the patio? Well then'…and he would start rummaging through shelves until he pulled off just the right light--'you want a light like this.’ "Then Clarence would pull a flat carpenter's pencil off his ear and get out a little piece of paper and sketch it all out.'  The conduit goes here...and make sure you don't mount the light too close to the soffit,' etc." Miller compares that experience in his childhood to going to Home Depot today as an adult. He says, "Unlike Hooper Wolfe's, where you had to parallel park on the street, there's an ocean of parking…and inside, Home Depot is huge. The ceilings are 30 feet high. Home Depot has forty times the inventory of Hooper Wolfe's. It all looks great under bright, argon lights. "There is a guy in an orange apron a block away. If you run him down, he's likely to say something like, 'Sorry. I usually work in paints. I'm just covering in electrical because someone called in sick.' So you're pretty much on your own."  Too many churches have guys in orange aprons just doing a job. The church needs people like Clarence…people who know more than we do, able and willing to guide us in building our lives. He calls it "the Clarence Principle": the older teach the younger, and those more mature in the faith guide those who are newer in the faith.

This is our task today.  We don’t have all of the regulations that the priests had in order to perform their duties…maybe that would help some people be more responsible.  Many Christians live powerless lives, because their heart isn’t really in the Christian walk -- it is somewhere else.  This was the attitude of the priests during the time of Malachi.  What we have before us today is the opportunity to do good and to serve.  If we are too busy to be Jesus to people…then we need to reevaluate our priorities.  There are challenges that can and will come along and we need good leaders, younger and older, to continue to step and help us to see the right direction to go.  Christian leaders are supposed to be people who have their heart in their work…and this is because God is first in our lives.  We must continue to grow… in order to see what great blessings that God has in store for us.

Blessings, Don

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Offense and Forgiveness


I never cease to be amazed at how the Spirit ministers through other believers...

I think it's dreadfully clear that the acid test of real discipleship for Christians is pretty easy to measure.... the amount of genuine forgiveness they issue during their day...... towards those who offend them in some way, or who should know better than to act the way they do, toward the inconsiderate, or rude, or the ones who fail to show proper respect for one's rights or space or dignity...  Jim Roberts

Offence is the bait of Satan. It is the bait he has chosen knowing it is the hardest for us to not take. TOUGH…It is impossible without submitting my will to His will and asking for His power in me to resist the bait. No joke.  Paula Palmquist

Anger, Selfishness, Greed, Discontent, Apathy, Negativity, Grudge Holding....these are the things that tear us down, destroy our relationships with family & friends, and keep us from experiencing the true happiness which LOVE brings. Building and maintaining relationships sometimes can be hard, but losing those relationships can be even harder......Spoken from experience...  Adam Comeaux

If your view of being saved hangs on being right about / doing "everything" right, it becomes harder to repent if you're not / haven't!  If your view of being saved depends wholly on Christ knowing/doing everything right, it becomes much easier to admit when you're wrong...  W. Keith Brenton

Blessings, Don