Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Beginnings with Heavenly Leanings


The story is told -- At the beginning of a new year, a high school principal decided to post his teachers’ new year’s resolutions on the bulletin board. As the teachers gathered around the bulletin board, a great commotion started. One of the teachers was complaining. "Why weren’t my resolutions posted?" She was throwing such a temper tantrum that the principal hurried to his office to see if he had overlooked her resolutions. Sure enough, he had mislaid them on his desk. As he read her resolutions he was astounded. This teacher’s first resolution was “not to let little things upset her in the New Year.” Or how about this one…a son called his parents to wish them a happy new year and when his Dad answered the phone, He asked his dad,” well Dad, what’s your new year’s resolution? His dad replied, "To make your mother as happy as I can all year," When his mom got on the phone he asked her the same question. His mom replied my resolution is "To see that your dad keeps his New Year’s resolution." Or some of you may have given up on resolutions taking the same attitude as the characters in the cartoon Calvin and Hobbes: The cartoon character Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes once said, “God put me on this earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I’m so far behind I’ll never die.”  This might be the case with you…just keeping up with what you have may be enough.  But, even if this is the case, it is important not to forget that we have responsibilities to focus in on eternal matters of the spirit and soul…to keep our commitments that the Lord wants and expects us to keep.  We need to consider keeping first things first as we enter into the New Year. If we do, we will be blessed beyond the season.

Philippi was a Roman colony on foreign soil.  In a like way, the church is a “colony of heaven on earth.” Paul has been the athlete in his letter to the Philippians…now, he is the alien (3:17-21).  We are all aliens…citizens of another world, living on earth.  This should help our perspective as it relates to the lives we live.  Paul continues to deal with the difficulties presented by the Judaizers, or culturally Jewish Christians.  He uses some strong language to describe them, calling them “the enemies of the cross of Christ.”  These people are not spiritually-minded, but earthly-minded…holding to rituals and beliefs that God had given to Israel, but fulfilled in Christ.  Following regulations under the guidance of flesh, rather than submitting to the Spirit, is their calling card and it shows their allegiance. Jesus has already broken down the wall separating Jews and Gentiles (2:14-16)…now the Judaizers are trying to rebuild it.  Unfortunately, this is a problem that still exists today.  Some choose to build walls and regulations where the Lord never intended, rather than build the unity of the Spirit.  It is bad enough that such ones go astray…worse, still, that they lead others astray.  It is no wonder that Paul weeps over them.

When a lost sinner becomes a Christian, this person becomes a citizen of heaven, and his or her name is written in the Book of Life (see 4:3). This person begins eternal, heavenly living at that point.  Paul’s point, in relationship to conversion is -- we may have to live in this world, but we should not be citizens of it.  It is necessary to continually remove the yoke of the world’s pleasures and priorities that seek to bind us.  The good news is that we who are believers can be and need to be exemplary citizens…any person can choose to be a “spiritual citizen” – it is a choice.  Citizens of heaven understand spiritual matters; they are governed by heaven’s laws.  And the greatest spiritual matter that governs us is love…we are more concerned about others than ourselves, more interested in giving than getting.  The heavenly citizen glories in the cross (Galatians 6:14), not in self and experiences a new vision – looking ahead for the Savior. He or she is willing to share the Good News.  When Joseph was revealed to his brothers, he chose not to dwell on his brothers’ past, but to see matters from God’s point of view – He looked ahead at God’s plan for them.  The fact that Jesus is returning is a powerful motive for living a dedicated life of service…today.

Christians who are looking ahead, Paul says, will receive a glorified body, like Christ’s (1 John 3:1ff). This will happen in a moment (1 Corinthians 15:42ff)…and at that moment, everything in this world will be completely worthless to us, which relatively speaking, is how it ought to be today.  But, we say – I like my things. This is fine…there is nothing necessarily wrong with this…just don’t hold on to them too tightly.  When Jesus comes again, He will “subdue all things unto Himself” (3:21b) or “arrange in ranks” or “bring everything under His control” may be a better way to interpret it.  Citizens of heaven allow Jesus to arrange matters in their lives according to the proper priority, living for things that truly matter…with eternity’s values in view.  Even though matters increasingly crowd our priorities and choices, being a citizen of heaven should be the most prized possession we have!  Let’s remember this as we enter into 2015. 

Steve Ely offers this -- During a practice session for the Green Bay Packers, things were not going well for Vince Lombardi’s team. Lombardi singled out one big guard for his failure to "put out." It was a hot, muggy day when the coach called his guard aside and leveled his awesome vocal guns on him, as only Lombardi could. "Son, you are a lousy football player. You’re not blocking…you’re not tackling…you’re not putting out. As a matter of fact, it’s all over for you today, go take a shower." The big guard dropped his head and walked into the dressing room. Forty- five minutes later, when Lombardi walked in, he saw the big guard sitting in front of his locker still wearing his uniform. His head was bowed and he was sobbing quietly.  Vince Lombardi, ever the changeable but always the compassionate warrior, did something of an about face that was also typical of him. He walked over to his football player and put his arms around his shoulder. "Son," he said, "I told you the truth. You are a lousy football player. You’re not blocking…you’re not tackling…you’re not putting out. However, in all fairness to you, I should have finished the story. Inside of you, son, there is a great football player, and I’m going to stick by your side until the great football player inside of you has a chance to come out and assert himself." With these words, Jerry Kramer straightened up and felt a great deal better. As a matter of fact, he felt so much better he went on to become one of the all-time greats in football and was recently voted the all-time guard in the first 50 years of professional football.

This entire message is about perspective.  We need to consider our perspective as it relates to how we live.  Christians allow the Lord to set their priorities.  We should not be looking to set our own priorities and then say…okay, Lord, give it your rubber stamp of approval.  When we are living for Christ, everything changes.  We may all be busy, but is it the Lord that is guiding us in our busyness?  Or is He left behind, because we are not following His priority for our lives.  This is what we mean when we say, Jesus is Lord.  He is Master, Ruler over everything.  When we dedicate our lives to Christ, this is what we claim.  I am no longer Master.  My attention is on Him.  If I am heavenly living on earth, this affects everything.  When we are living as citizens of heaven, we should dedicate a certain amount of time every day to be with the Lord, in study and prayer.  We should come to worship focused on him, having prepared ourselves for it.  Our prayers should be in tune with the prayer leaders.  We also sing from our hearts, and not just our mouths.  We should be intently focused on the Lord’s Supper.  The first checks we write each month should be to the Lord.  We should not only hear the sermon, but live it out in our lives.  When we live as citizens of heaven, it changes…not only our perspective, but our priorities, as well.  Be a winner at the most important thing that matters in this life…living as a heavenly citizen on this earth.

Blessings, Don

Friday, December 12, 2014

Reconciling the Abijah Accounts


I am going in a different direction from the norm here, but hopefully it will be a blessing to you.  Something struck me while I was reading 2 Chronicles.  It was an insight that provides an illustration for something that I have come to understand for a while now concerning interpretation…and it is interesting that I would find something of an Old Testament illustration to help provide insight for a New Testament principle.  This is certainly not the first time this has happened.  As I have stated in other places, if I had a dollar for all of the poor exegesis and illustrations using Noah and gopher wood, as well as Uzzah and the ark, to try to justify new covenant authority, I would be further ahead in my retirement account.  That said, the following illustration is actually in context, and concerns two distinct, but related passages. 

What we see in 2 Chronicles 13 is that Abijah becomes king of Judah, following his father, Rehoboam.  In the Chronicles account, Abijah appears to be a man of God who leads the armies of the Lord to victory over the armies of North Israel.  There are twenty-two verses displaying the heroics of what took place under Abijah’s reign.  But, something occurred to me while reading this…there are only four kings of Israel and Judah in the divided kingdom that were considered “good kings” (and all were from Judah, by the way).  They were Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah and Josiah.  Abijah is not on the list.  This is because we need to go to the Kings’ account concerning Abijah to get the other side of the coin.  The account in 1 Kings 15 is about a third as long as the account in 2 Chronicles.  It is here that we see that he “committed all the sins of his fathers.” There is very little information about Abijah and the war with Israel here…it is pretty succinct, and the basis of the message is – Abijah was a bad guy like his father (and most of those who came after him).

So, the question that comes into focus is – how does one reconcile these two accounts?  Many people would have to deduce that one of the stories is correct, while the other one must be in error, because there could only be one possible explanation that is correct.  Yet, I believe that this is the beauty of both accounts -- they can both be reconciled. Both stories concerning Abijah are true…it is simply that the Chronicler has a different focal point than does the author of 1 Kings.  (It is similar, in some respects, as to what we see with the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Each is accurate, but from the unique perspective of the author…even as to whether there were one or two angels at the open tomb).

One of the difficulties that came as the result of being raised in a church culture and exposed to a model of interpretation where an “either/or” deduction reigned was that it would often pin us into the corner and we would have to take a stand that only one thought could be correct.  And therefore, by the rules of deduction that were in place, the other position, by necessity, would have to be wrong.  So, it could only be gopher wood, and therefore, it could only be Matzos used for the Lord’s Supper (for example). The Chronicler offers a perspective concerning Abijah that is unique in that he is not really as interested in what Abijah is doing, as he is in what God is doing in the situation concerning the war with the kings in the divided kingdom.  It may be true that Judah was “seeking the will of the Lord” in relationship to their battle with Israel, but it would not necessarily mean that Abijah was “a righteous and holy leader for God’s people.”  Abijah himself is not as important in the Chronicles account as much as God is and what He is doing through Abijah in the situation.  It is not the first time that God would have used people with some significant struggles, who would even be at odds with Him…Jacob and Jonah are two others that come to mind.  Besides, if God did not respond to sinful people who sought Him and trusted in Him, we would all be in trouble.  So, Judah has a moment in the sun, where they seek the Lord and He responds by delivering them from a force that was twice their size…once again, a story that is repeated in the Scriptures. It is about what God can and will do with and for His people.

So, what does this mean as it relates to the new covenant?  There are accounts where it seems that there might be discrepancies.  I will offer two thoughts briefly that can be expanded at a later time.  How often a person participates in the Lord’s Supper, for example – was it daily (Acts 2), or was it once per week on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7).  The text in 1 Corinthians 11:17ff offers some insight, but it is not definitive as to which is should be.  It is easy to get pushed into an “either/or” scenario, when “both/and” may be quite acceptable, as well as accurate.  Paul spends the better part of the last section of Romans (particularly chapter 14) explaining how these matters can be so…that there can be a church that has members where some are vegetarians and others eat meat, (or where some meet at the building on Sunday evenings and others meet in homes) -- and it all works.  Even more challenging – are the believers in Acts 2 in the same spiritual situation as those in Acts 8 and Acts 10?  It is apparent that all are in good standing with the Lord and the church at that time…but what of today?  Many believers would say – those Christians are not acceptable…I cannot fellowship with them.  Yet, it is hard to see how we could or would not accept what those in the first century church did accept.  Furthermore, how can we “critique beyond a doubt” using “deductive methods” an event that is altogether spiritual and led by the Holy Spirit?  It is not any different today than it was then.  It is important to consider that there is more than one proper perspective that could be available and acceptable to the Lord and His body as it relates to the above matters, as well as many others…some things to study, ponder and consider.

Blessings, Don

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Putting the Giving Back into Thanksgiving


Well, I thought I would be creative with this title…until I googled it and saw dozens of references to it…c’est la vie.  I still believe it is a good subject to consider this time of year.  It has been well-documented how the world has sought to void Christmas from the holiday season.  But, it is just as troubling concerning what has happened to the current holiday, as it has become much more about Thanksgetting than Thanksgiving. Caution…a mini-rant is coming. :-)  A holiday once reserved for family time has become another casualty of the world system, as Black Friday has overridden family time for shopping time.  And, this in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing…I usually do some shopping myself.  But, when folks line up at stores on Wednesday (and before, much of the time)…and have their cold turkey and dressing on the street while waiting for the stroke of midnight on Friday…something is amiss.  This subject is about our allegiance…it is about the heart. If the focus of this message is that we “give,” then it misses the point.  Giving is a revelation of where the heart is in relationship to our spiritual condition.  There are a number of good passages in the New Testament that help us to understand the importance of this…one of these is 2 Corinthians 9, and it here that we will focus.

God has blessed the Corinthian church in many ways, and yet they are hesitant in some ways to share what they have with others (Chapter 8).  Paul encourages them to give from grace.  And this is not only money, but resources and time. Paul has used the zeal of the Corinthians to challenge the Macedonians in certain ways, and now he turns it around – he uses the Macedonians to challenge the Corinthians.  Paul shares with the Corinthians the example of the Macedonian churches – Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, who have given to the cause of helping the Jerusalem church out of their own poverty.  This becomes a blessing not only for the believers in Jerusalem, but for those in Macedonia, as well.  Our greatest encouragement for giving is to seek to please the Lord.  If our desire is to encourage others to share, then God’s grace can work through us to help others. And when we are able to accomplish this, we begin to see the grand connection between giving and thanksgiving.  The more that we give, the more thankful that we are for what God has given us.  And one of the blessings of giving is that it comes back – “Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38)  We can’t out-give God!  He gives back to us.  It may not always be money or material goods, as some proclaim, but it is spiritual, eternal and always worth far more than we have given!  As I shared from the beginning, giving is not something that you do, it is someone you are! It is an indicator of where your heart is with the Lord…it is a measure of commitment.  Giving is a way of life for the Christian who understands the grace of God. 

When it all comes down to it, this message is not about the church, about the bills, about me, or even about God…it is about you.  This is the one message where “church” is about you. And as with other areas of our spiritual walk, we need to continue to grow in our understanding and application.  Our giving must not come from some obligation that we have, but from the heart…one that is seeking to please God.  If we cannot give joyfully, then we must truly do some soul searching…we must open our hearts to the Lord and ask Him to help us to grow in grace.  God is certainly able to bless a gift that is given out of a sense of duty, but He cannot bless the giver unless the heart is right.  In His grace, God wants to bless the giver and the gift!  Remember, those in Macedonia were not wealthy when it came to their giving to help others…they did so, and experienced joy.  Giving is a personal, communal and spiritual subject that we can’t take for granted or take lightly, but we need to ask ourselves how much we are willing to trust the Lord with what really is His.

Blessings, Don