Monday, August 31, 2015

How Strong Are You?

Life conditions us to be as strong as we can be.  This is obvious in our physical bodies as we grow and develop to maturity.  The competitive nature of athletic events brings about stronger bodies, better conditioned  to perform athletic skills.  We aren't accustomed to seeing very many 5-ft. tall basketball players in the NBA.  Likewise we won't see a 100 pound running back for the Green Bay Packers.   We expect the athletes to be strong and conditioned, and that is the only way they can be winners. 

We who are in the church of the Lord also develop this mentality when it comes to growing into "stronger Christians."  This is seen in our churches when we seek a stronger prayer-life, a more intense evangelistic outreach, or a more devoted approach to keeping our Bible reading schedules.  Even in spiritual matters we strive to be conditioned and strong to face our tasks. 

With the idea of strength and always growing stronger for God, comes some scriptural references that will cause us to stop and think. 

Philippians 3:4-6 - "though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless." (That's quite a spiritual resume!)

Yet Paul, in his ministry of evangelistic travels, was reminded of his weaknesses when he confesses in Romans 7: 14-15   "We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.  I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." (Such a different story.)

The grand old Apostle, claiming his spiritual accomplishments in one place, yet recognizing his sinfulness in another place.  His writings also reveal his own descriptions of himself as "the least of the saints," or "a prisoner of the law of sin."

If any of that sounds like your attempts at being more spiritual or a stronger Christian, look to Paul who learned one more lesson.  2 Corinthians 12:9-11  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

Try as hard as you may, to become stronger and stronger.  You will learn, like Paul, you will only become strong when you realize how weak you are.  Then we are able to understand demonstrating the Christian's faithfulness is not dependent on how strong we are, but that our dependence is in our strong God. 

Our self-sufficiency in spiritual matters needs to be destroyed and replaced with a faith in God that proves we are  the strongest, in our weakness. And so we sing, "I am weak but thou art strong...."


Friday, August 28, 2015

We have a responsibility

Dr. Henry Morris begins his book, "Defending the Faith," with an introduction which includes the following scriptures, each taken from his writings to the young preacher, Timothy. 

2 Timothy 1:13 - "What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus."

2 Timothy 2:2 - "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others."

2 Timothy 3:14 - "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it."

2 Timothy 4:1-2 - "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction."

Also of note are the concluding words of 1 Timothy, 

1 Timothy 6:20 - "O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge.”

The teaching of God's Word was important to Paul and others who not only believed the Great Commission, but also lived it.  Jesus meant what he said with the words, "Go into the world and teach."  Now the seasoned missionary traveler, Paul, was passing along the words of truth and life, to Timothy, who would be following in Paul's steps. 

In each of the above scriptures, the responsibility to teaching and preaching is expressed.  If Timothy is going to be successful in his ministry, he not only must teach the truth of the gospel, but he also is told to entrust it to those reliable and qualified to teach others.

Paul would also have us to know there were those who were dedicated to teaching things which were false, attempting to diminish the truth of God's Word, and attempting  to rob the gospel of its power to save.  That is why Paul encouraged Timothy to "guard what I have entrusted to you."

We also must be reminded of Paul's letter to the Ephesian Christians  which contained the necessity of putting on the whole armor of God.  There is eternal importance in God's message to mankind, and the section of scripture in Ephesians 6 is given to us to make us prepared for battle against those who would attack God's message of love.  As long as the gospel is being taught, Satan will be around with his attempts to destroy God's people and God's Word. 

You and I also have the responsibility to teach, and the responsibility to be prepared, equipped with the whole armor of God, to be a soldier of the cross. 


Thursday, August 27, 2015

What Stephen Saw

The writings of Luke in Acts of the Apostles bring excitement to the Christian reader as story after story describes the successful beginning and spread of early Christianity.  The verses of Acts 2 take us from the work of the Holy Spirit in Peter's life as he preached the church's first sermon, to the role of the family of Christians loving and sharing their new lives in Jesus.

There are some other things which need to be considered, which fit into the story.  There were obviously many struggles these people faced. The rapid growth of the church naturally brought in people with different backgrounds.  One such example of a problem was between some Christians which were Jews from Palestine, and some Jews from the Greek communities, known as Hellenists. 

These Hellenists were protesting because they felt like there was some discrimination against them when it came to funds and help being distributed to the needy. The problem was taken to the apostles, who suggested they come up with seven men to be in charge of dispensing these relief funds. The Bible said these men were to be "men of good report, filled with the Spirit and of wisdom." 

One man they selected was Stephen.  Those who are familiar with Stephen and know his story, understand how well he fit the requirements of this position.  As the church grew even more, there were more problems arising as well.  In Acts 6:7 we learn, " Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people."  The next verse indicates there were some who opposed Stephen.  If we keep reading, we are made aware the growing problems are not making him a popular person.  Verse 9, "But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke."
The opposition Stephen faced, including a man named Saul.  Stephen spoke a lengthy message in his defense.  The council was not moved by his message and Stephen could see the handwriting on the wall.  Acts 7:55-56, "But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  Stephen was then taken outside the city, where they began to stone him.  The Bible says the coats of these men were laid at the feet of a young man named Saul.  Stephen's final words were, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

That's persecution like we will probably never see.  That is also an example of dedication which is rare.  Do we think Stephen died in vain?  Persecution continued and even grew stronger after his death, but the stories of that persecution allow us to see how God used it for good.  The scattering Christians were instrumental in the expansion of Christianity and the spread of the gospel.

Do you think you will ever be persecuted for your faith?  That could happen.  Remember it was Jesus who said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."  Matthew 5:10.  Today, give some thought to what you would do if persecution became a reality in your Christian experience. 


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Adam and Adam

The story of creation from Genesis is familiar to each of us.  We have long studied the beginning of the human race from the early pages of the Bible.  Even as kids we were amazed at how God spoke things into existence.  Darkness was separated from the light, water from the earth, and we were introduced to plants, trees and animals.  Ultimately God's masterpiece was created as he "breathed into man's nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul." 

 I wish I had the vocabulary to describe the beauty and perfection of the Garden of Eden.  Words like "perfection" and "amazing"  probably would not do it justice.  I know everything was just like God ordained it to be, and that was not only true with its appearance, but also in the way it functioned. 

We don't have to read too far in Genesis to learn the perfection didn't stay perfect for long.  Sin entered the picture and by virtue of Adam's sin, the human race, being like Adam, has experienced sin as well. 

In the New Testament Paul told the Romans, "There is no one righteous, no, not one."  The scripture further sheds light on that subject when it tells us, "We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. "  

These verses, and quite a list of others, let us know we fit into the picture, just like Adam, when we sin. We who were created to be in full and complete fellowship and relationship with God, build walls of separation from him with our sins.  Is there hope for us?  Can the situation be remedied?

The good news of the gospel of Christ is our answer.  Jesus came to" give us life, and that more abundantly. "  From the New Testament scriptures we can learn of this rescue mission of Jesus to give his life and shed his blood, as the payment for the sins of mankind.  Paul even refers to Jesus as the last Adam and draws a contrast with the first Adam.   1 Corinthians 14:45, "So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit."  We can view this as the first Adam is the physical connection to us, and the last Adam, Jesus, is the source of our spiritual connection.  Only Jesus can be that "life-giving spirit" that Paul talks about.

Because we are of Adam's race, we must deal with the sin problem.  We have said Jesus is the answer and I really do believe that.  But there is another contrast between the first and last Adams that is mentioned by Paul. This one makes things easier for us to understand.  Earlier in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul begins that contrast by saying in verse 21, "For since death came through a man,(that's the first Adam,) the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.(that's the last Adam.)"

Then the very next verse opens our eyes even more, "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive."  As a part of the physical race, like Adam, you and I face death.  God is promising us through Paul's writings, when we are in Christ, we will be made alive.

Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift!


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

How Tall Are You?

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.    Luke 19:1-9

Usually, those who encountered Jesus were the outcasts, the downtrodden, the society rejects.  Today, that isn't the case.  Jesus is going to meet a man named Zacchaeus, a wealthy man who ranked as a chief tax collector.  Their meeting was no ordinary meeting.  Since Zacchaeus was a short man, and because he wanted to see Jesus, but couldn't because of the crowd, he ran ahead and climbed a tree.  He really did want to see Jesus. 

Scripture tells us when Jesus caught up with Zacchaeus he looked up in the tree and told him to come down because Jesus wanted to visit at his house.  So Zacchaeus did just that, he came down from the tree and welcomed Jesus to his home.  (We probably don't have to tell you about tax collectors, but they carried a reputation of demanding more money in taxes than were actually owed.  That's how they made their living.)

It is no wonder the people criticized Jesus for visiting the home of a sinner.  But in this case Zacchaeus poured his heart out to Jesus when he promised to give half of all his possessions to the poor, and if there was anyone that had been cheated, he promised to repay them, times four.

Jesus, in his response to Zacchaeus, made the statement we all wish we could hear, "Today salvation has come to this house."

Some look at this story and surmise Zacchaeus had paid for his salvation.  Closer examination shows us the real heart of a man who had met Jesus. It's really true, a genuine encounter with the Lord will change lives.  Right here we have a short man that suddenly stands tall and knows his changed life demands setting some records straight.  Repayment times four to anyone he has cheated, and giving half of all his possessions to the poor.  Since Zacchaeus suggested those terms, they are probably an accurate assessment of an amount that had been nagging him on the inside. The result was Jesus' pronouncement that salvation had come to Zacchaeus' house. 

Aren't you glad Jesus is willing to be the guest of Zacchaeus, and me, and all of us?