How to approach your brother

The sermon for this topic can be heard here. Read the rest of this entry

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Comparing ourselves part 2

In the last post, we talked about comparing ourselves with others and stated that when we do so we can, on one hand, judge ourselves to fall short of expectations or, on the other hand, judge ourselves superior to the other person and condemn them.  There is another effect that can happen when we compare ourselves to others: We get discontent!

Comparing leads to discontent

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells of a landowner who agreed with some workers to pay a  denarius for the day’s work. A few hours later he went to a second group and promised to pay “what is right” and still later on to another group and finally, one group who only worked one hour for the whole day.

And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ (Mat 20:8-15)

By comparing themselves with the others (Who worked more?, Who had it harder?, Who was more valuable?) they had decided they were better and got upset. The fact is that the last group didn’t deserve what they were paid but the first group didn’t deserve to be paid more. The owner was a generous man…and a fair one.

Another thing we do is compare the job or task of others to our own. We get discouraged if someone has an easier job…or at least what we perceive to be easier. Jesus and Peter had a conversation like this.

 (Jesus) said to him, “Follow me.” Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” (Joh 21:19-23)

We are often interested in the other person’s affairs but we need to pay attention to our own.  We think that maybe they have a better task or one that is more fun. Sometimes we wonder how they landed that job. We see them sitting down and wonder if they are doing their job.  Who cares? Just do yours!

In the Psalms, Aseph confessed to envy when he said:

But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. (Psa 73:2-5)

But it is just comparison. Look at the wicked…they are prosperous, nothing bad happens to them, they are well fed, don’t get into trouble….everyone else who plays by the rules suffers. It is a comparison of how well others are and how bad I am. It isn’t even based on a true reality because this comparison does not take into account the spiritual prosperity the righteous have.

Remember, the grass may seem greener on the other side of the fence but it is just as hard to cut.

The problems of comparing ourselves with others.

Paul said that those who compare themselves with others lack understanding. Whether it be in who is the best preacher or who is the best trombone player, it is useless to compare yourself with others. If you compare yourself with someone for what they have…not for who they are, the results of your comparisons are going to cause problems.

The disciples of Jesus were comparing themselves to each other. Who is going to be the greatest. Can you imagine what that conversation was like?

Andrew: Well, I went and found Peter

Peter: Well, I am the oldest. (editor: we don’t know if Peter was the oldest)

John: He loves me more.

Judas: I am the one He trusts with the money

Nathaniel: He said I was without guile.

I am taller, I am more handsome, I know more people, I am smarter, I am younger….Yada yada yada.

When you start arguing over who has the best merits or qualifications among the group, you are simply comparing yourself against one another. That is not a good thing to do.

When we compare ourselves to others for the purpose of promoting ourselves, we forget that we were like them. Maybe we still are in some ways.  Maybe not in the big sins (as if there are any big or small sins) but in many ways we all stumble and fall.

In the next post (or perhaps the one after that) we will explore the times and ways in which it IS good to compare ourselves with others. While this topic is explored over three posts, you can hear the sermon on this topic at this link.

 

 

Comparing ourselves to others-Good or Bad idea?

Comparing ourselvesThe sermon on this topic, presented April 23rd, can be heard at this link. This post will handle the first part of the lesson and subsequent posts the rest. You don’t have to wait though….Listen now!

We make comparisons all the time. For example, we compare things when we are looking to buy them. Which Refrigerator is best? Which clothing lines fit my style or principles? Which cars will have the best features? What is the cheapest? Has the best value? Is the coolest?

Comparing things is one thing but should we compare people? More specifically, should we compare ourselves to other people? There are two answers to that and depending on the perspective you use for the comparison, the proper answer can be “Yes” or “No”.

On one hand, we compare and we fall short.

Sometimes, we compare ourselves to others and we think that we fall short of a particular standard. For example, when Moses was told by God to go back to Egypt and tell Pharaoh that he needed to let Israel go, Moses had a few thoughts about his ability to do that.

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exo 3:11)

But Moses said to the LORD, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” (Exo 4:10)

Moses did not think he measured up to the task that God was giving him. Of course, we aren’t confronted with a burning bush and the voice of God today but we still have tasks to do that we are able to do….God doesn’t demand more than we can do.

Comparisons that leave us feeling like we are not good enough are not good comparisons. Today’s world is full image projections that we somehow digest into our brains to think that WE need to be like that, believe this way, act this way, look this way, dress this way….and of course, use this toothpaste!

It has been reported that one Supermodel reportedly said that she even wished she looked like herself. No, she wasn’t being arrogant, she was being realistic. Because by the time photos are through being photo-shopped and manipulated, the image may look like the person but the person does not look like the image. All flaws are gone and sometimes so is extra weight, short necks, the correct color of eyes…etc. etc.

Life is not photo-shopped.

We should not look at others and think…I am not good enough, but often we do.

On the other hand, we can compare ourselves with others and think that they are not good enough.

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector helps us to see this principle.

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luk 18:10-14)

There are lots of comparisons in this Pharisee’s life.

  • I am not…
  • I do this…
  • I am soooo good, you are really lucky to have me in your life God! (Well, he didn’t quite say that but it was close.)

Read the parable of the Prodigal son in Luke 15 and you will see the older brother’s reaction to the Prodigal’s return was also a bunch of comparison.

But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ (Luk 15:28-30 emphasis mine)

Consider carefully if you compare  yourself with others and find yourself falling into one of these two situations: Falling short or elevating yourself. Neither one is good.

We should not compare ourselves with others based on what they have but on who they are. More on this thought next time.

Do you compare yourself with others to make yourself feel better or to justify your own feelings of inferiority? Try being content with what you have, you will find it more satisfying.

We are what we think

The sermon entitled “We are what we think” can be heard here. It was presented on March 19th 2017.

What we think is really who we are.

We are what we thinkOne of the things that distinguishes us from the rest of Creation is our ability to think. We are the one part of Creation created in God’s image. Of course, we understand that that does not mean we are physically like God but like Him in spirit. We are a spiritual being in a physical body and when you try to identify that part of us that makes us “us”, it comes down to our ability to think. What we think is the reality of who we are.

Do not take the food of him who has an evil eye, or have any desire for his delicate meat: For as the thoughts of his heart are, so is he: Take food and drink, he says to you; but his heart is not with you. (Pro 23:6-7)

From this passage, the proverb writer teaches us that just because a person says one thing, it does not mean he is being sincere. However, it also shows us that it is what we think rather than what we say that is truly able to reveal our character.

The Bible records the thoughts of many individuals and does so for our benefit. If it weren’t for God knowing the hearts and thoughts of His own creation and choosing to reveal them to us on occasion, we would be unaware of the need to be cautious and also might fail to realize that our own thinking needs to be reviewed and controlled.

As an example, let’s look at Hezekiah. As King, his reign was not perfect. He had done good and he also did things that were not so good. In one case, Hezekiah showed representatives of Babylon all the riches of his kingdom. God sent Isaiah to share with him the consequences of his action.

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the LORD: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the LORD. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?” (2Ki 20:16-19) Emphasis mine.

From the outside, one might think that Hezekiah was very righteous and accepting of God’s word. However, seeing his thoughts gives us a different picture.

Our thinking is very important.

We all know that our words are important.  The Scriptures teach that we will be judged by every idle word (Matt. 12:36-37) but the context for that teaching started with the “thoughts” of the Pharisees who said Jesus was using the power of Satan to cast out demons.

But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. (Mat 12:24-25)

Jesus also spells out the relationship between our heart/thoughts and words in the following two passages:

But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person….” (Mat 15:18-20)

and:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Mat 5:27-28)

If we are are able to be condemned for our thoughts and not just our words, it would be good for us to know how to control our thoughts!

How can we control our thoughts?

First, the passage we all know but sometimes misuse is what Paul wrote in Philippians 4.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Php 4:8-9)

The way we misuse it is by thinking or saying that all I have to do is think good thoughts and everything will work out. (Sort of like Peter Pan singing “Think of a wonderful thought, any merry little thought”) I don’t mean to imply that passages like this will not make us more optimistic but the Bible does not teach that being a Christian and maintaining optimistic thoughts will keep us from troubles or persecutions.

As Christians, we are not dwell on the things the world would have us to dwell on or meditate and contemplate about. Most of those things are anything but true or lovely or just or commendable. How could they be? They come from the world.

So the first thing is to think about those things that have the characteristics Paul mentioned.

Second, there is the passage in Mark 4 which advises:

And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (Mar 4:24-25)

We need to pay attention to what we think AND we need to pay attention to what we hear. While Jesus was undoubtedly saying to pay attention to what He had been teaching, one can also see how we need to pay attention to what is being presented to us from the world with the view of not listening to it.

What if we judged what we heard by the standards of Phil 4:8. Is it true? Is it lovely? Is it commendable?  and so on.

What if Cain had used this standard? What if he had paid attention to what was spoken to him and we know that God’s word is TRUE. “If you do well, will you not be lifted up?” If only Cain had listened and thought on those words rather than his bruised ego…

What would the effects be in your life?

The effect of such a standard would affect many areas of our life. It would affect our motives, our entertainment, our speech, and our actions. All of these areas would become more God-like and more like Christ.

It isn’t easy to control our thinking but one thing is for sure, no one else is able to do so. Many will try to influence your thinking. (Even I am trying to influence your thinking in this post.) The only one who can control it is you!

Question:

How has controlling or not controlling your thoughts affected your life?

 

The comfort of God

comfort-in-godYesterday’s sermon came from 2 Corinthians 1:3-11. The sermon can be heard at this link. The book of 2 Corinthians is a book about comfort. The word comfort, or forms of the word,  appears 19 times in this book, more than any other. Paul begins immediately to talk about the comfort of God but it is hard to miss that tied with the comfort of God are the afflictions of the follower of God.

God is the source of all comfort.

Paul begins to speak about comfort by crediting God with being the source of all comfort. As always, we need to remember to look to God as the source of all good things. The book of James tells us:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (Jas 1:17)

However, God allows us to help Him in comforting others by offering comfort as well. Verse 4 of 2 Cor 1 tells us we are comforted so we can comfort others.

It is hard to imagine the persecutions that Paul experienced but we still have our own afflictions. In our places of employment, standing for God’s character might put our job in jeopardy; In dating, we might experience a break up because our boyfriend/girlfriend does not appreciate you standing for Holiness; In preaching, we might lose a friend because we speak the truth of the Gospel to him.  However, if we experience these things, and persevere in our service to God, we are better equipped to offer comfort to those who will experience them later.

It it through afflictions we experience the comfort of God.

Verses 6 and 7 clearly indicate that we experience comfort when we patiently endure. It is almost as if we have to go through the trials in order to gain the comfort.  This is understood by the fact that God does not keep us from the trials, He simply keeps us through the trials and on the other side, there is comfort.

Paul tells Timothy (2 Timothy 3:10-15) that all who want to live godly lives will be persecuted and yet encourages Timothy to continue on the same course of life-a course that will see him experience persecution.

The Hebrew writer makes note of the discipline of the Lord in Hebrews 12:3-13. (Not all discipline is punishment…in this passage, there is more teaching and training than chastising.) God instructs us by allowing us to go through some difficult times and yet we still have His promise to protect us from being overwhelmed.

His promises and His word bring us great comfort.

Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. The insolent utterly deride me, but I do not turn away from your law. When I think of your rules from of old, I take comfort, O LORD. (Psa 119:49-52)

Afflictions cause us to rely on God.

In verses 8 and 9, Paul refers to distresses he experienced in Asia. Experiences which caused him, at the time, to believe he was going to die. When things are so out of your control that death seems a certainty, there is only one place to turn: To God who raises the dead!  This is probably our greatest comfort…knowing that no matter what happens in life as we serve God, even if it leads to our death, God will raise us again.

Do you refuse the comfort of God?

It is possible for us to refuse the comfort of God. If we refuse to go through the trials and afflictions of living a life for God, then we will not experience the comfort of God. Perhaps we are like the rocky soil in Mark 4 that turns away when persecutions come our way. Perhaps we are like Demas (2 Timothy4:10) who loved the world more than God and apparently did not like the boundaries God gives to all of us for living our lives. Perhaps we don’t want to put God first and so we give that first position to our family.

If we refuse to live the life of a Christian (which will lead to persecutions and afflictions) then we do, in affect, refuse the comfort of God. Comfort come to us from God in many ways but the chief ways are through His promises in His word. For example, there is a great boldness when we truely can echo the words of the Hebrew writer:

So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
(Heb 13:6)

But comfort also comes from our brethren who are able to and even commanded to comfort us-as we do to them also.

so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. (2Co 2:7-8)

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. (2Co 13:11)

Let us always persevere in our service to God. Not only in the good times but in the difficult times so that we may experience the comfort of God.

 

 

 

 

Do you still have no faith?

do-you-still-have-no-faith-autosavedWhen confronted with a tempestuous sea, the disciples, fearing for their life awoke Jesus with the question: “Do you not care that we perish?” He awoke and rebuked the winds and asked a question of them. “Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:37-41)  It seems that Jesus was as astonished at their lack of faith as they were at his power to calm the winds and the sea.

The sermon around this question can be heard at this link. However, the main points of yesterday’s lesson start off with the recognition that His disciples had experienced some amazing things with Jesus before getting into the boat in Mark 4. Jesus had healed a lame man and Peter’s mother-in-law, cleansed a leper, and restored the withered hand of a man to normal. He had confronted the Pharisees, taught the people, explained parables to the disciples and basically, just from Mark’s account alone, provided ample reason why the disciples in the midst of that storm should not have been lacking faith.

What is Faith?

In today’s common use of the word, it is little more than “hopium”. Hopium is a made up word that means you want something to be the case without having any evidence for it to be the way you want it. Sometimes you want something IN SPITE of the evidence that it can’t or won’t be that way.

I have heard people tell someone “you just have to have faith” in situations where you realize that businesses will need to close, people are going to die, or tragedy is not going to be averted. This is a legitimate use of the word in today’s usage but it often gets confused with “God will make it work out”

This is NOT the way the Bible uses the word faith and, in fact, from Hebrews 11:1 comes a near definition of faith: It “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” It is the “assurance” that is lacking in hopium.

Faith is a belief that leads to an action based on that belief.

Jesus had faith

Why was Jesus not concerned about the storm as He slept on the cushion in the boat? Because of the Word of God.

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. (Psa 91:11-12)

His mission was needful for the salvation of mankind and He would not perish in a freak accident. His destiny was to die on Calvary’s cross. If you know that you will not perish, then the fear goes away.

The disciples did not seem to have such confidence. Even in awakening Jesus, there does not seem to be any pleading on their part to save them. No, it seems they are only astonished that He can sleep through such a storm. When Jesus asks them “if they still have no faith” perhaps he was wanting them to have faith as shown by the centurion in Luke 7.  (Luke 7 actually happens before the events in Mark 4 so the disciples would have known of this case too!)

Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant….And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. (Luk 7:2-10 edit and emphasis mine)

This Centurion has simply heard about Jesus and, based on these reports, sent to ask for his servant to be healed. Such faith Jesus marveled at.

This is the type of faith that Jesus was looking for in His disciples. Had they come to Him saying “Lord, we have seen you heal the sick and lame and cast out demons, we believe that you can save us from this certain death”….the Question would never have been asked!

There are two things that we can take away from this passage.

One, the disciples who actually spent 3 1/2 years with Jesus had some real difficulties developing faith in Jesus so perhaps we have a little hope, those of us, who were not so blessed to spend time with Him, as we struggle to develop our faith. Still, we don’t want to be found without faith so that brings us to point two.

Two, we need to let our faith grow. Faith starts with hearing God’s word. Romans 10:17 “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” and from there we begin to let our faith grow.

Passages like the following show a process of growth. The word is our milk but it is also our meat and we can grow to understand it better and as we do, our faith, exercised allows us to see and act properly towards what is good and evil.

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1Pe 2:2-3)

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5:12-14)

Faith requires action.

It cannot exist without it. Well, not the way the Bible uses it, at least. Faith without works is dead! (James 2:17) It is, put another way, Trusting Obedience. You trust and you obey. You believe and you act.

Do you still have no faith?

When you face questions like: Should I read  my Bible?; Should I be honest with other people?; Should I tell a little white lie?; Should I complain and gossip?  The Word of God will give you the answer but only your actions will show if you have faith. If you act appropriately, then you have faith. If you do not, then you do not have faith. Pretty simple.

Jesus wanted to know where their faith was? That is a good question for us to ask ourselves today. Do you still lack faith?

 

Are you loyal to your God?

loyal-to-whom(This sermon can be heard by clicking this link.)

In First Samuel, chapters 5 and 6, we are told about the time that the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant and took it back to their territory. The ark stayed in their land, moving from city to city, for seven months. Wherever the ark went, the people suffered punishment from God and finally, they returned the ark to Israel in hopes of removing the plague from their land.

In the beginning of this Philistine victory, they brought the ark to the city of Ashdod and set it in front of their god, Dagon. No doubt this would be a symbolic means of showing that Dagon was greater than the God of Israel. However, in the morning, Dagon was discovered face down before the ark. Restoring Dagon to his position, they found him the next morning before the ark with the head and hands removed, lying on the threshold. They restored Dagon and decided the Ark of God had to go to another city.

One might think that they would have realized that God was greater than Dagon, who was no god at all.  They knew that God had conquered the gods of Egypt. One might think they would wonder if it wouldn’t be better to serve the God of Israel instead. However, we find that Philistia did not turn away from their god, who was no god, but were very loyal to him. In fact, they even made the threshold, where Dagon’s head and hands had lain, a holy place and did not step on it.

Seeing the loyalty which the pagans had to their gods, who were no gods, you would think that the nation which was called by THE God of Heaven and Earth, who had delivered them from Egypt and made them a people for Himself, surely, that nation (Israel), would be even more fiercely loyal to the only true God. Right?! Wrong!

“Therefore I still contend with you, declares the LORD, and with your children’s children I will contend. For cross to the coasts of Cyprus and see, or send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. (Jer 2:9-11)

Jeremiah asks the question of whether a nation ever changes its gods. It is a rhetorical question. The answer is, of course, “No!” as the Philistines showed.  However, Israel was not the same way.

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jer 2:12-13)

Two evils

They committed two evils in that first, they departed from God and second, they built cisterns for themselves which were broken. God was the source of water and they wanted to collect water elsewhere (foreign gods) and store it in their own cisterns which wouldn’t hold water.

These ‘broken cisterns’ can stand for many things in our life. False doctrines that we want to hold onto-even when we know the truth, philosophies that we want to abide with that leave no room for God, or just simply wanting to do everything ourselves-as if we have the wisdom necessary to live without God. All of these and more are broken cisterns.

What will we do?

We are the Israel of God today. What will we do? Will we leave the God of creation or stand by Him, loyal to the end? On what will we build our lives: Rock or sand?

Elijah encouraged the people to stop limping between two opinions. They needed to choose between Baal and God. This is the same choice we have to make today and Jesus puts it in a different metaphor: that of building a house.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Mat 7:24-27)

The only difference between the builders was where they built. They both heard the word. One built on sand and the house fell, the other built on the Rock and the house stood.

Those who leave God and try to build broken cisterns are those who build on the sand. It will not last and the results will not be good.

Where will you stand? To whom will  you be loyal? The God of Heaven and earth or your own desires?

Fighting Discouragement

fighting-discouragement-1Yesterday’s sermon dealt with Discouragement that comes upon all of us. Hopefully the short 20 minute or so message will help you and you can listen to it here.

See if you can’t relate to this: Everything is going well, perhaps you had a great victory, accomplished a milestone, or did something you can take pride in and then BAM!….out of nowhere someone says something that feels like cold water being thrown in your face.

Perhaps we think of Job who, in one day, goes from being a healthy, wealthy man with sons, daughters, cattle, camels, sheep, respect and honor to having nothing except an unsupportive wife and three “friends” who are determined to find out what Job did wrong and make him admit it! Yet, for all that Job did not sin with his lips and we have a book that shows us how to deal with suffering and pain and still honor God.

We realize what was happening but Job did not. We know Satan was behind the pain, and that God held him back from doing more harm, but Job did not. And that is the way it is with those things that cause discouragement, we don’t always know the back story but there are things we can do.

Consider Elijah as we read about the challenge on Mt. Carmel in 1 Kings 18:16-40. As you read this you will see the challenge he set up. Let’s see which “God” is God! Baal or the Lord?  A simple test. Set up the sacrifice and call on your God to light the wood!

All day Baal’s prophets tried and nothing happened! Then Elijah set up the altar and went a step further….he soaked the altar 3 times with 4 containers of water. Then he prayed and BOOM! God answered with fire that consumed everything, even the stones! God made it clear that Baal was no god and the prophets of Baal were put to death.

Such a victory would stick with you and should make you feel invincible but it was Jezebel’s threat against Elijah that caused him to run in fear down to Mt. Horeb. Read through the next chapter and see what happened.

  • Elijah was afraid and ran
  • Then he complains to God that he is the only one left
  • God tells him to go back and assigns him several tasks
  • God also tells Elijah that, contrary to what he thinks, there are others who have not bowed down to Baal.

How does this help us out?

We all become discouraged. If Elijah did after such a great victory, why not us too? But God did not seem to rebuke him for that, he just sent him back to take care of business and reminded him that he was not alone….God was still in control!

Others have felt that way too.

  • Moses thought Israel would follow him after he killed the Egyptian but they didn’t.
  • Joshua conquered Jericho and then was defeated at Ai
  • Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers.
  • Paul often was in despair about this or that congregation.

We should also realize that not all situations of discouragement come from spiritual causes. Jobs can be moved or taken away, friends can disappoint us, politicians and campaigns can cause anxiety {sidenote: we should pray to be able to accept whatever result God allows to happen.}, and especially, discouragement can come from within when we say the wrong thing, let someone down, fail to meet the expectations we have of ourselves.

Some, of course, do deal with the spiritual life we live. Sometimes Christian brothers let you down, sometimes someone leaves the church or just moves to a different congregation, sometimes a family moves to another city and the departure is noticed keenly.

It is easy to feel discouraged sometimes but here are some things that I hope will help us minimize that discouraged feeling.

First, God is your first stop!

Job certainly desired to talk to God about his situation and Joshua fell down before the Lord in prayer after the defeat at Ai. This is a good action to take. We need to cast our cares on Him because He cares for us. (1 Peter 5:7)

Second, get busy to do something.

Elijah was sent to do a task. Joshua was told to get up and remove the sin from Israel because IT had led to the defeat. Moses had to spend time in the wilderness tending sheep before he was ready to lead God’s people. We are created in Christ to do good works for the Lord (Ephesians 2:10) and we have never promised a rose garden. In fact, we are told we will have bad days from time to time. Still, the reward of an Eternal Day awaits us.

Third, we need to press on!

Paul could have been discouraged by those preached the Gospel out of envy to cause him distress but he rather rejoiced that the Gospel was being preached. (In other words, he was no skin off his nose if someone else preached the Gospel.)

Paul simply continued to try and accomplish the goal of getting to Heaven. To do this, he forgot the things that were behind and pressed on toward the high calling that he, and all Christians, have.

Forgetting what is behind allows us not to focus on past victories and get complacent or past failures which sabotage our efforts with discouragement and keep us from serving God.

So when we do have those feeling so discouragement, let us go to God in prayer, seek to do His will, press on in His Kingdom….”and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (2) looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:1b-2)”

Question: What are the steps you take when you feel discouraged?

Become a lawyer of God’s word

ezra-7Becoming a lawyer is hard, I imagine, based on all of the movies I have seen. Even the challenge of passing the Bar exam frightens good students. Of course, it might be nothing like in the movies and the Bar exam might be easier than portrayed but, after all that,  being a lawyer of the country’s law can’t exactly be a cake walk.

But being a student of God’s word should be easier, because unlike laws of the country, God’s law doesn’t change. Murder is still wrong and Adultery is still bad. Unless you belong to a church group that has boards and conferences where they discuss which of God’s laws needs to be updated for the modern times, then, indeed, God’s laws do not change. (Not that God’s laws ever do-though people do try to make us think that God’s laws can be changed.)

Ezra was a priest of God and it is noted about Ezra:

Ezr 7:10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.

This is a good idea for all of us.

The OT priests were assigned by God to teach and instruct the people. They did not do a good job of doing this and many times, (like today), corrupted God’s word, sometimes for gain, sometimes for popularity.

Today, Christians are said to be a Royal Priesthood and a Holy Priesthood in 1 Peter 2.

1Pe 2:5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

1Pe 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Sure, Christians have other characteristics but being part of a priesthood is one of them. Priests, at their core, are to be a guide and bridge to God; in the NT we can say that we are bridge to Jesus. This is not the prerogative of a few but of all Christians.

The challenge then is to be able to be someone who can instruct in God’s laws. Are you, like Ezra, setting your heart to know God’s law? Are you setting your heart to DO it? Are you setting your heart to teach it?

The sermon on this thought can be heard here.

 

Guard your heart-part 2

be-careful-little-handsThere is a song that is song by many young children in Bible schools: “O be careful little hands what you do…” and each verse talks about being careful for our little eyes, mouth, and feet. The passage under consideration in this post and the first part, remind me of that song.

Pro 4:20-27 My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. (21) Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. (22) For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. (23) Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. (24) Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. (25) Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. (26) Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. (27) Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.

Having looked at verses 20-23 last time, let’s look at the verses that follow.

Be careful little mouth what you say.

Part of guarding your heart is to remove certain words. Because those words reflect a worldly thought process. When James says that a man who does not bridle his tongue has a vain religion (James 1:26-27), he affirms the need to control what we say. (And he does a good job of that in Chapter 3.) This would, of course, include profane and blasphemous words but we should not stop there because for the most part those who practice Christianity do not engage in that kind of language. Let us also include lies, crude humor, gossip, rumors, and even complaining (grumbling) which are more likely to trip up a Christian who finds this type of tongue use used even by Christians.

{While I am on this topic, allow me to point out a pet peeve. It is to repeat a joke or a funny incident in which one says “Now he said something that I can’t say” or ” he used words I don’t use” and then go on with the story. We all find funny things that, if cleaned up, can be repeated but why plant in the listener’s mind, leaving it to a very powerful imagination, to hear bad words in their head? If you can’t repeat it without pointing out that you have edited it for bad language, then don’t repeat it at all!}

Be careful little eyes what you see.

A couple of times in my youth, I was fortunate to go fly in a small Cessna plane and even more fortunate to be allowed to fly the plane. I was advised to find a point far off in the distance and focus on that. In other words, “look in the direction that you want to go.”

Perhaps you have seen video of people who fall into pools, off cliffs, or nearly get ran over in traffic because they were texting as they walked. If your eyes are not focused on where you are going then you will not easily arrive at your destination. In fact, if you do arrive, you may be worse off than if you had paid attention. We are to keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. (Heb 12:1-4)

The world is good at distracting us. Even logging on to check email can be a challenge with this ad over here or that captivating caption over there. Let us not get so caught up in the world that we do not see the finish line ahead of us.

Be careful little feet where you go

Ponder the path you are on. This is always good advice. We need to test ourselves and be sure our feet are on the strait and narrow, not the wide and easy way. Sometimes we envy the wicked and wish to have what they have, considering perhaps whether it is worth it to live for God. Banish that thinking and set your feet to the path that Jesus walked.

Avoid evil companions who will entice you to walk in darkness. If we walk in the light as He is in the light then the blood of His Son cleanses us. (I john 1:7)

Solomon encouraged his son with word of wisdom to live a life that was a good one. We also can find good advice for our lives in his words. The sermon for part 2 is available here.

 

 

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