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Remember, you were a slave

Five times in the book of Deuteronomy, God commanded the people of Israel to “remember” that they had been slaves in the land of Egypt. In those passages, the context of the command deals with their service to God and their relationship to their neighbor, especially, the poor or needy neighbor.

Remembering that they were slaves in Egypt and rescued by God would help them keep a good perspective in life so as to not forget their need for God or to be generous to their needy brother.

We too can benefit from such a command. We should always remember that we were once slaves too. Slaves to sin and the ways of the world.

Galatians 3:25-4:9 ESV But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, (26) for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (27) For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (28) There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (29) And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (4:1) I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, (2) but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. (3) In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. (4) But when the fullness of tofe had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, (5) to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (6) And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (7) So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (8) Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. (9) But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?

English Standard Version

We, who are IN  Christ are now sons of Christ and freed from sin. However, it is beneficial to remember that we once were slaves.  In this way, we can avoid mistakes like thinking more highly of ourselves than we should and forgetting God, or treating in others with contempt as if we are privileged ones and that God is lucky to have us on his team, while others are not worthy.  (Luke 18:9ff)

Yesterday’s lesson deals with this need to remember that we were slaves in a little more detail. you can listen to it here if you wish. In the mean time, there is one other good reason to remember that we were once slaves of sin, owing a debt that could never be repaid. That is, it will help us be more forgiving. No sin or crime against us matches up to the sins we have done in marring the image of God He created us in. If God forgives us…we can and should forgive our fellow man.

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Christians need to be thankful

Today’s lesson deals with Thanksgiving and the possible effects of not being thankful.  The need to be Thankful can be heard by clicking the link.

 

 

Love is not resentful

Love also is not resentful. It does not take an account of wrongs suffered. It does not think that someone woke up with an intent to do them wrong. Love is willing give the benefit of the doubt when difficulties arrive. This results in one thing that is characteristic of Love, Forgiveness.

When I hold onto resentment, what I am saying, in effect, is that some injustice has been done to me and I need to see justice dealt out. Something needs to even the score. Reconciliation in such cases involves the offender grovelling. At any minute the offended can pull out not just the current offense but any list of previous offenses which they have been keeping track of.

Love, on the other hand, is willing to let go injustices and wrongs suffered. It certainly will not have a filing cabinet stuffed with all the wrongs suffered. It doesn’t keep a count of the wrongs done against it.

The prodigal son’s brother apparently was not one to let go of a resentment and it only got worse after the brother returned. I have wondered if the older brother was jealous of the his younger brother’s lifestyle. It shouldn’t be that way, of course (more on that in a bit), and it doesn’t seem as if he enjoyed the blessings of being in his father’s household.

At the very least, he was resentful of his father’s welcome of this prodigal young man. He says that he didn’t have any parties with his friends and feels as if his father has mistreated him in some way. This is highly unlikely based on the father’s response to both children AND even more unlikely when you consider the parable’s father is representative of our Heavenly Father who is only too glad to be generous in His blessings.

The men hired by the landowner to work in his field were grudge holders also. (Matt 20) They resented this good man for being generous to those who had worked a mere hour. I know that in today’s culture, labor laws would no doubt prohibit such generosity. There would be lawsuits and grievances filed and the poor landowner would be thinking, “why do I even bother?”. Yet, his question is valid “Is it not lawful….?” He broke no law, no crime had been done. There was no law against being generous and there is no law that prohibits us from being forgiving and letting go of resentment.

A better response to those that wrong us is to remember how much we have wronged God.

“And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” (Mar 11:25-26 NKJV)

It matters not how bad the crime or how big the offense, the sins I have done against God are far bigger than those offenses against me. Hard to hear? Yep! Yet, well worth thinking about, pondering and trying to work on. If we are going to be Love (as God is Love), we need to remove resentment, for any reason, from our life.

But before I stop, what about that idea of being jealous of those who have lived the “good life” ( I am speaking tongue in cheek)? Have you known people who, with a wistful eye or tone in their voice, indicate that they would have liked to spend time “sowing their wild oats” but because they knew better, never did?  They look at those are now faithful to God and think ” but I never had all those fun times”

They forget that so many more sinners are trapped and will never escape. Should they, for example, take a single drink from Satan’s sparkling cup of pleasure, they may never return! The answer for them, of course, is not “Go ahead and do so” but rather, “Repent and do not envy or be resentful of that other person’s life.” If, indeed, those former prodigals have repented, they are now sorrowful and not reminiscing about ‘good times’.

Question: Why do we feel we need to resent and hold grudges?

photo taken from Google images.

 

 

Brotherly Affection: The key ingredient that makes a Withdrawal work.

There are two reasons why a church group should practice Withdrawal and one key ingredient necessary to allow it to succeed.

It might be called Shunning, Disfellowshiping , or Excommunication, but anyway you slice it, it is a breaking off of fellowship from an individual. It says in effect, that “you” are no longer a part of “us”. The reasons that this should be practiced are: For the good of the congregation that he is being withdrawn from and for the good of the person from which fellowship is being withdrawn. The first reason is easy and requires no more than vigilance against Satan’s attacks. The second reason is harder and requires our key ingredient.

For the “good of the person” to be truly sought, the key ingredient in a Withdrawal process is Brotherly Affection. Without this key ingredient, the Withdrawal is guaranteed to fail. Even though some might confuse success with the action taken to withdraw from a person, success is only truly accomplished if the person withdrawn from comes back. This is not to say that the protection of the other members from the influence of the person is not a success, but because it is instinctive to protect the sheep in the fold, it is the easiest part of the process to practice. The hard part is letting our emotions of brotherly affection be shown and stomped on and hurt by someone who we want to rescue from Satan.

The good shepherd secured the 99 sheep (partial success) and went looking for the one (complete success). I know that if that sheep had been unwilling to return with the Good Shepherd, had run away from him, had insisted on playing with the wolves that the Shepherd would have been glad to have the 99. Consolation would be found in knowing that he had done what he could.

An example from Scripture

Without Brotherly affection, withdrawing fellowship does not become the incentive Paul imagined when he told the church at Corinth to withdraw from an ungodly brother. The situation was clear cut: One of the members was living a life of fornication.  However, the congregation still accepted him into their midst. What may have been perceived by them as a tolerance of someone who was sinning (after all we are all sinners) was perceived by Paul (correctly so) as arrogant and puffed up on their part and dangerous to the rest of the congregation.

  Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? (1Co 5:6)

However, protection of the rest of the saints was not Paul’s only hope:

you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.  (1Co 5:5)

The hope Paul expresses is to have this individual saved in the final day. It is not the process of withdrawal that does the saving but the repentance that this process can lead to.  Jesus, in Matthew 18, also wants us to go to a brother who is causing offense and resolve the issue. If he repents “you have gained your brother” which is the goal.

When brotherly affection is missing on either the part of the congregation. or the individual that is being withdrawn from, that bond that is being severed is not strong enough to be missed.  Without brotherly affection, it is easy to find fault, sit in judgement, coerce and push to keep someone in line who may be having difficulties that no one knows about…because no one has the affection for this person to find out.

What if it is missing?

When brotherly affection is missing on the part of the person being withdrawn from, then there is no loss associated with the withdrawal. “Well, they were never on my side anyway”, “This bunch of Christians is just holier-than-thou”, “I am better than some of those hypocrites” and so on. In other words, the bond that comes from tasting that the Lord is gracious (1 peter 2:1-2) was not made. Nor were these words heeded:

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, (1Pe 1:22)

Yet, I think that it right to expect that the primary responsibility for the brotherly affection bond to be formed falls to the congregation. More than just potlucks and handshakes at service, a bond must be formed that says “I want to be with you” and “together we will journey toward Heaven”.  In this manner, if a brother decides to take a detour into Satan’s temptation highway, the separation will have an effect on both parties and more of a chance to succeed in bringing the erring brother back.

Sometimes it is necessary to withdraw fellowship but, having the key ingredient of Brotherly Affection already baked into the relationship will give the process of withdrawal the best chance for success.

photo credit: Jerrod Maruyama

Perverting Grace

I always like it when a Scripture generates an idea or a thought and in it’s own way teaches me, reminds me, and confirms to me that there is much to be learned by constantly reading, or in this case listening to, the Bible. As I was preparing to go through Revelation on my CD, Jude is the first track. I almost skipped by it but thought “why not listen to it”….I mean, it is only one chapter and it is part of  God’s word too. This verse struck me:

For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jud 1:4)

Jude wanted to write to them about other things but he found it necessary to remind his audience that sometimes it is necessary to contend for the faith.

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.  (Jud 1:3)

You see, sometimes, we need to stand up for the faith. However, Jude was not writing about those outside the group of believers but some of those from within. Which is not to say that they were necessarily much better than those in the world, but it is to say that the truly faithful had not been paying much attention; they had let their guard down.

These people who Jude mentioned were Perverting the Grace of God. Other versions use “turning” or “converting” the Grace of God. Which is to say, sadly, that God’s grace can be perverted. How does one go about doing that? By turning it into what it never was: A blanket covering for all sin, a get out of jail free card, a blank check.

You see, if you properly understand the doctrine about grace, you will come to realize that God is very willing to forgive us for our sins. In fact, to the Christian, we have the blood of Jesus to forgive us our sin as John says in 1 John 1:9

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. (1Jn 1:7)

Or as Paul says:

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Rom 8:1)

Those who pervert the grace of God focus on the blood that cleanses or the lack of condemnation but tend to omit or deemphasize the other part of the same verse: Walking in the light or walking after the spirit. They do this so that they can focus on the freedom that is in Christ and take it to the extreme.

Jude says that they convert the grace of God in to sensuality, an excuse to enjoy the pleasures of this life. “Oh I can go forward Sunday and ask for forgiveness” this person thinks. Or simply pray for God’s forgiveness.

One day at a previous job, I had the occasion to walk by a co-worker who looked a bit sad. I knew him more from some of the Bible studies that had taken place at work during lunchtime. I asked him what was wrong and he told me that his family was not so happy with him. Why not you ask? Well, it seems that they were not happy that he was living with his girlfriend and they were getting on his case about it. Sounds reasonable, right?

However, his next statement shocked me: His defense was “They just don’t know how the Spirit is leading me!” What was that?

You know, I really don’t try to make judging statements but I can say one thing for real sure: God’s Spirit was not leading him into a relationship of fornication. Try as he might, I know, and any rational person knows, that God is consistent in His character and the character that He wants from his followers. This co-workers action was neither walking in the light nor was it walking by the Spirit.

We need to be on guard about those who would promote this life of sensuality while saying that God’s grace will take care of it all.

 

Virtue. David vs. Uriah

In adding virtue to our faith, it helps to see the examples of those who have acted with virtue. Virtue, as I understand it, is a deep seated characteristic. The willingness to do what is necessary, what is right, doing whatever your task is and accomplishing it well. When we find examples of virtue, we need to point them out. Our sermon Sunday dealt with David and Uriah. Both men of virtue but in this one case, David’s virtue failed him and it serves for us a great example. Read 2 Sam 11 and 12 for a better understanding of this account.

Virtue Lost:

David was at home during a time when the kings would go to battle. Why David choose to stay home is not clear, nor is it certain that anything was wrong in his choice but the events following might have led David to declare “If only I had gone to battle.”

Have you ever been in a small town or maybe a college campus when a major holiday comes. It is deserted, empty, lonely. A person who does not have a lot to do can become restless in boredom and I suppose for David, with his armies gone and many officials as well, may have felt a bit restless too. It was on one such occasion that David got up off his couch (an indication of ease) and took a walk on the roof.  While that is not a problem, he may have declared later “If only I had not gone outside”

While walking, he noticed a woman bathing. Much is written to place the blame here on Bathsheba. The Bible is silent on that account and I think it is wise to be so too. What is noted in the text though, was that she was beautiful to behold. Such a statement, undoubtedly true, is to me an indication that David didn’t turn away. He continued to gaze in her direction and her beauty intoxicated him. Again, he may have declared “Why didn’t I turn away?” as would have been proper to do.

From there it just got worse. When he inquired about her, he found she was married. (“Why didn’t I leave it at that?”) He sent for her and brought her to the place, one thing led to another and they slept together. That she got pregnant should not be a surprise and is probably further reason why verse four tells us that she was completing the purification from her uncleanness. This is a likely reason for her bathing and lends more credence to the idea that she was not attempting to trap David. (see Leviticus 15).

When she notified him that she was pregnant, David sent for Uriah in clear attempt to cover this indiscretion.

A man with Virtue:

David called for Uriah to come and share out the battle was going. Can you hear that conversation? “How’s it going?” “How’s the weather?” “Go home and be with your wife!” David even sent a present with Uriah. (Chocolate covered strawberries, perhaps?)

But Uriah did not go home as expected, he stayed in the king’s court and when David was told of this, he made inquiry. Uriah’s response is really simple: “How can I?”  His reasoning was that if the Ark of God and Israel and Judah are not in their homes, and the officers are camping in an open field that he did not deserve to be at home with his wife.  It is not likely that his words were intended to be a rebuke to David who stayed in his home but the impact of this statement serves the same purpose.

David, as you know, had Uriah killed, married Bathsheba and probably breathed a sigh of relief thinking that the whole incident was over.

Of course, God called him out on it and in a brief blog, I will just note that David repented for his sin. God, did forgive him but the consequences of the sin continued for David for the rest of his life.

Virtue restored:

David’s confession of “I have sinned” is just the way we should confess our sin when we come to our senses (or God brings us to our senses). Repentance and starting over is the road back to virtue. Doing what it is that God wants us to do, a determination to do what is right regardless of the cost.

Uriah shows us a great example of concern for his fellow soldiers and in doing so shows his virtue. I will comment on this in the next blog.

 

 

Pray when you are sick.

Jas 5:14-16   Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  (15)  And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  (16)  Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 

In looking at this passage, there are basically two ways you can look at this. Well, three if you simply want to say that both options are under consideration. The first is to think of this as a physical healing and from a physical sickness. The second is a spiritual healing from a spiritual sickness. It obvious that we are to pray for the sick and we know that God does intervene from time to time (In His time) to heal people in ways that we are amazed at. 

We know even in the Scriptures that sickness is not always taken away. Paul suffered the thorn in the flesh and God did not heal him. Paul had faith.  One of the things about Biblical interpretation is that the easiest answer is most likely the right one. Unless the context clearly says it is spiritual or physical we are left drawing conclusions from what is said. 

 There are some difficulties either way. Still, I will suggest that this is a spiritual illness and what may be most likely under consideration is some of the ‘illnesses’ that James has been rebuking them for. One cannot assume that the whole church was the way James was describing it but certainly enough of them were that James wanted to put a stop to it. What would/should a person do who sees himself in the descriptions that James is bring out? This is scripture from an inspired man, a leader and elder at Jerusalem. As the audience listens to it, some of them (the humble ones) would be thinking “Ouch, you are stepping on my toes. I need to fix that.” Some might even be having a David moment: “Thou are the man” and responding “I have sinned”. Such humbleness would lead to many actions of repentance but one would certainly be the confessing of that sin.

Who better to confess it to than the Elders. Spiritually mature men who can help others (Gal 6:1-2) and asking for them to pray for their infirmities of the soul.

Think for a moment! If you begin to realize you are greedy and covetous, or envious and boastful, do you think such a flaw in character can or will disappear in a night and a day? Each person is different. Even Abraham told the same lie about Sarah on two different occasions and Isaac did the same thing with Rebekah (but that was a full lie since she was not even a 1/2 sister).  Common sense and our own experience recognizes that some sins keep coming back (or do we keep going back?) and one of the best ways I know of to remove the power of a temptation is to tell someone else you are suffering with that issue.

Pornography, sexual activities before marriage, adultery within marriage, covetousness, greed, jealousy, thoughts that make you ashamed, etc, etc. When another knows, there is help, there can be accountability but there can also be prayers that will help you fight and protect you against the temptations. The promise is that God will heal you, raise you up and that your sins will be forgiven you. The forgiveness of sins is of great comfort but the being healed of any of the maladies I mentioned in this paragraph or many that I did not mention, is a load of the mind and spirit. It will help you to be more productive in the Kingdom of God.

 

Grace and Forgiveness

To me the word Grace has had a kind of mysterious flavor. Something that belongs in the ‘better felt than told’ category. However, the Bible, at least the New Testament, uses the word many times. There is a lot to be said on the topic of Grace and this morning’s sermon does not touch on everything ( how could it?) but it does make a start into an area that I think many Christians do not understand.

Using Matthew 18:21-25 and the parable of the unforgiving servant, we will see at least three things that we should note about Grace. One is God’s grace for us, its enormity and magnitude. Trying to understand that will give you a headache and send goosebumps up and down your spine like standing in a glass floored elevator on the 98th floor. Second is our reaction to God’s grace and how we let it affect our lifes–or don’t, as the case may be. Third is the grace that we show to others.

Grace is a word that, in most cases, can be translated ‘favor’;  “unmerited favor’ is a favorite substitute also. It appears about 123 times in the Bible (depending on versions) and about 117 of those are in the NT. Grace is not always called grace in the scriptures but the concept of it is found in things like mercy, forgiveness, compassion, leniency and the like.

Paul uses it in every one of his epistles (unless you include Hebrews in that list) at the beginning, he wishes God’s grace and at the end he does the same. Amazing!

The point of the parable, if you don’t want to take the 30 minutes for the sermon, is that when we are forgiven so very much by a Holy God, the small offenses that our brother give to us should be easily and gladly overlooked.

I think it is worth noting that the text seems to imply this is for our brothers. However, the concept of this being for our brothers should not lead us to the extreme of being cruel with those who are not. It should, instead, emphasize the absolute idea that in relationship to fellow Christians, forgiveness is an over riding principle and must be practiced.

In other words, we too must show Grace if we wish to have Grace shown to us.

the lesson is linked here

 

 

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