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How to approach your brother

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

What will Sin do?

Sin in all of its many manifestations is often downplayed. Often we do not give sin the credit that it merits. Sometimes we think of sin as being harmless but sin is anything but harmless.

Sin will take you farther than you plan to go.

Sin will keep you longer than you want to stay.

Sin will cost you more than you wanted to pay.

The lesson Sunday morning was taken from Judges 16 and Samson illustrates how sin can affect our lives. You can listen to it here.

Living by Faith-laying aside weights and sins

Living by Faith is the life that follows the instructions of God. It will also require some actions on our part to remove things from our life that keep us from being able to serve God effectively.

As this series of sermons on living by faith comes to a close, we note that the Hebrew writer urges his follows to imitate the people mentioned in chapter 11.

We are to “Also” lay aside weights and sin. They did it and we can too; their lives testifies to the fact that they laid aside weights and sin and we can follow those footsteps–even though he is going to quickly point us to follow Jesus. Those of chapter 11 may be considered heroes of faith but really, it is their faith that made them that. They were ordinary men and women doing ordinary obedience-the kind that anyone can do if they are willing too.

Weights are not sins but they are hindrances and obstacles to us achieving our goal. The Christian goal is to get to Heaven, to find that city whose foundation was not laid by man.

Serving God is not only done at a worship service. Working hard, tending to your family, helping neighbors, raising children, even resting can all be things which we do in such a way as to serve God. The problem though is when those things take such a priority as to put them first in front of God. At that point, they become a hindrance.

In my experience it is the recreational area that creates the most hindrance. How much time do you spend in recreational, “me time” pursuits?  Binge watching your favorite series or binge playing Candy Crush is almost never a good use of your time when there are so many things to do in the kingdom of the Lord.

Sins, of course, are violations of God’s law and need to be stopped. However, as many of us find out, we may be free from sin after being baptized into Christ (Romans 6) but we are not mechanically kept from sin and sin….is still there to tempt us. It is clingy and needs to be removed and laid aside too.

As we do this, we are then able to do the positive things which the lesson from March 28th will deal with. The first part is posted on our website if you wish to listen to the sermon, click here.

Cain rejected God, do we?

Genesis chapter 4 narrates the sacrifices which Cain and Abel brought to God and the events which followed. You should consider reading the chapter and see if these thoughts fit with what the Bible says:

Cain and Abel both brought sacrifices to God. Abel’s was acceptable and Cain’s was not. The book of Hebrews tells us that Abel offered a sacrifice by faith (11:4). If we accept what Paul said in Romans (10:17) that faith come by hearing the Word of God, the we are safe to conclude that God told them what was acceptable and that one did it, while the other did not.  In other words, God does not make us guess about what is pleasing to Him, he clearly lays it out for us.

Of course, the problem was not just an incorrect sacrifice, but the reaction to God’s rejection of that sacrifice. Cain got angry! His countenance fell. In other words, he was highly upset that his sacrifice was not accepted and perhaps even more upset that Abel’s had been. Yet God still took time to talk with Cain, encourage him to do right and warn him about the consequences of doing wrong.

Cain, however, choose to reject God’s counsel and do things his own way. He reacted by killing his own brother.  Whatever the motive for Cain to do this (and many have been suggested), Cain did not rule  over sin. He allowed sin to rule over him. He soon found out that the consequences were more difficult than if he had simply humbled himself before God and had done what he had been asked to do.

The lesson we can learn for ourselves is that, even today, God has not left himself without a testimony of what He wants from those who will follow Him. However, many of those who want (say they want) to follow Him do not even take a moment to read what God has said. They go through life, offering up sacrifices which God neither requested nor desired. They should not be surprised when God rejects the sacrifice and suggests that “if they do well, they will be accepted”.

Are we like Cain who does not listen to God’s word or are we like Abel who did…and through it, though he is dead, he still speaks?

 

Sins of the tongue

What would the sins of the tongue be? Do you think of lying, slander, gossip, or abusive language? Yes, most of us would think about these things, but what about silence? I think most of us would consider misuse of the tongue to be a sin of speech, but sometimes it is a sin of silence.  You can listen to a sermon on this topic by clicking here. Yet, if you don’t have time to do that, you may read some highlights below.

sin of silenceWe should not be silent when…

1. We can help others by saying something.

The lepers in 2 Kings 7 found that the army afflicting the city had left suddenly without taking anything. They ate, they drank and then went and hid clothing, gold and silver. However, they soon came to their senses and realized that what they were doing in remaining silent was not a good thing, so they went and told the king.

Esther was warned that if she kept silent at the time her people needed her that God would deliver the Jews anyway but her house would not escape.

Sometimes fear causes us to not speak up.  We fear people won’t understand, we fear they will not listen, sometimes (such as in the case of correcting sin in their life) we fear rebuke from them even as we try to help. Still, we need to help.

2. Our actions were not good ones.

When Adam sinned in the garden and afterward heard the Lord walking in the Garden, he did not speak, he hid. Only when God called out searching for him, did Adam speak. When the disciples were arguing on the journey about which of them was the greatest in the Kingdom of God (Mark 9), Jesus asked them what they were discussing, but they remained silent.

When our actions are not right, silence is the last thing we should keep.  Adam should have ran to God for help. The disciples should have owned their petty conversation. We should confess those wrongs and look for forgiveness, whether from God or from a brother whom we have offended not remain silent as if it makes the wrong go away.

3. When your brother offends you.

One clear principle in Scripture deals with the times in which we are offended. Some have no problem letting a brother know that they have crossed a line (sometimes it is done too harshly) but most of us, seeking to avoid conflict fail to let a brother know when he has done so.

Silence in these cases can lead to grudges, strained relationships, and according to Leviticus 19:16-17 slander and gossip are not so far behind.

4. When God needs to be praised.

I would suggest that all of our words should praise God. Of all of God’s creations, mankind is the only one that does not praise its Creator all the time and in all ways.  Jesus said that if his disciples did not speak out, the stones would have cried out praising Him as He entered Jerusalem. It is right and normal and natural for us to praise God.

We need to praise God and not be silent when people put down spiritual things; ridicule Christians, Jesus, or God; or try to intimidate us into silence by threats or fear. We should be as the Apostles were: Speaking out and praising God that they were counted worthy to suffer for His name. (Acts 5)

Ecclesiastes 3:7 says there is a time to speak and a time to keep silent. May God grant you courage and wisdom to know when you should do each.

Question: What other times do we fail to speak up when we should?

Three things that hinder the growth of brotherly affection.

Brotherly affection, “Philadelphia” in the Greek, is a characteristic that all Christians need to develop. Well, at least those Christians that want to go the Heaven. It is not that a person can ever be perfect in this or any other “necessary” characteristic, but the process of adding it to our life is a process we should all continue to work on. If spending time together will cause us to grow to love one another more, enjoy each others company and even the various quirks that we have, what will keep us from developing brotherly affection?

Hindrance #1-Others

In spite of the old saying that when you point at someone else, three fingers are pointing back at you, there are times when others cause more hindrance to the growth of brotherly affection. In 3 John, John identifies Diotrephes as a person who is hindering brotherly affection.

Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth. I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. (3Jn 1:8-11 ESV)

He would not receive traveling brothers and hindered those who would show such kindness.  Aside from being a wholly unchristian attitude, when someone who is an authority does not show brotherly kindness, it causes others to be hesitant to do so.  You might say that “a little leaven, leavens the whole lump” and that brings us the next hindrance, very similar to this one.

Hindrance #2-sin

In the case of the brother living in fornication (I cor 5), there was sin in the camp. Someone was wanting to live in sin and the congregation was willing to put up with it. In cases like this, it causes confusion. How do you get close to someone who is doing the opposite of what Jesus would do? Yet, being a brother, you want to be-or feel you ought to be-closer to him.

Additionally, those who would normally not be enticed by such a sin begin to wonder if maybe it is much ado about nothing. Suddenly, they find themselves tempted by a sin or similar sin. The leaven of approval winds it way through the body.

Even if others do not find themselves tempted, they are wondering why does the leadership puts up with someone in a clear sin. This can cause gossip, dissension, division, etc.  It is always best to deal with sin in the camp rapidly so that it does not fester.

Hindrance #3-yourself

By far the biggest hindrance is when you will not engage in a relationship with another brother. Perhaps you are jealous of what he has, or feel that you deserve to have a place of honor that he occupies. Sometimes it is simply thinking that you are better than others and when that happens, the relationship is more like “everyone should just be thankful that I am even here.”

Perhaps you remember the parable of the Pharisee with this problem. He prayed to God about how good he was. It was as if God should be thankful that this Pharisee existed! Luke records the reason for the parable:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: (Luk 18:9)

We should all work to avoid any of these hindrances to the best of our ability. When it is legitimately someone else’s doing, then deal with it quickly but look to yourself and be sure you are not being tempted. (Gal 6:1) Additionally, we should always test ourselves and make sure that lack of brotherly affection is not our own doing.

photo credit: Jesus Solano

An autopsy of sin.

A repost with minor edits: enjoy!

With all the of the CSI programs on TV today, not to mention the old medical shows like Quincy M.E., it seems that people have an interest in autopsies. An Autopsy is the procedure performed on the body after death to see what killed it. (So I suppose my title should really be something like “An Autopsy of a spiritually dead person”) Today’s post is going to look back and see what kills us, spiritually speaking, from James’ book.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. (Jas 1:13-16)

Who Tempts us?

First, off it is important to note that he instructs us not to blame God for the temptations you are going through. Not only is He not tempted, he does not tempt anyone. Flip Wilson, a comic from way back was famous for his phrase “The Devil made me do it!”  James is going to show that the devil doesn’t MAKE you do anything. From early on in our life we learn to blame others. Even Adam tried to blame both God and his wife in one shot: “The woman YOU gave me….” is why I ate. We will look everywhere and at everyone else that  we can except at ourselves.

It is true that Satan tempts us but James is going to show us the limits on his ability to tempt us. It not true that God tempts us and Paul says that God protects us from being tempted above what we can handle. In other words, he reins Satan in so that he is not able to overpower us.  (I cor 10:13)

What is a temptation?

James says that each of us is tempted when we are drawn away and enticed by our own desires. The word ‘desire’ is an appropriate word here. The meaning in this context is ‘illicit desires’ which is why some versions use the word “lusts”. At its core, a lust is a desire but it passes beyond the boundaries that God has set. An example is our desire for food. It is a perfectly normal desire to feed ourselves and satisfy our desire for food, but when turned into lust, it results in gluttony. Our natural sexual desires when taken in to the category of lusts results in fornication. Basically ‘desire’ is fine when kept within the boundaries God has established.

Temptation is the enticement to take a desire beyond its boundaries. So to be tempted means you must have some desire to begin with.  It would be useless to tempt me with liver. I do not like it, can’t stand it and so if I were guarding the ACME liver factory, there would be no temptation, to take any home with me. The same would not be said if I were guarding the See’s chocolate factory or the Blue Bell factory. It could become a temptation. The desire is for chocolate not to steal. Theft would be the result of letting the enticement go too far.

What if I like my sin?

Once the lustful desire has been conceived and accomplished it brings forth sin. Then when the sin becomes fully grown, it brings forth death. Since Scripture teaches that ONE sin is enough to result in death, I asked myself why sin would have to become full grown in order to kill. (“Self”, I asked…..)

Keeping in mind that James is writing to Christians, already cleansed in the blood of Christ, the lesson James teaches has to apply to our current temptations and desires. Christians are not prevented from sinning mechanically. God does not make it impossible for us to sin or the first chapter of First John wouldn’t make much sense.  The blood of his Son cleanses us from our sin….if we walk in the light as he in in the light.

But what if we like our lust and desire? What if the sin conceived is enjoyable to us and we do not wish to stop? Well, it grows. Cain had already sinned in not offering an appropriate sacrifice. God warned him that sin was ready to take control and urged him to do right so that he would be accepted. As we know, he didn’t listen, held on to his own sin and let it grow.

You see, if you could blame God for all this then there should be no fault attributed to your account. If you can blame Satan for making you do it, then again no fault is yours. But, if, just what if, that sin you are doing and giving into actually started from your own heart,  your own desires that you fanned into lust and then into sin and then decided you liked enough to live in it. Well, that would be a horse of a different color.

So on our autopsy death certificate it should read:

Cause of death:

Sin caused by an acute desire.

(we could have saved this one if he had repented)

Put down the sin and back away!

** I am going to repost some of my earlier blogs from the blog study I did through James. I will probably do this for the next five to six posts. I hope you enjoy them as many of my current readers were not with me when I put these out. There may be some slight edits but essentially they will be the same.***

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.  (Jas 1:21 ESV)

When ever you see the word “therefore” you should look and see what it is there for! And sure enough, this therefore is there for a reason. It concludes a thought that James is expressing and brings to close an argument (or at least a portion of it) that he has been making.  Because we are responsible for our own temptations and sins and God is the one who is giving us all of the good gifts, especially being born again into his family, we need to stop! Listen! and realize that our anger at our perceptions of reality (which are not the way things really are) is messed up. So….

We should put away something and receive something that will benefit us.

That which we are to put away is all of the filthiness and rampant wickedness in our lives. Wait! What is that? Filth and wickedness?  Isn’t James talking to Christians who had been washed in the blood of Jesus? Cleansed from their old sins? How can they have filth and wickedness? Sure, a little sin once in a while (everyone does) but “filth” is such a …well, it is such a filthy word! Don’t even get me started on wickedness. Contrary to the popular usage (or the little note of encouragement that WordPress gave me at post 14 “Wicked!”) it is not a compliment.

James is not the first person to address this issue and every Christian realizes that from about 5 minutes after coming up out of the grave, sin is still a possibility. We are not mechanically prevented from sinning. Paul dealt with it in Romans 6 and told those Christians that they could not live in sin any longer.  In this context though, the filthiness and wickedness would be attributable to a life that was not lived in faith and, worse yet, one that blamed God for the situation.  You can see now perhaps why James goes on from here to give so much good practical advice to his audience on how to live a life of faith and the many actions that will show that you live a life of faith.

I like the phrase ‘put away’. It is used in several meanings. 

  1. To put in its proper spot. “Would you put the trash away please.”
  2. To incarcerate. “The judge put him away for 1000 years.”
  3. To be victorious over. “He put him away with that final shot”

In either case, the understanding should be to remove that stuff out of your life because it does not belong there.

To contrast the putting away and removal of filth and wickedness, James says you are to receive something. In this case, the implanted word.

How you are to receive it is very important: with meekness. As I have heard all my life, “meek doesn’t mean weak” but we still tend to think of it that way. Actually, meek has more to do with the control of strength not  the absence of strength. A meek horse is still a powerful animal but, rather than flexing his muscles and running away with or bucking off the rider, he permits the rider to be there. We also need to permit the word that God has implanted to be there. To fight against it and to tear it out is not good for us.

Jesus spreading seedThe illustration reminds me of the parable of the sower. In that parable, the seed was also the word of God and it fell on four soils. These have already proven themselves not to be the hard soil and probably not the rocky soil. Judging by James’ book, I think he was concerned that they may be the thorny soil. When the word is implanted into the soil (our hearts) if we receive it with meekness, it is able to save our souls. If we do not, well… it cannot do its job.

James is going to expand on this thought in the next few verses. What we need to consider, as we read the word, is are we receiving the word with meekness or trying to remake it into our own image and plans? One last cliché to close. We have seen those bumper stickers that say “God is my co-pilot”. While the thought is nice, I would suggest that God should be the pilot!  Let’s meekly let God direct us in His paths.

Question: How hard is it for you to back away from sin and meekly accept only God’s word?

Jesus is not a homophobe

I just could not resist writing about this story I saw.  Here is a  link to a story where a 16 year old high school student is suing for the right to wear a shirt which says “Jesus is not a homophobe”. There seems to be a controversy over the issue. Maybe he will win, maybe he won’t but I have a few things to say about this:

First, the young man is a brave individual. Regardless of what many people might say publicly, I still think that the vast majority is more uncomfortable with the homosexual lifestyle than comfortable with it. So for that reason I will give him the due of his courage to stand up for what he thinks is correct. In this country we value, or we say that we value, the freedom of speech.

Second, the young man is correct. Jesus is not a homophobe. In fact, Jesus loves the homosexual just as he does the heterosexual. To Jesus both are created in the image of God, have an eternal soul and if they believe in the Son of God, God will grant to them too the right to become sons of God.

Christians are not to be homophobes. This is also just as true. The fulfilling of the Great commandments of Loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself cannot be fulfilled if you have hatred toward the homosexuals of this world.

Of course it helps to define the terms we are using here. To be homophobic according to an online dictionary search says that it is “to fear or to hate homosexuals”. If it were only that simple; however, there is more to it than that. We also need to be very aware of what this young man is saying, it isn’t just that Jesus does not hate homosexuals but that Jesus tolerates homosexual behavior. He wants to be accepted and accepted as he is.  Well, Jesus does save us “Just as I am” but he doesn’t want any of us to stay there but to become more like the I AM so that that song reads better “he saved me as I was”.  Can you grow in Christ and be a practicing homosexual?

To answer that question, there are somethings that I will point out where this young man is wrong.

First, there are not “lots” of religions who “accept gay people””:  I would ask him to name the ones that do. I think he would have a hard time doing so unless he resorted to looking some denominations who claim to be a Christian church who do and in that case, there are at least several groups that would indeed accept a homosexual. Of course, what he means really is that there are groups that will accept someone as a Christian and allow them to practice the homosexual lifestyle. Key word: PRACTICE as in participate in it.

Second, he may not realize this but Jesus does not love sin: We have to acknowledge this premise even before we even ask the question about whether homosexuality is a sin or not. This is the virtue that we add to our faith. If we accept that Jesus does not love sin, then we will also not love sin.  As we add knowledge to our lives we will see what is and what is not a sin.  Our view on this must be the same as Jesus’. Sin is an abomination to him. What is sin? Sin is missing the mark, sin is lawlessness, sin is not living the way God (who does all things in love) tells us we should live. So what constitutes sin?

What about heterosexuality? Sometimes! Make sure you read that correctly. I am talking about Hetero not HOMO sexuality. Is practicing sexual behaviors as a Heterosexual not a sin when two people who are not married engage in sexual behavior? When both are single we call it fornication, when one or both are married, we call it adultery, when it is forced on another we call it rape.

While we do frown on rape, most people are quite tolerant even supportive of heterosexual activity outside of marriage. We have friends who live together, we support TV shows with live-in couples and cheer for our favorite one. We want Amy to break up with Casey because she really belongs with Mark. And unless soap operas have changed in the last 20 years, everyone gets married to everyone else regardless of age differences or prior marriages (my former step father and I just got married after he divorced my mother…sigh! I cor 5 no longer applies even to the Gentiles)

So here is the point I am getting at. Yes, we know that the Scriptures teach to love all sinners but the scriptures also teach that all who come to Christ need to stop practicing their sins.  If you want acceptance in the body of Christ you cannot, must not, shall not, continue to practice sin. Look at this list of sins the Corinthians were guilty of. Only one sin mentioned is of homosexuality, many others are listed.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
(1Co 6:9-11)

Should the thief say “Well, I will not accept the practicing homosexual but I should still be allowed to steal?” Then neither can the homosexual say “I will not accept the drunkard but should still be allowed to practice homosexuality” All are to abandon their sinful ways!

Maybe this young man would support the wearing of a shirt that said “Jesus doesn’t hate the homosexual but wants him (and all sinners) to repent” After all, we just want to be accepted too. But our acceptance is an acceptance into the Kingdom of God. If this young man truly wants to be accepted and comforted, he needs to come to Jesus, not on his terms but on the Lord’s terms. However, that is the way it is for all of us.

Joseph, an example of Jesus

Today’s morning sermon dealt with the similarities of Joseph to Jesus. It was not a full look at these similarities but there are so many that one could preach several lessons on such a topic.

Just look at a few of the things that Jesus had happen in his life. He was with his father before coming to his people. His father sent him on His mission. His people did not receive him, sold him for a small amount of money. He was condemned for something and yet he was innocent of the charges. The condemnation might have been the end of the story except that God had other plans and raised him up and exalted him to sit on his throne. Jesus also suffered temptations that would have thrown him off his path.

If you are familiar with the story of Joseph you will easily pick out the similarities to Jesus. Joseph suffering his own family problems and being sold and condemned, though innocent, and yet, in the end, God was with him and raised him up to sit on his throne and rule.

It is interesting to me that the book of Genesis, is in a way, a summary of the world and the whole Bible message. You start in the beginning and end with someone on the throne and by that person, many lives are saved. The whole Bible, of course starts with Creation and ends with Jesus on the throne with many lives saved.

Today’s lesson focused on the temptation of Joseph however, because such temptations are common even today. We may think of people in the “olden days” as being more moral but it is apparent when you read passages like this that not everyone was a moral person. Potiphar’s wife tempted Joseph, pestered him, hounded him, and finally framed him. Joseph, on the other hand did everything he could to avoid her. Look at the passage and a couple thoughts I shared.

And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me. But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand; There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her. (Gen 39:7-10)

I have emphasized some interesting phrasing in these verses. I admit that it may not have been in the intent of the text but it does fit a common problem today when someone is in a predatory mode.

The first request of Potiphar’s wife was to “lie with her” which is a clear invitation to commit adultery and violate the marriage covenant that she had with Potiphar. Many implications of this relationship could be made by such an invitation but Joseph was much more concerned about avoided a great wickedness and not sinning against God.

But she was not finished. She kept at it. Notice verse 10 and see what else Joseph was avoiding. He also did not listen to her to “lie by her” OR to “be with her”. I have to admit that this sounds an awful lot like “oh, let’s just lay here on the bed, nothing will happen” or “well, let’s just spend a little private time alone, just talk with me”. Now, I grant you that “spending time with someone” is a good way to get to know a person better, but you have no business “getting to know” someone else’s wife in such a setting much less either of the other two options.

Jesus provides us a perfect example of doing the Lord’s Will. Joseph, being human, undoubtedly was not perfect but his story is still an example for us to follow and serves as a mold or type/anti-type of Christ. I would encourage all of us to strive to do the best we can to follow the footsteps of the author of our Faith and those, like Joseph, who followed those same steps even before they were made.

The sermon, if you would like to listen, is here.

 

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