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What is truth?

In the Gospel of John, there is a discussion between Pilate and Jesus.

Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world–to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”  (Joh 18:37-38 ESV)

Indeed, what is truth? There are some people who don’t think there is truth about anything. Some think that truth is relative. Truth however, is real and objective. It is  something so precious that it cannot be simply overlooked.

Of course the statement that “Truth is relative” is not true. It is stated as a truth and yet if all truth is relative then how could that statement be true. I may say that I hate coffee and that is truth. It is not true only for me but it is true for others. Steven hates coffee is true to other people also. Where one can say I have a preference and my opinion of coffee is not the opinion of others, this does not change the truth: I hate coffee.

Jesus said that those who are of the truth listen to Him. There is much in the Bible to indicate that God speaks the truth and that His words are what we need to listen to.  These scriptures say that those who refuse to listen to him are those who suppress the truth or have not received a love for the truth.

Truth: There is a God. But some deny this.

Truth: The Bible is God’s word. But some deny this.

Truth: Jesus is the son of God, God in the flesh. But some deny this.

In one post, you cannot possibly explore all of these truths to validate them or disprove them but I hope to tackle them over the next few weeks. A few at a time, a bit at a time. However, one illustration may help show how useless it is to dispute something when it is true.

In my last post, the original post (before I corrected it) referred to a fellow preacher and blogger by the name of Eric. I referenced his blog, I thanked him for his comment, and I used his comment in my blog. The only problem is that Eric’s name is not Eric. It is Eugene. While it is certainly true that in the overall scheme of things, a mistake in calling someone by a different name is minor, it still needs to be corrected.

Now I could have told him that his name is not Eugene. But that would not have changed the truth, as his birth certificate, friends, parents, and drivers license would show.

I could have asked him to change his name so that I was indeed correct. Yet, I am sure you can still see that even if he had changed his name to Eric, that would only mean that it had not been when I mistakenly called him Eric.

I could fight it or…I could acknowledge the truth. Why so many people would rather say “Hey, you look more like an Eric to me….” and lie against the truth is curious. It does not have long-lasting implications (although perhaps a friendship would suffer) in the matter of a simple name but when it comes to things like God’s existence, or Jesus’ deity…why stand and beat your head against what is true?

Even worse are those who don’t even care to take the time to investigate. They can’t be bothered with the facts, their mind is made up.

As a means of full disclosure, I will be following a couple of works by others and adding what seems to me to be common sense. The book called “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist” and a study book called “Indestructible foundations” (Peter J. Wilson) are going to help guide me in some of the order things are presented.

Stick around, Lord willing some of these posts will give us good reason to believe what we, as Christians, believe.

Question: Do you have questions, critiques, opposing viewpoints? Comments are welcome. Discussion encouraged. Respectful dialogue is required.

photo credit from Google images

How to be poor even if you are rich.

Brotherly affection is one of those qualities that Peter tells us that we need to add to our faith. He promises to us that if we have it and increase in it that we will receive a valuable benefit. First, we will not be ineffective as a Christian; second, we will not be unfruitful as a Christian; third, we will not stumble and finally, we will be given entrance into the Kingdom of Jesus.  But what happens when we do not have brotherly affection? To answer this question, let’s look at the Prodigal son’s brother.

After the Prodigal had returned and his father was celebrating this return, the brother came in from the field and found out “there was a party goin’ on.”

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!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”  (Luk 15:28-32 ESV)

He shows us how to be poor even if you are rich because…

He had no compassion on his brother.

Really, one might say that he didn’t even consider him to be his brother. “This son of yours” is a clear indication that he had separated from his the prodigal. Rather than rejoicing at the return of this prodigal to his good senses and to the family,  the brother is more concerned about the party that is being thrown. Perhaps he considered it  a  further waste of his inheritance since the prodigal had wasted his portion.

He was short sighted.

He focused on the service he had given his father and yet, never had received such a party for his friends as his father was throwing for the prodigal.  I rather doubt that this is completely true. In my own life, I know that I have exaggerated in order to justify my position. The use of the word “never” is key. What’s this? The father who is so generous to the returning prodigal NEVER(?) did anything nice for his son, never (?) threw a party for him, never(?) lavished him with gifts or some other present?

It may also be that the son had never asked. The father indicates that the son has access to what the Father had, could it be that he never asked for a party?

He bore a grudge.

There are many reasons why he could be upset with the Prodigal brother but he directs his anger at the party and the father. Why are you being so nice to him? In the parable, we see the Prodigal returning to the father to ask forgiveness. Perhaps this Prodigal needed to do the same thing to his brother. It was, after all, a sudden departure that robbed the family not just of physical wealth but relational wealth.  However, the brother would rather hold the grudge than confront his Prodigal brother (who, if I read the story correctly, would have begged forgiveness). This grudge would keep them separated longer now and it was not longer the Prodigal who was missing but the brother who is leaving (not physically but relationally).

He may have been envious.

In many contexts I have heard a sentiment expressed that says in so many words: If I had not been a Christian, I would have been able to enjoy this or that pleasure of life before getting saved. That is an expression of envy and unworthy of those who are called by the name of Christ. We envy those who are enjoying the pleasures of this world because we see ourselves restricted by the “rules” of being God’s sons.  Would we also envy their fate if they do not return?

The Prodigal’s brother was rich but he was really poor. Until his brother’s return, this poverty was not so easily noticed. Perhaps his father had realized this, maybe the father felt like he had lost two sons the day the prodigal left.

The application of this should be easy: If we are the brother who is still at home in the household of God, let us not fail to realize and recognize the benefits we have by serving our Heavenly Father. Let us also realize that we have a brother (or sister) who has left and needs to be welcomed back with open arms if they return.  We should not envy them, bear a grudge, or feel that their return will in any way diminish our reward.

Question: Are there other undesirable qualities that the brother showed in this parable?

photo credit: Martin Young 42

Three examples of Brotherly Affection we can imitate!

The concept of love can be confusing under the best of circumstances. However, throw our frequent use of the word into the equation and we really get lost. Growing up, my siblings and I would often make fun of this frequent use. If my brother said “I love this ice-cream”, my response in big brotherly sarcasm was “why don’t you marry it then?” Silly I know. It is also, perhaps,  the opposite of what I am trying to illustrate in this post!

Understanding  that Phileo love is generated from an affection and devotion to a person or thing, helps us as we try to add this very important characteristic to our faith. Three Biblical examples will help us understand this type of love so that we can imitate it in our lives as Christians. In each, the word love is not in the text.

Example #1: Barnabas

There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. (Act 4:34-37 ESV)

He was not the only one who did this. Many did. There was a desire to help those who were in need. While it might be argued that this is an example of Agape love (duty bound), I would suggest that Barnabas did not do it for any other reason than a devotion to and affection for those who had obeyed the Gospel and now were in need.

This example is in contrast to Ananias and Sapphira in Chapter 5. Even though they also sold a field, there was not affection for anyone but their own selves. God was not fooled.

Lesson to be learned: Brotherly affection will help us loosen the ties to the material things we own.

Example #2: Onesiphorus

You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me– may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day!–and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.  (2Ti 1:15-18 ESV)

Many turned away from Paul in his time of need. However, Onesiphorus (try saying that three times fast!) did not. Not only did he want to help Paul, but he searched diligently for him until he found him. Also, he did not let Paul’s imprisonment become, either a cause for shame or a fear that being Paul’s friend might get him put in jail also.

Lesson to be learned: Affection for our fellow Christians will help us overcome mundane worldly concerns for our own safety or social status.

Example #3: Jesus

Picking one example may be hard to do but look at the feeding of the four thousand.

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”  (Mar 8:1-3 ESV)

What makes this act of compassion so important is that the recipients of His compassion were not Jews but Gentiles. (cf Mark 7:24, he leaves the borders of Israel) In this example, again a possible example of Agape love, we see His affection for those who were  also His creation but not treated so well by those who were in the covenant relationship with Him.

Of course, Jesus died to tear down that wall of separation (cf Eph 2:11ff) and it appears that he started tearing it down a little bit before before He died too. This is similar to Good Samaritan and once again shows that those who prove to be the neighbor are the ones who help in time of need.

One cannot read the Bible and draw the conclusion that we are allowed to hold back on the brotherly love. Additionally, while our responsibility is clearly to our own kindred in Christ first, it does not prohibit us from showing (and perhaps even requiring that we show) this same kindness to our lost spiritual “brother”, created in God’s image also, as we have an opportunity to do so.

Lesson to be learned: Brotherly Affection may start with those that we a lot in common with but as we grow in compassion, we may find opportunities to share affection with non Christians too.

Question: What are the best examples you have seen of an individual showing brotherly kindness to another brother?

Photo credit: sbhland (If you look closely, you will see several photos by this individual that picture the story of the Good Samaritan)

Training for godliness-the Goal

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Using the analogy of training for a marathon, I am writing about Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to train himself for godliness. What does one need in order to train for godliness?

In the last post, I suggested that “desire to be godly” is necessary in order to “train to be godly”. No desire? No training! However, having the desire is only part of it. To actually accomplish it, you should understand why you are doing it. I like to think of this as the goal of the matter. The second thing we need is a goal with a reason.

It may seem like the goal of a marathon is easy to determine. Just cross the finish line, right? In some cases that is true but there are some whose goal isn’t simply to finish the race, some want to win it. Others enter a marathon to help encourage another to finish, still some do it just to beat their own time in a previous marathon. If I would ask you what is the goal of training yourself to be godly, what would you answer? Why would you do it?

A goal should be based on something that will continue to drive you onward toward attaining it. Some people pick goals based on things that do not continue to motivate. If you go look for a job and only pick one based on what it pays, you may soon find yourself with a job that does not inspire you and the amount of pay will not compensate for a bad fit.  A good goal will have a higher purpose than the mundane of this world.

Some fall into the same trap that Paul mentions in 1 Tim 6. Thinking godliness is a means of gain. For some, the reason to be godly (it might be better stated “appear godly”) is to gain favor in business or even because of a love interest. Neither of these, as a reason to train for godliness, will last very long or accomplish what is needed to truly be trained.

Paul wrote:

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Php 3:14 ESV)

And that is a goal that you can get behind.

I can think of three goals for training yourself to be godly. Is there overlap? Yes! but what other reasons might you give?

Reason #1 To Get to Heaven.

While that might sound like a selfish motive, I consider it a perfectly good one. Because if I get to Heaven, I live!! And living is preferable to dying.  Do not let anyone ever suggest that your desire to go to Heaven is somehow motivated by a selfish self-interest. That is like a drowning person grabbing on to the life-preserver tossed to him and then being chastised for selfishly wanting to live.

Peter said that godliness (and the other characteristics listed-2 pet 1:5-12) will assure of us an entrance in to Heaven. Let’s be diligent to add more of it.

Reason #2 To be more like Jesus.

No one would ever say that Jesus was not godly and trying to be more like Him, our older brother, is a wonderful goal. The scripture is full of passages that encourage to be more like Him. Paul said “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” an indirect but clear indication that Christ is our example to follow. Peter tells his readers this:

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. (1Pe 2:21-22 ESV)

Reason #3 To more like God.

As I read through the Scriptures the one characteristic that seems so closely related to godliness is holiness. They may not be synonymous but I don’t think you find holy people who are not godly. One thing that God is clear on in His Scriptures is that He is a Holy God. Being a Holy God, he wants us to be Holy also.

but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”  (1Pe 1:15-16 NKJV)

Jesus opened the sermon on the mount with a section designed to bring people back to the Holy law of God, that law which God himself would follow if He were there (and which, of course, Jesus did). He closed that section with these words. “you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Training for Godliness is training to be more like God.

Having a worthwhile goal to shoot for will help us in our efforts against ungodliness. Any of these three reasons for started a training regiment to be godly is a good one. Which would you choose? Do you have another reason to be godly?

Testing faith

So you go to the bookstore and find three books that you wish to purchase. You hand the books to the cashier and walk out with the books in your bag, a receipt, and a vague feeling that the amount is not correct for your purchase. The vague feeling quickly becomes a confirmation in your car before you leave. You have been overcharged! Instead of three books, your receipt reflects four. What do you do?

(Insert 30 second pause here)

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How many of you did not need 30 seconds? How many of you knew that you would immediately march back into the store, receipt in hand, and point out the error. Would you also discuss with yourself  “Self, what if they do not believe me?” The answer would be obvious, you would ask for a manager. It would be important to you to correct this error. The clerk made a mistake and should not have done so. It must be corrected, it will be corrected. You do not even leave the parking lot.

This is a reasonable conclusion. You may have concern about being believed but you wouldn’t let it stop you. You would be just and righteous if you were to return to correct the problem.

So let’s revisit this situation again, only this time, instead of being charged twice for one your books, you get to the car, check your receipt and that vague feeling is again confirmed. This time, you notice that he only charged you for two books, not three. What do you do?

(Insert 30 second pause here)

I would hope that no one needed more time deciding what to do in this scenario than they did in the previous one. Unfortunately, we have grown up in a society where if the mistake benefits “me” then we will just keep our mouth shut. The justifications range from  “He should have noticed it—his loss”  or “They can afford the loss–it is after all a big company” to the outrageous ones “God has blessed me!”

Unless two parties are agreed that something took place, how can you call it an honest transaction?  Sure mistakes are made and sometimes correcting them takes a lot of time but at least, by calling it to the attention of the other party you allow the unintentionally self inflicted harm to be corrected.

Honesty is always right. Integrity cannot be shown only when things are in your favor.

As you leave the store, the second time you feel good because the total is right. Neither of you lost money, the transaction was as it should be. Price offered and willingly paid.

James says that when trials come that our faith is tested. (James 1:2) I think many consider this faith that James mentions to be a belief in God’s existence. I think that he means instead, that we will test what kind of faith (trust) in God that we have.  We will learn, after the test, if our life matches the life His Son led. WWJD?

Three more steps to eliminate fear

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One should never go through life afraid. Fear is something that hampers not just our potential ability but also our current ability. When one gives into fear, even those things that can easily be done start to become the Goliath’s that challenge us.  Yesterday we looked at three steps that can help us eliminate fear from our life.

The primary reason for eliminating this fear is to become more like Jesus. No passage that I am aware of ever says that Jesus experienced the emotion of fear. His relationship with God is a primary reason for that and while we strive to become more like him, we take baby steps towards removing our fears.

Additional Step number one: Speak with confidence.

Asserting something in all confidence is a practice that anyone can use. State what you believe to be true. It not only causes others to take heart but just the proclamation leaving your own lips can embolden you too. When Daniel’s three friends were given a second chance to bow down to the idol the King made, this was their response:

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”  (Dan 3:16-18)

Speaking like this may seem suicidal but, really, if there was any smattering of doubt or mildness of temptation in their minds, such a declaration would chase it far from them.

Additional step number two: Remember God is in control.

That same passage also illustrates that we should always remember that God is in control. Apparently they did not know the end of the matter. Neither do we in our own lives. Too often we make bold plans and do not allow God to be part of them. We are like those in James 4 who are rebuked for planning and not so much as even saying “If the Lord wills…”

Daniel’s friends did not say God would deliver them in a prideful way. They simply acknowledged the boundary that God had set up: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” We are not going to cross it even if we do die, they indicated to the King. They let God be God and they just followed along. As I asked in a post a couple of days ago, “What’s the worst that can happen?” If they survive, they continue on in this world, if they were burned up, then they would rejoice in before God’s throne. Which would be better for you?

Job also had this attitude: “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” He would not blame or accuse God rashly. No sin escaped his lip.

Additional step number three: Focus on the realities and not what might happen.

Jeroboam did not focus on reality when he became king. The ten northern tribes made him their king just as God had said they would. However, Jeroboam was apparently afraid that they would return to the King of Judah if they went up to Jerusalem to worship God. So he took matters into his own hand:

And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.” So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. (1Ki 12:26-29)

Had he only exalted God, the result would have been different. Many times others have shown the same fear and, in that fear turned away from God. Israel in the wilderness choose fear over God by listening the report of the ten spies. Another king of Israel responded with worry when Namman came to be healed rather than send him to the Prophet right away.

The Pharisees responded to Jesus with fear too. They feared that their position would be taken away and so, rather than accepting the Messiah, they sought a means to kill him. (John 11:46-48) Fear of change can be a powerful force and because they gave into it, indeed not just their position, but their whole nation, was taken away from them.

Fear should not be accepted as an option. Let’s follow Jesus’ example of no fear and work to remove what fear we have.

Three steps to imitate Jesus’ lack of fear!

google imagesFear is sometimes explained as an acronym with each letter representing a word: False Expectations Appearing Real. However, as you read the Bible there is one person that is never described as being afraid: Jesus. Why is this? Jesus showed many emotions but fear is not one of them. Until last week, I had never thought of that and to my knowledge have never heard anyone mention it before. (If you can find a scripture that would suggest otherwise, share it!)

It doesn’t seem that Jesus ever had any false expectations. He knew why he had come and what he needed to do. Why would you fear the very task for which you have been born? But we fear many things in our life and most of those never need to be feared.

I am going to offer three steps today that will help us remove fear or at least minimize it. If Jesus did not have fear and we are to imitate Him, then this would be a good thing to work on. Perfect Love casts out fear. (I john 4:18)

Step one: Learn more about God.

This is best done when we are young. Parents have the responsibility to teach us about God and instruct us in His ways. (Dt. 6 and Eph. 6) David wrote that a young man can cleanse his ways by taking God’s word into account (Ps 119:19) Yet, even as we grow older we can still learn more about God. Moses didn’t really start learning about God until he was 80 years old.

In learning about God, you will learn about His character. He is ever-present to help those of his household. If God is for us, who can be against us? God does not allow us to be tempted above what we can bear and we can have confidence in His promises because He does not lie. (Rom 8:31, I cor 10:13, Heb 6:17-18) No wonder Jesus was able to be asleep in the bow of the ship during a storm that frightened the apostles (Mark 4:38-41), he knew the promise of the Father that He would be protected while on earth so that the mission would go forward. Though misapplied by Satan in Matthew 4, the scripture was accurately quoted.

Step two: The Lord has conquered the truly great reasons to be afraid.

While fear of public speaking is one that outranks death in most surveys, if you never had to speak in public you would be fine. However, though non Christians may fear death, it is one something that, for the Christian, God has removed the need to fear:

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Heb 2:14-15)

Yet, even of more fear than the actual death is the fear of our eternal destiny: Will I make it to Heaven? Jesus adequately deals with that as well.

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (Joh 14:1-3)

Knowing that we are not going to cease to exist at death or wind up in Hell’s fire should give us great comfort. I wish more Christians would look at death that way. Paul, in Phil 1, said that he really desired to die…so that he could be with the Lord. Many Christians act as if waking up each morning is the best thing that could happen to them. Not quite!

Step three: Ask for help

While I am suggesting that we should not be afraid, I am not naive. We all fall into fear in so many ways. However, Jesus does understand and is not just able to, but willing to, help us.

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:15-16)

When we find ourselves suffering from fear, we need to ask for the help that our High Priest is ready to give us. We can then walk through the valley of the shadow of death knowing that God is with us. We then can say with confidence: the Lord is my helper, what can man do to me?

These three steps will help us to reduce our fears and give us greater confidence. In that confidence, we will be more useful for His purposes.

Facing our Goliaths

When Israel went to war with the Philistines in 1 Samuel 17, they gathered on one mountain and geared up for battle. The Philistines, their perpetual antagonist gathered on the other mountain and the battle was to take place in the valley between them. This time however, there would be a twist introduced in the form of Goliath.

Goliath stood apart from the Philistines and challenged Israel to send one man to fight him in a winner take all contest. All the champion from Israel had to do was to defeat Goliath. While it is never a good idea to put one’s fortune at risk in a “winner takes all contest”, this seemed an especially bad idea considering Goliath’s stature. 

And a champion went out from the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a bronze helmet on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. And he had bronze armor on his legs and a bronze javelin between his shoulders. Now the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his iron spearhead weighed six hundred shekels; and a shield-bearer went before him.  (1Sa 17:4-7)

This man was well armored but more than that, he was very tall. If each cubit is 18 inches, this man stood over 9 feet tall, probably closer to 10 feet.  It is hard to actually picture Goliath as anything other than a serious war machine and to take him on in battle would be an certain suicidal endeavor.

Of course, Israel promptly choose it’s champion and sent him out in order to fight and defeat Goliath, right? Wrong! When Goliath challenged Israel, they cowered in fear:

When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid. (1Sa 17:11)

This should surprise us since Israel had a long history of defeating the Philistines. From their beginning, their whole existence is owed to one amazing victory over another. It started with the defeat of Egypt, progressed through a conquering of the land of Canaan, continued with the  beating back of oppressors during the times of the Judges, and even a recent victory under Saul over the Amalekites. (I Sam 15)

What went wrong? Why the fear and dismay?

There was a subtle change that had recently taken place that might explain that. Really, it might be better to say that it was the final straw in a change that was already underway. Saul had left God and God had let him go.

When Saul disobeyed God by not following through on the utter destruction of the Amalekites and their posessions, God decided to find a new King for Israel. After that day, we read:

And Samuel went no more to see Saul until the day of his death. Nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul, and the LORD regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.  (1Sa 15:35)

God had withdrawn his favor from Saul and the kingdom of Israel, slowly, started to turn into a secular kingdom. It didn’t get far, certainly not as far as those Paul describes in Romans 1, from whom God also turned away, but the process was starting. Their reaction to Goliath’s challenge shows that their focus was on the present reality of this life. The “sword and the spear” was all the assembly knew about. They had forgotten, or at least had lost trust, that God would fight for them.

When you find yourself facing Goliaths in your life and the fear begins to overwhelm you, ask yourself a question: Am I trying to solve this with man’s wisdom and methods, or am I going to rely on God’s ways to help me overcome this fear?

Next blog: David’s response.

Godliness vs. Asceticism

Yesterday, we talked about bodily exercise in relationship to godliness. Paul uses this metaphor to encourage Timothy toward a life of godliness. However, it is not the physical exercise that Paul is really warning Timothy about. Paul’s main point, starting in chapter 4, is to warn Timothy about those who will depart from the faith and practice an ascetic life thinking it will produce benefit. This departure is not simply because they are tired of Christian living but because they pay attention to “deceitful spirits and teachings of demons”.

It is not the ones drawn away that are the real problem but those who draw them away by insincere lies and teachings that, for all practical purposes, are the teachings of asceticism. The forbidding of marriage, requiring abstinence from certain foods, and all such types of “irreverent and silly myths”  are only, in reality, an appearance of piety.

They offer no true benefit:

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations– “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)–according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.  (Col 2:20-23 ESV)

It is that stopping of the fleshly indulgences that Godliness is able to help with.

Asceticism does seem to help answer some of life’s more difficult questions. The Ascetic believes that by abstaining from worldly pleasures one can achieve a more spiritual or enlightened state. Paul’s warning may be an early indication of Gnosticism beginning in some areas of the Christian faith. When one renounces worldly pleasures and goods, it is easier to answer those hard questions such as:

  • How much do I give to the church or others?
  • How much car should I buy?
  • How big of a house should I get?
  • How much “bling” do I buy in clothes or toys?

The answers are to give more, buy less, do without and avoid purchases that you do not need. Living an austere life then becomes the measuring stick. You also are more able to judge others by how they stack up to your level of austerity. If they have more, buy more, enjoy life more, then they are not as pious as you are. The whole attitude is one of self-will, self-control, or will power. Without the proper motivation and purpose, it is doomed to fail.

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Godliness, on the other hand, also answers these questions but does so with a different attitude. Godliness, is not an outward, mechanical, rote action that by itself has some value. You can not say because you spend 5 hours in prayer that you are more godly than the person who spends 1 hour in prayer, even though prayer is something that a godly person will engage in. That is the type of trap the Pharisee fell into and Jesus warns about:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “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 18:9-14 ESV)

1918 photograph Entstrom

Godliness answers these questions from the heart. With a Godward attitude, one is first grateful to God for what he has and then because he knows God is a generous God, he is then able to let go of things this world promotes. Why? Because they are sinful? To be sure, some are but many are not. The Why is answered by what distracts him from putting God first in his life.  I have no doubt that Abraham and Job were godly men. Their riches did not prevent them from serving God. If they will prevent you from doing so, then by all means, get rid of them, for it is better to enter into Heaven, poor and destitute, than to be cast into Hell with all of your riches (which will be burnt up, in a short nanosecond anyway.) You do not see a U-haul following a hearse.

Paul encourages Timothy to train for godliness, but he will not be able to do so if he goes to the extreme that Asceticism would require. What examples to you have, were Asceticism was being promoted to try and improve godliness?

Train yourself for godliness

The use of athletic illustrations is common in Paul’s writings. He uses the illustration of preparing for or being in a race to draw a spiritual point.

In athletic events, those who engage in them spend a great deal of time preparing for them. They train and exert self control over many facets of their life. You would not expect to see a marathon runner eating unhealthy foods prior to the race or during the preparation for it. Athletes follow the rules and don’t expect to win unless they do. (2 Tim 2:5) Paul, as he about to depart from this world, writes to Timothy and says that he has finished the race. (2 Tim 4:7)

Each of those illustrations relate to our spiritual goal of getting to heaven. Athletes exercise self control but do so to win a perishable crown and we do so for an imperishable. (I cor 9: 24-25) Paul finished the race and knew that there was a crown of life waiting for him.(2 tim 4:8) Even Jesus, asked “why do you call me Lord and do not do the things I tell you” (e.g. follow the rules) (Luke 6:46)

Paul uses the illustration of exercise but he does so primarily to make the bigger point. He says that bodily exercise does profit but only a little, whereas godliness profits in this life and in the life to come.

To his first point, that bodily exercise profits little, we should recognize that  even if we were able to extend our life span up to double the normal span and reach 150 to 200 years of age,  there is nothing that physical exercise can do beyond death. We might live a better, more healthy life and we might stretch those years out but we are all going to die eventually. Knowing this, we recognize that even those victories which we win, those wreaths that perish, are short lived.

When compared with eternity, our mere 70 to 80 years of life in this world is nothing. But even more “nothing” than that is the 2-4 hours that a marathon runner has trained so hard for. You see, they exercise such control, practice so hard, endure so much and all so that their body will endure the time that they spend during the race: 2 hours if you are fast, 5 hours if you are slow.  We on the other hand exercise self control, exercise for godliness, and endure so much so that we might live in eternity.

Godliness, on the other hand, is profitable in both this life and the one to come. We understand the benefit of the next life but even here in this one, being a godly person is profitable. Daniel found that out as he determined not to defile himself with the King’s food. (Dan 1:8,17). Many times in our life, we will find that being godly is something that people will respond to in a positive way but it also is a way that we keep our lives on track; you might even say it is a way by which we can sleep at night.

The fact that Timothy was told to exercise himself to godliness should serve as an admonition to us and encouragement. Timothy, who had been trained with Paul was so highly thought of by Paul:

But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. (Php 2:19-20)

If this young man was needing to be encouraged to train himself for godliness, then we also should take such an exhortation to heart as well.

 

 

 

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