God – Mad At Himself!

August 31, 2015

Psalm 7:11

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

Have you ever wondered about one of the cries Jesus uttered while hanging on the cross?  It is recorded in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 that at the end of His torturous six hours of crucifixion, “…Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ which is translated, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’ ”  His Aramaic cry was misinterpreted by some who heard Him who said, “Look, He is calling for Elijah!” (Mark 15:35).  It was not Elijah to whom He was directing this cry, but to the Father!  And it was exactly fulfilling a prophecy written by David more than a thousand years before in Psalm 22:1 through 3:

      My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?  Why are You so far from
      helping me, and from the words of My groaning?  O my God, I cry in the
      daytime, but You do not hear; and in the night season, and am not silent. 
      But You are holy, who inhabit the praises of Israel.

Here David records not just Jesus’ questioning cry to the Father, but the answer to His question:  “But You are holy….”  David also wrote Psalm 7, which illuminates this answer in verse 11:  “God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day.”  God, being utterly holy and just, will not tolerate an uncleansed sinner in His presence!

I believe it was within the time that darkness enveloped the world from noon until three during the crucifixion (see Mark 15:33) that Jesus the Christ, the Son of God was made sin and sinner before the Father!  Paul emphasized this truth in II Corinthians 5:21:  “For He made Him, who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”  (See the blog for March 27, 2013 – “The Great Exchange”); (See also Galatians 3:13; I Peter 2:24, 3:18).

The title of this blog, God – Mad At Himself, still has a strange ring to it.  But there are a few points that bring this together:

•      Jesus Christ is fully God – Many scriptures prove this statement (see Isaiah 9:6, 7; John 8:24, 28; Hebrews 1:8). But let’s concentrate on two:

Colossians 2:9 – “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily….

Hebrews 1:3 – Jesus is “…the brightness of His [the Father’s] glory and the express image of His person….

So if Jesus is God, and the Father was angry at the Son, then it would be God – Mad At Himself!

•      If – as it says in our featured scripture of Psalm 7:11 – that…God is angry with the wicked every day…, it stands to reason that the Father would be angry with the Son who was…made…sin for us.

•      In His anger, the Father poured out all the judgment sinners deserve upon the Son who was the perfect representative of sinners.  What judgment do sinners deserve?  “The soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4, 20).  Disease and physical death resulted from sin.  As it says in Genesis 5:5, “So…Adam…died [physically].”  But he died spiritually long before he died physically!  Spiritual death is separation from God!  It says of Adam in Genesis 3:8 that when God came for His regular fellowship time with His chief creatures – man – that “…Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord among the trees of the garden.”  And if that separation persists through the end of this physical life, it will be manifested in eternity by permanent separation from God in a horrible hell –…the Lake burning with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8).

Jesus Christ suffered eternal spiritual as well as physical death on the cross!  I believe that somehow in the last three hours of the crucifixion, in which the earth was shrouded in darkness, somehow all of the suffering of hell for all eternity for all unregenerate mankind was crammed into that short time!  Jesus paid fully the penalty for our sins – physical and spiritual death – so we can go free!

We have emphasized that God is holy and just, and He is angry toward sin and sinners.  But He is also the God of infinite love!  As it says in Romans 5:8, “…God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Knowing the penalty for sin – physical and spiritual death – because He set it, God also paid the full price Himself.  The Son took the Father’s anger in our place!

So what do you want – God to be angry at you because you remain in your sin?  Or do you want to experience His love and acceptance because for you He accomplished what the blog title suggests?  God – Mad At Himself!

Toddler’s Creed

August 28, 2015

I Corinthians 3:1-4

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

A Toddler is a young child who is learning to walk, having mastered some balance on two feet, he or she still walks with short and uncertain steps.  The time range of being a Toddler is between one and three years old.  By age two (right in the middle of the Toddler years) motor skills have developed to where a two-year-old can walk and run, climb and descend stairs, understand simple commands and have command of about a 350 word vocabulary.  But what I find interesting is the Toddler’s Creed, found in Burton L. White’s book, Raising a Happy, Unspoiled Child.

      If I want it, it’s mine.
           If I give it to you and change my mind later, it’s mine.
                If I can take it away from you, it’s mine.
                     If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine.
                          If it’s mine it will never belong to anyone else, no matter what.
                               If we are building something together, all the pieces are mine.
                                    If it looks like mine, it’s mine.

I’m sure you notice a recurring theme in the Toddler’s Creed! Mine, mine, mine!

Paul had to deal with the Toddler’s Creed when he ministered to the Corinthian Christians.  Here is what he wrote in I Corinthians 3:1 through 4:

      And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people, but as to
      carnal, as to babes in Christ.  I fed you with milk, and not with solid
      food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you
      are still not able; for you are still carnal.  For where there are envy,
      strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal, and behaving like
      mere men?  For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am
      of Apollos,” are you not carnal?

Two chapters earlier, in I Corinthians 1:12, the apostle adds two more to the list:  “…each of you says, ‘I am of Paul,’ or ‘I am of Apollos,’ or ‘I am of Cephas [Peter],’ or ‘I am of Christ.’

Do you see the Toddler’s Creed in play here?  “Paul is mine!” one might say.  Another, “Apollos is mine!”  Still another, “Peter is mine!”  And the fourth tries to trump them all – “Well, Christ is mine!”  “Mine, mine, mine!

I well remember a Trustees’ meeting in a church I pastored years ago.  The Trustees were in charge of the physical facilities of the church, including how the money was spent.  The problem with too many Trustee boards is that they think and plan like the money is under their control, not God’s; and like it is coming out of their own pockets!  We were discussing a major item to expand the church’s ministry, and it would cost a few hundred dollars.  One trustee had to leave the meeting early.  Getting up and heading for the door, he said to the others (almost as a warning!), “Well, I don’t know how you guys are going to vote, but this is what I want! ”  What broke my heart about that meeting – and many others like it – there was little consideration (and no prayer) to discern “What does God want?

I go back to an early blog I wrote entitles The Most Important Prayer A Christian Can Pray (April 28, 2013 – Read it!)  This prayer is what Jesus prayed in the garden before He laid down His life on the cross – Luke 22:42:  “…nevertheless not my will, but Yours, be done.”  This prayer would do a lot to negate the Toddler’s Creed!

Toddlers are basically selfish!  The world revolves around them (in their immature minds), and getting their demands met!  Are you a toddler in your walk with the Lord Jesus?  If you are, you are still on milk and basic food, not solid food – that is, the deep things of God’s Word!

What is Paul’ solution to growing up and leaving behind the Toddler’s Creed?  It is found in Ephesians 4:11 through 15:

      And He Himself [Christ] gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some
      evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints
      for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all
      come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a
      perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we
      no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind
      of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they
      lie in wait to deceive, but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all
      things into Him who is the head – Christ….

Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachersthe Biblical picture of each one of these is a called-by-God person whose life and ministry are centered on the Word of God!  This is the key to growing up from Toddler to maturity – reading, studying, meditating upon, mastering God’s Word, the Bible.  Fill your life with His Word, and obey it!


August 26, 2015

Amos 8:11-13

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

From the Wall Street Journal – May 26, 2015:

      At least 40% of South Sudan’s population will face severe food shortage
      over the next couple of months as the latest escalation in a bloody civil war
      disrupts farming and aid deliveries….The number of people facing food
      shortages is projected to hit 4.6 million by July, nearly one million more
      than in April, said Erminio Sacco, the chief adviser for the United Nations
      Food and Agriculture Organization….  “People are cut off from markets,
      cannot plant crops, have lost their livestock and are hiding in the bush and
      swamps with no food, no utensils to cook [with] and no roof over their
      heads.”  …South Sudan descended into civil war in December 2013 after
      a long-simmering power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his
      former deputy Riek Machar boiled over.  The violence has split the country
      along ethnic lines, pitting Mr. Kiir’s Dinka community against Mr. Machar’s
      Nuer tribesmen….More than 50,000 people have been killed since the con-
      flict erupted and around 500,000 others have fled to neighboring countries.

Sudan and surrounding countries have been experiencing famine – both man-made and natural – increasingly over the last decade.  The results have been horrible, resulting in a statistic that says more than one in ten Sudanese children die before reaching their fifth birthday!  Toby Lanzer, U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, estimates 50,000 children could die this year alone from hunger and disease!

Jesus predicted an increase of wars and famines in Matthew 24:6 through 8 as we move toward the end of this age:

      And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars….For nation will rise
      against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be fam-
      ines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the
      beginning of sorrows.

But there is another kind of famine we are experiencing, and it is even more deadly – a famine of God’s Word!  This is what Amos 8:11 through 13 says:

      “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord GOD, “that I will send a
      famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of
      hearing the words of the LORD.  They shall wander from sea to sea, and
      from north even to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of
      the LORD, but shall not find it.  In that day the fair virgins and strong
      young men shall faint from thirst.”

This describes an exacerbated situation in the Tribulation – the last seven years before the fulness of the kingdom of God is manifested.  But we are seeing a preview of it now – a famine of God’s Word – especially in the western church!  So many who claim to be Christians are Biblically illiterate!  And here is the real tragedy of it:  the Bible has never been more available in any culture or society than it is now in the western world!  One poll reports there are 4.4 Bibles per household in the United States, which has over 123 million households.  That works out to over 542 million Bibles in the US!  According to a study called “The Bible in American Life,” conducted by the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, while 80% of respondents said they read the Bible at least once in the past month, only 9% read God’s Word daily!

And why is this spiritual famine more deadly than a Sundanese famine that might kill 50,000 children in the next year?  It is because the death such spiritual ignorance leads to is eternal death – separated from God in this life and, upon physical death, forever suffering in hell, apart from God and all hope of redemption!

I recently read a book by Tom Doyle called Killing Christians, about persecuted believers around the world.  In the strict Muslim country of Sudan, a smuggler hides under a corpse in a coffin to bring Bibles into that country from Kenya.  The Bibles he had acquired were worn from years of daily reading by Kenyan believers.  And his instructions to those who received the scriptures was, “Read them and memorize them as quickly and as much as you can, and then pass them on to other waiting believers.

What if we were forbidden to read God’s Word in this country?  What if our Bibles were confiscated and burned?  Would you have obeyed Psalm 119:11?  It says, “Your Word have I hidden in my heart, that I might sin against You.”  Would you be ready to carry the Word with you internally – stored in your mind and heart?

There is coming a time when God…will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.”  Will we experience it here?  Are you preparing?

Praying Or Preying?

August 24, 2015

James 4:11, 12; 5:14-16

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

It’s a play on words, the title of this blog – Praying Or Preying?

•      To Pray for someone is to intercede with God on that person’s behalf.  James 5:14 through 16 gives a good example of praying for someone in the context of healing:

      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. 
      And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. 
      And if he have committed sins, he will be forgiven.  Confess your trespasses
      to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.  The
      effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

Now, I am learning a lot about healing.  I have seen God’s miracles in this matter over the years, and I want to see more.  After all, Jesus Himself said in John 14:12, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.”  But the purpose of this blog is not to emphasize healing, but praying – in healing, and many other situations, as James said in verse 16, “…pray for one another….

Epaphras – a companion of Paul who probably founded the church at Colosse (see Colossians 1:7) – visited the apostle when he was imprisoned in Rome.  Paul twice mentioned him in his letter to the Colossian Christians.  And in 4:12 he lifts him up as an example of a prayer warrior:

      Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, greets you, always labor-
      ing fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in
      all the will of God.  For I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you….

Intercession – praying for others’ good – is heartily endorsed in the Bible, the Holy Spirit and Jesus Himself setting the example (see Romans 8:27; Hebrews 7:25).

•      To Prey on someone meansto have a wearing or destructive influence.” (Webster’s New World Dictionary).  And too many times it is Christians who engage in preying on someone, and leaving behind…a wearing or destructive influence.”  How is this done?  Usually by gossip!  Again, it is James to whom we turn for a defining scripture – James 4:11 and 12:

      Do not speak evil of one another, brethren.  He who speaks evil of a brother
      and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law.  But if you
      judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.  There is one Law-
      giver, who is able to save and to destroy.  Who are you to judge another?

Speaking evil of another person is gossip!  And there are several prohibitions in scripture against gossip!

•      Leviticus 19:16 – “You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor:  I am the LORD.”  God’s Word Version succinctly puts it this way:  “Never gossip.  Never endanger your neighbor’s life.  I am the LORD.

The two ideas go together – gossip and endangering your neighbor’s life – because gossip can be a killer – of reputation, of relationships, of a fruitful life.  Malicious gossip has resulted in cases where the target of the gossip has become so despondent, that one commits suicide!

•      Proverbs 11:12 and 13 – “He who is devoid of wisdom despises his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his peace.  A talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter.

•      Proverbs 17:9 – “He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates the best of friends.

•      Proverbs 18:8 (Young’s Literal Translation) – “The words of a tale-bearer are as self-inflicted wounds, and they have gone down to the inner parts of the heart.

•      Proverbs 20:19 (Good News Bible) – “A gossip can never keep a secret.  Stay away from people who talk too much.

•      II Corinthians 12:20 – “…I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I wish, and that I shall be found by you such as you do not wish; lest there be contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults….

•      I Timothy 5:13 – Younger women who are widows “…learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not.

Why have I put these two ideas together – Praying Or Preying?  Is it just because it is a play on words?  No, it is because too often over 43 years as a pastor, I have found some people seek information …so I can better pray about it….  But really, they just want the dirt about the situation so they can pass it on as gossip!  May that never be the case with you!

“…Me First…”

August 21, 2015

Luke 9:59, 60

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

The scripture for this blog is from Luke 9:59 and 60:

      Then He [Jesus] said to another, “Follow me.”  But he said, “Lord, let me
      first to go and bury my father.”  Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their
      own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”

This is from the end of Luke chapter 9, the last six verses, where Jesus is interacting with three men who have been challenged in one way or another to follow the Lord.

•      The first man volunteered in verse 56, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.”  Jesus’ replied in verse 57, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.

…nowhere to lay His head…?  Well, nowhere apparent!  The Father always provided for His Son, and Jesus slept soundly wherever He laid His head – even if it was in the back of a boat on the sea of Galilee in a raging storm (see Luke 8:22-24)!  The perfect peace that filled the Lord and allowed Him to sleep was more valuable than a five star Jerusalem hotel!

Apparently this first man did not follow Jesus when he learned of the hardships involved.

•       The second man is the one featured in our scripture – and we will get back to him in a moment.

•      The third man enthusiastically told Jesus in verse 61, “Lord, I will follow you, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.”  The Lord’s answer in verse 62 sounds hard in light of this seemingly reasonable request:  “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

The problem with the man’s request to say goodbye to his family and friends is that it would take quite a bit of time in this ancient middle-eastern culture to do that.  We get an idea of this from Genesis 24.  Abraham had sent his servant, Eliezer, to Ur of the Chaldees to find and bring back a bride for his son Isaac.  God’s direction led him to Rebekah, the granddaughter Nahor, Abraham’s brother.  Having told the girl’s family of his mission, the servant wanted to leave the next morning on the thousand-mile trip back to his master’s home in Hebron, taking Rebekah with him to marry Isaac.  Although Rebekah’s family was favorably inclined to the idea of marrying off the young woman to a wealthy relative, her brother Laban made this request:  “Let the young woman stay with us a few days, at least ten; after that she may go.” (Genesis 24:55).

‘Goodbyes’ in that culture might require a month-long party!  Jesus had a mission to accomplish – and limited time to accomplish it!  In a month’s time (or even ten days), where would He be?  How would this one who wanted to “…bid them farewell who are at my house…” find the Master after that time period?

Back to the second man:  “…he said, ‘Lord, let me first to go and bury my father.’ ”  But his father was most likely still very much alive!  What he was saying was this:  “It is my responsibility to take care of my aging father.  After he has died, I will be free to follow You, Jesus.”  But how long would his father live – a few months more, ten years more?  How long did Jesus have for His earthy ministry?  At the most, three and a half years!

But the real problem is not in the time factor involved.  And I am highlighting the second man because he is the first of the three to put into words the main problem with which all three dealt – the problem of “…Me First…”!

•      The first man didn’t express these exact words, but he was after the thrill of following a famous person who was attracting all sorts of attention.  He was a ‘groupie’!  Merriam-Webster defines a groupie as “a fan of an athlete or celebrity who tries to see the athlete or celebrity as often as possible.”  Webster’s College Dictionary adds a groupie is “an ardent fan of a celebrity or of a particular activity.”  He wanted the excitement and the glory of this miracle man Jesus to rub off on him – “Me First”!

•      The second man put his family before the Lord – “Me First”!  What did the Lord say in Matthew 10:37?  “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”  Jesus Christ demands first place in our lives!

•      The third man is similar to the second, except he was willing to leave family and friends – but on his terms!  Jesus added in Matthew 10:38, “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.”  The cross is an instrument to put the one carrying it to death!  There is no “Me First” to the one who takes up his cross to follow Jesus!

Do you have a “Me First” problem?  Then I implore you make Jesus’ prayer of Luke 22:42 yours.  It was prayed to the Father just before the Lord shouldered His cross on our behalf:  “…nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.

A Done Deal!

August 19, 2015

I Timothy 4:7-11

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

I know it is not proper English – A Done Deal! – but it is a common saying that means something that is already finished and sure.  You can then count on it!  This is the idea Paul had in mind when he wrote his protégé young Timothy in I Timothy 4:7 through 11:

      …exercise yourself…to godliness.  For bodily exercise profits a little, but
      godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now
      is and of that which is to come.  This is a faithful saying and worthy of
      all acceptance.  For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, be-
      cause we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially
      of those who believe.  These things command and teach.

I want to concentrate on what the apostle said in verse 10:  “…the living God…is the Savior of all men….

In December 1998 then-president Bill Clinton was being questioned by independent counsel Kenneth Starr concerning sexual misconduct with Monica Lewinsky.  He was asked about a statement by his lawyer, Robert Bennett who had denied the president had any sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, stating there was “…no sex of any kind in any manner, shape or form, with President Clinton.”  Starr said the lawyer’s statement – based on Clinton’s previous testimony – “…was an utterly false statement.  Is that correct?

The president’s answer has become a classic:

      It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.  If the–if he–if ‘is’ means is
      and never has been, that is not–that is one thing.  If it means there is none, that
      was a completely true statement….Now, if someone had asked me on that day,
      are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked
      me a question in the present tense, I would have said no.  And it would have
      been completely true.

Wow!  How one can twist the meaning of words! It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”  Well, the meaning of…the living God…is the Savior of all men….is quite clear!  Salvation for all mankind is A Done Deal!  And the tragedy of the meaning then becomes evident:  If salvation for all men has been purchased by what Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross, then why are not all men saved?

That salvation has been purchased for universal mankind – past, present and future mankind – was accomplished at Calvary.  It was there that the Son of God voluntarily (see John 10:17, 18) laid down His perfect life (see I Peter 2:22) for the sin of mankind (see II Corinthians 5:21).  Jesus paid in full measure the cost of sin – death before the Holy God (see Ezekiel 18:4, 20) – both physical and eternal (see Hebrews 9:27; Revelation 20:14; 21:8).  This is the fact of the great gift of God through Jesus Christ – “…the living God…is the Savior of all men….

But the fact remains that although the price has been paid, it must be received (actuated in individual lives) by faith believing (see Ephesians 2:8, 9).  And the tragedy is magnified by the great number of people who reject God’s gift of grace – and the relatively few who accept it.  Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 7:13 and 14 (Modern King James Version):

      Go in through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way
      that leads to destruction, and many there are who go in through it.  Be-
      cause narrow is the gate and constricted is the way which leads to life,
      and there are few who find it.

If, as it says in Luke 5:7 (International Standard Version), “…that there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who don’t need to repent. – if one sinner coming in faith to Jesus Christ causes joy in heaven, then I surmise that the many who choose the broad way to destruction cause sorrow in heaven!  After all, the Father’s desire is plainly revealed in Ezekiel 33:11:

      “As I live,” says the Lord GOD, “I have no pleasure in the death of the
      wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.  Turn, turn
      from your evil ways!  For why should you die….”

So be sure to actuate this Done Deal in your own life!  Open your heart to the Lord Jesus Christ and invite Him in to be your Savior!  It’s all been paid for!  We just have to accept God’s payment on our behalf!


I Go, Too

August 17, 2015

II Corinthians 10:3-6

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

I had a favorite professor at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry I attended near  Pittsburgh.  I was the seminary’s ‘token Baptist’ for three years as a part-time student.  But I loved that school – the most conservative of 13 Episcopal seminaries in the country.  It was refreshing to see liturgical training and worship in class and chapel blended with conservative Christianity.  There was also a strong element of charismatic belief there, in which I rejoiced.

The dean, Dr. John Rogers, also taught theology.  He was a great teacher and taught in such a way that presented theology as a personal and interesting adventure!  Some instructors have made the same into a dry and dusty journey!  One of his favorite lines has also become one of mine, for it describes some of the greatest problems human beings encounter – “The problem is: Everywhere I go, I go, too!”  If that does not succinctly describe the human dilemma, I don’t know what else would!

Everywhere I go, I go, too!”  Paul examines a truth related to I Go, Too in II Corinthians 10:3 through 6 (KJV):

      For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh.  (For the
      weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God for pul-
      ling down of strong holds;) casting down imaginations, and every high
      thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into
      captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; and having in a readi-
      ness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.

How is this related to I Go, Too?  Far too many Christians see the problems that they face as ‘out there’ in the world, and not ‘in here’ in the mind!

•      “If only my boss would recognize my potential and treat me decently, I would do fine at work!

•      “If only my family had been better (or my father had not left when I was ten, or my mother did not chase after men, or I was born wealthy) then I wouldn’t be in the mess I am in today!

•      “If only my friends would stop pushing drugs (or alcohol, or bad behavior) on me, I would stop doing what I have been doing!

•      “If only gambling hadn’t been legalized, and so many casinos hadn’t been built, I would not have a gambling problem!

•      “If only my classmates (or workmates) would stop picking on me about my shortcomings, I would not get so angry!

You get the idea!  Ask just about any person in prison, and the majority will say, “If only (insert any one of a thousand outside influences here)…, then I would not be incarcerated!

The apostle is emphasizing in our featured scripture that the battle is ‘in here’ in the mind, not ‘out there’ in the world!  He uses three words in verse 5 of our scripture that gives us the location of the battle – and I think the King James brings it out the best: imaginations, knowledge, and thought.  Where do those three things take place?  In the mind.  And where is the mind generally thought to be housed?  In the brain.  We carry our brain, hence our mind, with us everywhere we go!  As my professor said, “Everywhere I go, I go, too!  If we learn to control what goes on in our mind, we have the battle already won!

The mind is where the devil attacks.  Although he is not omniscient (all-knowing), he studies us to find out where we are strong and where we are weak.  Then he will place a temptation just where we are most likely to fall for it.  So if we realize the location of the battleground, if we allow ourselves to be trained in the weapons available to us to fight the enemy, if we engage in the combat, if we get it in our minds we are assured of victory by the cross, then nothing can stop us from winning battles!  But what weapons are available?  The Word of God, the energizing and directing Holy Spirit, and like-minded and trained comrades-in-arms!

I believe the most neglected weapon is the Word of God.  For it will instruct us in all else available to fight and win (see II Peter 1:3, 4).  The Word is sustenance for the new man created in the image of God within us (see Colossians 3:9, 10).  If we do not feed the new man, the old man – our natural sinful nature – will control our lives.  It is this nature that, if dominate, will allow Satan to win.

You cannot escape yourself!  “Everywhere I go, I go, too!”  Make sure the ‘I Go, Too’ that accompanies you is the one who will help you live victoriously!

Gray Areas – III

August 14, 2015

I Corinthians 6:12; 10:23

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)
We are looking at Biblical guidelines to help us navigate through the Gray Areas of life – those areas in which the Bible doe not give clear and specific direction.  Again, the definition: A Gray Area is “…an ill-defined situation or field not readily conforming to a category or to an existing set of rules….ambiguous, unclear, uncertain, doubtful, indefinite, indistinct, indeterminate, debatable, open to question.

And the scriptures we are considering that lend a good deal of help in navigating Gray Areas are I Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23:

      All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful.  All things are
      lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any….All things
      are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful; all things are lawful for 
      me, but all things do not edify.

We saw in the first of two blogs that the Apostle Paul wrote, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful.”  And he emphasized this first restriction twice, in both of the Corinthian verses above, which means we ought to give our full attention to what is being twice-repeated here!  As pointed out previously, Helpful means “to bear together or conduce to the advantage of all.” (Strong’s).  So whatever is not helpful – whatever is not to the advantage of all, so that together we may bear up under whatever trial we are facing – Do not do or say what you might be considering!

The second restriction is from I Corinthians 6:12:  “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”  We saw that this applies to everything that would ‘take over’ your life – from addictions to too much focus on one aspect of life – like work, sports or hobbies – to the detriment of other important aspects – faith and family, for instance.

Let’s go on to the third restriction, found in I Corinthians 10:23:

•      “…all things are lawful for me, but all things do not edify.”  In the Greek this is two words, and means literally, to be a house builder.  And, of course, Paul is using this term in a negative sense, so it is not to be a house builder.

I Peter 2:5 helps us flesh out what Paul is saying:  “…you also, as living stones, are being built up [into] a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”  We are each one of us living stones – building blocks – with Jesus Christ being the “…chief cornerstone, elect, precious…” (I Peter 2:6 – see also Isaiah 28:16; Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17).  God is building a dwelling place with and through us!  Yes, He dwells by His Holy Spirit in each one of us (see John 14:17; Romans 8:9-11; Ephesians 1:13, 14), but God is further making us collectively into a habitation for Himself.  Here is what Paul wrote to the Gentile believers in Ephesus concerning the subject – Ephesians 2:19 through 22:

      …you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the
      saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the
      foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the
      chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together,
      grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built
      together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.

So if we are being built together as a dwelling place for God, then what we do or say must be examined and restricted by whether of not it edifies – builds up – others as well as ourselves!

Keep in mind the Greek word for edify is a house builder.  So we are either building up the corporate house of God, or we are tearing it down by our every word or action!  I think you can see that this restriction is important:  “…all things are lawful for me, but all things do not edify.”  Does it edify – build up – others as well as ourselves, or does it not?  Remember, we are building this house for the Lord!

Gray Areas – II

August 12, 2015

I Corinthians 6:12; 10:23

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

Gray Areas: those areas of life in which God’s direction is not clearly and precisely given in the Bible.  A Gray Area is “…an ill-defined situation or field not readily conforming to a category or to an existing set of rules….ambiguous, unclear, uncertain, doubtful, indefinite, indistinct, indeterminate, debatable, open to question.

We are looking at I Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23, two verses which give us instruction to apply the principles therein to the Gray Areas of life.

      All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful.  All things are
      lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any….All things
      are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful; all things are lawful for
      me, but all things do not edify.

Paul starts out by saying, “All things are lawful for me….”  And if you stop there, you have permission as a Christian to do anything – even that which is sinful!  But, as we saw in our last blog, he gives three restrictions to that first statement, the first of which is, “…but all things are not helpful.”  And that exact statement is found in both of our Corinthian verses, so we should take extra heed to this twice-repeated restriction!  Helpful means “to bear together or conduce to the advantage of all.” (Strong’s).  So it means that whatever is not helpful – whatever is not to the advantage of all so together we may bear up under whatever trial we are facing – Do not do or say what you might be considering!

Let’s go on to the second restriction, found in I Corinthians 6:12:  “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”  I have a very addictive/compulsive personality, so this admonition is very applicable and important to me!  I do not want anything to gain supremacy in my life except the Lord Jesus Christ!

•      “…I will not be brought under the power of any…” can include a lot of things.  I have been addicted to drugs, alcohol, nicotine, food, gambling, and pornography (probably a couple of other things too, that I cannot call to mind right now).  Let me just pick the last one mentioned for an example – pornography.  It is written in Genesis 1:28 that – after creating man and woman – “…God blessed them, and…said to them, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over [all creation]….’ ”  God invented sex, and made humans sexual beings!  And when He finished all creation, it says, “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.”  So sex, as God intended it, is very good!  It is further recorded in Hebrews 13:4: “Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled….”  So sex within the confines of the institution of God-defined marriage is both honorable and undefiled.  By the way, God defined marriage as between a man and a woman!  And in I Timothy 6:17 it is stated:  “…the living God…gives us richly all things to enjoy.”  So sex is for our enjoyment as well as for procreation!

But when I was 14 years old – and exploding with hormones! – the assistant scoutmaster of our troop introduced me to pornography.  I can still remember the rush I felt as I saw that explicit drawing in a book he showed me and two other older boys!  For the next many years – yes, even as a pastor – I struggled with the overpowering pull of that damned perversion!  God delivered me when I finally got it though my thick skull that I could rest in His victory over sin!  The urge to participate in that sin just left and has not returned – praise His name!

The point is this:  although sex is allowed and encouraged by the Lord in its proper context, that which God intended for good became an overpowering addiction upon misuse!

Alcohol consumption is another Gray Area.  Some say Christians should totally abstain. Others, myself included, point to Ephesians 5:18 which says, “…do not be drunk….”  This view allows for moderate intake of alcohol.  But a danger lies in this view.  My father-in-law told of a man – a co-worker of his father – who retired from Pittsburgh Plate Glass.  He had never taken a drink in his life.  But shortly after retirement, a friend convinced him to “…just take one drink, just to see what it tastes like.”  The retiree died about a year later, a drunkard who’s life and health was totally ruined by alcohol!

Of course, addictive substances are not the only things covered by this restriction – “…I will not be brought under the power of any [thing].”  Any activity that a person puts before God and that seems to control his or her life applies here!  Take hobbies for example.  How many people are controlled by the desire to be out on the golf course?  Our church is right across the street from the 17th hole of a popular course.  On nice Sunday mornings, there are more people on that course than there are in church!  What about antique automobiles – of which I have had great interest for years.  I jokingly tell people, “My wife has allowed me to currently own two!”  But I know a couple members of our antique auto club who own twenty or more!  It seems like their whole life revolves around antique automobiles!

And what about jobs and careers?  Some people are so focused on their work that they neglect a lot of important things in life – like faith and family.  Someone once said, “I have never met anyone who, at the end of their life, has said, ‘I wish I had spent more time at work!’

…I will not be brought under the power of any [thing].”  Let this restriction be a major guiding rule of how you live your life!

Gray Areas – I

August 10, 2015

I Corinthians 6:12; 10:23

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

I heard on our local Christian radio station a teaching by a minister concerning Gray Areas.  I was impressed by the way he presented the idea, and thought it would make a good blogging subject.

What are Gray Areas?  One definition reads, “…an ill-defined situation or field not readily conforming to a category or to an existing set of rules….ambiguous, unclear, uncertain, doubtful, indefinite, indistinct, indeterminate, debatable, open to question.

There are many Gray Areas in the matter of Christian living according to the will of God.  For instance, what about drinking alcoholic beverages?  What about the profession which may pursue for my life’s work?  Should I register as a Democrat, a Republican or an Independent?  What church should I join – and of what denomination, if any, should its affiliation be?  To what kind of music should I allow myself to listen?  Should a Christian display a crucifix?  We could go on and on!

First of all, I will highlight what Paul told Timothy in II Timothy 3:16 and 17:

      All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine,
      for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man
      of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

While all scripture…is profitable…, the scriptures do not speak openly about everything that we may encounter in our lives today!  But the Bible does shed its light one way or another on everything!  Sometimes it is by direct teaching or command; sometimes by example – good or bad; sometimes by inference; sometimes by general principles which is then left up to us to apply; sometimes by putting together the teaching of several scriptures; sometimes by silence!  But there is nothing that we can face in this life – nothing about which the Bible does not speak!

Let’s consider two verses from I Corinthians that will help define what we should do in any situation – verses 6:12 and 10:23:

      All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful.  All things are
      lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any….All things
      are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful; all things are lawful for
      me, but all things do not edify.

You might say Paul was a libertarian – if you concentrate on the first part of these two verses:  “All things are lawful for me….”  Yet the restrictions that are applied to our conduct by the rest of these scriptures are quite defining!  There are three strictures that are here presented:

•      I Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23 – “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful.”  The phrase, not helpful is two words in the Greek.  The word translated not is the absolute negative of the word it modifies.  The modified word by itself means “to bear together or conduce to the advantage of all.” (Strong’s).  The phrase in both the Greek and its English translation in the New King James is exactly the same!  What other English words are used in the Bible to translate this Greek word rendered helpful?  “Be better for, bring together, be expedient for, be good, be profitable.

The fact that it is repeated exactly in both of these I Corinthian verses is important!  God is not wasteful with words.  So when in scripture this occurs, we need to sit up and take notice!  God is saying something important!

Is what you are considering to do or to say helpful or advantageous to you and those around you?  Will it bring you together with others so you can together bear whatever situation you are addressing with your words or actions?  If not, then refrain from those words or that activity!

Paul further dealt with this issue when he wrote in Romans 14 concerning food offered to idols and then sold in the market place – which was common in New Testament times.  Some early believers felt it was acceptable to eat such food.  But others were highly offended that it had been offered to idols first.  While the word translated helpful is not found in the following Romans 14 scripture, the principle can and does apply to what we are discussing.  Here are verses 14:13 through 16 and 19 through 21 (see also I Corinthians 8:9-13):

      …let us not judge one another anymore: but rather resolve this, not to put
      a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.  I know and am
      persuaded by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to
      him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.  Yet if your
      brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. 
      Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.  Therefore, do
      not let your good be spoken of as evil….Therefore let us pursue the things
      which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.  Do
      not destroy the work of God for the sake of food.  All things indeed are pure,
      but it is evil for the man who eats with offense.  It is good neither to eat
      meat, nor to drink wine nor to do anything by which your brother stumbles
      or is offended or is made weak.

We have to consider our Christian brother or sister – how they will be affected by our words and actions!  While we as Christians are allowed to do all things, we are restricted first of all by the fact that “…all things are not helpful.

We will examine more restrictions that cover Gray Areas in our next blog.