Thursday, November 16, 2017

Serving God in The Modern World

In II Timothy 3:1-4, Paul warned, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.  For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.”

 Literally, he is saying that in the last days, people will make a big show of being religious, but have no understanding or concern with God’s power.  They will be self-absorbed, greedy, taking credit for other people’s work, and proud.  They will slander people, have no respect for their parents, and have no appreciation for what they receive.  They will have very low moral standards, and not show natural affection, even killing their own parents or children.  They cannot be trusted, and will not hesitate to make false accusations against people.  They will lack self-control, and be cruel.  They will hate and try to destroy those who stand for what is right, thinking they are above the law, and better than other people.  They will be more concerned with entertainment than with God or his teachings. 

As we look at what is happening today, we see all those things in abundance.  The news media does not hesitate to slander political figures and deliberately make up lies about them.    Road rage and school or workplace shooting demonstrate a lack of self-control, while abortion and murder of parents and domestic abuse show the lack of natural affection.   Children are encouraged to ignore their parents, and people would rather go to a sporting event than to a church.  Unfortunately, churches have adapted by becoming more focused on entertainment and emotional pleasure than on spiritual development.  As a result, II Timothy 3:12-13 warns, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.” 

As these attitudes and behaviors become accepted, they spread and become increasingly common in our world.   Christians find themselves increasingly being accused of racism and intolerance, being forced to remove Christian symbols or customs, facing lawsuits and having their children taken away.  Churches and religious centers are attacked and burned. 

II Timothy 4:1-4 instructs how we should respond to such conditions.  “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.  For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” 

We need to remember that God and Christ will judge everything that is done on earth, and that their standards have not and will not change, regardless of society’s changes.  We are to preach the word.  Several words are translated preach, but they are nearly all derivatives of either a word meaning ‘to teach,’ or a word meaning ‘to proclaim as a herald.’  Under the laws of heraldry, any change to message was punishable by death, whether it was proclaimed publically or privately.  To teach has the same meaning it has in modern English.   The message must not be changed, whether it is popular or unpopular.    We still need to reprove, to point out when things are not right.  We need to rebuke or specifically address wrongdoing, and we need to encourage those who are doing what is right, but we need to do those things patiently, carefully teaching what God wants. 

As the wickedness becomes more widespread there will be increasing pressure to adapt our teaching to be more appealing to modern society.   There will be pressure to change both the way we worship and the moral standards to suit the current attitudes, openly rejecting the traditional ways.  People will leave churches which do not go along with the new ideas, adopting man made stories in place of God’s word.  We must not give in to that pressure.  II Timothy 4:5 commands, “But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.”  We are to stay focused, not allowing our standards to change, even when we suffer for our position.  We are to continue to share the gospel, and teach those who believe to follow Christ fully.  The great commission in Matthew 28:19-20 commands,  “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…”  It is not enough to just win people to Christ.  We are to make full proof of the ministry, not just do the first part.  

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Don’t Give Up

I Thessalonians 5:17 commands, “Pray without ceasing.”    II Thessalonians 3:1-2 describes some of the things we should be praying about.  “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you: And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith.”  We need to pray for our teachers and leaders, that they will be able to speak the word of God in such a way that people will understand and accept it as God’s word, rather than just man’s statements.  We also need to pray for protection from illogical and evil attacks because many people have allowed Satan to control their minds and have no understanding of what is right and good. 

While we are going to have trials and persecutions as Christians, we have no need to be afraid, either of the attacks or that we will fail and fall into sin.   II Thessalonians 3:3-5 reminds us, “But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil.  And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command you.  And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ.”    I Peter 1:5 tells us we “…are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”  We can depend on God to guide us day by day.  John 16:13 tells us, “… when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth,” and we will be able to understand it because as I Corinthians 2:16 tells us, “we have the mind of Christ.”  

Unfortunately, human beings have a tendency to adopt the attitudes and practices of those with whom they associate.  II Thessalonians 3:6 warns, Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.”  We need to disassociate from those who will not do what the scriptures teach.  If we do not, we may well go along with their sin instead of following Christ. 

Paul and his associates had set an example before the people, according to II Thessalonians 3:7-9.  “For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.”  Though they were involved in full time ministry, and deserved payment for it, they had supported themselves to set a proper example for the people to follow.    

While we are told to help the poor and feed the hungry, we need to be careful in how we do it.  II Thessalonians 3:10-12 instructs, “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.  For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.  Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.”  We need to be careful that we do not leave the impression that if we are serving God we don’t need to make any effort to support ourselves.  I Timothy 5:8 warns, “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”  If a person will not make the effort to support himself or his family, he has in effect turned his back on God, rejecting what God said in Genesis 3:19.  “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”  He is worse than an infidel because he knows what God said and refuses to obey.

While we have a responsibility to help widows and orphans, we are limited in what we can do.  I Timothy 5:16 instructs, “If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed. “  The church should not be expected to take responsibility for those who can get help elsewhere.   If we try to help everyone who wants it we exhaust ourselves and our resources and end up unable to help those who really need it.   II Thessalonians 3:13-14 warns against burning ourselves out.  “But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.  And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.  Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”   Instead of allowing ourselves to get discouraged trying to help everyone, we need to take note of those who are not doing their part and stop supporting them, encouraging them to take responsibility for themselves.  We will be far less discouraged when we do things God’s way instead of copying others.   

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Don’t Let Teaching About the Rapture Distract You

Paul had been forced to leave Thessalonica because of violent opposition from the Jews.  The Christians had gone on to serve God in spite of the opposition, becoming quite strong.  I Thessalonians had been written to encourage them to continue to grow and walk in the Spirit.  They had done so and II Thessalonians compliments them for having done so. 

“We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth; So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.” (II Thessalonians 1:3-10)

Their continued growth was a testimony to the wisdom of God in calling them and predestinating them to be saved, and promising to punish those who attacked them.  Clearly, their enemies deserved the punishment they will receive when Christ returns.  Paul and his associates just prayed that they would keep on, so that God would be glorified, as I Thessalonians 1:11-12 states.  “Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power: That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

In I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11, Paul had stressed that the knowledge that Christ was going to return was a primary motivating factor in serving the Lord, making it very clear that we do not know when it will happen.  Unfortunately, some had become so wrapped up in the Lord’s return they were neglecting teaching about spiritual growth in their effort to scare people into getting saved or witnessing.  As a result a lot of false teaching about the second coming was being disseminated.  II Thessalonians 2:1-2 warns them not to allow such teachings to concern or distract them from just following what Christ taught.  “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.“  They were not to let even claims of some special revelation from the Holy Spirit, some exciting new interpretation of scripture, or some newly discovered writing purporting to be from the apostles distract them from what they had been taught.  Everyone who claims to have some special knowledge about when it will happen makes it clear they are false teachers. 

Paul went on to remind them that certain things had to happen before the Lord would return, in II Thessalonians 2:3-5.  “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.  Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things.”   Before the Lord returns, there will be a great turning away from the scriptures to other teachings.  This will lead to the Antichrist seizing power and setting himself up as a God.  The Lord will not take out his saints until after the Antichrist comes to power.  This is exactly what Christ described in Matthew 24:4-31, Mark 13:4-27, and Luke 21:7-28. 

As II Thessalonians 2:6-7 points out the spirit of Antichrist is already working, but is restrained from taking over until that restraint is removed.  “And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.  For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.”  Many have taught that this refers to the Holy Spirit and inferred that as a result, Christians had to be taken out in what is known as the Rapture before the Antichrist comes to power.  Daniel 10:20, Daniel 12:1-2, and Revelation 12:6 all indicate that Satanic power and the Antichrist are held in check by the archangels.  There are no verses in scripture that imply the Holy Spirit is the one referred to here, and thus no evidence that the Christians will be taken out before the Tribulation. 

Once the restraints are removed, The Antichrist will seize power, according to II Thessalonians 2:8-12.  “And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.  And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”    Those who have rejected Christ will follow the Antichrist because they have chosen not to believe in Him.

God chose those who would believe to be saved, from the very beginning of creation.  He used the gospel to draw us to him, and save us, and we have nothing to fear when he returns.  We need to stand fast in the faith which resulted in our salvation and allow the Holy Spirit to establish us, as II Thessalonians 2:13-16 says.  “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.  Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.”   We are to occupy till he comes.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Exercising Faith

While the Holy Spirit produces certain attitudes, or fruit in our lives, these attitudes only become automatic as a result of repetition.   Just as developing consistency shooting a basketball requires exercising certain muscles, learning to be consistently joyful requires learning to appreciate the things that happen in our lives.  I Thessalonians 5:18 commands, “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”  It is God’s will that we learn to be thankful, to appreciate what he does in our lives, so if we are not thankful, we are not fulfilling his will. 

There is another side to this verse, however.   If God is truly sovereign, then there is nothing that happens without his allowing it, even though it may be the result of our own stupidity, or Satan’s attacks.  If we understand how much God loves us, even sacrificing his own son for us, we know that he will always act in our best interests, no matter how bad something may seem. 

Romans 8:28-33 reminds us, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.   For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.  Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?  He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?  Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth.” 

God gave his own son for us when we were his enemies because he knew what we were like.  He was not randomly picking in hopes that we would turn out to be good enough.  It is him that makes us good enough, not our own actions.   Having invested his own son’s life for us, he will not throw away his investment for some minor irritation.  Instead, he will see that we have everything we need to accomplish his purpose.  Even the worst things that happen to us will ultimately turn out for our benefit. 

In Genesis 37: we find the story of Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery.  After a short time, he was accused of sexual impropriety, and sentenced to prison.  He had gone from the favored son in a wealthy family to being one of the most hated foreigners, and remained that way for thirteen years. Finally, God used a contact he had made in prison to promote Joseph to being the Prime Minister of Egypt. 

Nine years later, Genesis 45:4-8 tells us, “And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt.   Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.  For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest.  And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.  So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.”

Though what had happened was a result of evil intentions by his brothers, it was God’s way of accomplishing his purpose, saving not only Joseph, but the entire nation of Israel.   Who knows what God may be doing in your life through these problems and trials?   Rejoice that God considers you faithful enough to be entrusted with such a situation.  Don’t waste your time fighting against God’s plan and complaining, as I Thessalonians 5:19 tells us, “Quench not the Spirit.” Let him have his way and don’t try to prevent him from accomplishing his purpose.   

Don’t get resentful about things in God’s word that don’t suit you.  I Thessalonians 5:20-22 commands, “Despise not prophesyings.  Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.  Abstain from all appearance of evil.”   Check out the teaching of God’s Word to be sure that is what it really means and practices what is good while not doing what it says is wrong.  Understand that it is the Holy Spirit who is teaching you these things, according to John 14:26.  “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”   Refusing to heed the scriptures is one of the ways we quench the Holy Spirit. 

While it may seem difficult and counter intuitive, we can be sure of the results of exercising our faith.  I Thessalonians 5:23-24 promises, “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.”   Our faith rests on the very character of God.  

Friday, November 10, 2017

Pray Without Ceasing

I Thessalonians 5:17 commands, “Pray without ceasing.”  Throughout history there has been a lot of misunderstanding about prayer, with almost every religion and many non-religious people talking about prayer.   Countless books have been written about how to pray, prescribing a specific ritual, specific words, a special position, or countless other things to help our prayer life.   Various people have been held up as examples of how we should pray.  Unfortunately, most of them start with a false concept of what prayer is, and in many cases the advice actually hinders spiritual prayer, focusing our attention on the wrong thing.   

Prayer is simply talking to God, communicating with him as our loving father.  In Matthew 6:5-13 Jesus gave his disciples guidelines about praying.   “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.  But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.    But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.  Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” 

Just talk to him like you would to your father, because that is who he is.  We don’t have to worry about getting everything just right, because Romans 8:26-27 tells us, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.  And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.”  If we mess up, the Holy Spirit will interpret it correctly.    He’s not going to get upset or ignore us if we don’t word things just right.   He wants to us to share our feelings, opinions, desires and thanks, not just repeat what someone else said.  While reading or quoting from a prayer book or praying the scriptures may make us feel very religious, Jesus said not to do it. 

Another common misconception is that we need to pray long and hard to get God’s attention.   As Jesus said, that is a heathen concept, a concept held by people who know nothing about God.    In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus contrasts the difference between God and an unjust judge.  “And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.

And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.

And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith.  And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?  I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” 

We ought to pray, expecting God to answer, because he loves us.  We should be able to come boldly whenever we have a need, as Hebrews 4:15-16 advises.  “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”     Because he loves us we don’t need to nag at God to wear him down like the woman did the judge.  Instead of nagging him about one thing, we ought to be talking to him about everything in our lives, much like a child walking with or helping a loving mom or dad.  As Paul said,  we should pray without ceasing, or be in a continual state of talking with God.    No where in Scripture are told to pray for hours or pray it through.   Jesus spoke of the hypocrites which make a show of their long prayers in Matthew 23:40.  As he said in Matthew 6:6, they are just after men’s admiration, and they already have their rewards. 

Jesus gave his disciples a model for their prayers in Matthew 6:9-13, which is commonly called the Lord’s Prayer.  “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.”  Notice that it doesn’t use any flowery words or eloquent phrases, but gets straight to the point.  “Give us the food we need today.  Forgive our sins.  Keep us from evil things.”  It is very short, just sixty five words, even in the comparatively flowery King James English.   Jesus’ prayer in John 17 provides us an example of an actual prayer, by the greatest man of prayer and faith of all time.   

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Start Now

People have a tendency to procrastinate when they know they don’t have to get a job done until a certain date, and had God told us when Christ will return, people would tend to wait until then to serve him.  Instead, he warned us that he would come unexpectedly to show who is really serving him.   There are certain things Paul lists that should characterize a Christian’s life.  Now is the time to start doing these things. 

I Thessalonians 5:12-13 starts out with our relationship to Christian leaders.  “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves.”  In I Timothy 3 and Titus 1, Paul gives specific instructions for choosing church leaders.  They need to demonstrate those qualities before they are given the position.   We need to know how they live their lives to see the Holy Spirit’s working in them.  Hebrews 13:7 commands, “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.”   We should follow our leaders, but only to the degree they demonstrate a spiritual lifestyle. 

God will hold religious leaders accountable for what they have taught and how they have led.  As Christians we have a responsibility to work with them, not to be constantly challenging their authority or rebelling against them.   Hebrews 13:17 commands, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”   If they are not spiritually qualified we should find a different leader.  If they are, we need to cooperate with them.   There shouldn’t be conflict in the church.   As I Corinthians 3:3 tells us, conflict is a clear indication of an unspiritual state.  “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?”

Not everyone in the church has the same level of spiritual maturity.  I Thessalonians 5:14-15 teaches us to deal with them appropriately.   “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.  See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.”  Some have never learned to follow the rules God has given, and they need to be warned that what they are doing is wrong.  Others can’t seem to grasp God’s promises and live in fear.   They need comforting and encouragement.  Still others are weak and find it easy to turn away.  They need guidance and encouragement.   We need to learn to be patient with them, constantly trying to teach them to grow and be faithful.  We need to be careful to always treat everyone properly, and not take out our frustrations on them.  Quite simply, we need to demonstrate godly love for them. 

One of the things that kept getting Israel into trouble in the wilderness was their constant complaining.  They hated having to move camp every day.   They wanted something different to eat.  They didn’t like Moses always telling them what God wanted.   They were never really happy about anything for very long.  Unfortunately, many Christians have the same attitude.  Numbers 11:1 tells us,  “And when the people complained, it displeased the LORD: and the LORD heard it; and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp.”    One part of the fruit of the Spirit is an attitude of joy, of enjoying life.  I Thessalonians 5:16 tells us, “Rejoice evermore.”  After all, we have eternal life and the problems in this world are only temporary.   If we gripe about what he has already given us, why should he bother to give us more?  We’ll probably just gripe about it too.   Learn to enjoy and be content with what God has given.

Our happiness is based on our attitude rather than what we have.  As a result two people in identical situations can have totally different experiences, with one miserable and the other bubbling with happiness.    I Timothy 6:6-8 advises, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.  And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.”   Don’t wait until everything is just the way you want it to start enjoying things.  If you do, you may miss out completely.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Be Prepared

It is critical that we understand that the Lord is coming back and will reward his servants if we are to remain faithful to him, as Hebrews 11:6 states.  “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”  an understanding of Christ’s return emphasizes that he will reward his servants.  Thus, in I Thessalonians 4:13-18 Paul tells us, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.  For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.  For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and s shall we ever be with the Lord.  Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” 

While understanding that he is returning is crucial, we are to live by faith.  As a result, we are not told when Christ will return.   In Matthew 24:36, Jesus told his disciples, “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”  Even the angels do not know when the Lord will return to establish his kingdom.  In Acts 1:7, he told them, “…It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.” 

Knowing that God said it was not our business to know when Christ will return, Paul refused to speculate when it would happen, according to I Thessalonians 5:1-3.  “But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.  For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.  For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.”  The one thing we can be sure of is that it will happen at a time when people, even Christians are not expecting it.   We just need to be ready at any time because Luke 12:40 warns, “Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.”   Anyone who thinks they know when it will happen has been deceived. 

While we don’t know when He will return, we are to get prepared so we’ll be ready whenever he does come.   I Thessalonians 5:4-11 reminds us, “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.  Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.  Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.  For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.

But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.  For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.  Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.”

Instead of wasting our time trying to figure out when the Lord will return, like an army recruit in basic training, we need to get prepared so when the time comes we will be ready.  Ephesians 6:11-20 describes the process.  “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.  Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:  Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”

As Jesus said in Matthew 24:44, “Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.”    As the Boy Scout motto says, “Be Prepared”

Monday, November 6, 2017

Keep Practicing

When Paul and his associates had been Thessalonica, they had taught, both by word and example how the Christians should live.  In I Thessalonians 4:1-2 he encourages them to practice the things they have been taught.  “Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.  For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.”   With practice, the Christian walk becomes more natural. 

Many people are concerned about finding God’s will.  Unfortunately they are often thinking about some special or job.   I Thessalonians 4:3-8 tells us what God wants from every Christian.  “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.  For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.  He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.” 

God’s will for every Christian is that they be sanctified, literally, that they be set apart and have their life cleaned up, kind of like a clean plate or bowl that has been washed and is ready for use.  Until we have our lives cleaned up, we are not fit for God’s use in special service.  One of the first things that needs to be addressed is sexual impropriety in all the different forms, from promiscuity or homosexual activity to pornography and suggestive dress or actions.   Another area to be addressed is in our treatment of others in daily life.  We need to make sure we are not taking advantage of them in any way, because we understand we are going to be held accountable by God.  When we treat others as if they don’t matter, we are not just insulting them, but the God who has given us the Holy Spirit to guide us.

Paul had already addressed how pleased he was with the Thessalonians concern for other Christians.  He encourages them to continue to grow in that area also, in I Thessalonians 4:9-10.  ”But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more; And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.” 

No matter how good we may become at a specific action or attitude, we need constant practice to maintain and sharpen those skills.   Either you use them or you lose them.   They needed to focus on being quiet, not calling attention to themselves or getting upset, but rather to stay focused on their own business,  doing the Job God had given them, rather than worrying about what others were doing.  If they would do that, they would not have to pretend to those around them, and God would use their effort to meet their needs. 

If we are to stay faithful to God it is vital to remember that everything will ultimately turn out according to God’s plan.  We must not get distracted by what is happening around us.  I Thessalonians 4;13-18 reviews what we have to look forward to.  “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.  For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.  For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and s shall we ever be with the Lord.  Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” 

Without reassurance about Christ’s long term plans, it is easy to get discouraged and give up, because so often it seems like those who do evil are better off than those who serve the Lord.  We need that comfort.  It is not just to make us feel better at a funeral.   

Friday, November 3, 2017

Trusting God To Produce Results

In Thessalonica, the Jews had stirred up so much animosity against them that Paul and Silas were forced to leave to take the pressure off those who had turned to Christ.  They had gone to the nearby city of Berea to teach, but upon hearing of their presence the Jews came to Berea as well.  Since he was the main target of their anger, Paul sailed to Athens, leaving Silas and Timothy behind to continue the work there, as Acts 17 describes. 

“But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face with great desire.  Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us.  For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?  For ye are our glory and joy.” (I Thessalonians 2:17-20)

Although he had been forced to leave, Paul had wanted to return, but the attacks in Berea had prevented doing so.  Nevertheless, he was concerned about them, rejoicing that they continued in their faith, but concerned they might get discouraged.  It was their faith that encouraged Paul and the others to keep trying, convinced they were not wasting their time.  . 

“Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone; And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith: That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.  For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know.  For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labour be in vain. ” (I Thessalonians 3:1-5)

While in Athens, Paul realized he could not go back to Thessalonica.  Fearing They might be discouraged by the fact he had not returned and hearing of the attacks on him they might well give up hope, so he got a message to Timothy to go back and encourage them before meeting up with in Corinth.  It would have been really disheartening for him to have gone through so much, only to have them turn away from Christ.   

“But now when Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you: Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith: For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.  For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God; Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?” (I Thessalonians 3:6-10)

When Timothy arrived in Corinth and shared what the Thessalonians were doing, Paul was greatly relieved to know they were still following what he had taught and hoping one day he could return.  It made what he had faced worthwhile, and he thanked God for their faithfulness.   

Paul hoped through God’s power to one day be able to return and visit Thessalonica personally, but in the meantime he could count on God to help them to grow in faith and love as I Thessalonians 3:11-13 tells us.  “Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.  And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.”

Like Paul, we need to realize it is God who makes people grow, not our efforts.  Like a gardener, we can provide the things that are necessary, such as water and soil, and pull the weeds, but the end result is what God causes, not what we did.   We have to learn to trust God with the results.  

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Setting The Example

In any organization or group, whether a business, a school a club, a family, or a church, the leadership sets the tone and attitude of the entire organization or group.   This is one of the most important reasons why the choice of pastors and elders in the church is so critical.  People tend to copy the behavior of those who their leaders.   If they are not spiritual people themselves, they will never be able to lead their people to become spiritual.  Unfortunately, people sometimes copy the behavior mechanically, without understanding the underlying attitude.  Paul wanted the Thessalonians to understand the spiritual attitude behind their actions. 

“For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain: But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.  For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.  For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness; God is witness: Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ.” (I Thessalonians 2:1-6)

Their focus had been on pleasing God, not on getting men’s admiration or respect.  They had suffered much abuse in Thessalonica, but they did not change their message.  They knew what they were teaching was truth, and did not try to make it more acceptable to the people around them, or convince people they were just teaching a slightly different form of the old beliefs.  They didn’t try to compliment the local leaders in order to get a hearing.  They also did not lord it over the people making demands, even though they were God’s apostles or special messengers.    

“But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children:  So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.” (I Thessalonians 2:7-8)

They had gone out of their way to make sure they did not hurt the people, emotionally, spiritually, or financially.  They did not isolate themselves, but were willing to live like the people, willing to give up their very lives for them because they cared so much for them.  They were not satisfied just to preach the gospel to them.   They actively lived it among them, setting the example as to how those people should live in their situation. 

“For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.  Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe: As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.” (II Thessalonians 2:9-12)

Because they had set the example, living among the people, working alongside them and dealing with similar problems, their people were equipped to walk in the spirit where they were.    They had learned the proper attitudes like a child watching his father. 

“For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.  For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.” (II Thessalonians 2:13-16)

Because they had seen the gospel practices in the same situations they faced, the Thessalonians did not consider it an abstract theory, but a very practical way of life.   They were prepared to face the same trials as the churches in Israel had faced, even being persecuted and threatened by the established religious leaders and forbidden to teach others their beliefs, because those other religious groups have rejected God and face his judgment.  

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Witnessing in Spiritual Power

In Acts 1:8, Jesus told the disciples, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”  He did not say that we should, but that they shall be.  It is not something they have to try to do, but something that will happen automatically as a result of the Holy Spirit’s power in their lives.  The changed, Spirit filled life becomes a testimony to Christ, even without a conscious effort.  I Peter 3:1-2 tells us, a godly lifestyle can draw people to Christ without saying a word.  “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.”  I Thessalonians provides a valuable insight into What Christ meant. 

The Christians in Thessalonica had seen the power of God in Paul and his associates lives, and had accepted Christ.  As a result, they had dedicated themselves to God, and his power was obvious in their lives so that there was no question about their having been saved.  I Thessalonians 1:2-5 describes their commitment to God as a result of what they had seen in lives.  “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; 1th 1:3 Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.   For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.”  They were assured that what Paul preached was truth, because they seen and experienced the power of God. 

Because they had seen what the Holy spirit did in Paul and his associates lives, the people followed their example, becoming Christians despite considerable opposition, as described in Acts 17:1-10.  As a result, their testimony spread through all the region, and even to other countries, as I Thessalonians 1:6-10 tells us.  “And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.

 For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.  For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” 

 Though they had not spoken to the people in the areas of Macedonia and Achaia, other people had discussed what had happened there in Thessalonica, and how the Christians had been changed, and the word had spread even to those other cities.  As a result, people were more open to the gospel in those other cities, making life far easier for the Christians there, and also encouraging them, knowing they were not the only Christians who had problems. 

One of the biggest problems in American society today is our lack of patience.  We don’t want to wait for anything.   Sadly, that same attitude has carried over into the church.  We do not want to wait for the Holy Spirit to produce fruit in our lives, or in those of our people.  Instead we try to get them out witnessing before they are even sure of their own salvation or have any idea of how to walk in the Spirit.  Consequently our witnessing has minimal impact, seldom reaching beyond the emotions of the moment.  Even those who make professions often have little or no commitment to Christ, just viewing salvation as a fire escape to avoid hell.  The results can be seen in churches all across America.   If we are to reach the world, we need to Let the Holy Spirit produce his fruit in us.  

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Checking Your Walk

As human beings, we tend to view ourselves with rose tinted glasses, considering ourselves better than those around us.  Sometimes this is even worse among religious people than among the general population, because they make such a big deal about being good.  Many times the same person who is so very religious in church on Sunday has a reputation as someone who can’t be trusted in business.    They are like the Scribes and Pharisees, who Jesus described as stealing a widow’s home while making a big religious show to hide their wickedness, in Matthew 23:14.   “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.” 

If we are Christians, there are certain characteristic attitudes, known as the fruit of the Spirit that the Holy Spirit produces in our lives.  If we are walking in the Spirit, allowing him to lead, those attitudes will govern how we relate to other people in our daily lives, and eliminating most of the conflicts, as Proverbs 16:7 tells us.  “When a man's ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.”   I Corinthians 3:3 tells us conflict with our associates is evidence of an unspiritual state.  “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” 

In Colossians 3, Paul addresses some areas of life that many of deal with every day.  Because they are so familiar, it is easy to let ourselves fall back into ungodly habits rather than letting the Spirit guide us in these areas, yet they are some of the most important relationships in our lives.  If we are not allowing the spirit to control these areas of our life, we cannot be walking in the Spirit. 

The first area Paul addresses is the marriage relationship in Colossians 3:18-19.  “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.   Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.”  A bossy, complaining wife who demands her own way is in deliberate rebellion against God’s principles as established in Genesis 3:16, and is clearly not walking in the Spirit.  A controlling, abusive, unforgiving, uncaring, or disrespectful husband also cannot be walking in the Spirit.  Conflicts in these areas distract us from serving God and interfere with our spiritual relationship.   I Peter 3:7 warns, “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.”

A second major area that gets neglected is the relationship between parent and child.  Colossians 3:20-21 instructs, “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.  Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.”  A parent is responsible for keeping his children safe, because children do not understand the dangers.  God has given him that responsibility and the child ought to respect the authority God has given.  If he does, and the parent has done his job properly, it will result in a long and healthy life for the child.   At the same time, the parent has the responsibility to set the proper example before the child.  A child’s picture of God is largely based on the example his parents, and especially his father sets.  A spiritual parent will be consistently loving and reasonable in their expectations, not angry and capricious.  Ephesians 6:4 refers to this as bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, literally as God directs.   Failure to do so causes them to give up hope of ever being acceptable to either the parent or to God, and they may well reject Christianity as a result.    

The final area Paul addresses is our relationships at work, in Colossians 3:22-4:1.  “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.  But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.   Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.” 

Most of us are employed by someone.  We need to sincerely respect our employers, not just make a show when they are looking.   Whether we realize it or not God has put them in that position and you need to give them your best, even when they don’t earn it.  I Peter 2:18 commands, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.”  We need to keep in mind that ultimately we are working for and representing God, and that he will reward us accordingly, with no allowances for who we think we are.  Employers and bosses need to respect the work their employees do, seeing that they receive fair treatment and pay, realizing that they also work for God and will be rewarded as they deserve. 

These things are not meant to discourage us, but to be signals that we are not consistently walking in the Holy Spirit.  These areas are especially important for checking our spiritual walk because they are areas we deal with regularly, and problems will show up here before they show in other areas.  

Monday, October 30, 2017

Training Camp

We need to realize that life in this world is only a temporary stopping point, much like a training camp for eternity.    The struggles here are preparing us for our position in the future.  Revelation 5:10 tells us Christ has“… made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.”   Before we can be qualified as kings and priests to judge the world, we will first have to learn to live with him and trust him.  That requires experience and practice if we wish to be on the team.  II Timothy 2:11-13 tells us, “It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.”       

If we are to be a valuable member of the team, there are some sacrifices we may have to make.  Colossians 3:4-7 tells us, “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.  Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.”   Before we were saved it didn’t really matter whether we did those things or not.  Now that we have been saved and are on the team, we need to quit old habits that distract us or sap our strength.  Instead, we need to replace them with habits that make us better able to play our part.  It is much like a football or basketball player quitting drinking and going to all night parties in order to get enough rest and proper nutrition so that he can play his best.  Failure to do so will incur the coach’s wrath because it indicates we don’t really care.    When Christ comes and the game starts, we need to be at our best. 

“But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.  Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” (Colossians 3:8-11)

We are on Christ’s team.  We need to put away all the things that interfere with working together, and play as a team, working together for a single goal, rather than all trying to get our own way or get ahead of others.  As part of Christ’s team we have to develop a whole new mindset toward others. 

“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.  And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.  And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.  And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” (Colossians 3:12-17)

In Galatians 5:22-23 , Paul referred to these things as the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  Here he says we need to allow the peace of God to rule in our hearts.  The point is that like growing fruit, it is essential to allow the tree to produce the fruit, not try to make it ourselves.  We need to provide the opportunity for the fruit to grow.  A friend shared how that body builders can inflate their muscles by using a light weight many times, causing the muscles to retain plasma and appear larger, but a little bit of rest allows the muscles to shrink back to normal size.  Weight lifters focus on lifting heavy weights to build their strength, and their body builds additional muscle cells.  Their muscles do not shrink after a short rest.    We need to let the Spirit produce the fruit rather than trying to make ourselves look good.       

Friday, October 27, 2017

Don’t Allow Yourself To Be Distracted

One of the most effective tools false teachers use is the idea that there is something more that is missing from your spiritual life, whether it be financial wealth and prosperity, or a second blessing of being filled with the Spirit so that you can speak in tongues or do miracles.  Hundreds of seminars, revivals, and training sessions are held each year trying to produce that something extra in the Christians who attend.   In order to obtain these extra things, we need to spend more hours in prayer or soul winning or positive affirmations, give more offerings to the Lord, take some special discipleship or other training course or start using a different style of music and worship service to attain maximum spiritual blessings. 

Paul paints a very different picture in Colossians 2:10-15.  “And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.  And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.”

When you received Christ, you received the Holy Spirit.  If you do not have him, then you have not been saved, according to Romans 8:9.  “…Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”   A physical circumcision is unnecessary, because God has spiritually circumcised us, removing our sins through Christ’s being cut off or killed for us. We have been crucified with Christ through faith, and have received a new life, with all our sins forgiven.  He has set us free from the law which made us aware of our sins, so that we are no longer subject to it, as Romans 10: 4 tells us.  “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”  He has defeated Satan and the powers of the world, and is now seated on the throne in heaven as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  We are completely remade as II Corinthians 5:17-18 tells us.  “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.  And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ…”   

Because God has changed us completely, making a new person of us, we ought not allow others to condemn because we don’t do things the same way they do.  Colossians 2:16 commands, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.”    Those physical practices are only an attempt to show physically what is happening spiritually.  The real worship is spiritual, as John 4:24 tells us.  “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”    The heart attitude is far more important than the physical rituals or practices. 

We need to be careful not to let false teachers destroy our blessings by making us feel inferior or focusing our attention on spirit beings or other things.  Colossians 2:18-19 instructs, “Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.”  Too often unspiritual leaders have an inflated ego that leads them to talk about things they have no real knowledge about, and the focus becomes on those things rather than on Christ himself.    When the focus is on Christ and what the scriptures teach, God will cause the church to grow both numerically and spiritually, without all their programs and promotions. 

As Romans 10:4 says, “Christ is the end of the law to everyone that believeth.”  Colossians 2:20-23 asks, “Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?  Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.”  Why go back to trying to be good enough to go to heaven by keeping earthly rules when Christ has already done everything for us.  While those things give an illusion of being good and righteous, and make us feel good, they will never produce eternal satisfaction. 

We must not let ourselves be distracted by all the expert’s seminars and programs.  Colossians 3:1-3 commands, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.  Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.  For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”  We are dead to the world and its things no longer control our lives.  Our concern ought to be on pleasing Christ rather than any earthly accomplishment.    We shouldn’t be any more  worried about how many we win to Christ, how big a church we have, or whether we can speak in tongues than whether we have a million dollars to retire with.  As I Corinthians 3:5-7 reminds us, our accomplishments count for very little.   “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?  I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.  So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.”  Any worthwhile results are thanks to God’s work rather than ours.  

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Be Careful Who You Associate With

Many times we are told that as Christians, we should overlook false doctrines as a means of showing our love.  Paul was quite emphatic that we should withdraw fellowship from them in II Thessalonians 3:6.  “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.”  In Titus 3:10-11 he commanded, “A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.” 

Jude 1:12-16 explains why it is critical that we withdraw from them.  “These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.  And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints,  To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.  

These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men's persons in admiration because of advantage.”

These false teachers are like a smear of grease on clean white shirt, completely destroying its appearance, when they participate in the church’s activities without concern.  They contribute nothing of real value to the church, but as Paul said in Titus, the condemn themselves.  They face God’s judgment when Christ returns, along with all those who have gone along with them.  They are like the Israelites who rebelled against God in the wilderness, always complaining about what God supplied and wanting something more or different and insisting on doing as they pleased and choosing leaders who would do what they wanted. 

We need to remember that the apostles warned us repeatedly that there would be false prophets, as Jude 1:17-19 reminds us.  “But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts.   These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit.”   By their teachings, they separate themselves from the church, because they do not have the Holy Spirit leading them.   I John 2:19 tells us, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”  The separation is by their choice, rather than ours.  We are not obligated to meet them half way.   Our love for God takes precedence over our love for them. 

We have the responsibility to stay true to God and his word.  Jude 1:20-23 tells us, “But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.  And of some have compassion, making a difference: And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.”  We have a responsibility to try to get them to turn to God, but in order to do so, we must make sure we are firmly grounded in the truth ourselves, realizing we have to give an account to God.  We should deal with them as if we were pulling someone out of the fire, while making sure we don’t get burned ourselves.  We mustn’t just walk into the fire with them.

We are trying to bring them to God, not to take God to them.   We need to realize it is God who is protecting us, and stay within his protection, as Jude 1:24-25 reminds us. “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and for ever. Amen.”

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

False Teachers And Their Followers Will Be Judged

People’s memories change over time, unless there is something to keep them fresh.  Like the other writers of the New Testament, Jude realized the need to write down what God taught so people would be able to go back and correct things that got distorted.  It is especially important because false teachers play on those forgotten or distorted details to mislead people.  Jude 1:3-4 explains, “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.  For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.”   

As any organization or group grows there are people who want to take it over and use it for their own purposes.  They infiltrate and blend in, working at progressing up through the ranks, until they can seize control.  Once they are in control, they change the focus to accomplish their goals rather than the original purpose of the group or organization.  Unfortunately, this is just as true of Christian groups as of political organizations or businesses.   As Jude says, they are ungodly men chosen by Satan to distort the Gospel into a justification for sinful behavior and deny that Christ is God come in the flesh.  Far too often Christians blindly go along with them, without question, because they are in positions of authority or have a large following. 

Jude 1:5-7 warns that there are serious consequences for just going along with the crowd.  “I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not.  And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.  Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”  In each case there were many who did not actively rebel against God, but just went along with everyone else.  Only those who actively stood for the Lord were saved in each case. 

Just like the ones who rebelled against God in the instances cited, false teachers today reject God’s authority, ignore his standards of morality, and accuse those who maintain his standards of evil, as Jude 1:8-10 describes.  “Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities.  Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.  But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves.”  Michael, the most powerful of the angels did not dare say the evil things about Satan these say about God or those who serve him.  They violate the natural order of things, ignoring even their own conscience.  One example of this is when a man insists that he is a woman despite the fact that he is genetically a man. 

 Romans 1:25-32 describes the moral state of these false teachers and their followers.  “Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.  For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” 

Judgment is certain to come on such leaders.  Jude 1:11 says, “Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core.”   These false teachers and their followers are like Cain, who I John 3:12 tells us, “…who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous.”  They slander and even kill people just because they have a higher moral standard than themselves.  Others are like Balaam, in Numbers 22-24, who would do anything for money, including disobey God.  Still others are like Korah and his followers, in Numbers 16, who rebelled against God because they wanted power.  

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Follow Christ, Not The Preacher

In Romans 16:17-18, Paul warned, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.   For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.”    Peter warned that there would be false teachers in every group.  Ultimately their goal is to use the church to meet their own desires rather than to please God.  The pastor of the church where Gaius attended was such a man. 

III John 3:9-10 says, “I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.   Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.”  Diotrephes wanted to control the church, so he tried to prevent the people from hearing from or visiting with the former pastor and men who had started the church, accusing them of false teaching or immoral behavior and forcing those who stood up for them out of the church.  

 Such an attitude is fairly common today, with new pastors trying to erase any memory of the previous pastor.  Such pastors frequently point to Hebrews 13:17 to justify their position.   “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”  They ignore the instructions in I Peter 5:3 about not lording it over the church.  “Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.”  Jesus made a similar statement in Matthew 20:25-26.  “But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.  But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  The pastor is not to be the boss, but a servant who leads the way. 

While we have an obligation to follow when the leaders are following what God has said, we ought not follow when they begin to go against his word.  III John 1:11 commands, “Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.”  In I Corinthians 11:1, Paul said, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”  Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.” 

In I Timothy 4:12, commanded Timothy, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”  The leaders are to set the example for the church in every area, but they are not our God.  When they do not set the proper example, whether morally or doctrinally, we are not to follow them.  We are accountable to God, no to them. 

The standards God set for pastors and leaders in I Timothy 3:1-12 and Titus 1:5-9 are not extreme, simply requiring that the man demonstrate his ability to fulfill the role of the pastor or leader before he is given the job.   Because Diotrephes was misusing his position, it would be necessary for the church to replace him, and according to III John 1:12, a better qualified man was available.  “Demetrius hath good report of all men, and of the truth itself: yea, and we also bear record; and ye know that our record is true.” 

If it were necessary, John himself would come to help the church take away Diotrephes’ authority and correct his false teachings and practices.  “I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee: But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to thee. Our friends salute thee. Greet the friends by name.” (III John 1:13-14)