Friday, December 29, 2017

Identifying The Ungodly

Every one of the New Testament writers warned that false prophets would pervert God’s word and mislead people.  In Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus tells one way of identifying false prophets.  “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.  Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?  Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.  A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.  Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.  Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” 

While Matthew 7:1 tells us we are not judge people on the basis of first impressions or personal prejudices, Jesus says that seeing how they live and what they do, we can tell what kind of person they really are, because their words and actions reveal what is really in their heart according to Matthew 15:19.  “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.”  By listening to what they say we can make legitimate judgements as to what they are really like because as Luke 6:45 tells us, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.”   I John 4:5-6 builds on that same idea.  “They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.   We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.”  If they are living or teaching in way that goes contrary to God’s word, they are not of God.   

We must not fall into the habit of assuming everyone who claims to be a preacher or Christian really is.  Matthew 7:21-23 warns, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”  Even many of those with the biggest and best known ministries are not truly Christians despite their religious activities or speaking in tongues and doing miracles.  A far better indicator is their obedience to God’s word, as Jesus stresses, in Matthew 7:24-27. 

“Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.  And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27.

Quite simply, a person who is not obeying God’s word has founded their life on a lie that will be destroyed when judgment comes, no matter how impressive their credentials or record may appear.  A person who is acting in obedience has nothing to worry about, no matter how little of minor their accomplishments may seem.    We need to exercise discernment and discriminate between those who are truly of God and those who are just pretending to be.  

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Missing The Exit

As we go through the Sermon on the Mount, it is interesting to see how Jesus was teaching.  In chapter 5, he a group of areas which would result in blessing, in effect laying a foundation for what he would be teaching.  He  then addressed the various areas, laying out some basic principles about them, almost like a person building a log cabin, laying one log on each wall, then coming back around and laying on another log when the other walls are ready to support it, so that every teaching is firmly connected to those around them.  In Matthew 7:7-12, He returns to the subject of prayer. 

“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.  Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?  Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?  If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?  Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:7-12)

In the earlier discussion, he had stressed that prayer was not to be used to show off our spirituality, nor were we to think that God only listened if we shouted longer and louder than other people.  He said if we would just ask we would receive and that if we would make the effort, we would learn.   Just as a loving human father would see that his children had what they needed, a loving God can be expected to meet our needs.  By treating others properly and showing concern for them, we can demonstrate our faith in God to provide for us.  God wants to supply our needs, so we do not need to beg for his blessings, nor do we need to feel guilty for having what he gives us.  God gave it to us to enjoy, and we can share without giving away everything we have. 

Human nature seems always to go to the extremes, either focused on getting everything for themselves, or impoverishing themselves, being ultra-conservative, or ultra-liberal.  Neither extreme is good.  Matthew 7:13-14 tells us, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” 

Thousands of people drive down our interstate highways on vacation, going someplace like Las Vegas to have fun.  Along the way are hundreds of small exits leading to fascinating places, but most people are too focused on the traffic around them and which lane they need to be in to even notice the exits.  As a result they miss some of the most spectacular scenery and experiences, preferring to stay on the interstate.   Similarly, to experience life to the fullest is going to require turning off the path everyone else is taking and following a less popular way of life.   While we are arguing which lane we should be in, over such issues as which denomination or political party we should join, we miss the road that leads to eternal life.   We may get to Disney land or some other amusement park, but miss many things that would be far more enjoyable because we were unwilling to take the narrower and slower roads.  Sadly, many people are so focused on what they are doing they are unaware that they have missed anything and end up settling for far less than they could have enjoyed.   It really doesn’t matter whether you are in the right lane or the left lane if you miss the exit.    

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Judgement or Discernment?

Many times when we point out that something is wrong, people quote Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” and accuse us of being hypocritical for judging them.   Once again, they have not taken the time to see what the passage actually says.  We live in a world that puts a lot of stress on the first impression.    We judge people based on that first impression, or pre judge them, based on their race, gender, style of dress, and manner of speaking.   Such judgments are known as prejudice and is the kind of judgment Jesus is talking about here.     

Matthew 7:2-5 continues, “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.  And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?  Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?  Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.” 

We will be judged by the same standards we judged others, and to a similar degree.  Most of the time we judge others based on what we know about ourselves.  A habitual liar usually assumes everyone else is a liar, and a thief assumes others will steal if they get the chance.  Jesus said before we judge others about such things we need to address such problems in our own lives.  Frequently, we find that we are projecting our own attitudes on them rather than seeing what they are really like. Such prejudices lead to unjustified and unfair discrimination. 

Discrimination is not in itself a bad thing.  It simply means to recognize the differences between things, and make choices accordingly.   For example, we would discriminate between a drink of water and a glass of vinegar.   If we did not have the ability to discriminate, most people would not survive to adulthood.   We need to make sure that our discrimination is based on truth rather than unfounded prejudices.   While we can’t accurately tell what a person is like by their appearances, we can observe their actions and make at least an educated guess, as Matthew 7:20 tells us, “…by their fruits ye shall know them.”   
With this in mind, Jesus warned, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you,” in Matthew 7:6.  By observing the person’s behavior, we can get an idea of their attitude,, and Jesus said don’t waste your time trying to placate those who are only concerned with their own greed.   Like a pack of feral dogs or feral pigs fighting over some food, as soon as it is gone, they may turn and attack you.    It is worthwhile to learn to differentiate or discriminate between those who appreciate what they are given and those who are just out to get as much as they can as easily as possible.     

Many people see this as a contradiction with Matthew 5:38-42, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.  And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.  Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.”  It is not a contradiction but warning to be careful in our efforts to help others.  In their efforts to help all refugees, many countries are finding out they have allowed the destruction of their society, for example.   While we ought to go beyond the minimum to help others, there are limits as to how far we should go.  

Friday, December 22, 2017

Staying Focused On God

Many times when we think of being blessed the focus is on financial and physical things.  If we are struggling financially we feel God has forgotten us or that we are not doing what we should. False teachers reinforce that concept, using scriptures such as Psalm 37:4, “Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”   Others go in the opposite direction, impoverishing themselves in the belief that “money is the root of all evil.”    Unfortunately, this is a misquotation of I Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is the root of all evil…”  The Greek words actually say “Avarice (greed) is the root of all evil.” 

The problem is not money, but the attitude toward it, as Jesus points out in Matthew 6:19-25.  “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.  But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!  No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.  Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?”

Those physical things can all disappear at a moment’s notice, and none of them can be taken into eternity.  Our heart will be focused on the things that are most important to us.  As Jesus points out if a persons eyes work together, he has no difficulty seeing, but if they don’t work together and he is seeing double it is very hard for him to accomplish anything.  To succeed, he will be forced to block out what one eye sees, and the same thing happens to a person who tries to serve God while worrying about their physical wellbeing.    We can’t serve God while focused on worldly desires and goals. 

Matthew 6:26-30 continues, “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?  Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?  And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” 

God provides the food for every bird and wild animal.  Sometimes they have more than they can eat and other times just enough to get by, but they don’t worry about it and we shouldn’t either.  After all our worrying does not really change anything.  Even the bees and ants who carefully save up food for the winter don’t worry about having enough, but just collect what God supplies and trust him that it will be enough.  We spend vast amounts on having nice clothes, but some of the most beautiful flowers last only a single day.  Even the richest person cannot make things more beautiful than what God provides, so why do we worry so much about outdoing each other?  

We need to learn to just enjoy what we have right now, whether is a lot, or just a little.  Matthew 6:31-34 commands, “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?  (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.  But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.  Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” 

God knows exactly what we need.  He supplies for both the Christians and those who are not Christians.  We don’t need to worry that he doesn’t care, or that he doesn’t understand what we need.   He will supply for us just like he does for the birds and wild animals.  We shouldn’t feel guilty when he supplies more than we need, nor should we feel deprived when he just supplies enough for today. 

When Israel was in the wilderness, most days God just supplied enough manna for one day, but once a week, on Friday, he supplied twice as much.  The Jews were expected to save enough of the extra to last until Sunday.   Sometimes, when God gives extra, he expects us to save it for use in the future.  If we just give it away, we may end up going without because we didn’t take care of what he gave us.  We must learn to trust him whether we have a lot or just enough for today.  We must not let our situation distract us from seeking God and his will.                     

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Fasting In A Spiritual Way

Fasting has been an important activity among religious groups throughout history.  Several Native American tribes expected their young men to go into the wilderness and fast until they received a vision to guide their lives.  Unfortunately, doctors tell us that prolonged fasting produces accumulations of waste products in our system that result in symptoms similar to every known hallucinogenic drug.   The visions are the results of hallucinations, and often come from Satan rather than God.  Similar practices are found in religions around the world. 

The Pharisees and many other groups would agree to fast until a specific goal was accomplished, as we see in Acts 23:12.  “And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.”  Unfortunately some Christian groups have adopted a similar idea, encouraging one to fast until God answers your prayer.  Fasting in such a manner is essentially a hunger strike against God.  Such fasting does not please God.

Isaiah 58:2-7 deals with such fasting.  “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.  Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.

Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge?

Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.  Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.  Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?  Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?” 

God said they were not fast in an effort to get God to take action.  Instead they were to make the fast a period of putting God first, seeking to please him by eliminating sin and reaching out to others in love instead of focusing on what they wanted.  In Matthew 4:1 we find Jesus was deliberately led into the desert to be tempted by Satan.  “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.”  As a result of forty days without eating he was hungry and Satan hoped to use that hunger to gain power over him.  As we know Christ resisted that temptation.   There is a proper way of fasting, but unfortunately if not done for the proper reasons or in the right way, it can result in temptation and sin rather than spiritual growth.   Jesus warned about fasting in Matthew 6:16-18.

“Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.  But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” 

Like giving and prayer, fasting should be a private affair, done in secret. It should not be used as a means of impressing others with our spirituality.  When it is done properly, God will reward it, but when done for show, the only reward will be human accolades.  Too often people take pride in how much they fast and prostrate themselves before God, not realizing he loves us and we do not need to try to bribe him to act.  Our fasting ought to be like a little boy dropping his toys to run sit with his daddy, rather than a chore like cleaning his room.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

A Proper Attitude in Giving and Prayer

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has made it very clear that while it is important, simply meeting the standards of the law is not good enough to get anyone into heaven.  The scribes and Pharisees were very careful about their religious activities, but as Jesus said in Matthew 5:20, “…except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”  The Pharisees made a big deal about philanthropy and charitable giving.   Jesus pointed out that many of their efforts were not pleasing to God, in Matthew 6:1-4.    

“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.  Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.  But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.” 

When we give to show off or get approval from other people, it does not please God and he is not going to reward us for doing so.    It is easy for people to give vast amounts of money with no real concern for the people who receive it, and as I Corinthians 13:3 tells us, “…though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”  Without real love for the people, the giving is really meaningless.  Much of the charitable giving is solely for the purpose of getting some free advertising or or people’s admiration by having what they have given published.  The Pharisees frequently had a trumpet sound and a announcement made so everyone would know how much was given.  It was really no different than our charity auctions and phonethons today where the donors get special recognition and tax breaks for their gifts.  Giving that pleases God is concerned with helping the people, rather than impressing people, and is done privately.  God will reward that kind of philanthropy. 

Another area the Pharisees focused on was prayer.  Jesus addressed this subject in Matthew 6:5-8.  “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.” 

The Old Testament Law provided that the land could never be sold, and that at the year of jubilee it automatically reverted back to the original owners.  A few years before Jesus’ birth, the Pharisees and lawyers had decided that that interfered with their profits and declared that the land could be given to the renter if it was determined that it would be less profitable if it was returned to the original owners, much like the laws of eminent domain passed a few years ago in Congress.    As a result, rich businessmen, usually Pharisees were able to seize the property of widows and orphans, depriving them of the profits from their lands.  They would then pray long prayers for the poor to be helped to impress others how much they cared about the poor they had ripped off, as Jesus describes 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.” 

Another mistake was that they often had the same attitude toward God as the heathen had, that he didn’t really care about people, only responding if they continued to nag at him for hours, or if their prayers were worded just right.  As a result, they used specially written prayers so they could be sure it was said just right, and repeated the same prayers over and over in hopes of getting God’s attention.  In the parable about the unjust judge who anwered the widow’s request to stop her nagging. Jesus makes the point that God is not like that unjust judge, and does not need to be nagged.    Romans 8:26-27 makes it clear that we don’t have to worry about saying things just the right way because the Holy spirit will correct our mistakes and put it in terms god understands.  “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.” 

Much of the popular teaching about prayer implies either that God doesn’t care about people, or that he doesn’t understand ordinary words.  We are not to pray in such a manner if we want God to bless us.  In Matthew 6:9-13 Jesus gave a very simple model of how we should pray.  “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 the focus Is on who God is and what he wants, rather than on getting what we want.  It acknowledges his as the Holy God of the universe whose will is most important. It then asks that our daily needs be met, and recognizes our sin, asking that we be forgiven and committing to forgive those who wrong us.  Finally it asks for guidance to keep us from falling into temptation. Recognizing God is the eternal king and judge.    Matthew 6:14-15 warns against holding grudges.  “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  If we are not willing to recognize our own sinful nature and forgive others, God will not forgive us either.   I John 1:8-10m tells us, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”  A refusal to forgive others implies we are more perfect than they are.  Without a proper attitude our giving and prayers are wasted.  

Monday, December 18, 2017

Honesty and Meekness

One of the big misconceptions is that if people are good enough and obey God’s commands, they will be saved.  Romans 3:19-20 contradicts that belief.  “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.  Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”  The purpose of the Law was not to show how to be saved, but to make people aware that they had gone too far.  It’s like a fifteen mile an hour speed limit in a school zone.    While there may not be any kids in the way, if you exceed the limit, you are still breaking the law and may receive a ticket because the maximum speed allowed is fifteen miles an hour through that zone.  It really doesn’t matter whether you think a higher speed would be safe or not, you are still breaking the law if you go faster, and when kids are present even that may be too fast.  The law established the maximum limit, but what is actually required is much different. 

In Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus used the example of making promises and taking an oath to convince people of one’s sincerity.   “Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.  Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.  But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” 

In our day there is lot of emphasis on having a document notarized and witnessed to probe that one means to keep his promise, and people still try to wiggle out of fulfilling the obligation.  Under the law, they were required to fulfill their contract, but Jesus said the standard is much stricter than that.  There should be no need for such an oath or contract, but just a simple promise should be enough.  We have little or no control over what we try to door the things we might base our oath, so we ought not use them.  The very act of swearing or signing a contract implies we are not committed to keeping our promise or that we do not trust the other person.  We need to remember that Revelation 21:8 says, “…all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”  It doesn’t matter whether you signed a contract or took an oath or not.  You are still obligated to do what you said.   

  Under Roman law, soldiers and law officers were permitted to use physical force against those who opposed them, and were permitted to force a person to carry their equipment or take his coat for their own use within certain limits.    Under Jewish law, a person had the right to be recompensed for any loss they might suffer, and the Jews regularly took offense when people ignored their rights.  In Matthew 5:38-42, Jesus said they should not insist on getting their rights.  “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.  And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.  Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.”

Insisting on one’s rights and opposing the injustices would cause even more conflict between the two cultures., and the Romans ruled over Israel.  Ecclesiastes 10:4  tells us yielding can reduce those conflicts.  “If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee, leave not thy place; for yielding pacifieth great offences. “    While it doesn’t always solve the problem, we can trust God to take care of it if they don’t back off.  Romans 12:18-21 instructs us, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.  Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.  Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.  Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”  

Jesus continued along the same line in Matthew 5:43-48.  “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.  But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?  And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?  Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” 

People tend to react in the same way they are treated.  By treating those who do like us in a kind and friendly manner, we can often change their attitude toward us, no matter how far gone and wicked we may consider them.   God treats all people equally,, and if we want to be like him we will need to do the same.  Instead of demanding they respect our rights, we need to respect theirs.  When we do, we increase the likelihood they will respect ours.  Unfortunately some people will not respect other peoples rights anyway.   This does not mean we just lay down and let them walk all over us.   As Romans 12:18 said, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. “  We need to make the effort, but if they refuse we are not obligated to give them everything they demand.  At the same time, we must not be selfish if we wish to please God.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Sexual Attitudes

When we understand that being godly in not simply a matter of keeping the law, but about having a new spirit or attitude, we begin to understand that those laws only indicate what the attitudes should be, and are not themselves the ultimate measure of righteousness.   As we saw in the previous study, it is not good enough just to not kill someone, we need to have a different attitude, so that we don’t want to kill them.  The same is true in many other areas of life, as we shall see.

In Matthew 5:27-30, Jesus said, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.  And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.  And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” 

How many people look at an attractive person and fantasize about having a relationship with them, feeling very righteous because they would never act on their fantasy in real life.  Jesus said mentally they have committed adultery even though they haven’t done so physically.  It is only a small step from fantasy to the physical sin, and the world constantly places suggestive images in front of us, whether in advertising, in popular fashions, in jokes, in stories and in pictures.  Many people indulge in pornography, or other sexual sin in the belief they have to have sex, even quoting to Genesis 2:18, “And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone…” to justify their sin.   In reality, they are no different than the drug addict or alcoholic who tells himself he has to have another hit of their chosen chemical to be happy.   Jesus said if there is a part of your body you can’t control, it would be better to have them surgically removed than to face God’s judgment because you didn’t control it.   

Today, many people get a divorce in hopes they can find someone else who will be more satisfactory and easier to get along with.    In Matthew 5:31-32, Jesus warned, “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” 

While the Old Testament Law allowed a person to legally divorce their mate and Marry someone else, Jesus said that in reality they were still committing adultery, and that whoever married a divorced person was also committing adultery.   In Matthew 19:7-9 the Pharisees questioned why there was a difference between what Jesus taught and what the Law said.  “They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?

 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.  And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” 

God had never intended people to divorce and remarry.  Unfortunately people are often stubborn and selfish, and in order to enable them to get along in this life God allowed them to divorce.  Nevertheless they were still committing adultery if they remarried and their mate was not guilty of physical sexual sin.    Under the Old Testament law, anyone committing adultery was to be executed, so while the law might permit a person to remarry, they were still not meeting God’s standard.  As Jesus said, in Matthew 5:20, “…except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”    Just keeping the law isn’t good enough.  

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Resolving Conflicts

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes a very strong point that getting into heaven in not simply a matter of fulfilling a set of rules, but of having a new holy nature.  One of the demonstrations of that new nature is a new attitude.   In our day road rage incidents and school or workplace shootings often leave people dead.  Constant efforts are made to eliminate the guns so that it will be more difficult to kill.  History shows such an approach is ineffective, because people can always find a way of killing.  

In Matthew 5:21-22, Jesus addressed this very issue.  “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” 

In Genesis 9:5-6 God commanded, “And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man.  Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.”   The same standard was demanded by the Old Testament law in Leviticus 24:17.  “And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death.”  It is important to understand that the words translated kill that are used in this passage mean to murder or knowingly act in way that puts a person’s life in danger.    

If a person accidentally killed someone, he could go into one of the cities of refuge for protection to escape the death penalty.  At the city of refuge he would be tried and if he could show the death was not intentional, he would be allowed to remain, but if he ever left the city he could be executed on the spot.  If it was shown that it was in fact murder, the city of refuge was to execute the guilty party.  The death penalty was the required penalty for murder while manslaughter called for an automatic life sentence.  Thus, even an accidental death could place one’s life in jeopardy, as Jesus said. 

Jesus said that the judgment of God runs much deeper than just physically killing a person.  He said that to be angry without a valid reason deserved the same sentence because as John 3:15 tells us, “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer…”  It is the very attitude that leads to the road rage and mass shootings we see today.  Denigrating terms such as raca, “you worthless trash” may result in lawsuits, but referring to a person as being a fool who is incapable of learning demonstrates an attitude that has no respect for the person.  Such comments reinforce the attitude of disrespect and inflame hatred toward others.   

This is so important that In Matthew 5:23-26, Jesus said, “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.  Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.  Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.”  

Conflicts with others clearly indicate an unspiritual attitude as I Corinthians 3:3 tells us.  “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?”  No matter how much a person may claim to serve God, I John 4:20 warns, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”    We need to address those conflicts so that they do not hinder our relationship with God.  As Jesus warned, if we don’t resolve them they will eventually cost us everything. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Blessed By Persecution

It is interesting that the passage from Matthew 5:3 -12is called the beatitudes, referring to their blessed promises, especially since they refer to the person’s attitude.  Verse 11 spoke of the blessings of one who is persecuted for doing right.  In Matthew 5:11-12, Jesus expands on that point, making it very personal.   “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.  Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”  Christians are blessed when people persecute them and slander them for following Christ.   The key is that they be persecuted for doing what is right, not for doing what is wrong.     I Peter 4:14-15 tells us, “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.  But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters.” 

When we are persecuted for doing right, it indicates that we are having an impact on those around us, influencing people’s actions, much like salt kills bacteria in food.  Matthew 5:13, tells us, “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” A Christian that no longer presents a contrast to the world’s attitudes in like salt that has lost its flavor.  It no longer serves any useful purpose. 

Jesus then uses a another analogy in Matthew 5:14-16.  “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.   Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Mt 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”  Like a light, a righteous example enables people to see what is wrong in their own lives.  If the light is exposed it can be seen from a distance, but if it is covered up to avoid persecution, it serves no useful purpose. 

Unfortunately many think that Christianity results in new standard of what is right and wrong.  Matthew 5:17-20 makes it clear this is not true.  “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.  For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.  Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” 

The standard of right and wrong listed in the Old Testament will remain in effect as long as this present world remains exactly as written.  Christ did not destroy the law, but he fulfilled it, and in him we can fulfill it as well.  Because we meet the requirements of the law through Christ, Romans 10 :4 tells us, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”  For those who have not believed in him and met the requirements through him, the law is still in effect.  Those who ignore even the most insignificant of God’s laws will and tach others to ignore them will have little or no rewards or respect in eternity, but those who practice them will be richly rewarded.  Just keeping the law like the scribes and Pharisees will not be enough to get anyone into heaven.  It will require a whole new attitude that comes from the Holy Spirit coming into our lives as a result of believing in Christ.  In the next few verses, Jesus will compare the law with the attitude that will be required.  

Friday, December 8, 2017

Attitudes God Blesses

One of the biggest mistakes people make is believing that the Christian life is about following as set of religious rules.  When we examine Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, we see that he is teaching us to have the proper attitude.   Improper behavior indicates an ungodly attitude.   He starts by describing proper attitudes that God rewards in Matthew 5:2-10.   Later he describes some of the behaviors that result from our attitudes.   Let’s start by examining those attitudes. 

“And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:2-3)   Christ is not talking about being physically or financially poor, but about having an attitude of total dependence upon God.  These are the ones who will be in heaven,  Just going without does not result in special blessings, as many seem to believe. 

“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)  We live in a world that is focused on having a good time.  God promises comfort to those who take a realistic view of the world and its wickedness.  They are not just people who feel sad and depressed because things happened they didn’t like.   God will comfort those who are concerned about things that are evil.
“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5) Meekness is the attitude of not being focused on one’s own pride, or desires.  It goes beyond just being humble.   God will give everything to those who are willing to yield to other people rather than demanding their own way.

“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” “Matthew 5:6)  Those who actively seek to do what is right, to obey God will have experience the closeness and satisfaction of a personal relationship with God. 

“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)  Those who are willing to forgive will receive God’s forgiveness. 

“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)   Those who have a pure heart attitude will have the privilege of getting to know God personally.  Those who are just going through the motions, following the rules will never get to really know him. 

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)  Those who actively seek to avoid and prevent conflicts Will be recognized as being from God and will be blessed for their efforts, earning respect from those around them. 

“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10)  Those who allow themselves to be slandered and mocked for obeying God are blessed because they are God’s children and will live with him.

These attitudes please God, and he rewards those who have them.  Although different words are used, they are essentially the attitudes Galatians 5:22-23 tells us the Holy Spirit produces in Christians.   “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance…”   Jesus went into greater detail about these attitudes in Matthew 5:11-7:29.  

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Don’t Get Caught Up In Fads And Debates

The God who created the world already knew that mankind would sin and rebel against him and devised a plan whereby we could be saved, at great cost to himself because he loved us.  Our salvation is completely about his love for us, not about our goodness, or even our love for him.  It is part of his long term plan, not a spur of the moment decision on his part.   He is not going to drop us because we failed to live up to his expectations.  We don’t have to earn his love.  Instead, we demonstrate our appreciation for his love by our obedience.   The result will be a closer relationship with God. 

Titus 3:8 advises us to make the effort to obey God.  “This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.”  The things that he commands will make life here on earth much more satisfactory, as well as earning rewards for eternity. 

We need to be careful to avoid the popular religious fads and arguments, however.     Titus 3:9-11 advises, “But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.  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.”   Debates over how many angels could dance on the head of a pin, or where Cain got his wife are foolish questions serving only distract from more important matters.  Many times the answers such as where Cain got his wife can be inferred from the scriptures if one bothers to look, while others, such as how many angels can dance on the head of a pin are completely frivolous and without merit. 

Our ancestry has only limited impact on what a person does in life.  A child raised in a godly home can rebel and go into drugs or crime, while a person who was raised by horrible parents can choose to do what is right.  Genetics may control one’s physical characteristics, but he chooses his own attitude, although he is influenced by those around him.  Our ancestry has no relevance to whether we serve God or not. 

Religious debates and disagreements over what the scriptures mean almost invariably result from accepting someone else’s interpretation of scripture rather than from study of the scriptures themselves.  Wasting our time arguing about them prevents us from studying the scriptures for ourselves, and doesn’t really change the other person’s beliefs.   If person insists on clinging to a false belief after being shown what the scriptures say, we should simply walk away, realizing that their unwillingness to accept what the scriptures say indicates they are following someone besides God, putting them in God’s place.   

God does not change his opinion regardless who believes it or who doesn’t.  Wasting our time trying to change their minds only distracts others from the truth.  II Timothy 2:13-warns, “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.  Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.”  By arguing with them we give them the appearance of legitimacy.  

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Building A Proper Relationship With God

It is critical that we set the proper example of obedience before other Christians so that they can experience the blessings of God in their lives.   If we want to build a good relationship with another person, we must show an interest in them personally, treating them with respect, avoiding things they may find offensive and showing interest in things they like.  If we are so wrapped up in what we are doing we have no time for them, or show a lack of respect, they soon feel unwelcome and stop trying to connect.  The same thing happens in our relationship with God.   

In John 14:21-23, Jesus said, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.  

 Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?

Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”  If we show no interest in his things, we will never experience an intimate relationship with God because we are so caught up in ourselves.

If we want an intimate relationship with him, we are going to have to lay aside the focus on our own wants and accept respond to him.  Titus 2:11-14 points out how badly he wants to connect with us.  “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”  As much as he desires to show his love for us, he cannot unless we are willing to respond to him. 

As teachers and pastors, we need to encourage people to respond to god so that they can develop  that intimate relationship with God.  Titus 2:15-3:4 points out the attitudes people need to have if they are to develop that intimate relationship.  “These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.   Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, showing all meekness unto all men.  For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.   We were no different than other people, and no more deserving of God’s love.  Instead of judging them, we need to concentrate on our own behavior, as Romans 14:13 commands.  “Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.”

Titus 3:4-7 reminds us our salvation was not the result of any special goodness on our part.  “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”   We deserved judgment just as much as the worst criminals, because we really were no different, but because God was willing to show mercy, forgiving those who would acknowledge their sin and accept Christ’s sacrifice for it, we were saved.  Our salvation was accomplished by his washing our sin just as regenerating a battery requires eliminating residue that prevents it from accepting an electrical charge.     Once that regeneration is accomplished, a full charge can be delivered and the battery is once again useable, but the battery is incapable of regenerating itself. 

Until we have been cleaned out and a fresh surface exposed, We cannot accept the Holy Spirit’s working in us, and as long as sin remains it limits our ability to accept his working, just as incomplete generation prevents the battery from receiving a full charge.  By setting the proper example and encouraging proper attitudes, we can help people develop a proper relationship with God.      

Monday, December 4, 2017

Teaching By Example

People tend to assume others are just like themselves morally.  A thief assumes everyone else steals, and a liar assumes everyone else is lying.  Today we see this being played out in American politics, with accusations being flung about in the media and by one party about the president.  As time goes on, investigations keep turning up more evidence against the accusers than against the accused, both about sexual misconduct, and about Russian collusion.  We see the same thing in the religious world.  

Titus 1:15-16 states, “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.  They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.”    People begin to imagine an evil intent on the part of others, and accusing others of wrong doing who had no such intention, simply because they know what they might do if they had the chance.  They automatically assume the worst in a situation and try to make rules to prevent any possible opportunity for sin.   Closer examination invariably reveals that they do the same or worse things themselves, hoping the accusations and rules will divert attention away from their own sin. 

Titus 2:1-2 advises Titus to focus on the things that are right, that go along with sound doctrine rather than focusing on what is wrong.  “But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience.”  For example, He should encourage the older men to be serious minded and thoughtful, exercising self-control and developing solid faith in God, rather than just talking about it.  They need to learn to really love people, not just giving money or hugs, but really caring about the person.  They need to learn to be patient with those who are younger and less mature. 

He needs to encourage the older women to set a proper example for the younger women, as Titus 2:3-5 states.  “The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.”  The younger women need to see examples of women who take care of their own business rather than meddling in other people’s and have developed a loving and happy relationship with their own husbands and children.  The greatest impact will come from the best examples. 

Too often we expect people to do what we tell them without setting a proper example.  Such hypocrisy is really frustrating for young people.   Titus 2:6-8 directs Titus to set the example for the young men.  “Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded.  In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.”  He needs to live a life that is above reproach as an example for the younger men to follow.  He also needs to set an example in his doctrinal stance, not going along with false teachings.  He needs to demonstrate a thoughtful, sincere attitude, being careful what he says so that there is no doubt as to the truth of what he says.  When young people have proper examples, it is much easier for them to respond properly.     

He needs to encourage employees to have a proper attitude toward their jobs as well.  Titus 2:9-commands, “Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again; Not purloining, but showing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.”  Employees need to learn to be respectful to their employers, doing their job to the best of their ability, and not stealing from him, either by taking things without permission or doing one’s own thing on company time.  He needs to be faithful to his contract in order to maintain a proper Christian testimony on the job. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Qualified Leaders

The churches on Crete had been started by other Christians.  Many of those involved in starting the churches were Jews who had been saved, but were driven out of Israel before they were firmly grounded in the scriptures and still clung to the Jewish traditions, not understanding that while Christianity has some things in common, it is not just an extension of the Jewish religion.  In effect, they were Messianic Jews, living in non-Jewish communities, rather than Christians.  As a result, their teachings were a confusing mix of Jewish and local traditions.   Titus 1:5-6 explains why Titus had been left behind on Crete.   “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. “    He would need to help them get their doctrine (teachings) corrected, and train leaders who would be able to teach and lead the churches properly. 

It impossible to teach others what one to do what one cannot do himself.  Thus, it is critical that the pastor (also called a bishop or elder) be able to do what he is trying to teach the people to do.  Titus 1:7-9 describes the qualifications he must have.  “For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.” 

If the person is to succeed as a leader setting the moral example, he needs to have a reputation for honesty and sexual purity.    He needs to be meek, not demanding his own way, respecting the opinions and needs of others.  He needs to have patience, not getting angry when people do not do what he thinks they should.  He must not spend his time drinking or partying.  Money must not be a major concern for him.  He needs to be a person who likes having people around, associating himself with those who do what is right.  He needs to be serious minded, and fair in the way he treats people, living a godly lifestyle.  He must be able to control himself, emotionally, financially, and morally.  Finally, he must have a firm grasp and respect for the scriptures in order to prevent people from beilng lead away by false teachers.   

This last qualification is especially important, because as Peter pointed out, there are going to be false teachers in every group.  Titus 1:10-11 warns, “For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake.”  There were many who held to various religious traditions, but some of the most dangerous to the church were those who clung to the Jewish traditions, because they resembled what Christians believe, but place the emphasis on human actions rather than faith in Christ. 

Those who have not been properly taught are especially susceptible to such teachings, and the people of Crete were no exceptions.  Titus 1:12 tells us, “One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.”   The culture was such that the people of Crete thought nothing of lying about things.  They simply followed their own natural lusts and instincts with no thought as to whether something was right or wrong, and were very slow to change.    To bring them to a truly Christian attitude would require careful, consistent teaching as Titus 1:13-14 advises.  “This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.”   

Many missionaries who worked with the Navajos accepted the idea that alcoholism was a disease that the Navajos could not overcome.  Because the evangelists and pastors continued to drink alcoholism was a major problem, even among the churches.  Missionaries who took a strong stand had a hard time getting pastors at first, but gradually the problem decreased in their churches.  Similarly, churches that do not take a strong stand for biblical standards soon find themselves accepting false doctrines.  Paul warns Titus it will be necessary to take a strong stand against traditions and manmade ideas that focus attention away from what God commanded.    It is essential that the church leaders be solidly grounded spiritually so that they can take such a stand.    If not, the Christians will never grow to be what God intended. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Stay True To The Word

Paul advised Timothy to get rid of unsound doctrines, realizing that they would only cause confusion and lead to division and acceptance of sin in the church.  The teachers that teach them are not focused on God, but their own benefit and are to be avoided, as Romans 16:17-18 warns.  “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.” 

One of the things to look at in trying to decide if a teacher is worth listening to is the results of their teaching in their personal lives and those of their family.  Far too often the public persona is completely different than the person’s home life.  Hebrews 13:7 advises, “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.”  Paul had been very open about his life with the people, and Timothy was very familiar with how he lived. 

II Timothy 3:10-11 reminds Timothy of what he knew about Paul.  “But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me.”  Timothy was very familiar with Paul’s teachings, but he also knew how he lived each day in private and what his purpose was.  He had seen Paul’s faith demonstrated repeatedly, aqnd his endurance and patience when people did not do what he hoped.  He also knew how unpopular Paul was and how often he was attacked, as well as his daily struggles with health issues, in town after town, yet Paul did not give up.  Thanks to God, he was able to fulfill his ministry despite the problems. 

Timothy needed to be aware that he would face similar struggles.   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.”   Every Christian who allows the Holy Spirit to lead him will suffer persecution.  In Matthew 5:11-12, Jesus said, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.  Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”  The persecution will increase as people turn farther from God. and we are warned that they will.  We need to be worried when Satan and his followers do not attack, because that implies a person is not living a godly life.   As long as people do not serve God, Satan doesn’t bother them very much because he doesn’t want them to go looking for something better. 

We learn to handle struggles by observing other people, and leaders who never seem to have struggles present a distorted idea of what it means to be a Christian.  To be an effective witness people need to see us in real life situations so they can see our faith in action.  There are no perfect people, who have no problems, so anyone who presents such a fa├žade is faking it.   Unfortunately many have been convinced that people will lose respect if they see flaws in a leader. 

We are not to let the persecutions and trial discourage us.  II Timothy 3:14-17 commands, “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  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 perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”    We should continue to follow the scriptures, knowing how they came about and understanding they tell us what God wants.

Our obedience is evidence of our love, as John 14:21 tells us.  “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”  In order to obey, it will be necessary to study the scriptures.  If we will make the effort to study and obey them, we will receive an awareness of God’s presence in our life.   In the process of eliminating false beliefs, we need to be careful we don’t throw out scriptural teachings.   All scripture is given by God and is valuable for teaching us how to please God.   

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Human Nature Is Not Good

Contrary to popular belief, people are inherently wicked, as Genesis 6:5 tells us.  “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”   God established certain standards of right and wrong, but over the centuries different groups have modified those standards, sometimes almost eliminating them.   Genesis 6:11 describes what happens when people are allowed to freely follow their natural instincts.  “The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.”    

In recent years, the old taboos and moral standards have been relaxed, with the result the world is again approaching the state described in Genesis 6:11.   Paul warned us that this would happen in II Timothy 3:1-5.  “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.”

As a result of that unrestrained inherent wickedness, people become totally selfish.   Wanting everything for free, boasting about accomplishments of little value, and too proud to admit they are no better than others.  They do not hesitate to slander other people, and have no respect for their parents.  They do not appreciate what they have received. And have little or no moral restraints.  They have no natural love, not hesitating to kill or abort their own babies and indulging in sexual perversions such as homosexuality, adultery, and rape.  They cannot be trusted, and do not hesitate to lie about others.  They exercise no self-control and are cruel to others, hating anything that stands for right, stealing from and destroying even their own friends and relatives.  They consider themselves smarter and more deserving than others, never admitting they are wrong.  They are far more interested in having a good time than in knowing what God wants.  They may be very religious, but they don’t allow it to interfere with their everyday lives, setting their own standards of right and wrong, in effect setting themselves up as God.    

As Paul warns, we need to avoid associating with such people.  II Timothy 3:6-7 warns that they pose a serious threat to weak Christians.  “For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  They prey on people’s gullibility and ignorance, scamming them and playing on their lusts to get money, sex, and fame by constantly promising the next book or seminar or level will give them what they want. 

They are just like the magicians in Exodus 7-9, trying to convince Pharaoh and the Egyptians they were as powerful as God, as Paul mentions in II Timothy 3:8-9.  “Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.  But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was.”   

Despite their conviction that they can do as they please and do not have to answer to God,  their foolishness will soon be revealed, Just like those magicians. Who were able to fake the miracles for a little while but in Exodus 8:18-19, they were forced to admit they were nto as powerful.   “And the magicians did so with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not: so there were lice upon man, and upon beast.  Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God…”  For a short time they may seem to have everything their way, but ultimately the truth will be known.   Human nature will never attain God’s power and authority, even when cloaked in psychology and religious traditions.  To think human nature can override God’s plan is to think we are greater than God.   Galatians 6:7-8 warns, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.  For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”    We can’t let our human nature control us if we want to please God.  

Monday, November 27, 2017

Get Rid Of Things You No Longer Use

I Thessalonians 5:21 commands, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”  As we saw in the previous post, we need to do some spiritual housecleaning, getting rid of false teachings and worldly traditions if we are to be fitted for the Lord’s use.   Otherwise we become spiritual hoarders, so hemmed in by all the rules and false teachings we are unable to actually serve God or enjoy spending time with the Lord because we are so worried about doing something wrong and offending him. 

While we are cleaning house there are some other things like shoes or clothes that we don’t use, that need to be gotten rid of as well.  Why hang on to things we will probably never use when we could exchange them for something we need or could enjoy?  Even if we can’t sell them, getting rid of them will give us a place to put things we do need.    II Timothy2:22 tells us, “Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”  Those old childish desires and cravings are part of the old, natural man and no longer fit the new man.  We need to replace them with things that are becoming to a Christian, that go along with a walk with Christ.   For example, a sinful lifestyle implies we don’t really know the Lord, as I John 3:10 tells us.  “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God…”   Instead, we ought to live in accordance with God’s standard of what is right.  We need to live by faith, because Hebrews 11:6 tells us, “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.”  Love is critical to our Christian life, as I John 4:7-8 tells us.  “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.  He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”  We need to learn to love people, and to live at peace, with ourselves, with other people, and with God.   All these things are part of the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-23. 

We are surrounded by debates over which Bible we should use, or what style of music or service a church should have, or when the Lord will return, etc.  Many of the debates are not relevant, and others are simply the result of a lack of study of the scriptures.   II Timothy 2:23-26 tells us not to get caught up in these debates.  “But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.   And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.”  

These debates just result in conflict between Christians.  As Christians we are not to be fighting among ourselves, but to go out of our way to build up and strengthen the Christians.  We are to patiently teach them the truth, not trying to impose our will or beliefs, even when they are clearly in the wrong.  Instead of trying to change them ourselves, we are to allow God to make the changes so that they escape Satan’s tricks.  In our efforts to force change, we may well drive them into Satan’s clutches.  Instead of trying to prove we are right, we should walk away and let the Holy Spirit work.  If he can’t get them to change we surely can’t, and there’s no use trying to do his job.  

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Doctrinal House Cleaning

The founder of a famous Bible college and seminary used to tell his students the easiest way to draw a crowd was to start a fight.  We see this principle applied in many areas of life today, from political parties and protest groups to religious and business organizations.  Many of the controversies of history have arisen as a result of someone deliberately starting a fight over some relatively unimportant issue.  Luther is often credited with starting the Reformation, but in reading his ninety five theses, I was struck by the fact that initially his main complaint was that the Catholic Church in Rome was requiring the local parishes to send so much of the money they collected to Rome for the construction of St. Peters that the local parishes were being left destitute.  When Rome retaliated, he began to study the scriptures in an effort to defend his position, with the result that his doctrine changed dramatically.  Unfortunately, what drew the crowds was the conflict, rather than his doctrine.  Sadly, people still view conflict as exciting. 

Paul gives numerous warnings about such conflict. Pointing out in I Corinthians 3:3 that it is evidence of a carnal, unspiritual mindset.  Many times the conflicts arise over the meanings of certain words in passage of scripture.  II Timothy 2:14 warns that rather than drawing people closer to God, such arguments drive them away.  “Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.” I Timothy 6:4 describes the attitude of those involved and such arguments, and the results of those disputes.  “He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.”  While it might be the easiest way to gather a crowd, it counterproductive as far as producing strong Christians. 

II Timothy 2:15-19 tells us how to avoid getting caught up in such debates and conflicts.  “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.  But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.  And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus;  Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.  Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” 

We need to take the time to study the scriptures thoroughly, keeping in mind that as II Peter 1:20-21 tells us, no passage of scripture is to be interpreted in a way that contradicts other scriptures.   “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.  For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”  Simply taking the time to find out what the scriptures say will eliminate all the disputes except for a few minor questions of semantics, or how we express the same principle. 

We need to avoid being sucked in to the profane or worldly and meaningless debates, because they are about building a person or group’s reputation rather than about learning the truth.  The conflicts will cause constant irritation like a canker sore, encouraging people to ignore things God has actually said.  God’s word does not change to fit the newest doctrinal fad, but remains exactly the same.   Some of those who adopt the fads are not really Christians at all, but fortunately God knows who is and who isn’t.  God’s people need to obey him, not just go along with the false teachers. 

In a modern home there are containers that have tremendous value, such as the dishes and cooking utensils.   Others such as used plastic fruit containers and bags need to be thrown away, there are teachings in the church who are of great value and others that just get in the way of spiritual growth.  This is the illustration Paul used in II Timothy 2:20-21.  “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour.  If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work.”  If we throw out the garbage, then our house will be much more satisfactory for God to live in.  

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Committed To Christ

If we are to remain faithful to God we must make a commitment to obey his word and trust him.  This will not always be easy, as II Timothy 3:12 warns us.  “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”   Sometimes, it seems hopeless to keep on serving God.  II Timothy 2:3-5 instructs, “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.  No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.  And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.”

A new enlistee in the army has to go through basic training to give him the mental and physical toughness to face the situations he may face on the battlefield.  In the same way, Christians need to develop a mental and spiritual toughness to face the persecutions and attacks by Satan and ungodly men in this world.   Like the soldier, we must be ready to drop everything else to concentrate on serving God, and like an athlete competing for a prize, we must follow the rules, in this case God’s guidelines if we expect to receive the rewards for serving him. 

Before we can teach others to trust God or to walk in the Spirit, we have to experience it ourselves, as II Timothy 2:6 reminds us.  “The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits.”  If the farmer has never eaten properly, or if he doesn’t eat the fruits of what he produces, he will be unable do the work required.   We will not have the mental and spiritual toughness we need to withstand the persecution and privations we face, until we experience them, and we will definitely be unable to teach others to have such toughness.  .   

Much as we might prefer to avoid the trials, they are just as necessary if we are to serve god as it is for the soldier to go through basic training.    Without those experiences we have no understanding what it means to truly trust or serve God.   The trials we face are critical for us to learn to trust him.  II Timothy 2:7-10 tells us, “Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things.  Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel: Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.  Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” 

Jesus, God’s own son had to go through the suffering of death to accomplish God’s purpose, as Hebrews 5:7-10 tells us.   “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.”  If he had to go through such suffering to serve God, we ought not to think we are too good to go through similar suffering.  Matthew 10:24 tells us, “The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord.”   We are not better than the Lord.

Jesus was exalted to the right hand of God and made our salvation possible because he willingly suffered those things.  If we are to receive God’s blessings and rewards, we must be willing to suffer the trials he gives us.  II Timothy 2:11-14 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.  Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.” 

Those who remain faithful even in suffering will receive the rewards he has promised.  Those who by their actions deny him will miss their rewards.  God is going to do what he said, whether we believe it or not.  He will not change to satisfy our ideas.  I Corinthians 3:13-15 tells us, “Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.  If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.  If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”   We need to be very careful in teaching others, to make sure they understand these principles, because arguments about what God meant serve no useful purpose for christians serving only to subvert or draw people away from the truth.