Sunday, June 28, 2015

First Steps

 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.    1 John 1:9  NKJV

The past few weeks the Spirit has been leading me to explore the true meaning of being a believer in Christ, and what is expected of us when we make that decision to accept His gift to us and begin to follow Him.  Last week we examined the meaning of Paul’s instruction to Titus that he should adorn the doctrine of God.  I mentioned the importance of checking our spiritual makeup, and to be honest, as I did so it occurred to me mine could use a little work, so to speak.  So, more than willing to admit I was not familiar with applying makeup, I did the logical thing and called one of my daughters for advice.

Although it might seem logical to some, the first step is the most important one and that is to make sure your face is as clean as you can get it.  As I considered that, the first thing that came to my mind, especially because I don’t use makeup, was the paint job I attempted to do on my truck a few years ago.  My truck is what you might call a “project” truck, which I have been working to restore since I purchased it.  When the time came to paint, I did the body work, sanded and primed the surface, and finally applied the paint.  I must admit it turned out better than I imagined and I received more than a few compliments.  So imagine my surprise and consternation when after six months or so the paint began to bubble and flake off!

I deliver parts to a few body shops in town as part of my job, so I humbly confessed my problems to them and the explanation from all of them was the same.  Before I painted, I neglected to wash off the truck to remove all of the residue which might have been left over from my preparation work.  You see, without being perfectly clean, the paint would not stick.  Our spiritual makeup works the same.  We start out by confessing our sins to the Father and He in turn promises to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  Trying to put on spiritual makeup, without first confessing our sin and becoming a true believer, might give a good appearance but will eventually fall off and what is really underneath will be exposed.

For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  1 Corinthians 3:11  NKJV

According to my daughter, the second step in putting on your makeup is to apply what is generally called the “foundation”.  Now I may not be familiar with applying makeup, but I do know a thing or two about building and construction.  My father was a part-time carpenter as was my grandfather before him. My first real job was as a carpenter's apprentice, and I have worked as a carpenter off and on my entire life. So it goes without saying that I enjoy the fact that Jesus was a carpenter, especially if you consider that God chose for Him to be born to a carpenter rather than to an earthly father with any other trade.

One of the very first things I learned as a carpenter was how important the foundation is to whatever it is you intend to build. What could be called the carpenter's golden rule is that you must have a strong, perfectly level foundation on which to build. Working as a framer on many large housing projects gave me ample opportunity to build on foundations others had laid, and I can tell you from experience that a poor foundation affects the entire construction process. I'm sure that Jesus was well aware of this rule, and I think it comes as no surprise that it is reflected in what Jesus had to say about building His Church.

“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: “and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.    Matthew 7:24-25  NKJV

"And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.    Matthew 16:18 NKJV

As we consider our spiritual makeup, the foundation we build on, which is what everything else rests on, is our faith in the person of Jesus Christ and our acceptance of His sacrifice for our sin. If our foundation is flawed, it will affect everything else we may try to apply.  Jesus tells us two things here. One, the foundation of His church is built upon a rock so strong that not even Satan can move it. Two, He tells us exactly what that foundation is and if we look back just two verses we see what Jesus is referring to;

Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."  Matthew 16:16 NKJV

You see, the Church is made up of those who choose to believe that Jesus was, and is the Son of God. When an individual chooses to accept this fact, and acknowledges that Jesus died for their sins, they then become “Christians”, or one of those who believe that Jesus was indeed the Son of God sent to this earth to die for our sins, and to then rise from the dead so that we too could have eternal life. From that point on, the true believer seeks to follow all that we are taught by the Word and by the Holy Spirit. Jesus describes His followers this way;

"Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: "He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock.      Luke 6:47,48 NKJV

Unfortunately, Satan has done a very good job in creating flawed foundations for the world to choose from. Have you watched the news lately?  There are those today who seem to want to alter, or modify the very foundation God has laid for us. Yet the Word of God makes it clear that there is only one foundation strong enough to stand for eternity, and the Apostle Paul reminds us of what it is in his letter to the Corinthians.

For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.         1 Corinthians 3:11 NKJV

True believers need look no further than the events of this past week to see how ready this world is to accept a flawed foundation.  Have you chosen to accept His sacrifice and payment for your sin, or is your life built upon an imperfect foundation laid by man? If you want to build your house on a foundation that will last for eternity, you can do that right now. Simply understand this; First you need to confess you are a sinner who needs a Savior. The Bible tells us we all have sinned and failed to live up to God's standards. Second you need to understand that God sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for your sins. There is no way we can save ourselves, so God chose to send Jesus to pay the price for our sins. Third, and most important, you need to turn away from your sin and accept this payment by asking Jesus to come into your life and to help you begin to build on the foundation He has made for you.

God has promised to cleanse us from our sins, and has provided the foundation we need to move to the next step in applying the spiritual makeup which will reflect His love to an unbelieving world.

Keep watching.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Check Your Makeup

For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present [you as] a chaste virgin to Christ.                                               2 Corinthians 11:2 NKJV

We have often talked about the rapture of the Church, and just how close to occurring many seem to believe that it is. The picture we are given in the New Testament of Christ returning for His Church is one of a bridegroom coming to receive his bride. In this passage from his letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells us the Church is “betrothed” to Christ just as a bride to her future husband, and in other places in scripture this analogy of the Church as a bride waiting for her husband is repeated.  This past week as I thought of the Church as a bride, and also thinking of the state of the Church as it is today, I recalled some thoughts I have shared in the past concerning our future wedding with Christ.

Now I may have mentioned a time or two that I was blessed with three daughters, so as you might imagine, I know a thing or two about a wedding, and all that goes into preparing for one. Especially noteworthy, however, is just what is involved in the bride preparing herself to meet her future husband on the day of the wedding. Although I thought I had some idea of what went on, it was enlightening to see just how many hours are expended in the process of taking a shower, getting the hair done, having the makeup applied, putting on the wedding dress, and finally arriving at the point where the bride is ready to meet her groom.

As I thought about the subject of Christ returning for His bride, I couldn’t help but think back to my daughters’ weddings and wonder if maybe we as members of the body of Christ should be a little more concerned with the state of our spiritual appearance than we possibly are? Could we honestly say we are as prepared to meet the bridegroom as we should be, or is there room for improvement? If Jesus were to return for His Church today, could we honestly say we personally were as spiritually attractive as we could be?  As I thought about these things, I remembered that Paul uses an interesting word in this passage from his letter toTitus and it is the word translated “adorn”.

[Exhort] bondservants to be obedient to their own masters, to be well pleasing in all [things], not answering back, not pilfering, but showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things.   Titus 2:9-10 NKJV

In the Greek, the word for adorn is “kosmeo” which means to put in order, arrange, make ready, prepare, to ornament, adore, to embellish with honor, gain honor. If the word sounds familiar, it is because this is where we get our English word cosmetic. So knowing this, when we look more closely at this passage, it would appear Paul is telling Titus, as well as all other believers, that we have a responsibility to examine ourselves closely to see if we are reflecting the doctrine of God in our personal lives so that others might see and find attractive the relationship we have with Jesus Christ.

Now I can honestly say that I have looked in the mirror often enough to realize I have, appearance wise, good days and bad days. I also can’t help but recall occasional articles that regularly appear in the media showing famous people with and without their makeup on, and noticing just how obvious the difference is. To me, this gives this passage of scripture, and this particular verse, a whole new meaning. Yet there is another part of this admonition we need to notice, and that is what we are told that we need to adorn ourselves with is the “doctrine of God”.

In the Greek, the word for doctrine is didaskalia, which is translated as teaching, instruction, that which is taught, doctrine, teachings, precepts. Now how do we as believers “adorn” ourselves with the “doctrine” of God? Well I believe the obvious first step is to study and learn what God has revealed to us in His Word.

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.    2 Timothy 2:15 NKJV

Just as a bride is “diligent” to apply her makeup correctly and attractively, so we too should be diligent to study the Word.  When believers begin to study the Word of God and commit to memory the “teachings and precepts” that we find there, we begin the process of putting on our spiritual makeup. Why a process? Because it appears that what Paul is telling us here is that when we take the first step of learning what God has revealed to us through His Word, it has an effect on our outward appearance. How so? The obvious answer from this passage is that our actions, what others see us do and say, begins to change.

One thing I have noticed after raising three daughters is that no one ever puts on their makeup without looking in the mirror to see if it is being applied in such a way as to be attractive. If we look back at the first chapter of Titus, we see that Paul has written this letter to him because there are obvious problems in the Church. How obvious? Read how Paul chooses to describe them to Titus.

For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain. They profess to know God, but in works they deny [Him], being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.        Titus 1:10-11,16 NKJV

Sadly it would appear that many were not examining themselves to be sure they were putting on their makeup the right way! How do you know if your makeup is on right? Your actions, what others see you do and say, will reveal your understanding and application of His teachings. Paul makes it pretty clear, however, that we can put our makeup on wrong. Just as you can look at someone and tell if they are wearing makeup or not, you can also look at someone’s actions and tell if they are “adorning” the doctrine of God. Paul’s advice to Titus concerning those who were having a little trouble with their “kosmeo” was this;

Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men. For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior,       Titus 3:1-6 NKJV

The bridegroom is coming. How does your spiritual makeup look? Could your appearance use a little touch-up?  How often do you look in the mirror of the Word to see if you are adorned with the doctrine of God correctly and attractively?  When others look at your actions and listen to your words, do they see a reflection of the Father?  The bridegroom could return for His Church today!  Examine yourself to see if you are truly ready for the wedding.

Keep watching.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Do You Believe?

And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”  Acts 16:30-31  NKJV

As I have watched what many conservative commentators have described as the downfall of our country as a result of rampant liberalism, the thought occurred to me that we could also make the case that the Church itself is on much the same path.  Although the movement away from teaching about the need for repentance of sin and being born again as Jesus taught has been going on for some time, it is only lately with the appearance of churches which teach a “social gospel”, and the emergent church movement which has attracted so many, has this difference become so apparent.

Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,              2 Thessalonians 2:3  NASB

The Greek word “apostasia” literally means to fall away, or defect from something previously believed to be true.  When speaking to the Thessalonians’ about the rapture of the Church, Paul makes it clear that many will fall away and defect from the truth of the gospel before the Church is taken away.  Since so many who choose to study the prophecies of the end of the Church Age believe we have arrived at that point in time, and the rapture could occur at any moment, should we as believers be surprised at the state of the Church in light of the apostasy Paul warned us about?

Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  John 3:3  NKJV

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:  John 1:12  NKJV

Although I could accurately be called a child of the Evangelical, non-demoninational movement, like many children I spent a few of my college years closely examining my faith in light of many other religions and taking the proverbial “comparative religions” course offered by most institutions of higher learning.  What I emerged as was a believer totally committed to the only faith which made any sense at all, the Gospel taught by Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  As opposed to the new “seeker friendly” churches which seek to attract followers by avoiding words such as sin, repent, believe, and born again, Jesus taught clearly the need to be born again by receiving Himself as the Son of God, and believing in the sacrifice for our sin by His death on the cross.

In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.  Ephesians 1:13-14  NKJV

What you will find in many of these emerging churches is the avoidance of teaching the Gospel as Jesus taught, and replacing it with what has been termed the social gospel, which is simply the focus and emphasis on works done in the name of Jesus.  These churches choose to describe their members as “followers” of Jesus, and place a great emphasis on “doing” rather than “believing”.  These churches are filled with programs and service opportunities which satisfy the desire of their members to be busy for God, yet ignore the teaching by Jesus that belief comes before works.

Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”  John 6:28-29  NKJV

If you look closely at the Church today, and the majority of those which could be described as subscribing to the emergent church model, is it any wonder that the last church of this age revealed to us in the book of Revelation as the Laodician church is also one in which Jesus appears standing on the outside knocking to come in?  The sad fact is that as a result of not teaching the Gospel of Jesus as He taught it, with the emphasis on being born again as a result of believing in His sacrifice for our sin, these churches have many Christ followers, but very few believers.

“Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’                          Matthew 7:22-23  NKJV

Doing good works in Jesus’ name is what we are called to do, but Jesus made it clear that choosing to believe in Him comes first, and the works come as a result of our belief. The Word of God is clear that it is not enough just to follow, you must believe. The title I gave this article today is in the form of a question, and it is one in which I pray you can answer in the affirmative.  Do you believe?  Have you personally prayed to God and asked for forgiveness of your sins by the power of the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ?  If so, you are born again as Jesus taught, and someone who can proudly say “I am a believer”. 

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.   John 14:12  NKJV

And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.  John 20:30-31  NKJV

that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.  Romans 10:9-10  NKJV

And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.  1 John 5:11-13  NKJV

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. “This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”  John 6:37-40  NKJV

Keep watching.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Good Seed, Bad Ground

Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. “And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. “Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. “But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. “And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. “But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”  Matthew 13:3-9  NKJV

One of the most enjoyable aspects of my relationship with God is just how often He chooses to use circumstances in my everyday life to teach me lessons that I can also find in His Word.  Now although I said it is enjoyable, that does not mean it cannot at times be frustrating as well.  Such was the case this past week as I continued to work in my garden, watering and cultivating while anxiously waiting to see the first sprouts emerge from the soil.  Waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and finally discovering that fully two thirds of the seed I planted was not going to germinate. 

“Why me Lord?”  Have you ever asked that question?  Well as I was contemplating the task of reseeding in hopes of a better outcome the second time around, I began to wonder what exactly might have gone wrong.  Was it bad seed, or bad ground, or too hot or too cold, or over watering, or under watering, you get the picture.  It was about this time that God began to speak to me again about the parable of the sower, and the whole subject of the difference between good seed and bad seed, good ground and bad ground, and the responsibility of the sower towards his crop.

 “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. “Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. “But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. “Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. “But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.  Luke 8:11-15  NKJV

It is a given that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the seed of the Word of God.  In the parable of the sower it is all about the type of ground that receives the seed.  As I thought of that, I recalled that while two years ago I had enough pole beans to feed an army, last year they did not do well at all.  Then it occurred to me that last year I changed the location in the garden where I planted them.  So I began to wonder if within my garden area, I have different types of ground which may or may not like what seed I choose to plant there.  

In the parable, there are four different types of ground and only one will produce fruit. Considering that, my thoughts then went to Jesus saying that one of the problems was the birds which came and ate the seed. Great. I wonder if it makes a difference that I love birds and encourage them to take up residence in my yard by having a large bird feeder and several birdhouses I have built just for them.  What is the possibility they repay my generosity by eating the seed I plant in my garden?  I have never before thought about constructing a scarecrow, but having considered all of the possibilities, I may decide to have a little fun and make one just to see what it will do.

I believe I have done a pretty good job at removing all of the rocks in my garden, as well as keeping the weeds out too.  So if I eliminate those possibilities it would appear there are only two possibilities I need to address.  I replanted this past week so we will see if we have a better result the second time around, but as I was replanting another thought came to mind.  What kind of garden would I have if I chose to let my frustration and disappointment stop me from trying again?   The answer to that is easy enough; I would have no crops to harvest at the end of the summer.

I believe a question we all should ask ourselves is have I ever let the frustration I feel from the lack of results stop me from sowing the seed of the Word of God?  If you look at the parable of the sower, you realize that all of the different types of ground were present in the area in which he was planting, yet it did not stop him from sowing.  I have been reading Paul’s letters to Timothy and it certainly appears that Timothy was experiencing frustration and disappointment as well.  One of the things I noticed in Paul’s words was his encouragement to Timothy to “continue”.

Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.  1 Timothy 4:16  NKJV

But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  2 Timothy 3:14-15  NKJV

Taking a good look around at the world in which we live today, I believe we could make the case that the ground is getting much less hospitable for planting seed.  Fertile ground is disappearing at an alarming rate, and it seems the birds and rocks and thorns are growing exponentially.  Yet as sowers, we must continue to sow the seed of the Word of God as best as we can and allow the Spirit to do His job of germinating and cultivating that seed.  The more seed we plant, the bigger the harvest will be at the end of the season.  Remember, the ground may be bad but the seed is good!

having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because “All flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, And its flower falls away, But the word of the LORD endures forever. Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you.  1 Peter 1:23-25  NKJV

Keep watching.