Monday, September 30, 2019

Isaiah 20

Isaiah 20:4-6 (ESV)
So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt. Then they shall be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and of Egypt their boast. And the inhabitants of this coastland will say in that day, ‘Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria! And we, how shall we escape?’”

Verse 6 says, “This is what has happened to those in whom we hoped.” God has a way of knocking out all the props in our lives. When we look to someone or something other than God to provide what only God can provide, we have established idols in our lives. Rather than looking to God, Israel had been looking to Egypt and Cush for her security. Heathen nations had become her gods. God will bring about her gods’ demise. The very thing Israel trusted would fall to the enemy Israel feared.

It is worth asking what we are trusting. Is our hope in our weapons, our government, our constitutional rights, our business expertise, our strong work ethic, our family, our friends, or our good credit rating? All of those will fail. Multiple times in our lives we have faced uncertainty about where we would live, or how we would survive. God has provided every time. He has never used the same source twice, and he has always surprised us with the answer. Whether in little or in much, God has always provided.

We must confess that as American believers we have lived less like believers and more like products of our culture. We have put more faith in our guns and our constitutional rights than in God. We have put more emphasis on our families than on the one who said that families would be divided over him (Lk 12:51-53). Two chapters later Jesus warned that one cannot be his disciple unless he “hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life” (Lk 14:26). We have put more hope in a strong economy than in the God who said in Matthew 6:28-30,
And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, …But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

When we look to people or things to provide the security, significance, and satisfaction that only God can provide, those people or things become our idols. God will not share his glory. With Israel, we need to ask: In what or in whom are we trusting? Anything less than God will eventually fail.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Isaiah 19

Isaiah 19:23-24 (ESV)
In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.
In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth,

Most of chapter 19 talks about the judgment God is sending against Egypt. Their rivers will be dried up. Their crops will die. Their gods will not answer. Their fishermen will have no catch. Their leaders and wise counselors will fail them. That is the description of most of the chapter. “The LORD has mingled within her a spirit of confusion, and they will make Egypt stagger in all its deeds, as a drunken man staggers in his vomit. And there will be nothing for Egypt” (Isaiah 19:14-15a). But…

With God there is often a “But…” But, “In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD at its border” (Isaiah 19:19). From Assyria to Egypt people will fear the LORD. God will take the enemies of Israel and turn them into allies who honor their God. God has a way of bringing people to the end of themselves. All our hopes, all our dreams, all our plans and expectations come to nothing when our hope is in someone or something other than God. He will not share his glory.

The glory of the nations will crumble. Borders will change. Alliances and allegiances will be altered. Nations will rise and fall. But God is always God. His word is unchanging. Everything the Egyptians put their hope in will fail them. Their natural resources, their great civilization, their wisdom, and their religion will all fail them. But God has higher plans. They will ultimately honor and glorify the very God they opposed and ignored.

This should cause me to consider the question: What have I put my hope in? Am I hoping in the government? Am I trusting in a religious system? Am I relying on friends and family? Is my hope in my business savvy, or my ability to work hard? All of that can disappear in a heartbeat. God will not share his glory. None of those things are bad. Governments rise and fall at the will and sovereign direction of God. Religion, if grounded in Christ, is a good thing. Good business practices, a willingness to work hard, and a circle of trusted friends are all gifts from God. But when we make that slight shift from gratitude to God for all we have, to trusting in what we have, we are on dangerous ground.

I am reminded of the old hymn written by Edward Mote back in the early 1800s.

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus' name.

On Christ the solid rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Isaiah 18

Isaiah 18:1-2 (ESV)
Ah, land of whirring wings
that is beyond the rivers of Cush,
which sends ambassadors by the sea,
in vessels of papyrus on the waters!
Go, you swift messengers,
to a nation tall and smooth,
to a people feared near and far,
a nation mighty and conquering,
whose land the rivers divide.

God’s judgment is coming against the enemies of his people. They are warned to flee for help. Yet even those to whom they flee will one day pay tribute to the LORD.
Isaiah 18:7 (ESV)
At that time tribute will be brought to the LORD of hosts
from a people tall and smooth,
from a people feared near and far,
a nation mighty and conquering,
whose land the rivers divide,
to Mount Zion, the place of the name of the LORD of hosts.

We fear those of other religions, especially Islam. It is a violent religion opposed to all that we believe. Yet our fear often has more to do with fearing change and losing personal peace and comfort than anything else. When God is at work personal peace and comfort are almost always sacrificed for the greater good. Paul was called to move from the comfort of being a respected Jewish leader to being an Apostle to the Gentiles. Abraham was called to move from the comfort of his home and family to a land that God would show him. Noah was called to move from the comfort of normal life to build the Ark. If we fear the loss of our personal peace and comfort, then our values and priorities are wrong to start with.

The world is driven by its own values and priorities. God’s advice is that if they are not going to follow him, then they need to chase after their own security because his judgment is coming. His warning, however, is that they will not succeed. Ultimately every means of security, significance, and satisfaction the world chases after will fail them. The Lord says that in the end, “Every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God” (Rom 14:11). The wealthy and powerful, the violent and zealous, the devious and deceptive will all one day bow before God. Every god the world chases after will ultimately kneel before him. Deuteronomy 10:17 reminds us that, “the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God.” There is none beside him.

As believers, we have a choice. We can choose to let our fear, our comfort, and our convenience drive us, or we can choose to live by faith. Either way God will accomplish his purpose, but what will we say when we stand before him and have to admit that we really didn’t trust him? What will we say when the very ones we feared are kneeling beside us giving honor to the God we weren’t quite sure could take care of us? Where is our faith? “The LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God” (Dt 10:17) before whom every knee shall bow … and every tongue shall confess.” (Rom 14:11). He is God. Trust him.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Isaiah 17

Isaiah 17:7-8, 13-14 (ESV)
In that day man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will look on the Holy One of Israel. He will not look to the altars, the work of his hands, and he will not look on what his own fingers have made, either the Asherim or the altars of incense.

The nations roar like the roaring of many waters,
 but he will rebuke them, and they will flee far away,
chased like chaff on the mountains before the wind
and whirling dust before the storm.
At evening time, behold, terror!
Before morning, they are no more!
This is the portion of those who loot us,
and the lot of those who plunder us.

Two ideas stand out to me in this chapter. The first is found in verses 7-8. God’s discipline and judgment is for the purpose of turning people from false gods to see, trust, and worship the true God. In Romans 14:11 The Lord tells us that there will be a day of judgment when “every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” Philippians 2:9-10 tell us that the Father has exalted the name of Jesus “above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” It doesn’t matter what gods the World worships and serves, there will be a day when the world is set right and they will acknowledge God as God.

Here is the reality though: It is not just the World that will recognize their false gods someday. God’s discipline in the lives of his people reveals the false gods we are trusting. We give lip service to God, but too often our faith is placed somewhere else. Our security is in a job, or a bright future. Our significance is in a promotion, peer affirmation, or our spouse. Our satisfaction in life is rooted in external conditions that change like a flickering candle. We rely on these false gods, and when they let us down we blame God. The truth is that God often kicks those false props out from under us so that we will recognize our false gods and turn to him. He judged Damascus for their false worship. He disciplined Israel and Judah for their false worship. His desire is that believers and the World see truth. He is working to expose the deception of our false hopes. God’s discipline and judgment is for the purpose of turning people from false gods to see, trust, and worship the true God.

Second, those who oppose the people of God will one day answer to him. We don’t need justice now. We don’t need to have the truth come out now. We don’t need hypocrites, sinners, and those opposing Christ to be exposed now. That will all come out one day. There will be some who will say, “‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will (God) declare to them, ‘I never knew you’” (Mt 7:22-23). Isaiah 17:13-14 tell us,

The nations roar like the roaring of many waters,
 but he will rebuke them, and they will flee far away,
chased like chaff on the mountains before the wind
and whirling dust before the storm.
At evening time, behold, terror!
Before morning, they are no more!
This is the portion of those who loot us,
and the lot of those who plunder us.

As believers, we are too focused on the here and now. We want justice now. We want the truth to come out now. We want everyone to know what they are like now. But even this reveals that our trust is in other gods. We have linked out security, significance, and satisfaction to what other people think, or how other people treat us. Because of our false gods, we cannot see past the moment. God’s sovereign hand is working behind the scenes for our good and his glory. Our eyes get blinded when we place our hope in temporal and temporary gods.

God is faithful. He will faithfully strip away our false gods. He will faithfully and justly judge those who oppose him and his people. It will not be according to our timing, but he can be trusted. One day it will all come to light and we will realize the truth of Paul’s words that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18). In the meantime, we can trust him.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Isaiah 16

Isaiah 16:11-14 (ESV)
Therefore my inner parts moan like a lyre for Moab,
and my inmost self for Kir-hareseth.
And when Moab presents himself, when he wearies himself on the high place, when he comes to his sanctuary to pray, he will not prevail. This is the word that the LORD spoke concerning Moab in the past. But now the LORD has spoken, saying, “In three years, like the years of a hired worker, the glory of Moab will be brought into contempt, in spite of all his great multitude, and those who remain will be very few and feeble.”

This chapter begins with a warning to Moab to pay tribute to Judah. “Send the lamb to the ruler of the land” (Is 16:1a). This probably a reference to what 2 Kings 3:4 describes, “Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheep breeder, and he had to deliver to the king of Israel 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams.” He was paying tribute to Israel. Now, in light of Israel’s fall, Isaiah warns Moab to pay tribute to Judah.

The chapter goes on to describe the pride, false worship, and coming demise of Moab. The Moabites are not nice people. As with the previous chapter, though, there are two verses that express grief over Moab’s fall. Verse 11 says, “my inner parts moan like a lyre for Moab.” Isaiah 16:9 goes into even more detail. “Therefore I weep with the weeping of Jazer for the vine of Sibmah; I drench you with my tears, O Heshbon and Elealeh; for over your summer fruit and your harvest the shout has ceased.” God’s heart weeps for sinners even as he judges them. Does our heart break for the lost? How might our lives be different if we loved sinners as much as God does? How can we begin to see them through the eyes of Christ?

Perhaps we begin with this prayer:
Father your Word says that you loved the world so much, that you gave your only Son, “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Father, today give me eyes to see the lost, the broken, and the spiritually helpless through your eyes of love; the very love that moved you to send your son to die. Even if they are arrogant and self-centered like the Moabites, may I have your heart of compassion today.

This is the heart of Jesus. Amen! Let it be so.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Isaiah 15

Isaiah 15:5 (ESV)
My heart cries out for Moab;
her fugitives flee to Zoar,
to Eglath-shelishiyah.
For at the ascent of Luhith
they go up weeping;
on the road to Horonaim
they raise a cry of destruction;

Even as God says that he will judge Moab, his heart cries out for her. Even as God hates her sin, he loves her. Even in his judgment he has compassion. In Isaiah 16:4 he says, “Let the outcasts of Moab sojourn among you; be a shelter to them from the destroyer.” Jesus instructed his disciples to love their enemies. This is the pattern that God himself practiced. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). “While we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (Rom 5:10).

As a father there were times when I had to punish my children for their behavior. I had clearly laid out the boundaries for them. They knew what was expected and they crossed the line. I often did not want to punish them. My preference would have been to look the other way. I hated to see them experience the pain of a spanking, or losing a freedom, or giving up some activity that they had been looking forward to. Until I became a father I never understood why my parents said, “This hurts me more than it hurts you.?

When we think about God’s judgment we often think of his hatred for sin. Unfortunately, we often neglect to consider his love for the sinner. We cannot even begin to imagine the grief God must have felt when he sent the flood. Could it be that when Genesis 6 says that it grieved God to his heart that he had made man, God was grieving the punishment he must send as much as the sin they are committing?

Genesis 6:5-7
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

 In the ethical and cultural debates churning through our country it is common for Christians to say that we must hate the sin and love the sinner. That statement is understood by those on the other side of the moral question to mean, “Hate me, but say that you love me in order to feel better about yourself.” Of course, we have trained a generation to believe that if we disagree with them then we hate them. We are reaping our own fruit here. Unfortunately, too often they are correct. We do say that more to make us feel good about ourselves then to generate actual love. It is often couched in terms like, “Love means speaking the truth no matter how harsh it seems!” But that is not what God is doing in Genesis or in Isaiah. The real question is: How can we truly love those who are coming under God’s judgment?

 Lot’s daughters got him drunk in a cave, and slept with him in order to have children. The Moabites are the descendants of that incestuous relationship between Lot and one of his daughters. Moab was the country that tried to curse Israel while they were still in the wilderness. The Moabites are the unclean people that we so often try to avoid in our self-righteous pursuit of holiness. But God said that his heart cried out for them.

Perhaps it is time for us to stop worrying so much about being clean and safe, and start reaching out to truly love others. Real ministry is messy. When we see AIDS patients, human trafficking victims, those addicted to drugs and alcohol, those devastated by the immoral choices they have made in life, and those fleeing desperate living conditions, or those caught up in the lies of the world, may we see them through the eyes and heart of God. Let us set aside our own comfort and safety in order to truly love those whom God loves passionately. “God so loved the world” (Jn 3:16)! May our hearts cry out for them as passionately as God does.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Isaiah 14

Isaiah 14:12-15 (ESV)
“How you are fallen from heaven,
O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
But you are brought down to Sheol,
to the far reaches of the pit.

It becomes difficult in Isaiah 14 to know whether God is talking about Babylon or about Satan. I think that is intentional. You will find the Enemy in the shadows behind every nation, every movement, every people bent on destroying others or uniting against God’s truth. With the wickedness of our world it is easy to believe that he is more powerful than he really is.

Satan’s primary tool is deception. Jesus said that Satan “is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44). He would convince us that he has more power than he does. He will seek to convince the world that he is truly God. He will seek to demonstrate that he is God’s equal. He will fail.

Those who stand against God may appear to be winning, but they will fail. Remember the Flood! The world was bent on violence and evil. It appeared that evil had taken over the earth and was winning. It appeared that way until the rain began to fall. Then God’s greatness was revealed.

Only one man found favor with God in that story, and yet eight people were saved in the Ark. Similarly, in Isaiah 14 God’s people will be a refuge to others. As the people of God, we do not exist for the purpose of huddling in safety until the winds of wickedness blow over. Rather, we are called to be a refuge to the world. When Judah was facing deportation to Babylon God told them to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). Judah would not find their safety by huddling together or by fleeing Babylon’s advance. They would find their security in seeking and praying for their enemy. God’s people would be a blessing to the very people that were seeking to oppress them.

What does that look like in our world? I am not sure that I know. It may look different for each of us. What I do know is that it does not look like circling the theological wagons and huddling in the safety of our church buildings. It means seeking and praying for the welfare of our city, our country, and our world. Let us begin to pray in that direction and ask God for wisdom to know what it truly means to seek the welfare of our world. Only God knows the power and influence of a prayer like that. Perhaps God will use us for his glory in ways we cannot even imagine. Certainly, God will accomplish his purposes, and the Enemy will not win. God is greater.

Friday, September 20, 2019

1 Corinthians 5 (Pt 4)

1 Corinthians 5:12-13 (ESV)
[12] For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? [13] God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
When dealing with serious sin in the lives of fellow believers 1 Corinthians 5 lays out four appropriate responses. The first response should be a broken heart on the part of the church. We should mourn sin. The second response should be to exercise accountability. We sometimes need to administer discipline. Third, the church needs to recommit to purity, sincerity, and truth. We need to recognize our own vulnerability to sin.

The fourth response to sin is to remember that we are not called to transform the world from the outside in. We need to remember that a commitment to purity does not negate our call to evangelism and discipleship. We are committed to purity within the body. We trust God's judgment outside the body. We continue to reach out. “I,” that’s the Apostle Paul. “Wrote to you,” that’s  the Corinthian believers. “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world” (1 Cor 5:9-10).

Too often we excuse sin in our midst because–well, after all, we’re all just sinners anyway. At the same time we criticize the World for being the World. Of course they are living together outside marriage; they are not believers. Of course they are excusing and even celebrating same-sex attraction; they are not believers. Of course they reject prayer and the Bible in public schools; they are not the Church. Of course they are greedy, or dishonest, or addicted to drugs or alcohol; they do not have the indwelling Holy Spirit. What do we expect? We are not a Christian country or a country of Christians. We live in a world and a culture ruled by brokenness and separation from God.

Unfortunately, our tendency has been to cut ourselves off from the very World God has called us to reach with the Good News of Jesus. At the same time, we excuse some of the very same sins in our own lives. We have this backward. We need to take sin seriously in our lives. We need to speak and live grace and truth to those outside. The fourth response to sin is to remember that we are not called to transform the world from the outside in, but from the inside out through the Gospel that changes hearts.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

1 Corinthians 5 (Pt 3)

1 Corinthians 5:6-8 (ESV)
[6] Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? [7] Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. [8] Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

The Corinthian church had been allowing, and possibly even celebrating, serious immorality in their midst. 1 Corinthians 5 lays out four appropriate responses to sin. The first response to serious sin in the life of a believer should be a broken heart on the part of the church. The second response should be to exercise accountability. Third, the church needs to recommit to purity, sincerity, and truth.

Often we hear the concept “that a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Cor 5:6) in the context of association with the World. But that is not at all what Paul had in mind. In verse 10 he specifically wrote that he was not talking about “the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters.” His reasoning, “Since then you would need to go out of the world” (1 Cor 5:10). What he means is that allowing sin to continue inside church, the Body of Christ, will adversely affect the entire Body.

A friend recently wrote a paper on the heresy of love. By that he did not mean that love is wrong, but that our understanding of love is wrong. Love without accountability is wrong. Love without the context of God’s holiness is wrong. Love must be understood and practiced in the context of a just and holy God. Love does not excuse sin in our midst, let alone celebrate it. As the Body of Christ we must be committed to purity even when that means holding one another accountable; even when that means having to exercise discipline in the Body. Sin is serious business.

As the visible expression of a Holy God in a broken world, the church must be committed to purity, sincerity, and truth. “Cleanse out the old leaven (think sin and immorality) that you may be a new lump (think purity, sincerity, and truth), as you really are unleavened (that is, you are pure of any uncleanness and sin). [Because] Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor 5:7). The third response to sin in the Body of Christ must be a renewed commitment to purity on the part of the people of God.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

1 Corinthians 5 (Pt 2)

1 Corinthians 5:3 (ESV)
[3] For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing.
Our first response over serious sin in the life of a believer should be a broken heart. Our second response should be to exercise accountability. “We are not to judge” is the byword of the day. Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1 appear to be one of the best known verses in the Bible, “Judge not, that you be not judged.”

That passage is certainly a balancing passage to Paul’s call for judgment in 1 Corinthians, yet we fail to read the entire passage. Jesus went on to say, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Mt 7:5). Notice that he did not say that you have no right to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. He simply said that before we take the speck out of our brother’s eye we must first take the log out of our own eye. The Apostle Paul echoed Jesus’ teaching with these words, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal 6:1).

There is a biblical directive to hold one another accountable within the Body of Christ. The World is the World. The Scriptures are not calling us to hold the World to a biblical standard. We cannot expect unbelievers to live like believers. We cannot expect the World to look like the Church. Unfortunately too often, however, the Church looks like the World because we fail to challenge one another and hold one another accountable.

Now, here we must be careful for much spiritual abuse has occurred in the name of accountability. We must make sure that if we are to hold a brother or sister accountable to biblical standards, and that we ourselves are living according to biblical standards. Second, we must make sure that it is actually biblical standards that we are holding others to. It is not our place to become the morality police carefully examining others looking for infractions. The accountability Paul calls for is concerning clear, obvious, and public sin. Furthermore the sin addressed is clearly a biblical issue. Too often in the name of accountability we make up rules that have little if any biblical basis and then use it to attack out brothers and sisters. The whole point of accountability is restoration not ruin. “You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor 5:5). Third, we must exercise accountability with humility, acknowledging that we too are accountable to others. No one is exempt. We must recognize that we ourselves can easily become caught up in sin, and that we ourselves are far from perfect. The Bible’s call for accountability is never an excuse for spiritual abuse.

Our first response over serious sin in the life of a believer should be a broken heart. Our second response should be to exercise accountability. We are actually called to make some judgments. They just need to be made in humility and genuine love.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

1 Corinthians 5 (Pt 1)

1 Corinthians 5:1-2 (ESV)
[1] It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
The Corinthian believers were actually arrogant about the sin in their midst. I can envision them saying something like, “Look at the grace of God. Isn’t it amazing. We can even sin in ways the pagans would not tolerate and God will forgive us.” But their arrogance missed the heart of God completely. God’s grace is never an excuse for sin. It is a motivation to holiness.

1 Corinthians 5 lays out four appropriate responses to sin in the church. The first is mourning. “Ought you not rather to mourn?” (1 Cor 5:2). Sin in the life of a brother or sister in Christ should not make us arrogant. Neither should it make us angry. It should make us grieve. Now certainly anger is an aspect of grief, and righteous anger over sin is appropriate, but in our anger I fear that we sometimes lack grief. Our first response should be a broken heart over the decisions and actions of brother and sisters in Christ.

A friend recently posted an article about a Baptist church that called a pastor living an unbiblical and immoral lifestyle. My response was grief. My heart is heavy. How can a church that claims the name of Christ make such a decision? It seems that we are ready at the drop of a hat to fight with each other over doctrine. The real question is whether we grieve for one another over morality. Grief and mourning are the proper responses to sin in the life of another believer or another church claiming the name of Christ. If we truly love the Body of Christ then we will grieve over it when it is not living like the Body of Christ.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Isaiah 13

Isaiah 13:11, 19 (ESV)
I will punish the world for its evil,
and the wicked for their iniquity;
I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant,
and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.

And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms,
the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans,
will be like Sodom and Gomorrah
when God overthrew them.

The world will be punished. Babylon will be destroyed. Babylon was the primary threat to Judah. God would use them to judge his people for breaking the covenant with God that they had entered into under Moses. But that did not mean that Babylon would get away untouched despite its own wickedness. God would take care of it. In fact, God says that Babylon “will never be inhabited or lived in for all generations” (Is 13:20). The Persians eventually destroyed the city. The Greeks further decimated it. The great ziggurat at the center of the city was torn down by Alexander. The city was eventually lost to the dust of the desert. Its ruins have since been rediscovered. It was partially rebuilt under Saddam Hussein, but no one lives there. It is an empty city. Hussein built a palace nearby, but Babylon is uninhabited just as God indicated.

Babylon was not just a city that threatened Judah. Throughout the Bible it is viewed as the center of evil in the world. Babylon is where the Tower of Babel was built. It is very likely that the Tower was the very ziggurat that Alexander tore down. Babylon represents the rebellion and pride of the world as it stands against the authority of God. That is why God not only says that he will judge Babylon, but that he will judge the world.

Christians decry the wickedness of the world, and that is appropriate. But, too often we are not actually grieving the sin that grieves God. We are just grieving the loss, or potential loss of our own freedom and comfort. We live in fear that life might become hard. We have Christian brothers and sisters all over the world that live with the daily reality that they might be called on to give their lives for their faith. We cry because someone might say something mean about our beliefs. Jesus warned us that the world would not approve of us. He said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (Jn 15:18). In America, we have not even come close to this experience. Whatever suffering we have perceived has likely not been because of our faith, but because of our arrogance and stupidity.

Yes, real suffering might come. Our brothers and sisters in Christ already experience it around the world. One source indicates that 70 million Christians have been martyred since the time of Christ. The numbers vary widely as to how many Christians have actually been martyred for their faith. It is interesting that the numbers cited for the first 300 years of the Church’s history are the same as the numbers cited for the year 2012. Far more Christians have been killed for their faith in my lifetime than in the first three hundred years of the Church’s history. Yet we complain is someone doesn’t like one of our blog posts, or that we might lose our tax exempt status if we talk about politics.

What does this have to do with Isaiah? The world system will come to an end. Christians will be martyred. The Church will be opposed. The gospel will be rejected. Yet Jesus words will be fulfilled, “I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18). God’s prophecy will be accomplished, “I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless” (Is 13:11). God’s purpose will be accomplished.

We need to stop worrying about our own personal peace and affluence, and embrace the larger purpose of God. We have Good News for a broken world, and they have only a limited time to hear it. Let us pray for open hearts.The early church survived, not because they were safe and secure, but because they were willing to die for their faith. I fear that we too often are not even willing to be uncomfortable for ours. May God forgive us, and transform our hearts. People saw hope and love in early believers. A broken world facing the wrath of God was drawn to their life. May that be true of us as well. They are headed toward destruction. We have the message of life.

Friday, September 13, 2019

1 Corinthians 4 (Pt 9)

1 Corinthians 4:11-13 (ESV)
[11] To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, [12] and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; [13] when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.

Blessing does not equal approval. Neither does difficulty equal failure. In 1 Corinthians 4 the Apostle Paul described the Apostles as being treated as scum. This word means offscouring, refuse, or scum. It is a word used metaphorically for the most abject and despicable men. The Greeks used to apply this word scum to individuals or even to criminals who were held so that if the community experienced an outbreak of a pestilence they could offer them as a sacrifice to the gods. Paul further described the Apostles as refuse or dregs. That word refers to the muck scraped off you shoes. It is used to describe an individual who undergoes severe trials in order to save others.  Paul is saying that the Apostles have given themselves to what the world would call failure for the benefit of the Church.

How do you define success? It is often defined by wealth, comfort, and ease. In the church world it is defined by how many people we have attending, how big a building we have, or how much money we give to missions. But is that the true definition of success? If so, the Apostles were failures. They planted churches, but they didn’t stay to pastor successful ministries. They saw people coming to faith in Christ, but they didn’t receive outlandish salaries. For the most part they had to pay their own way in ministry. Maybe we are using the wrong measure to define success.

Daniel was a success not because he became an important person in the Babylonian and Persian government, but because he was faithful. Abraham was a success even though he never saw the fulfillment of God’s promises. Hebrews 11:13 says of Abraham and Sarah that they “died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” Elijah was a success even though he spent much of his ministry hiding out from the king and fearing for his life. Hebrews 11 speaks of those who
were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy— wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Heb 11:35-38)
God calls them successful, but the world would call them failures. Blessing does not equal approval. Neither does difficulty equal failure. The real issue is not success by the standards of the world, it is faithfulness in the eyes of God. How do you define success?

Thursday, September 12, 2019

1 Corinthians 4 (Pt 8)

1 Corinthians 4:8-9 (ESV)
[8] Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! [9] For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men.

If one were asked which lives were more in line with God’s purpose and calling, the Corinthians or the Apostles, the obvious answer would be the Apostles. Yet here we have an interesting comparison. The Corinthians were wealthy and comfortable. The Apostles were poor and uncomfortable. The clear lesson is the exact opposite of what we so often hear in the church. Blessing does not equal approval.

The fact that life is comfortable and we have all that we need does not imply that God is therefore pleased with us. That was the heresy of the Pharisees. That was the lie the Corinthians had bought into. The Apostles, whom God entrusted to lay the foundation of the church, were said to be hungry, thirsty, poorly dressed, buffeted, and homeless (1 Cor 4:11). That is a description of the people we naturally assume God is not pleased with. Those are the people we avoid, all the while feeling justified in our own lukewarm faith because, “God has blessed us.”

It is time we stop excusing half-hearted commitment, reasoning that God must be pleased because he has blessed us. It is time we realize that “to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Lk 12:48). God’s blessing does not imply God’s approval. God’s blessing means more responsibility. God’s blessing means more accountability. What are we doing with that with which God has blessed us? Are we guarding our comfortable lifestyle, or are we dying daily to self that we might glorify our Lord? Jesus said,

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? Luke 9:23-25.

Blessing does not equal approval.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

1 Corinthians 4 (Pt 7)

1 Corinthians 4:7 (ESV)

Paul wrote to the Corinthian church reminding them that they were not the source of their own blessings, their own glory, their own wisdom, their own spiritual insight, or their own possessions. All that they had was a gift from God. We pride ourselves in being self-made individuals. The area where I grew up took independent, self-sufficient people to settle this harsh land. In the summer there were swamps and mosquitoes thick enough to kill an animal. In the winter there was fifty below temperatures plus windchill, and deep snow. Early settlers had no one to depend on but themselves. That self-sufficient mind set has carried down through the generations to produce hard working, independent, self-sufficient individuals.

Self-sufficiency is not bad. It is a stark contrast with the dependent, entitled culture that seems to be developing in recent years among some. But there is a danger in both positions. Entitlement fails to understand sin. Entitlement fails to understand that we do not deserve the blessings we have received. Self-sufficiency feels that it needs to earn its way. Entitled individuals think they deserve more than they have. Self-sufficient individuals think they have earned all that they have. The truth is that all we have is a gift from God. Both positions forget that. As those blessed and gifted by God, we are simply servants and stewards. That is exactly how Paul described himself earlier in 1 Corinthians 4.

“What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it” (1 Cor 4:7)? There is certainly room for stepping back from a finished project and being pleased with what you have accomplished. But even then, perhaps we should breath a prayer of thanks for the privilege of creating, the ability to create, and the resources to do what we just did. Everything we have is a gift from God. Not everyone has the ability to do what we just did. Not everyone has the resources to accomplish what we just accomplished. All we have is a gift from God. In receiving gifts there is no room for arrogance or entitlement, only humility and gratitude. Whether we are creating a work of art, restoring a piece of furniture, cooking a tasty meal, loving on our children or grand-children, teaching a Bible lesson, or simply taking another breath, gratitude should be the attitude of our heart.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

1 Corinthians 4 (Pt 6)

1 Corinthians 4:6 (ESV)
[6] I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.

The Corinthians, in their assessment of church leaders, were not to go beyond that which Paul, as an apostle of Jesus Christ, had written. Neither are we to exceed that which the scriptures dictate. We have been taught to apply the Bible to our lives. We do that, but that often results in two errors. First, we read the Bible for application first. By doing that we fail to pay attention to context and purpose. Whenever we read the Word of God we must first pay attention to what it actually says, to the context in which it is written, and to the original audience and purpose. Good Bible application must build on good Bible observation, interpretation, and correlation. Application never stands alone. If we do not observe well, asking what the text actually says; if we do not interpret well, asking what the text means; if we do not correlate well, asking how the text relates to the rest of Scripture, and to me and my world, then we will not apply well. The first error we make when we are primarily focused on application is that we fail to pay attention to what the text is actually saying.

The second error we make is that once we have settled on an application, we assume the application is what the text says. Application is just that. It is application. The meaning of the text never changes, but the application may be different for each individual. We cannot equate our application with the text itself. In doing so we have done exactly what Paul warned us not to do. He warned us “not to go beyond what is written” (1 Cor 4:6). Once we equate our application with the text we then judge others by our application. We have gone beyond what is written. The Spirit of God and the uniqueness of our spiritual gifting come into play when determining a proper application of Scripture to our lives. We need to leave room for the possibility that the Spirit may direct another believer to apply the text in a way different from us.

We are called to worship, but worship looks different in different cultures and even with different personalities. When we equate our preferred style of worship with biblical truth we have gone beyond what is written. We are called to make disciples, but there are many ways to go about that. When we take our preferred approach to evangelism and assume that all truly committed believers will evangelize just like us, we have gone beyond what is written. We are called to prayer and meditation on the Word daily. When we assume that means that people need to read a text from the Bible the first thing in the morning, and then spend a certain amount of time in prayer, we have gone beyond what is written. The idea of a “Quiet Time” is an application, not a clear textual teaching. To question a person’s commitment to God based on whether they have a “Quiet Time” with God the same way we do is to go beyond the Word.

A focus primarily on application without good observation, interpretation, and correlation of Scripture leads to error and division. As believers we need to make sure that we are not going beyond what is written. We need to leave room for the uniqueness of each individual within the Body. We need to judge less, and pay more attention to what is written. We need to learn “not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another” (1 Cor 4:6).

Monday, September 9, 2019

1 Corinthians 4 (Pt 5)

1 Corinthians 4:6-7 (ESV)
[6] I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. [7] For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

The Romans lived in a society that exalted pride and scorned humility. The Greeks sought for the perfect human mind and body. Intellect and Physique were everything to them. The Romans carried on that mentality. Humility was for women and slaves. Men were proud. Our culture isn’t all that different. We are told that the only way to get ahead in this world is to push yourself ahead. Think positive. Be proud of yourself and your accomplishments.  Love yourself. If you want the world (your boss, your customers, your fellow-workers) to think highly of you then you must think highly of yourself. That was the mentality of the Roman world and it is the mentality of our world today.

Most of the self-help books espouse that idea. If you can perceive it, you can achieve it. But that is not God’s standard nor is it his accepted method of behavior for his disciples. That was not the basis of Jesus behavior while on this earth and it is not how we as believers are to live. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve (Mk 10:45). The world tells us to present ourselves as the leader we want to be, but God calls us to the heart of a servant. “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it” (1 Cor 4:7)? All we are and all we have is a gift from God. Let us then live then not as kings and masters of our own destiny, but as servants and stewards of the Most High God.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

1 Corinthians 4 (Pt 4)

1 Corinthians 4:5 (ESV)
[5] Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.

Significance is not found in who serves us, but in whom we serve. As servants of God and stewards of his mysteries we are called to be faithful. But, who decides what it means to be faithful? The Apostle writes that it is a “very small thing” to him if he is judged by others. In fact, he does not even judge himself (see 1 Cor 4:3-4). Why? Because human judgment is fallible. We cannot see the heart. Notice two truths here in 1 Corinthians 4:5. First, when the Lord judges he “will bring to light the things now hidden . . . the purposes of the heart” God judges thoughts and intentions, not just actions. Second, notice that “each one will receive his commendation,” not condemnation.

These two truths ought to affect how we view and treat others. We may prefer one style of teaching above another. We may enjoy one type of ministry more than another. We may disapprove of how an individual leads or lives. But these two truths change everything. God will judge them according to the hidden things of their heart, things we cannot see or know. And, God will commend them.

We often act as though we can read other’s motives by their actions. After all, doesn’t the Bible say, “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Mt 7:16)? 1 Samuel 16:7 reminds us that “the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” Fruit of an individual’s life may reveal something about their heart, but we cannot see their heart clearly. Only God has that ability. We need to stop judging that which we cannot know.

That one is hard for us to accept and practice, but the second truth builds on it. God will commend them. We want God to condemn them. When we think we know the heart of an individual, we then think that we know the appropriate punishment. But that is the point of what Paul wrote in the previous chapter, “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved” (1 Cor 3:15). For believers there is the assurance that what we have done out of impure motives will be burned up. Only the commendations are left when we stand before the Judge. That one we are so angry at will be commended right along with us. That which he/she did wrong will be burned up right along with our anger.

Maybe it is time we stopped judging others and started showing them some grace, that same grace God has shown us. Their sins under washed clean by the blood of the Lamb the same as ours. They may have inflicted pain, but only God knows their true motives. Whether we are talking about leaders in the church, or those sitting next to us in the pew, God will deal with it. It is time we let it go.

Friday, September 6, 2019

1 Corinthians 4 (Pt 3)

1 Corinthians 4:2-3 (ESV)
[2] Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. [3] But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.

A steward is required to be faithful. To be faithful means to be trustworthy. It means to care for whatever has been entrusted to the steward’s care. In this case believers have been entrusted with the mystery of the Good News, the gospel. As stewards of the Good News, have we been faithful?

What does it mean to be faithful? This brings to mind the parable Jesus told about the three servants entrusted with the Master’s money (see Mt 25:14-30). It is often referred to as the Parable of the Talents because one servant is given five talents, one two, and one is given one talent. Unfortunately we then apply this parable to our own talents or gifts, but that is not really the point of the parable. A talent was a measurement of weight. They were each given a different amount of money based on weight. They were entrusted with this money and expected to use it for the good of the master. Using the master’s money was being faithful stewards. Believers have been entrusted with the mysteries of God and are expected to be faithful stewards.

To be faithful does not mean to hide in our church buildings guarding the mysteries of God. Too often we have turned inward as the World has turned away from God. We have huddled in our safe congregations, holding on to truth until the Master returns. But in the parable, the servant who hid and protected the money with which he had been entrusted was chided for not investing it. To be faithful means not to huddle and hide, but to sow the seeds of the Good News even if the ground seems hard. Seed if for planting. Wealth is for investing. The Good News if for sharing. To be faithful stewards means to stop worrying about our own safety and begin to sow the seeds of the mysteries of God in a broken world. Am I a faithful steward of the mysteries of God?

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

1 Corinthians 4 (Pt 2)

There is no room in the church for arrogance. Ministry is not about attention and importance. It is about Jesus. So why do we have such a problem with arrogance and what is the solution? That is a question that would take several sermons to address, but let me share a thought concerning this. Arrogance is almost always connected in some way to one’s lack of feeling significant. Arrogance is an attempt to gain significance, to feel significant, or to be become significant by putting others down or by being lifted up above others. 

Somehow we believe that significance is found in being recognized, acknowledged, and even served by others. What we fail to realize is that significance is not found in who serves us, but in whom we serve. As believers in Jesus Christ, we are servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Our significance comes not from being somebody, but from serving someone. 

Titles do not make us significant. Diplomas and degrees do not make us significant. Acknowledgement and praise do not make us significant. All of these things fade, some more quickly than others. There is always someone with a bigger title, more education, greater accomplishments, or simply a bigger presence in the room. But nobody in the room ever serves someone greater than believers serve, for we serve the Creator himself.

Not only do we serve Christ, but as believers we have been made stewards of the mysteries of God. There is no higher calling than to be the ones entrusted with the care and dissemination of God’s mysteries. The central mystery with which we are entrusted is the gospel. To the World it is indeed mysterious. It makes no sense to them. It is foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block the Jews (see 1 Cor 1:23). The gospel is “the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor 1:24-25). It is this mystery with which we have been entrusted.

There is no room for arrogance in the church. Arrogance is simply an attempt at gaining significance by the World’s standards. As believers, we need to realize and rest in the greater significance of being servants of God and stewards of his mysteries. Let us celebrate that great truth and walk in the meek humility that realizes who we are without needing others to acknowledge us. The truly great know it. They don’t need others to tell them how great they are. We are servants of the Most High God and stewards of his mystery. They don’t come any greater than that.

Monday, September 2, 2019

1 Corinthians 4 (Pt 1)

1 Corinthians 4:5-6 (ESV)
[5] Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. [6] I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.

The word in verse 6 translated “arrogant” in the NAS and “puffed up” in the ESV is used 6 times in the first letter to the Corinthians. There was division in the church over whom to follow, Paul, Apollos, Peter, or Christ. Arrogance was the issue. There was arrogance over sin that was being excused in the church. There was arrogance regarding spiritual gifts. There was arrogance regarding who had the most knowledge. “Puffed up,” is a good translation. The literal idea is exactly that; to be puffed up, blown up; to think of yourself as bigger than you really are; pride and arrogance. There is no room in the church for arrogance. There is no place in the Kingdom of God for pride. As a believer in Jesus Christ I do not have the right to look down my nose at a fellow servant of Christ. If anyone had a right to be arrogant toward the Corinthian believers it might be Paul. Certainly he should have been considered superior to the Corinthian Christians and yet Paul did not display that attitude. He simply referred to himself as a servant of Christ and a steward “of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 4:1). Too often we like to think of ourselves as purveyors of the mysteries of God, or leaders and people of influence in the church of God. But here is Paul, a servant and a steward. A steward is literally a subordinate executing official orders. Servants are the ones in the room who gathers no attention to themselves. The Apostle Paul does not view himself as someone of prestige or importance, but as a servant. In Paul’s mind there is no room for arrogance. Ministry is not about attention and importance. It is about Jesus.

Reflections on Psalms 77-78

Psalms 77:7 (ESV) [7] “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?   The first nine verses of this psalm express abso...