Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Psalm 1:1-What does the Bible say about true happiness?

There are few, like less than 3, TV preachers I would ever listen to if I wanted to learn something. Until John MacArthur started his TV ministry last year, that number was less than 2. That one preacher was Ravi Zacharias. However, I do watch TV preachers sometimes. Why, you ask? Because it is so side-splittingly funny. It is literally like watching a comedian. You have people teaching doctrine that is absolutely heretical and some people actually believe what they themselves are saying. “It isn’t God’s will for you to be sick.” “God intends for all believers to live with an abundance of money.” They preach that Christianity exists to make people happy. The pastor of America’s largest church has written a book that appeals to peoples self esteem and greediness. These people purport to tell people how they can be “Happy”. However, what does the Bible say about true happiness and fulfillment? Does it line up with what these used car salesmen who pass themselves off as teachers of God’s word claim? Let’s look at Psalm 1 and find out for ourselves.

Psalm 1 verse one begins by saying “Blessed is the man”. The word translated blessed is the Hebrew word esher and can be taken to mean “how happy”. We will study the specifics of what causes one to be happy according to the verse, but we do notice that the state of being blessed or happy is not the result of having things. People are not happy because of their home, their car, or their job. In fact, true Biblical happiness doesn’t have anything to do with material possessions. It has to do with our relationship with God. Notice, therefore, that this verse also talks about the absence of situations in a person’s life that make a person happy. It doesn’t talk about what a person who is happy has or does but, rather, what they do not do. We should note as Paul teaches in the book of Romans that we, as Christians, were once slaves to sin. Now, in our redeemed state, we are slaves to righteousness. Therefore, we have been set free from sin in order to serve God. Because of that, there are some things that a Christian should not do. This does not mean that we keep a legalistic list of do’s and don’ts but because we have a new nature inside of us we will live differently.

Notice the verse says someone is happy who does not “walk in the council of the ungodly”. Throughout scripture, “walk” is used to describe the course of our life. How we conduct ourselves is a direct reflection of what we think and what we believe. A happy person, in this verse, is one who does not let his actions be controlled by ungodly advice. The world and its wisdom will always be contrary to the wisdom of God. This is because, as Paul notes in Ephesians chapter 4 the ungodly people in this verse have “futile” minds. Therefore, they have an inaccurate view of the world in which they live. In that case, a person is better off not listening to worldly wisdom and ideas but, instead, should turn to God’s perfect holy word and godly preachers/teachers for council. As the apostle notes in Romans 12, we are to be “transformed by the renewing of [our] minds”. To fail to do so invites folly into one’s life.

Next, the author writes that a person is happy if they do not “stand in the paths of sinners”. It is instructive to note that the action in this verse progresses from walking to standing to sitting. The Hebrew word for path is derek. This word can be used figuratively to mean “course of life” or “mode of action”. As I said earlier, how we live proves what we think or believe. If a person fills his or her mind with the thoughts and teachings of this world, it will show in how they live. They will find themselves standing with those whose mode of life conflicts with the teaching of God’s word. The Bible teaches here that those who are happy do not have the same “course of life” or “mode of action” as those who are unredeemed. Certainly, all of us fall short of the standard that God sets from time to time. However, if a person is truly a Christian they will live differently than the rest of the world because they have been reborn and filled with the Holy Spirit. Happiness, then, is a result of being separated from this evil world system.

Finally, the author says that those who are happy do not “sit in the seat of the scornful”. As the action progresses in this verse, so does the godlessness of the people with whom we should disassociate ourselves. They have gone from ungodly to sinners to people who are scornful. Now, they are pictured not only as ones who sin but who mock the righteousness of God and His holy word. People who live contrary to scripture should be avoided as close companions. However, we should be even more careful to avoid those who speak and teach against the word of God. As this verse notes, those who are happy will not “sit (abide) in the seat (dwelling place)” of those who contradict God’s word. When people disregard and verbally mock God and the Bible, we need to remove ourselves from their influence (council), forsake their behavior (path), and remove ourselves from their abode (seat). When we do that, we can focus on the word of God. The study of the Bible and fellowship with other Christians is what produces true happiness.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved

Monday, August 27, 2007

Matthew 3:3-John the Baptist-An Uncommon Prophet Pt.1

My titles for this blog stink. I confess it. I’m just not that creative or interesting to come up with cool titles that catch the eye and motivate people to come into a church on a Sunday. Actually, I tried putting a sermon title on the board outside a church one time to motivate people to come in and it sort of worked. It was called “There is a bomb on your bus.” Ok, that didn’t happen.

John the Baptist was the last Old Testament prophet and he had a clear, direct message for the people. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” A call to turn from sin and to a life of holiness is not a message one would preach to gain popularity, to be sure. However, his message was not the only thing that was unique about this prophet of God. First of all, his role was unique in the plan of God. Matthew quotes Isaiah 40:3 and states that John was “the voice”. He doesn’t say herald, or person, or envoy. Isaiah gives to John the impersonal title of “voice”. He is pictured without form or face, just sound. In my head, I almost picture being in the woods and hearing a sound but not being able to identify where the sound is coming from. In truth, sometimes in those settings it feels like it comes from all around with no discernable location. This is certainly not a description most people would want others to use to describe them. People want to be remembered. Very few people prefer a behind the scenes role to one where they get attention and praise. I remember one dear saint at a church I served as a minister of music. This lady set up the floral arrangements for every service and special occasion. She never got publicly praised for it. Her spiritual gift was service and she enjoyed doing it. During one week long revival service, I made the point to publicly acknowledge her. In much the same way, John the Baptist had a less than glamorous role but he recognized it and played his part. As John records in chapter 3 verse 30 of his gospel, John the Baptist says about Jesus “He (Jesus) must increase and I must decrease”. John recognized that Jesus should have preeminence and glory in all things and he was willing to submit himself to the task that the Lord had appointed him to do.

Adding to this lack of distinction is the description of what this voice was doing. Matthew records that this voice was the voice of one “crying” or shouting. This is not a subtle, easy going request for repentance. This “voice” is loudly, boisterously calling for response from everyone that can hear. It is not a dialog or discussion. It is a very take it or leave it method of delivery for this message. As I had mentioned a few weeks ago, this was almost like a newspaper salesman shouting “Extra, extra!! Read all about it!!!” The purpose of the delivery is to disseminate information to as many people as possible leaving the hearer responsible for the response to the message. We also notice the location where this voice was crying. Isaiah said the voice would be “in the wilderness” which is exactly where we find John the Baptist. Modern evangelism strategies would tell you to “Go where the people are.” However, as my pastor often says, that is a “bottom line strategy”. As Christians, we are called to be “top line” people. In other words, we obey what God says and trust Him for the results. The Bible records the prophecy by Isaiah about John and his message. The Bible does not record how God revealed to John that this was His will for him. We can know, however, that if we follow John’s example and obey God not matter what human wisdom what tell us that God will bless the effort.

Finally, we see that John’s message of repentance was divinely prophesied by Isaiah. Isaiah records that the message being proclaimed by this voice is to “Prepare a way for the Lord, make His paths straight.” Obviously, this refers to the repentance called for by John. As Albert Barnes notes in his commentary, it was customary for Eastern kings to send harbingers ahead of them to tell the people to prepare for the coming king by removing any impediments (rocks, rough roads, etc…) to his coming. In much the same way, the Lord’s herald calls for the people to remove the impediments in their life (sin, self righteousness, etc…) in preparation for the coming Messiah.

We should be challenged as we read these verses to live our lives focused on the glory of God doing what God has called us to do where He has called us to do it. Our reputation and comfort should not be our primary concern. Our primary concern should be His glory and His kingdom.

"Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Matthew 3:2-John the Baptist-The Herald’s Message

A television “preacher” was interviewed on television. This man is the “pastor” of America’s largest church and has a wildly popular television ministry. The interviewer asked him about sin and this “preacher” said something along the lines of “I don’t preach about sin. We hear all the time about God’s wrath and things that will keep us out of heaven. I would rather preach about God’s goodness and His love. That is what will draw people to Christ.” Like Col. Potter used to say on MASH, “Horse feathers”. The fact of the matter is that apart from recognition of our sin and the penalty for our sin, none of us would have ever turned to Jesus Christ. In order to tell people the Good News of the gospel you have to tell them the bad news that they are lost and that they are going to spend eternity in hell suffering forever, separated from God apart from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This is not a popular message. A preacher preaching this kind of sermon is probably not going to end up with 20,000 or more people in his services every week. However, as we see in this verse, this is exactly the kind of message that draws sinners to true repentance by the grace of God through the Holy Spirit.

John the Baptist called the people who heard him preach to “Repent”. Metanoeo, the word that is translated as “repent”, means to change ones mind. It does not mean to feel sorry or to fear the consequences. The perception of a lost person of their sin is that it is no big deal. They don’t recognize the acts they commit as offensive to God but rather they see their sin as them exercising their rights to live as they see fit. The perspective of a Christian is altogether different. We recognize that our sin is filthy before God and that God demanded a penalty for that sin. The crucifixion of our Lord Jesus satisfied God’s demand for justice. When we recognize our sin as the offense that it is, our perspective is changed and we live differently. Essentially, this is the idea of repentance. Our minds are changed so that our perspective on our sin is changed. When we see our sin as what it truly is, our hearts are broken because of it and we change directions. We turn from sin and turn to Christ.

As an illustration, let’s look to the Bible to see an example of what repentance is and what it isn’t. In 1 Samuel 15, Saul is told to kill all the Amalekites. Instead, he killed most of them and kept the king of the Amalekites and the best of their stuff. When Samuel confronts him, Saul proudly proclaims his innocence. After several interchanges between the two, Samuel announces that God has judged Saul and the kingdom would be taken away from him. At that point, Saul exclaims “I have sinned.” This is not repentance. This is a man that has been caught and is sorry he was caught. He was not sorry about what he did. In fact, from his perspective, what he did was not sin. He repeatedly justified himself before the man of God. In contrast, in 2 Samuel 12, Nathan confronts David about his sin with Bathsheba. When Nathan calls him out, David doesn’t defend himself with butter. Yes, butter. He doesn’t say “Yes, I sinned, but, er…umm…you see”. He flatly, bluntly says “I have sinned.” That is repentance. It is honest and transparent. When are hearts are broken because we committed the sin, not that we have been caught, we are repentant. As Paul notes in 2 Corinthians 7:8-11 “8For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. 9Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. 10For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. 11For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” Essentially, then, John begins his first sermon with a call to spiritual cleansing.

He also gives his audience the reason that they should get cleaned up. He tells them “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. In other words, the kingdom of God was on the horizon. The book of Malachi ended the Old Testament with a call to repentance and a promise of judgment. John the Baptist arrives here on the scene telling people to get ready because the King is coming. To prepare themselves for this spiritual kingdom, they must be cleansed spiritually. This kingdom of God (he used heaven as a euphemism for God so as not to offend his target Jewish audience by using God’s name) would require spiritual purity. This spiritual purity would require repentance from sin. In order to repent, the people would have to recognize their sin as being an offense to God so as to turn in faith and ask Him to make them clean.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc Used by permission All rights reserved

Friday, August 3, 2007

Philippians 3:3. Characteristics of Genuine Saving Faith

Paul, in verses one and two of this chapter, gives the Philippians markers that identify the false teachers who were trying to come in the church to spread their poisonous doctrine. These teachers claimed to have authority and appeared to be religious. Therefore, Paul writes in this verse a description of what a true follower of Christ looks like to remind them of the purity of their faith in contrast with the religion of the false teachers.

The Identity of Genuine Saving Faith

Paul, in verse 3 of chapter 3, tells the believers that “we are the circumcision”. The emphasis in the phrase is on the word we in the Greek. Paul wants to stress to the believers that it is they who are the true circumcision as opposed to the Jewish legalizers who are in fact the false circumcision or “mutilation” as he calls them in the previous verse. As we noted last week, the Jews were proud of their circumcision and felt that it gave them a spiritual advantage before God. However, scripture has a different testimony regarding circumcision.

First of all, we should realize that circumcision itself was not a Jewish invention. It was actually practiced by other people before Abraham was told to do it as the sign of the covenant. The spiritual significance of the procedure was totally missed by the Jews. God required a spiritual purity. No physical procedure could provide that. However, the physical here is used to point to a spiritual truth. In fact, the Old Testament records that God in fact revealed this truth about circumcision to the Jewish people. For instance, in Deuteronomy 30:6, scripture records that “the Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your children to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, that you may live.” Also, Moses called the people to “circumcise the foreskin” of their hearts in Deuteronomy 10:16. To have their hearts circumcised means to have their sin nature put off so that they would be clean before God and able to serve Him with a pure heart. Paul also wrote about this truth in the New Testament. In Colossians 2:11, Paul refers to this spiritual circumcision as “putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.” Also, in Romans 2:28-29, Paul writes, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is in the outward flesh but he is a Jew who is one inwardly and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter, whose praise is not from men but from God.” Therefore, the title Jews claimed for themselves in a prideful way actually belonged to Christians because the Jews missed the true spiritual application.

The Activity of Genuine Saving Faith

Christianity is not a spectator sport. We, when we gather as the body of Christ for worship, are not an audience being treated to a free show. As Christians, we are called to service. Paul teaches the Philippians this when he tells them that they are the circumcision “who worship God in the Spirit”. The English word worship is used to translate several Greek words in the New Testament. Sometimes, worship is used to translate the Greek word proskuneo (4352) means to prostrate oneself or fall on your knees and touch the ground with your forehead in reverence. In other words, it means to bow. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 14:25, Paul writes “…falling down on his face, he will worship God…” Also, in Matthew chapter 2, when the wise men came from the East, they stated they had come to worship (proskuneo) Jesus. However, the word translated worship here is the Greek word latreuo. The root word of this word is the word latris which means “a hired servant”. The word latreuo is usually translated as serve. In fact, Jesus Himself uses this word when being tempted by Satan. In Matthew 4:10, He says “Away with you Satan! For it is written ‘You shall worship (proskuneo) the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve (latreuo)’.” Certainly, worshipping our God corporately and singing praises to Him is proper and edifying. Corporate worship is important and God certainly deserves the praise of our lips. I was personally drawn into the church through children’s choir and youth choir. However, if that is the only way we worship our God, something is missing. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that true saving faith will change the way we live and give us a desire to serve our God. Romans 12:1 tells us that presenting our bodies as living sacrifices to God is our “reasonable service”. The word service is the translation of the Greek word latreia (2999) which is similar to latreuo. In the NASB, this verse calls our sacrifice our “spiritual act of worship”. We do not serve in order to obtain salvation. Rather, we serve because we are so thankful for what Christ has done for us.

Our worship as service comes from heart that is thankful. The power that enables us to serve is spiritual. In the New King James version, the text reads that we “worship God in the spirit.” Other versions read that we “worship in the Spirit of God.” In either case, our service is not just something we do but it is rather action that is the overflow of the effect of the Holy Spirits presence in our lives. The action of service is physical but the motivation behind it is spiritual. In fact, Jesus said in John 4:24 that the worship of God must be in “spirit and in truth”.

Paul says that true believers “rejoice in Christ Jesus”. The word that is translated rejoice is the Greek word kauchaomai (2744). The word means to boast or to glory. Therefore, Paul is saying that Christians should boast in Christ. Why? Obviously it is because we have nothing to do with our salvation. Romans 8:29-30 tells us that He foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified us. Ephesians 2:8 tells us that even the faith we have to believe was not ours but that it was the gift of God. Boasting in Christ Jesus and recognizing the miracle of salvation is a humbling activity. It is also exclusive in the sense that proclaiming salvation through Christ alone means that there is no salvation available anywhere else. In this day and time, people don’t like absolutes. Even people who call themselves Christians appear squeamish when faced with the possibility of proclaiming Jesus as the only way. Our culture of “tolerance” loves to talk about spirituality and even God. However, when you bring up Jesus people are ready to argue that point to the end.

The Mentality of Genuine Saving Faith

The reason Jesus is such a touchy subject to non-Christians is because of what He represents. Most people, have been blinded to the truth of the Gospel by the Devil, regard salvation and heaven as something they can earn through their own goodness. They believe either they are capable of attaining righteousness on their own or that they are already righteous. However, Christ’s death on the Cross destroys that theory. By His death, He affirmed that sin demanded a penalty. He also demonstrated that sin’s penalty was death. Therefore, if I recognize that He paid my debt by His death and His resurrection is true, then I must conclude that He is God and I have to stop doing things my way and submit to Him. To do so, I would have to acknowledge my sin and my inability to make myself right with God. People want to create their own righteousness and earn their way to heaven so they don’t have to submit to God. However, we who are Christians, have ”no confidence in the flesh”. We do not believe that our flesh has any power to save us. In fact, we have come to Christ and trusted in Him for just that reason. In Romans 7:18-25, Paul says “18For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” We submit to God and trust Christ when we have come to the conclusion that we are incapable of producing righteousness.

A true, saving faith is characterized by our mindset and our actions. Ultimately, those who trust Christ for their salvation rather than trusting themselves and those who serve the Lord are the ones who are spiritually circumcised.