Monday, February 28, 2011

What is Our Agenda?

I heard someone use a phrase the other day that I thought was interesting.  He was speaking of self-proclaimed preachers who have a Bible and an agenda.  His point was either they were self-promoters or had some pet doctrine that they were consumed with and they used the Bible to their ends.  It got me thinking that this might be more common than we think.

I don't want to be a preacher with a Bible and my own agenda.  There are plenty of people that have in their minds how this country should be or what the church should look like or how the person in the pew next to them should be living and the Bible is used to push what they already believe.  Instead we should be concerned with what the Bible teaches whether it fits well with the way we already think or not. 

It is sometimes difficult to approach the Bible afresh each time we open it but it is not impossible.  We need to be careful not to see it as a few thousand verses of proof texts but instead see it as God explaining to us the issues of life and salvation.  What he says is important should be important to us.  What the Bible does not make much over, neither should we.

At its center is Christ and his glory.  If we study the Bible to find out more about him and his work and less about trying to prove we are right over some side issue that doesn't affect holiness, then it seems we will have a better chance of coming away with a message from the Lord and not with our own message.  The Bible is not a tool to use as much as it is a word from God to give us life and light.  God is explaining his agenda, not turning us loose on each other.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Letting the Peace of God Rule Us

We understand that from a worldly point of view peace is mainly the absence of hostilities.  Whether people love each other is not and cannot be a concern for governments trying to establish order.  But in Christ's kingdom things are a little different.  Christ isn't so much concerned with outward morality as he is inward godliness.  One big reason is that from a good heart comes good deeds.  This is why Jesus tells us that it is wrong for his people not only to murder but to even to want to murder someone.  Because simply not killing someone is not a complete reflection on the holiness of God but loving your neighbor and so not trespassing against him is.

So for a Christian, having peace with God will bring an inner peace that will allow us to have peace with those around us.  By this we do not mean that we will force ourselves to not mistreat others but instead we will have a genuine love and concern for others.  This isn't automatic but comes as we "abide" in Christ.  Jesus told us that fruit is only produced by abiding in him.  I believe this is done not by "letting go and letting the Spirit 'control' us" in some mystical way but by abiding in his word.

Abiding in God's Word isn't just a matter of having daily devotions and reading a few passages or even a lot of passages.  It means meditating on what you have read.  Thinking about what it means in its context and how this information should affect the way you think.  None of this can be done properly without the power of the Holy Spirit but it equally can't be done without ingesting the Word that He has been given as a guide.  We speak sometimes of life application and that is okay but we first need some heart application.

Let's take the subject of peace for instance.  What is wrong if we can't get along with others or have a problem with anger and strife?  What is wrong when we never seem to get victory over our "nerves" and are constantly overcome with worry?  It is one thing to believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and to have peace with God.  But it is another thing to abide in these truths, to meditate on them and think through them and work them out and then apply them in our lives so that such truths actually rule the way we live.

We read in Col 3:15-16  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  How does the fact that you have peace with God translate into a peace that rules the way you live?  Perhaps the next verse offers some light.  Let the Word of God be what drives the way you think.  It seems this is one of the points Paul is making.

If you are so full of yourself that you can't get along with others or be content with God's providential care then you aren't keeping the truth of God's Word in the forefront of your mind.  You have been reconciled to God and he is taking care of you and has promised to bring you unto himself and let you gaze at his glory for eternity.  None of these things you deserve and Hell was your future until he graciously came to you in Christ.  If this doesn't bring a peace in your heart and mind, what will?

Have we been faithful to attend the preaching and faithful in daily devotions but still failing to abide in Christ by letting his Word permeate our life?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Monday, February 14, 2011

What Bothers Us?

If we learn anything from the study of the Old Testament it is that sinners have been the same from Adam onward.  I am not even sure if we can say that sinners today are any more sophisticated in the way they sin than those early in earth's history.  Take 1 Kings 12:4 for instance, "Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you."  Here the northern tribes complain to Rehoboam that life under Solomon had been too difficult and they wanted things to go easier or they were going to rebel.  It seems clear that their intent was to rebel from the start since we have already been told that life under Solomon's rule had been very good for the people.  But that is not what stands out in this account to me.

Chapter 11 was about Solomon ending his reign in idolatry.  My question is why weren't these people complaining about this?  Their king had betrayed them by causing them to disobey the covenant and the results would be the cursings of the Lord.  They had just begun a golden age if you will.  The economy was at an all time high and all the promises of God to Israel were being fulfilled before their eyes, 1Ki 8:56  "Blessed be the LORD who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant."  Solomon's actions were placing all this in jeopardy by dishonoring the Lord of the covenant and yet you hear no complaints of the "religious" situation; just the whining of a spoiled generation wanting things to be even easier than they already were.

I wonder if we are not just as guilty sometimes in our complaints to God in our prayers or in our complaining in church towards each other or the pastor?  Our lives are difficult, this is a fact; few have an easy time making money or go through life with no real health issues nor are all their relationships trouble free.  Even in the church nothing is perfect and living in the kingdom takes hard work, not the least of which is being able to get along with other sinners.  Our lists of needs can go on and on. 

But my point is what really bothers us; what makes up the gist of our complaining to the Lord.  (I use complaining in a good sense in which we are bothered about something and take it to someone who can make a difference, not just idle gossip to hurt someone)  Israel couldn't seem to care less that God was being dishonored in the land; they were only concerned with their immediate physical needs.  And we see later that they were already idolatrous in their hearts and were just looking for a way to rule themselves. 

Are the burdens of our hearts and the gist of our prayers about getting God to ease our struggle in this life but very little of our concerns and prayers have anything to do with God helping us to be profitable servants?  Are we greatly troubled over some minor offense by our brother or sister in Christ or something said by the pastor that rubbed us the wrong way.  Do we fret much over the fact that someone doesn't seem to be "pulling their own weight", or people don't seem to take me as seriously as I think they ought, etc.  It seems people can get so distraught over so many things and let these things cause us to get so bent out of shape so that we are unable to function well individually or in the family of God and yet we don't seem to care much at all over the honor of the Lord. 

What we complain about says a lot about who we are.  What should bother us the most is when we see coldness in our lives towards the things of God, more so than whether things are going easily in the flesh.  What should concern us most in the church is if the love of Christ is reigning supreme in our attitudes and actions; whether there is a sensitivity to holiness in putting Christ first in everything we do; whether there is a burden for the souls of the lost and a concern for the needs of those suffering and struggling in the walk with Christ. 

Let's take stock of our prayers to God and in our complaining to each other.  Let's make sure it looks like the complaints God has.  Oh yes, he has some issues that bother him.  Jer 2:12  Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, Jer 2:13  for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.  Mat 23:37  "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!

And then think of those seven letters to the churches in Revelation.  God had some good things to say about them but in most of the cases he had some complaints.  For example in Rev 2:4  But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.  His complaints had to do with whether or not they were honoring him in their lives and whether they were conforming to the Word of God.  Whether they were taking their vitamins or not or having car troubles, or whether Rome was taxing them too much wasn't the Lord was upset about.  And so let us be careful to be burdened over the things that really matter and pray and work for those things and then be concerned about the lesser things. 

Is this what Jesus meant when he said to seek the kingdom of God first and his righteous and all these "other" things will be added unto you?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

An All Too Familiar Prayer

1 Kings 13 is quite an interesting story.  I am writing out my message from this text this morning and Jeroboam's prayer struck me as very interesting.  A "man of God" had just told him that God was going to judge his whole idolatrous system and he was even given a sign that day as proof that this was from the true God.  Jeroboam couldn't care less about what God says and stretched out his hand to order the man of God's arrest and the Lord withers his arm up. 

Jeroboam's reaction is astonishing.  He doesn't repent, he doesn't submit to the Lord.  He still refers to the Lord as "your God", not "my God".  Instead he asks for one thing, "Ask God to restore my arm to health".  This was done and still Jeroboam doesn't repent. 

What struck me is that sometimes we Christians pray the same way.  We might not be involved in idolatrous practices but we get a pain or some painful trial and we immediately ask the Lord to remove it as if nothing else matters.  Jeroboam should have used this affliction to repent for his unbelief and asked God to forgive him that he might serve him as he ought.  After all, it was the Lord and no one else that had given Jeroboam the kingdom as well as his life to begin with.  His prayer was completely selfish with no thoughts of serving God.

If we or our loved ones or friends are struck with some affliction we should by all means pray for them.  But we need to be careful that the removal of the affliction is all that motivates us to pray.  Our prayer should be that I be delivered that I might serve and honor my God as I ought.  If we pray for help so that we can continue to disobey the Lord or without consciously asking that we are able to use our deliverance for the glory of God then how is our prayer any different than Jeroboam's? 

This is why I try to be careful in my prayers especially when a lost person or a person I do not know asks me to pray for them when they learn that I am a pastor.  I am happy to pray for them but it isn't merely that they be healed or helped with no strings attached.  I pray that God would use this in their life to meet whatever spiritual needs they have.  If they are unsaved then I ask God not to deliver them until you save them.

But if we pray like this for the lost, then let's be careful to pray like this concerning ourselves.  If we have been afflicted because of sin then confess it first before we dare ask God to make us feel better.  And even if we don't know why we hurt, let us be first concern with doing God's will when we pray rather than our first thoughts being the difficulty that we are in.

Perhaps this idolatrous attitude in Jeroboam was seen in the previous chapter.  When they came to Rehoboam to complain about their situation in the kingdom, why wasn't their first complaint directed at the idolatry that Solomon had set up in Israel.  This would lead to a lot more problems in the kingdom under the covenant than their working conditions.  It was because we tend to be consumed only with our own problems and not the Lord's glory.  May God give us a love for him worthy of his glory and may our prayers reflect a love for the Lord more than a love for this flesh.