Archive for October, 2009

Does This Sinner Look Familiar?

Friday, October 30th, 2009

In the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells about a Pharisee and a tax collector who both went to the temple to pray.  The Pharisee stood up when he prayed, and and he prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” 

However, the tax collector kept at a distance and wouldn’t even look up to heaven.  Instead, he beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner. 

Christ said that it was the tax collector, not the Pharisee, who went home justified before God.  “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” 

This Pharisee was very selfish in his prayers.  Unfortunately, I can identify with him, because I’ve been guilty of this same thing. I have prayed for what I needed, or wanted; forgetting those who are in greater need than myself; all who suffering from terrible diseases; all who have just lost a loved one; and, all who can’t afford to feed their children.  Christianity tells us to be selfless, more concerned about others than ourselves.  Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”  Why should we consider others to be better than ourselves?  Because they are. 

This audacious Pharisee actually thanked God that he wasn’t like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers, and tax collectors?  I believe that we do this routinely ourselves.  When we read about robbers and murderers and their terrible deeds, we somehow feel like we’re better than those people  However, we must understand that we have sinned just like those people, and all sin has “missed the mark.”  Our filthy rags are no better than anyone else’s filthy rags.  We must be more compassionate and try to understand the situation for the millions of people who have been sentenced to prison.  Many will die there because of a single brief moment of uncontrolled rage.  They know that they were wrong, and they’re sorry for what they did.  Yet, they are guilty, and they will never again experience freedom in this life.  They wake up behind locked doors, hoping for a letter or a visit from someone they can call a friend. 

This Pharisee was also quite legalistic, thinking that he had earned something from God by fasting and tithing.  We can see this every day too.  People go to church on Sunday morning to worship a God they hardly know, and then they live like pagans for the rest of the week.  These church-goers are practicing religion, not Christianity.  They’re performing certain deeds in order to earn favor from God.  Romans 6:14 says that we are not under law, but under grace. 

We must be less like the Pharisee, and more like the tax collector.  He knew his sins, and they brought him shame when he approached God.  We simply must confess our sins to God (1 John 1:9), and call upon Him to have mercy upon us.

Sin, Faith, and Duty – Luke 17

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

If We Cause Others to Sin

Luke 17:1-3a says, “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come.  It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves.” 

We are warned to watch ourselves because if we cause someone else to sin, God’s wrath will be upon us. 

If Someone Sins Against You

Luke 17:3b-4 says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.  If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” 

If someone sins against us, we should try to correct him.  If he repents, we should forgive him, no matter how many times his cycle of sin and repentance is repeated. 

If You Have Faith

Luke 17:6 says, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” 

I’ve never seen anyone tell a tree to uproot itself and replant itself in the sea, have you?  Does this mean that not one of us has faith as small as a mustard seed? 

If We Do Our Duty

Luke 17:7-10 says, “Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’?  Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’?  Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?  So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ ”

When we have done our duty, we shouldn’t expect any accolades for it.

How Can God Expect Us to Be Glad About Bad Things?

Monday, October 26th, 2009

In the book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” Rabbi Harold S. Kushner attempts to offer consolation for people who question why certain evils have entered their lives.  While his answers have provided practical and compassionate insight for some people, I believe that the best answers can be found in the New Testament, where we are told to be joyful about those bad things that happen to us.  James 1:2 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.”  In 2 Corinthians 7:4, Paul said, “In all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.”  The Bible tells us that bad things happen for three specific purposes:  in order to accomplish God’s master plan; to give us perseverance; and, to provide us with heavenly rewards. 

God’s Master Plan

When the apostle Paul was persecuted and imprisoned for the cause of Christ, he wrote the prison epistles.  In Philippians 1:12, he said, “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.”  Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees.  Being so close to the physical circumstances around us prevents us from seeing the big picture.  God’s master plan may include some steps where we have to endure some negative circumstances before the next positive step of God’s plan can be accomplished, either for us or for others.  Perhaps the reason that we can’t see the forest is simply because we’re not omnipotent like God.  We simply have to trust Him, which is indeed the heart of the gospel message (John 3:16). 

Perseverance

In James 1:3-4, we are told that, “The testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  Verse 12 says, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” 

John 16:20-24 says, “You will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

Earthly Rewards vs. Heavenly Rewards

In Matthew 6:1-21, Christ explains a trade-off between earthly and heavenly rewards.  In verse 1, He says, “Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” 

Concerning giving, in verses 2 – 4, He says, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” 

Concerning prayer, in verses 5 – 8, He says, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.  I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Concerning fasting, in verses 16 – 18, He says, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 

Concerning treasures in Heaven, in verses 19 – 21, He says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

This is also the message presented to us in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12, culminating in Christ’s summary, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” 

In Luke 16:19-31, Christ tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus.  It’s a disturbing story of the rich man spending eternity in hell while the poor man Lazarus spends eternity in Heaven.  In verse 25, Abraham told the rich man, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.”

Is Adultery Always Either the Cause or the Effect of Divorce?

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Luke 16:18 says, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”  After careful study, I wonder if we can restate this truth as follows:  Adultery is always either the cause or the effect of divorce.  If this sounds too simplistic, let’s take a closer look at these two possibilities. 

The first case is easier for us to understand, where adultery is the cause of divorce.  We usually think of a situation where a married man has sexual relations with someone other than his wife.  This act of adultery results in divorce, and the unfaithful spouse then often marries his new lover. 

However, can adultery really be the effect of a divorce?  Christ said that a man is committing adultery after he divorces his wife, when he marries the other woman.  In this case, the man may have remained faithful to his wife before the divorce; i.e., infidelity may not have had anything to do with the divorce.  However, if this is the case, then why was the man guilty of adultery when he remarried? 

This requires a solid understanding of the institution of marriage.  Marriage isn’t just an agreement between a man and a woman to live together.  Marriage is a contract before God, where a man and a woman commit their lives to each other for life–spiritually, physically, and mentally.  A man commits adultery when he violates the physical part of this relationship by having sexual relations with someone other than his wife.  Furthermore, Matthew 5:28 even says that any man who merely looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 

Christ said that any man who divorces his wife and then marries another woman commits adultery.  This man’s divorce was a divorce only in the eyes of man, not the eyes of God.  The divorce in a court of law has nothing to do with God’s contract for a life of commitment to each other.  Even after this worldly “divorce,” God still sees these two people as a married couple.  Now, at the time of the legal divorce, no adultery has yet been committed.  It is only after the man marries another woman, and consummates that marriage, that adultery has occurred.  This concept is further supported by Matthew 5:32, “Anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” 

So, it seems that we can conclude that adultery is always either the cause or the effect of divorce.  Note that it often appears to us that God condoned the practice of polygamy in the Old Testament, and even in this situation, this statement still stands true.  Merely marrying another wife didn’t necessarily constitute adultery.  The adultery occurred only if the man had first divorced his wife, or if the woman that he married had previously been divorced.

What Does the Parable of the Shrewd Manager Really Mean?

Monday, October 19th, 2009

The Parable of the Shrewd Manager in Luke 16:1-15 is not easy to understand.  A rich man discovered that his money manager was being wasteful with his resources.  He told the money manager that his job was in jeopardy, and he demanded accountability. 

In order to protect his own future, the money manager immediately began networking.  He began doing favors for the people who owed money to the rich man.  He “cooked the books” of the rich man’s accounting ledgers by slashing the debt that each of these men owed the rich man by 20% to 50%.  This, made each of these debtors delighted with the steward, but we would think that the rich man would not have been so delighted. 

However, the rich man surprises us by commending the unjust money manager for acting wisely.  When he realized that he was about to be dismissed, he “shrewdly” did something about it by ensuring that he would have friends to welcome him after he was fired. 

Furthermore, Christ makes an even more surprising statement in verse 9, “Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” 

It is difficult to justify this statement, and many people have tried with various explanations such as, we should: 

   1) Help others with our money and influence. 
   2) Assume responsibility, quickly and decisively. 
   3) Remain alert and energetic. 
   4) Understand that death is certain, and prepare for eternity. 

The first three of these sound a bit fluffy, but the fourth one (offered by Falwell) comes closest to explaining Christ’s worldly-sounding words.  Each of us needs to be ready for eternity, although not (as some have suggested) by simply lightening the burden of sin through good deeds. 

Christ is telling us to expend our material possessions by giving them all away to others.  The recipients will consequently become our friends because of what we’ve done for them, even though this wasn’t our primary objective.  Then, when our wealth is gone, we have demonstrated that we are true believers who are ready for eternity.  We have used everything in this life in order to imitate Christ’s love for others by giving away the things that are so precious to most people. 

This was also Christ’s message in Luke 18:22, “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  Furthermore, this message is confirmed in Luke 16:10-14 where Christ tells us that we will be rewarded for being trustworthy.  We can’t serve both God and money. 

Christ isn’t commending dishonesty.  He clearly states that the money manager’s actions were unjust and sinful.  However, Jesus does commend the shrewdness of the dishonest manager, although not the dishonesty of the shrewd manager.

Must We Bear Fruit?

Friday, October 16th, 2009

In Jesus’ parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-7, the owner of a vineyard had an employee who took care of the vineyard.  The owner had been checking a particular fig tree for three years, and it never did bear any fruit, so he told his employee to cut it down.  It was just using up the soil and water, and there were plenty of other fig trees that could use that same soil and bear fruit. 

However, the employee had cared for that tree for three years, and he didn’t want his efforts to be wasted.  He asked the owner to leave it for one more year, and he would spend extra time cultivating and fertilizing it.  Then, if it still didn’t bear fruit, he would cut it down. 

I’ve seen similar occurrences in my vegetable garden.  I plant tomato plants each spring, and I spend a log of time caring for them.  I choose a sunny location, and then I did a deep hole for each tomato plant where I bury fertilizer.  When the plant’s roots reach the fertilizer, the plant will receive extra nourishment.  Then I plant the tomato plant above the fertilizer, and I mulch it to help it retain water.  I then place a metal cage around the plant for support of its branches as it grows. 

Then I continually check each plant every couple of days.  When they’re dry, I water them, and when spider mites attack, I spray them.  After a few weeks, if conditions are right, I’m able to harvest plenty of tomatoes. 

However, sometimes, for unknown reasons a particular plant fails to yield a crop.  At a certain point in the growing season, I make a decision.  Should I continue to spend my efforts on a plant that isn’t bearing fruit, or should I pull it up.  As soon as I’m convinced that, despite my best efforts, it will bear no fruit, I decide to stop wasting water, fertilizer, and spray on it, and I pull it up. 

I have a purpose for that tomato plant, just as God has a purpose for each of us.  We’re not here to just live out our lives fruitlessly.  God has a specific plan for each one of us.  He tells us that we need to repent and get engaged into His plan, or perish.  We need to change to His way of doing things and start bearing fruit, or perish.

Why Worry?

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Jesus used some great analogies in Luke 12:22-34 in order to explains that we don’t need to worry about daily necessities like food or clothing. 

Concerning food, He said that we should consider the ravens, because they don’t plant crops or store their harvest, and yet God feeds them.  We’re much more valuable than birds, so God surely won’t neglect to feed us.  We can be assured that God knows our needs. 

Concerning clothes, He said that we should consider the lilies, because they don’t sew clothes for themselves, and yet their appearance is better than even King Solomon at the peak of his reign.  We’re eternal creatures, while the lilies are only temporary, so God will make sure that we have the clothes that we need. 

Worrying shows a lack of faith.  We don’t need to be afraid.  We only need to seek God’s will, knowing that He will gladly provide us with all of life’s necessities.  None of us can add a single hour to our lives by worrying about it.  We have no control over a small thing like a single hour of an entire lifetime, so we have no justification for worrying. 

Christ said that instead of worrying about money, we should sell our possessions and give to the poor.  We should exhaust our possessions in this life for God’s glory.  Then in eternity we will have treasures that will never be exhausted or destroyed, and that no thief can steal.  In Luke 12:34, Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  God can easily discern whether we’re more concerned about the cheap possessions of this life or the priceless treasures of eternity.

Are You Greedy? Are You Sure?

Monday, October 12th, 2009

What determines whether or not someone is greedy?  We read about a man in Luke 12:13-21 who wanted part of an inheritance, but Jesus told him to watch out for greed, because a man’s life doesn’t consist of the abundance of his possessions.  Christ then told the parable of the rich fool: 

A rich man owned land that produced good crops, and he worried about where to store all of his bounty.  He decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones.  Then, with his future secure, he could take life easy.  However, God said that this man was a fool.  He told the man, “This very night your life will be demanded from you.  Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”  Christ said that this is the way it would be for anyone who stores up things for himself on earth, but who isn’t rich toward God. 

Most of us struggle with finances every day.  Our flesh is greedy, and our desires determine our greed.  We usually wish that we could be financially independent.  We should all be good stewards of all that God gives us, but when finances become too important, our lives become defined by our possessions. 

We seem to think that most of our problems would be solved if we could only inherit a fortune from someone.  Knowing that this probably won’t happen, we instead try to save money in order to be able to take it easy in our retirement years.  Jesus reminds us that even if we successfully build an IRA account, we could die on the first day after we retire.  Then who would reap the financial benefits of our life of labor?  Ecclesiastes 2:26 says, “To the man who pleases Him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God.” 

Have you ever thought about people who win the lottery, or who inherit a lot of money?  Most of them waste all of their money by accumulating an excess of material things, and they go right back into debt, worse than before.  This is like dieting.  When we are convicted about being overweight, we set a goal, we diet, we reach our goal, and then we fall back into the same bad habits and become heavier than we were before our diet.  The few lottery winners who don’t upgrade their lifestyle with the winnings are probably the same ones who had the fortitude to work and save all of their lives.  Proverbs 13:11 says, “Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow.” 

Most of us have saved money to buy something, and just when we had saved almost enough, we were hit with an unexpected expense, and we didn’t get to buy that new thing after all.  This should teach us something about greed.  The value of our lives is determined by our love for God, not by the abundance of our toys.

Why Be Afraid?

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Jesus confirmed in Luke 12:6-7 that God will take care of all of our needs.  Christ illustrated this by showing that God is all-knowing and all-powerful. 

He said that even though five sparrows are sold for a couple of pennies, God hasn’t forgotten even a single sparrow anywhere in the world.  In the grand scheme of things, a single sparrows doesn’t seem to be very important.  How many sparrows must there be in the world?  With over 40 known species of sparrows, the population of most species is thriving.  Many countries have millions of the house sparrow alone.  This doesn’t include only larger countries like the U.S., but also smaller (and more northern) countries like the Netherlands.  It’s probably safe to assume that there are billions of sparrows in the world.  There are probably more sparrows than there are humans.  Yet the Bible tells us that not one of them is forgotten by God.  He knows the location and movement of every one.  Then Christ teaches that we shouldn’t be afraid, because we are each worth far more than a sparrow. 

Jesus gives us another analogy by telling us that the very hairs of each of our heads are all numbered.  A full head of hair contains some 150,000 individual hairs.  However, God knows the exact number on every head in the world.  He knows location of each head, and the placement of each hair.  Just as with the sparrows, if we are each much more important than a single hair to an omniscient and omnipotent God, then we have nothing to fear.

Are You a Pharisee?

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Luke 11:42-53 includes six specific warnings that Jesus gave the Pharisees, and they still apply today: 

1) They were tithing, but neglecting justice and the love of God.  We can’t somehow earn points with God by giving a tenth of our income, and then expect Him to overlook our failure to practice the more important things like justice and love.  Tithing can be meaningless legalism. 

2) They loved the most important seats in the synagogues, and being publicly greeted as important dignitaries.  Our flesh clamors for undeserved honor.  It’s easy for politicians to be guilty of this, as well as philanthropists who want to ensure that their generosity is well-known.  In Matthew 6:2-4, Jesus taught that people like this have already earned their (cheap) rewards before men in this life, while the richest rewards are reserved for those who practice a lifetime of humility, and then approach the Judgment Seat of Christ on their knees. 

3) They were inconsistent and deceitful in their teachings, because their walk didn’t match their talk.  This serves only to bring others down to our own level. 

4) They loaded people down with burdens that they could hardly carry, and they weren’t willing to help them.  Likewise, churches and pastors can load people down with responsibility and guilt, and turn their backs when those same people are in need. 

5) They claimed to honor the prophets, even though they approved of the unjust killing of those prophets at the hands of their own forefathers.  Many politicians today claim to honor our godly forefathers who risked their lives in creating a unique nation with a unique Constitution, doing so with a love and respect for God and prayer.  Yet, they want to take God out of government.  Neither the Pharisees nor these politicians will not escape accountability for their actions. 

6) They were experts in the law, but they were guilty of false teachings.  They weren’t true believers, and they hindered others from learning the truth.  Preachers who fail to preach the truth are not carrying out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).  If they don’t know the truth, then they’re not believers themselves, so they’re unable to proclaim the truth to others.  Otherwise, they’re deliberately deceiving others. 

We still see all of these sins today.  We honor legalism above grace, and pride over humility.  We should approach God like the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14, with repentance  and bowed heads.  Our preachers should preach the truth in humility, and we should all regularly study the Bible for ourselves (Acts 17:11).