Friday, August 30, 2013

We have the Mind of Christ

Today is the final day in our 34th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures* today are:  Isaiah 20-22; 1 Corinthians 2.

Today, I want to encourage you.  If your readings in Isaiah have been difficult for you to get through, you're not alone.  I've been struggling with them, too.  If you find that they're hard to understand, and that you need to read with with a Bible in one hand and a commentary in the other--me too!  Though the poetry of Isaiah can be in one moment beautiful and in the next moment horrifying, the substance of his words can be perplexing.  But don't worry--wisdom and learning and understanding are ours, because through the Holy Spirit, we have the mind of Christ living in us.

In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul tells the Christians in this troublesome church that they have at their disposal the very mind of Christ.  They don't have to solve their problems on their own or figure things out by themselves.  The mind of Christ is with them.  And by that, I don't believe that Paul means "we inherit the philosophies of Jesus to guide us."  Paul denies that his wisdom comes from human philosophy, saying: speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

No--there's something much more mystical at work here.  We actually have the mind of Christ.  What does it take to truly take hold of this divine mind?  You must be progressing toward maturity.  This wisdom is only for those who press in to God, seeking Him with their whole hearts.

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory (vv. 6-7). 

When you're having trouble understanding the things you're reading in the Bible, there are two ways you can approach things:  You can read the commentaries, use Greek and Hebrew helps, look into the history and the context and the literary forms of the Bible so that you can learn its message from every perspective (and you should do these things).  But the second way of approaching divine learning is often missed by scholars and theologians.  You can pray about it.  You can meditate on God's Word.  You can live it, even when you don't understand it.  And soon, when you've been practicing the Word of God rather than trying to dissect it, the mind of Christ will awaken within you and shed light on your darkness.

These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.  For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.  And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual (vv. 10-13).

When it comes to understanding God's Word, one of our problems is that we approach it from the world's viewpoint.  We tackle touch questions by looking at the Bible through the lens of the world's teachings.  But the Bible says that the spirit of the world does not reveal the truth to us.  Rather, the Spirit who is from God teaches us all things.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.  The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.  “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ (vv. 14-16).

When we operate though the mind of Christ, rather than living by the mind that the world wants to place in us, we discern the wisdom of God, and understand His Word through spiritual means.  Comprehending those deep things in the Bible can only happen when we approach them with the mind of Christ.  Yes, you should study to show yourself approved by God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).  But you should also pray God's Word, and meditate on God's word, and live God's word.  This is the way to have the mind of Christ dwelling in you.  

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you (Rom 8:11).

So, there's a cycle that happens here.  Prayer, meditation, and living God's Word opens you up to the mind of Christ.  Then, the mind of Christ dwelling in your heart opens you up to eternal life--a quality of living that focuses on the eternal rather than on the temporal, on the things of God instead of the things of the world.  And this is eternal life--that we know, really know, the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent (John 11:3).

*Quoted scriptures are from the ESV.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Speaking with Faith, Not with Feelings

Today is the fourth day in our 34th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  Isaiah 17-19; 1 Corinthians 1; Psalm 62.

Have you ever known someone who had a divisive personality, and was always switching loyalties back and forth?  What if that same person was sexually immoral, and proud of it?  Further, what if that person was always taking their family members to court, their marriage was on the rocks, and they were always talking about exercising "their rights," while trampling on the rights of others?  What if you couldn't even sit down and share a meal with that person without feeling degraded by the way they treated you?  What if all their ideas about love were so twisted that you wondered if they really knew what love really was?  What if they were complete show-offs, always out for their own glory?  How would you treat them?  If you could write them a letter, how would you address them?

If you haven't guessed, I'm not really talking about a person.  I'm talking about the church of Corinth, which had all the characteristics I've just described.  It was a seriously messed-up church, with some horrible problems.  The amazing thing is that when Paul addressed them in his first letter, he didn't begin the letter by calling them self-centered, egoticstical, subversive perverts.  When Paul began his letter to them, he said:

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus,called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Now, you might say that Paul was lying when he said these things.  I'd say that he was speaking his faith, rather than speaking the disappointment he must have felt because of the way they lived.  Paul isn't seeing them for all their sin and corruption--he's seeing them through the eyes of Jesus, who forgave them for their sin and planned something much better for them.

In today's brief blog post, I want to ask you--do you know anybody like the hypothetical person I described above?  They can't be as bad as the church of Corinth was!  Instead of speaking with your feelings, how about speaking to them with fiath?  How about treating them as the saints of God that they aren't yet?  Treat them, not as they are, but as they will be.  That may make all the difference in whether your relationship falls apart, or whether it survives and thrives.  Treat them as God sees them, not as you see them...then wait and see what God can do with them.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Perfect Mission; Imperfect Church

Today is the third day in our 34th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures* today are:  Isaiah 14-16; Matthew 28.

We Baptists often say that we are "Great Commission people."  Along with many other Christians, we take seriously Jesus' call to evangelize the world.  Matthew 28:16-20 contains Jesus' Great Commission to His disciples, reminding them that His mission did not stop, just because He was ascending to the Father.  

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.  And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.  And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold,I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

His mission continues in us, His followers.  It's a perfect mission, because it is empowered by our perfect Lord.  We see this perfection in Jesus' statement that all authority has been given to Him.  Since we represent the One who has all authority, there is nothing we can't accomplish, when we follow Him.  "Therefore" means that our mission rests on the fact that He possess all authority, and He also possesses us.  So, we can perform all that He has called us to do.

It's also a perfect mission because Jesus sent His disciples (and, by extension, all His followers, including us) to all nations.  Not a single country or ethnic group is left out of Jesus' plan.

It's a perfect mission because the new followers of Jesus will be baptized into the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit.  This means that they will have all of God as their inheritance.  When we receive God into our lives, we don't just get a sliver of God.  We get all of Him.  What a tremendous blessing!

Jesus gives a perfect mission in that He teaches us to observe all that He has commanded.  Some people like to pick and choose which of Jesus' teachings they will follow, but followers of His perfect mission are obedient to all of His commandments.

Jesus' perfect mission continues forever because He promises, "I am with you always."  All time is in His hands.  Jesus is not limited to the thirty-three years that He lived on this earth in physical form.  From beginning to end, He is with us, continuing to sustain us in His perfect mission.

The amazing thing is that Jesus was willing to give this perfect mission to an imperfect church.  Notice that not all were present when the disciples accompanied Jesus to the mountain.  Only eleven of them were there, because, of course, Judas had hanged himself.  Even though we'd love it if our churches had 100% participation at all events, the reality is that no matter when we're gathered, not everybody is there.  But that's okay--Jesus can do wonderful things, even with imperfect attendance.

Notice, too, that not all believed.  They worshiped Him, but some doubted.  Who says you have to have everybody completely on board if the church's mission is going to work?  Every church is a mixture of some who are more full of faith, and other who are more full of doubt.  The truth is that every individual, to a certain extent, is a mixture of faith and doubt.  What a glorious thing that Jesus doesn't require 100% faith in order to work His wonders!  The faith of a mustard seed will do.

I love the story of the ascension and Jesus' Great Commission.  Not just because it reminds us that we have a job to do--but because it shows that Jesus is willing to give such a perfect mission to an imperfect church.  This shows that He trusts us to do as we're told.  It also shows that we can trust Him to be sufficient for us.  Though we may not all be present, though we may not all believe, He will make up for everything we lack.  What a glorious mission we have!  What a gracious God we serve!

*All scripture is taken from the ESV.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Today is the second day in our 34th week, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures* today are: Isaiah 11-13; Matthew 27; Psalm 22.

Have you ever felt abandoned?  At some point in life, many feel that the people who are closest to them have either rejected them or abandoned them.  It's a horrible feeling, knowing that those who should be defending you, giving you comfort and hope, have turned their backs on you.  It's bad enough when people abandon you--but what about God?  Does God abandon us when we sin?  Did God abandon Jesus when He hung on the cross, bearing the sin of all humanity?  The answer we come up with here is pretty important.

Matthew 27:45-50 says:

45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” 48 And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.

What an agonizing thing--in your last moments, with some of your last breaths, to cry out to God with a sense of total abandonment!  How horrible Jesus must have felt as He carried our sins to His death!  To us, it is unimaginable.  

Many ask, "Why would God turn His back on Jesus like that?  Didn't the Father love His Son?"  Of course, God the Father loves Jesus.  So, why would God abandon Him?

Some people answer this question by quoting Habakkuk 1:13, which says, "You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?"  So, God can't look at evil?  How, then, do we explain Genesis 6:5?  That scripture says, "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."  If in one scripture it says that God cannot see evil, and in another verse it says that God saw evil, we have a problem...unless we understand that Habakkuk 1:13 doesn't really mean that God is incapable of seeing evil.  Think about it--if God were incapable of looking upon evil, then God wouldn't have known about our our sin, and would never have sent His Son as our Savior.  Of course, God can look upon evil!  Besides, we ought to be careful whenever we say that an omnipotent God "can't" do something.  So, what does Habakkuk 1:13 mean?  You have to take a look at the context--because we get ourselves in trouble whenever we look at a verse out of context.  It really means that God can't look with complacency on evil, that God can't endure the sight of evil without doing something about it.  That's why the prophet asks God why He sits idly by.  Since God sees evil, why does He do nothing about it at that time?  (The answer for Habakkuk's question is for another study.)

So, those who say that God abandoned Jesus, "because God cannot see evil and cannot look at wrong" are taking a verse completely out of context.  

When Jesus hung on the cross, it's true that He felt abandoned.  Just as Jesus was fully divine, Jesus was also fully human.  Though He Himself was sinless, Jesus completely identified with the sin of humanity.  In that blindingly agonizing moment, Jesus felt the loneliness of the cross.  So, He quoted words from Psalm 22:, drawing comfort from the knowledge that He wasn't the first or only human to feel abandoned by God.  That psalm says: 

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?

This psalm is an amazing expression of David's sense of abandonment and pain, when he was in a terrifying situation.  Much of the psalm is a prophetic foreshadowing of Jesus' crucifixion.  That deserves a study in its own right, but that's not my purpose for writing here.  I'll simply say that as He hung on the cross, Jesus so identified with this feeling of isolation, fear, and abandonment that He quoted some very strong words in order to express it.

It's important to understand here that while Jesus felt abandoned by God, the Father had not actually rejected Him.  For the Father to separate Himself from the Son would be a violation of the true nature of the unity in the Trinity.

Have you ever felt rejected by God?  You can take comfort in knowing that even Jesus felt this way at one time.  This is part of the human experience, so your feelings are not abnormal.  But you should also understand that while it's normal to feel this way, the problem doesn't come from God turning His back on us.  The problem comes when we are so enveloped in sin that we become unaware of His constant, loving presence.  In reality, "The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18)."  God's Word promises us, "It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”  

By receiving Jesus as your Savior, you have the guarantee that the Lord lives inside you.  As such, it is impossible for God to abandon you, for how could He ever abandon Himself?  2 Timothy 2:13 says, "if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself."  God didn't deny Jesus because of His lack of faith as He hung on the cross.  Certainly, He won't abandon you, who are a vessel of His presence.  If you're feeling isolated, afraid, and alone, then be encouraged today--God will never leave you nor forsake you.


*Scriptures are taken from the ESV.

Monday, August 26, 2013

In Judas' Defense

Today is the first day in our 34th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures* this week are:

  •  Isaiah 7-10; Matt 26; Psalm 22
  •  Isa 11-13; Matt 27; Psalm 118
  •  Isa 14-16; Matt 28
  •  Isa 17-19; 1 Cor 1; Psalm 62
  •  Isa 20-22; 1 Cor 2
Today, I want to defend Judas.  Yes, I know, it's not a popular thing to do.  Defense attorneys are often unpopular people.  But I just don't think he deserves as much condemnation as he gets.  Throughout the centuries, many Christians have consigned Judas to a special place in hell.  Yes, I'm aware of certain scriptures that treat Judas harshly:

Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said,  “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”  He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.  Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.  For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me (John 12:3-8).”

I give no argument here.  Judas was wrong to say what he said, and also wrong to pilfer from the purse.  These are sins, of which Judas was guilty.  But the Bible also says:

The righteousness of God [has been manifested] through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith (Romans 3:22-25).

Since Judas was a disciple of Jesus, it's pretty clear that he put his faith in Jesus.  Having trusted Jesus, Judas receives forgiveness for his sins, the same as anyone does when they trust the Lord.  Why, then, do many consign Judas to hell?  Some quote the following verses:

Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.”  He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him (John 6:70-71).

Clearly, we know that Judas himself was not actually a devil (meaning a fallen angel, or demon).  He was a human.  Jesus is using a figure of speech.  Judas would, however, be possessed by the devil at the time of his betrayal of Jesus (Lk 22:3; Jn 13:27).  Certainly, Judas in some way opened himself to this possession, probably through his greed.  Yet in this case, his sin would be opening himself to possession, not the actual betrayal of his Lord.  And it's the betrayal of Jesus for which many people damn him.  This betrayal was done under manipulation, and Judas was not in control of himself when he committed the act.  Does God hold a puppet on a string accountable for their sins?  

Of course, in addition to Jesus calling Judas a devil, we hear the Lord's other nickname for him in John 17:12, "While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled."  Often, the word translated here as "destruction" is rendered as "perdition."  People point to the word "perdition" and say, "See--Judas is in hell."  But the Greek word Jesus used is ἀπωλείας (apōleias), which truly means "destruction."  Jesus could have been saying that Judas' life would end in suicide, or that Jesus' own life would be destroyed because of what Judas would do.  Either way, this doesn't necessarily indicate Judas' consignment to perdition.  

I've heard many say that Judas showed no remorse for his sin (in contrast to Peter, who wept bitterly over his own denial of Jesus (Lk 22:62).  This couldn't be further from the truth.  Even as he was betraying Jesus, Judas kissed his Lord (Matthew 26:48-49).  Yes, the kiss was a signal to those who would arrest Jesus--but he could have chosen any signal.  Why would he have chosen a kiss, if he didn't want to show some affection or loyalty.  To me, it seems as if Judas is carrying out what he was appointed to do (Ps 41:9; Jn 13:18; 17:12), yet even as he was playing his necessary role in history, he regretted and even loathed his own actions.

In Matthew 27, Judas betrays his own emotions, showing himself to be not a cold-blooded betrayer, but someone who shows great remorse for what he has done.

Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders,  saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself (Matthew 27:3-5).

This morning as I was reading this scripture, it occurred to me--Judas is confessing his sins to priests, hoping that they will make a sacrifice for his sin.  But they refuse to offer a sacrifice for his sin, instead telling him "see to it yourself."  So, seeing to it himself, he offers his own death to try to make atonement.

This tragic interpretation in no case excuses his suicide.  But it's clear that he was sorry for his sin of betraying Jesus' innocent blood.  Why would God not forgive so remorseful a person?  

Many Christians condemn Judas to hell, not because of his betrayal of Jesus, but because of his suicide.  Some denominations teach that suicide is a one-way ticket to hell.  Click here to read my article that addresses this issue.  In short, I don't believe that everyone who commits suicide goes to hell.  The Bible never states that, and it's an unfounded doctrine.

So, any good Bible study should have a take-home life application.  What's the point of all these musings?  Simply that it's not any of our business, who's in heaven and who's in hell.  That's God's business.  

Christian singer Carman's iconic song "The Champion" describes a showdown between Jesus and Satan, as if it were a scene from the boxing movie "Rocky."  (He even employs a bit of Rocky's theme song in his music.)  In the song, the crowd gathers to watch the contest that will determine which one is the Champion.  Carman gives examples of some real historical people that he assumes are captives in Satan's train: 

The audience for the 'Fight of the Ages' was
assembled and in place.
The angels came in splendor from a star.
The saints that had gone before were there:
Jeremiah, Enoch, Job.
They were singing the "Song of Zion" on David's harp.
The demons arrived, offensive and vile,
cursing and blaspheming God.
Followed by their 'trophies' dead and gone.
Hitler, Napoleon, Pharaoh, Capone,
Tormented and vexed and grieved.
Waiting for their judgment From the Throne.

This is an extremely moving and inspiring song, despite its problems.  Yet, despite its emotionalism, there certainly are are a lot of theological difficulties with this song that I won't get into here. You can click here to watch the video, and maybe you can figure out what the other problems are.  Today I simply want to point out how wrong Christians are when we try to guess who God has pardoned and who God has condemned.  It's presumptuous and offensive.  Nobody can guess the eternal state of another person's soul, because nobody can guess another person's relationship with God.  Remember, Jesus said:

Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven (Luke 6:36-37).

*Today's scripture references are taken from the ESV.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Parables of the Final Judgment

Today is the final day in our 33rd week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures* today are Micah 5-7; Matthew 25.

In Matthew 25, Jesus gives three parables about the final judgment.  The Parable of the Ten Virgins highlights our need to keep watch and be ready for Jesus the Bridegroom when He comes.  The Parable of the Talents reminds us to use wisely the gifts that God has given to us--that we are only stewards of our possessions, and not the true owners.  The Parable of the Sheep and Goats warns us that we will be judged by what we have done--whether or not we have acted with compassion toward others.  In each of these parables, the faithful receive God's blessing, and the unfaithful are cast into outer darkness or punishment.  

Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins
If we're not careful, we might misunderstand these parables and from them get the idea that salvation is based on your works.  You might think that the wise virgins were admitted to the wedding because they took the time or spent the money to bring extra oil.  Or, you might think that the worthless servant was cast out because he didn't invest wisely, while the other servants were better with money.  Or, you might think that the "sheep" earned their salvation by engaging in right behavior, whereas the "goats" deserved their punishment because they weren't good enough.  Such ideas are dangerous, and leave us fearful for our salvation, wondering in the end if we will measure up to God's standard of what's "good enough."

In Ephesians 2:8-9, we read:  "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."  This means we're saved, not because of what we do, but because of what Jesus did on our behalf.  Grace means we can't earn our salvation.  

But you may ask, "Why, then, does Jesus tell stories that make it seem like our salvation is based on our good works?"  Jesus' half-brother James answers that question when he says:

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

Parable of the Talents
So then, our good works become an evidence of the reality of our claims to faith.  Our evil works testify to the hypocrisy of any faith that we say we have.  Those who have been truly transformed into the image of Christ will live as Christ lived.  We aren't saved by our works, or condemned because of our works.  Rather, we're saved because we know Jesus so intimately that we're becoming more and more like Him every day.  We're condemned, even if we claim to be religious, if that religion never truly transforms us from the inside, out.

So then, the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins isn't about oil at all.  The oil represents the Holy Spirit.  Those who are left outside were invited to the wedding, yet they were never transformed into true followers of Christ, who naturally would be filled with the Spirit.  It's not because of their lack of good works (purchasing enough oil), but because of lack of relationship with God.  When their oils lack the Holy Spirit, their inner fire cannot burn.  Thus, without that glow, the Bridegroom can't even identify them as invited guests.  How horrible to hear our Bridegroom say, "I never knew you!"  

The Parable of the Talents isn't about whether you shrewdly invest God's money, or whether you wisely use the talents God has given you.  It's about whether or not you have enough of a relationship with God to know His heart.  Matthew 25:24b-25a reveal that the wicked servant didn't even know his Master.  "Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground."  This shows such a misunderstanding of the heart of God!  And it is from this fundamental misunderstanding that the wicked servant operated, in his relationship to the treasure that his Master gave him.  He isn't rejected because of his financial stupidity.  He's rejected because he has no relationship with the Master--a relationship which might have guided him to better actions.

Parable of the Sheep and Goats
The Parable of the Sheep and Goats isn't really about how many charitable acts a person has done.  I mean really--how many charitable deeds must you do, in order to earn your salvation, and how many needy people must you pass over in order to lose your salvation?  No--it's not about that at all.  What's it really about?  Those who are blessed have a relationship with God that is so close that they see His eyes in the eyes of others.  They understand that the Creator is one with the creation, and that to love Him is to love others.  The accursed have no such relationship with the Creator, and live only for themselves.  They aren't damned because of what they didn't do--they're damned because of Who they didn't (or, rather, wouldn't) know.

One thing that's common in all these parables is that each of those that is rejected still had an opportunity to get to know the Master.  Nobody in a wedding party says, "I think I'll enjoy the hors d'oeuvvres, but I don't think I'll get to know the groom."  Yet apparently these girls made themselves strangers to the Bridegroom.  No servant is entrusted with funds by his master unless they've been around the master a fair bit.  But it looks like for all the time this servant spent with the Master, he just didn't understand the heart of God.  Sheep and goats that flock together have an equal opportunity to get to know the shepherd.  Yet in this parable, these goats weren't close enough to the Shepherd to hear His voice and know His will.  In John 10:27-28, Jesus says, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand."  Only the ones who know His voice and follow Him are saved.  The goats who hear His voice yet don't know His voice won't follow, and won't be saved.

When you read these parables, you need to understand the relationship between faith and works.  It's faith (a relationship with God through Jesus Christ) that saves us.  Our works are simply an outgrowth of that relationship.  We're not saved because of what we do or don't do.  We're saved because of Who we know or don't know.  And even knowing Him, trusting Him, and following Him is a gift that we receive--not something that we earn or accomplish.  That's the meaning of grace.

*All scriptures taken from the ESV

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Doomsday Preppers

Today is the fourth day in our 33rd week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures* today are: Micah 1-4; Matthew 24; Psalm 10.

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered a new show (that I haven't yet watched) that's all about doomsday preppers.  It's called Doomsday Castle, and you can check out the show by following this link.  In the show, a family builds a modern castle, convinced that a doomsday scenario is imminent, and that the only way to survive is to hole up in their fortress-home.  

These days, with realistic talk of electromagnetic pulses, civil unrest, an increase of natural disasters, and disease outbreaks, many people are afraid of the future.  "Preppers" are people who stock up their homes with the items that they believe will be necessary in the event of doomsday scenarios.  Some preppers are extreme, and others are more balanced in their approach.  But all preppers believe that we are a whisper away from things falling apart.

Both our OT and NT passages today deal with days of trouble, trial, and tribulation.  Matthew 24 is known as the "Little Apocalypse."  In this chapter, Jesus talks about days of great trial.  False Christs will lead many astray.  Wars, rumors of wars, and natural disasters will be in the news.  They may become realities in your own life.  But these will be just the beginning of birth pangs.  Betrayal, death, and bloodshed will become commonplace.  But Jesus doesn't say that the solution will be holing up in your own personal castle.  Rather than filling your house with so many valuables that looters attack your place first, a better plan is to bug out.

15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 

Now, I don't intend to discuss all the pre-trib, post-trib, or mid-trib rapture scenarios, or get into premillennialism, postmilleninalism, or amillennialism.  Click here to read more on that.   I'm simply saying that the Christian response to disaster is not to hoard everything that you own for yourself, to defend your possessions to your last breath, and to live a fearful life--so terrified that somebody's going to come take your stuff that you have to build a castle to defend it.  It's better to leave everything behind and remain true to your beliefs, trusting that God will take care of you.  In Matthew 6, Jesus says:

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Our problem is that we tend to believe that our treasures will save us.  So we hoard them and defend them to the death.  Instead, we need to understand that God is our Protector.  In the same chapter, Jesus also says:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 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? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Jesus lived without a home for three years, so He knew what He was talking about.  Life is more than food or clothing or the roof over your head.  Life is about your relationship with God, and with the people around you.  When the threat of potential trouble takes your humanity away and turns you into some feudal lord who relies on the strength of his stored arms or sustenance from his amassed reserves, then you've lost connection from your head.  Jesus knew that bad times were coming, but His advice to His followers was to stay true to His Word.  Only by remaining faithful can Christians preach the Gospel throughout the world as a testimony for all nations, so that the end of trouble can come (Matthew 24:14).

Jesus ends this passage with ominous warnings, but Micah sheds some light on an otherwise gloomy message about the last days.  The faithful will be uprooted, but once they are, God says:

I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob;    I will gather the remnant of Israel;I will set them together    like sheep in a fold,like a flock in its pasture,    a noisy multitude of men (Micah 2:12)...

It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and it shall be lifted up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it,
    and many nations shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples,
    and shall decide for strong nations far away;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war anymore;
but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree,
    and no one shall make them afraid,
    for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
For all the peoples walk
    each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
    forever and ever.

In that day, declares the Lord,
    I will assemble the lame
and gather those who have been driven away
    and those whom I have afflicted;
and the lame I will make the remnant,
    and those who were cast off, a strong nation;
and the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion
    from this time forth and forevermore (Micah 4:1-7).

Just as living in a time of peace and plenty is not forever, just as all the things that we count on for safety and security will one day pass away, so also will pass the days of struggle.  We can run through all the doomsday scenarios we want, but at the end of them one thing is always true:  God is still God.  God is in control, and God always wins.  We don't need to be doomsday preppers.  We simply need to trust that God knows what He's doing, and that as long as we trust Him, then whatever happens, we'll be in His hands.

*Scriptures taken from the ESV.