Friday, January 28, 2011

Striking Sparks?

(Proverbs 27:17 NKJV)  As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend. 
I have always liked this verse.  To me, this is one of the points of fellowship.  Christians get together with other Christians to build up (edify) each other.  That is positive, but involves things that we sometimes don't think much about.

Iron sharpening iron sometimes strikes sparks.  In our fellowship we need to allow for some sparks of controversy and argument.  Getting to the encouragement and refreshment of fellowship requires a willingness to be challenged.  Such challenges drive us to the Word of God and to more careful thinking.

Iron sharpening iron is abrasive.  The two iron objects scrape against each other and tear off little bits of each other.  Gradually the edge is made fine and sharp.  Feathers don't sharpen iron.  Butter won't sharpen iron.  The friends need to work on each other with serious discourse of point and counterpoint.

Iron sharpening iron takes time.  We live in the world of instant gratification.  But iron sharpening takes effort over time.  If we are going to have the benefits, we need to put in the time and the effort. Otherwise we will become increasingly dull.

Iron sharpening iron doesn't last.  We don't actually use all that much iron in modern times.  We are used to hardened steel - even stainless steel.  Iron, on the other hand, gets dull pretty quickly and is subject to corrosion.  We can't just get sharpened once and then think we are good to go for a year.  We need frequent sharpening - friends - people to talk to who can be our iron counterpoint.

I praise God for the iron people God has put into my life over time.  I have benefited from my parents, my church families, my professors, my classmates, my wife, and my colleagues in ministry.  I have had mentors and friends.  I have been blessed by local fellowships, state fellowships and national fellowships of churches.  These are not just for entertainment.  They are not just a place to get a pat on the back.  They are for the hard work of sharpening the iron.

Fellowship is worth the effort because iron sharpens iron.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Humility Meter?

(1 Peter 5:5 NKJV) ¶ Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
Most people are proud of how humble they are.  I thought I would try to come up with some indicators of pride.  See if you can see yourself in any of these.  (If you only see other people in this list, I have some bad news for you...)
  1. I talk more than I listen.
  2. I talk about myself.
  3. I always try to top other people's stories.
  4. I don't ask for directions.
  5. I don't ask for help.
  6. I get extremely upset when I make mistakes.
  7. I seek praise through belittling myself.
  8. I don't pray.
  9. I have outbursts of wrath.
  10. I carry a grudge.
  11. I'm unforgiving.
  12. I'm bitter.
  13. I resent direction from others.
  14. I resent authority.
  15. I am bugged by experts who disagree with me.
  16. I accuse others of arrogance.
  17. I am impatient with people.
  18. I'd rather do something myself than teach someone to do it.
  19. I'm never completely satisfied with my work.
  20. I'm never satisfied with other people's work.
  21. I believe some jobs are beneath me.
  22. I can't stand people who are better than I at what I do.
  23. I believe I am better than people who are different from me.
  24. I treat service people rudely - waiters, waitresses, counter workers, check out clerks.
  25. I am stingy with praise.
  26. I am quick to criticize.
  27. I feel under-appreciated.
  28. I am quick to excuse my own sins.
  29. I am patronizing.
  30. I am condescending.
  31. I take other people for granted.
  32. I expect people to defer to me.
  33. I rage against the sins of others.
  34. I mock people from other cultures.
  35. I think my own culture is the apex.
  36. I have no sympathy for the down and out.
Pride is our default setting.  Salvation by Grace is the great leveler.  We have no good thing in ourselves.  We have no ability to save ourselves from God's justice against our sins.  We are completely dependent on the Grace and Mercy of God.  How, then, can we continue in our prideful ways?
(Philippians 2:3–4 NKJV) Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.
4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Preacher's Problem

(2 Timothy 4:1–4 NKJV) I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom:
2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;
4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. 
There is friction in this passage!  There is a problem for the preacher!  There is a bright light, but threatening clouds are always looming on the horizon.

Our charge before God is a bright light!  "Preach the Word!"  This is what every genuine preacher - every preacher called by God and ordained by God - wants to do with all his heart.  He wants to preach the word of God!  He wants to study it, understand it and proclaim it!  "Thus says the Lord!"

The clouds that darken our sky are the rest of the passage. 

Our hearts and the hearts of our listeners are sinful.  Sinners don't enjoy having the word of the Holy God preached.  It brings about reproof, rebuke and exhortation and these things hurt people's feelings.  Preaching the word may make people angry and the threat of their anger hangs over the preacher's head.  He is tempted to soften the message to avoid the wrath of these people.

But the preacher's job is to provide "sound doctrine."  That is doctrine that is healthy and whole.  That is doctrine that is true to the word.  That is doctrine that is actually God's doctrine - God's word - the Truth.  If we spin our message so that it won't offend people, we are not "preaching the word."  We are doctors who have watered down the medicine.  Now it doesn't taste bad, but it also won't bring a cure!

Preach the word and some people will walk away.  It happens in thousands of churches every week!  There is a huge nomadic tribe of itchy people drifting from one ecclesiastical oasis to another looking for the place that scratches their particular itch.  High church, low church, traditional music, contemporary music, stained glass, padded pews, coffee, better coffee, coffee cake, blue jeans, suits and ties... these are all just side issues...  But at the heart of everything is the matter of what is being preached.

Are people getting the unadulterated word of God or some dumbed down, eviscerated, politically correct "happy thoughts?"

The preacher's problem is that he is tied to God's word.  If he were just giving a speech, the preacher could (like a politician) say just what his audience wants to hear.  But he is not free to come up with his own message that is calculated to please.  The preacher - to really be a PREACHER - must preach the word of God - the message that God has already delivered in the Bible.
(Jeremiah 23:25–26 NKJV) ¶ “I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in My name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’
26 How long will this be in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies? Indeed they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart,

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Our Strong Tower

(Proverbs 18:10–11 NKJV)  The name of the LORD is a strong tower; The righteous run to it and are safe.
11 The rich man’s wealth is his strong city, And like a high wall in his own esteem. 
Some people - even many people - think that they are secure because of their money and possessions.  But in fact, our only real security is the name of the Lord.  If the LORD doesn't save us, nobody can.
(Psalms 18:2 NKJV)  The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I picture the people of a medieval village running for the safety of the castle tower when raiders are headed their way.  They are not foolish enough to try to fight it out.  They just run to the safety of the fortress.  That is exactly what we should do.
(Proverbs 29:25 NKJV)  The fear of man brings a snare, But whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.
 Why do we do the things we do in the way we do them?  Why do we speak the truth, or not?  Why do we tell people the gospel, or not?  Why do we do the right thing, or not?  Isn't it true that when we are afraid we tend to shrink back from our better intentions?
(Psalms 56:11 NKJV)  In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?
The things of this world are temporary and we are corrupted by sin. No matter how much wealth we accrue, it will never bring us the security we crave.  Trust in the LORD!
(Hebrews 13:5 NKJV) ¶ Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Entrance?

I wonder how much money Walmart could save if they just left the Entrance & Exit lettering off their buildings?  They might just as well, because pretty much everyone ignores the signs anyway.  People are constantly entering at the exit and exiting at the entrance.  You can't get in because people are coming out the entrance.  Later you can't get out because people are coming in the exit.  It is a confusing jumble.

Maybe they should post a sign that says - "USE WHATEVER DOOR APPEALS TO YOU - JUST PUSH THOSE OTHER PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR WAY."  But that would be superfluous since everyone is already doing that.

One place where you cannot use whatever door you want is heaven.  Jesus said,
I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. (John 10:9 NKJV)
He also said,
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew 7:13–14 NKJV)
There is one door by which we gain entrance to heaven and it is Jesus Himself.  There is one gate and one way that leads to eternal life - and it is not the way most traveled.

This is a message that is not popular and not politically correct.  It doesn't meet the postmodern standard of tolerance because it doesn't affirm everyone's views as equally truthful.  This claim of exclusivity is seen as out of step with multiculturalism in our pluralistic society.

But I didn't make it up.  I am just quoting it.  This is from the Bible.  God is speaking.  He doesn't seem to feel constrained by the dictates of our postmodern sages.  He also says,
(Proverbs 16:25 NKJV)  There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death. 
So you will need to choose.  You can choose what you want.  But your choice is not "right" just because it is your choice.  Believe or disbelieve what the Bible says, but there are consequences.

Friday, January 7, 2011

That's Faith

(Hebrews 11:6 NKJV) But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. 

Faith is trusting God.  If you have faith:
  • you trust God
  • you take God at His word
  • you believe what God says
  • you obey what God commands
  • you side with God against all enemies
  • you vindicate God to others and to yourself
But our faith is weak.  We don't always obey.  We sometimes retreat in fear.  We doubt.

Isn't this the nature of the Christian life?  Are we not constantly struggling to grow in faith - in trust - in confidence - in obedience?  Oh we of little faith!  Why do we fear?

Some people labor to disbelieve and others labor to believe.  Some people come to God's revelation with their own presuppositions and measure the God of the Bible by their own prejudices.  As a consequence they either reject the God of the Bible outright or they modify Him with rationalizations that will make Him fit in their box.  Neither option is faith.
(1 Corinthians 2:14 NKJV) But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Faith reads the revelation of God, believes what it says and trusts that God is right in His actions, judgments, plans and purposes.  If they don't understand how certain aspects of God's dealings fit together, they trust that God's insight is greater than their own and that God's dealings are always right.
(1 Thessalonians 2:13 NKJV) ¶ For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.
That's faith.
(Hebrews 11:1 NKJV) Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Storms of Life

Sometimes we sail through friendly seas.  The sun is bright, the dolphins play, the wind fills our sails and the water bubbles at our bow.

At other times we are in the storm.  The clouds are dark and huge waves break over the ship.  The deck is awash.  The wind shrieks through the rigging. The ship pitches and rolls.

What can you do?  You can't change the weather.  You can't ignore it.

1) Lash yourself to the mast - or at least to something that will not be washed overboard.  If you give up your ship will be lost - and you with it.  In the storm, keep on trying.  Be faithful.

2) Keep some sail on so you can make enough headway to steer.  You may not be able to go where you want or as fast as you want, but it is important to do what you CAN.  In the storm, keep on going.  Persevere.

3) Steer into the waves so you ride up and over.  Don't get caught sideways in the trough where the waves can capsize you.  In the storm, pay attention.  Be diligent.

4) Fix your eyes on the compass.  It is easy to become disoriented.  Even in the storm the compass points North and you can keep from running aground.  In the storm, avoid rocks.  Be humble.

5) Pump out the bilge.  You are bound to take on water.  Don't let it just fill you up and swamp you.  In the storm, keep bailing.  Don't become bitter.

As followers of Christ we still face the storms of life, but we don't need to be lost at sea.