Meanderings of a Minister


The Trouble With the Tongue
April 26, 2017, 3:20 pm
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In the 1970’s, the show, Star Trek, introduced an episode entitled, “The Trouble with Tribbles”.  The problem with tribbles was not that they were cute or even useful, but that they multiplied until they were everywhere.  Once everywhere, they disrupted the ship’s crew and even the ship’s physical plant.  The clogged up everything and caused the crew to be at each others’ throats.  Our tongue is much like a tribble.  A little slip here, a little slip there and, before you know it, the effects have multiplied and our progress in the faith has completely stopped and we are upset with everyone.  James knew this to be a difficulty as well and he wrote about the trouble with the tongue in James 3:1-12.

The first trouble with the tongue James mentions is that it can take down those that desire to be teachers and leaders in the church.  James makes the statement that we all fall in the use of our tongues, but when teachers fall, the impact is multiplied simply because of the influence they have over others.  When you read 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1:5-9, and see the high standards Paul, at the direction of the Holy Spirit, put on pastors and teachers, it is amazing to think that they would meet all of those high and lofty ideals only to be taken down by careless use of the tongue.

Additionally, the trouble with the tongue is that it can lead you to a changed life.  It can lead to changes that are good or changes that are bad.  James uses the illustrations of directing a horse with a bit and a ship with a rudder.  Both use small things to change the course of much larger vessels, but think about it.  A horse can be used to rob a bank (in the Old West) or it can be used to deliver mail (Pony Express).  A ship can be used to deliver humanitarian aid or it can be used by Somalian pirates to take lives and demand ransoms.  Our tongue is similar.  It can be used to steer us into deeper relationships (courtship) or it can be used to destroy those same relationships (testifying in divorce court).

Another problem with the tongue is the fact that it is so hard to control.  The example James uses is that of a fire starting with a small spark.  Smokey the Bear used to say it only takes a spark to start a forest fire.  In the 1990’s, a discarded cigarette started a blaze in California that claimed over a million acres, homes and even lives.  The tongue can do this as well.  Think about a time when a careless remark or a word that was not well chosen had serious ramifications for you and you understand completely.

The tongue can also blow hot and cold.  This is what James meant by saying we use it to worship God (hot) and we use it to tear down or curse others (cold).  Sometimes, if we are not careful, that usage can happen in the span of a few seconds.  We use it to sing Jesus Loves Me and use it to criticize, gossip or destroy a person’s reputation.  This may seem normal, but James says it should not be so.

Finally, James closes this section with the biggest trouble of the tongue.  It merely reflects what is in our hearts.  Jesus said so in Matthew 12:34 when he said, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.”  Do you wonder why you are critical?  It is what your heart is filled up with.  Why do you struggle to control cursing?  It is what you fill your heart up with.  Why do you find it hard to focus on Jesus throughout the day?  You are not filling your heart up with Him.

Try something different.  Try spending time in God’s word today and leave off the TV.  Try listening to only Christian music for a week and see if your tongue improves.  Make a list of the good attributes of your spouse and see if you don’t begin to see them in a more positive light.  Spend time thanking God for all He has done for you and see if grateful speech does not come easier.  Try it.  It just might change your life.



Be Strong in the Lord

The Easter celebrations are over.  The family has returned home or you have returned home.  You have been back at work for a week.  The decisions you made to be more faithful have been tried.  How do you keep the momentum going and maintain the growth that has started in your heart and in your walk with Christ?

While a different setting, David dealt with similar issues when he wrote Psalm 27:

The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread? When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh, My adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell. Though a host encamp against me, My heart will not fear; Though war arise against me, In spite of this I shall be confident. One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the Lord And to meditate in His temple. For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle; In the secret place of His tent He will hide me; He will lift me up on a rock. And now my head will be lifted up above my enemies around me, And I will offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord. Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice, And be gracious to me and answer me. When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.” Do not hide Your face from me, Do not turn Your servant away in anger; You have been my help; Do not abandon me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation! For my father and my mother have forsaken me, But the Lord will take me up. Teach me Your way, O Lord, And lead me in a level path Because of my foes. Do not deliver me over to the desire of my adversaries, For false witnesses have risen against me, And such as breathe out violence. I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord In the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.

First, David believed that he did not need to fear anyone or anything that opposed him because he believed God to be more powerful than his enemies.  God is more powerful than the enemy within and the enemies without.  He did not let the fear of failure, loss, or even war cause him to fear to the point that he took his eyes off of God.  We must not allow our fears and failures to take our eyes off of God either.

Second, David continued to hold the Lord and worship before his eyes throughout his life.  He was constantly reminded that, even if his enemies would prevail, he would spend eternity in the house of the Lord in Heaven.  If his enemies did not prevail, David would dedicate himself to worshiping at the Tabernacle.  We need to have this confidence as well.  If you have repented of your sins and surrendered your life to following Christ for the rest of your life, then heaven is your ultimate destination.  Until then, nothing can separate us from Him and from the privilege of worshiping Him.

David hungered to learn from God.  He wanted to know God.  He wanted to understand God’s character so that he could become more and more aware of and convinced of God’s love for him.  You and I have a privilege that David did not have.  We have the whole Bible to read and study and use to understand God and His plan for our lives.  In order to keep the momentum going with the decisions we made during the Lenten season and Easter, we must make the study of and obedience to God’s word a constant priority.

Lastly, David was honest with his frustrations as he went along.  He said that he was concerned to the point that he would have despaired if he did not believe that he would see the goodness of God in the land of the living.  David said he was really close to despair, but he was reminded that, even when he was not faithful, God still is.  You and I have that promise as well.  Jesus is coming again to get His children.  When things are hard here, we must keep this future deliverance in mind.  We must let that encourage us not to give up, give in, or give out.



Who Is This Jesus We Celebrate at Easter?
April 13, 2017, 9:02 am
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In Genesis…He is the Creator and the Seed of Woman that would overcome the Serpent

In Exodus…He is our Passover Lamb

In Leviticus…He is our High Priest, the Sacrifice for our sins, and our Cleanliness before God

In Numbers…He is the Cloud by day, the Fire by night, and the One High and Lifted Up

In Deuteronomy…He is the One True Prophet

In Joshua…He is the Captain of the Lord’s Army

In Judges…He is the Lawmaker, Judge and Jury

In Ruth…He is our Kinsman Redeemer

In 1 and 2 Samuel…He is the Prophet of the Lord

In 1 and Kings…He is our only King

In 1 and 2 Chronicles…He is the Source of Righteous Decisions and a Cleansing from Wrong

In Ezra…He is our Inerrant Scribe

In Nehemiah…He is the Repairer of Broken Down Walls and Lives

In Esther…He is our Advocate and Deliverer

In Job…He is our Dayspring and Living Redeemer

In Psalm…He is our Shepherd and our Song

In Proverbs…He is Wisdom Personified

In Ecclesiastes…He is the Goal of All Pursuit for Meaning

In the Song of Solomon…He is the Shepherd-Lover of our Souls

In Isaiah…He is the Coming Messiah and the Prince of Peace

In Jeremiah…He is the Righteous Branch

In Lamentations…He is the Weeping Prophet and the God of Faithfulness and Truth

In Ezekiel…He is the Son of Man and the Wheel within a Wheel

In Daniel…He is the Striking Stone and the Fourth Man in the Furnace

In Hosea…He is the Husband and Healer of the Backslider

In Joel…He is the Baptizer in the Holy Spirit

In Amos…He is the Heavenly Husbandman and Burden Bearer

In Obadiah…He is Our Savior

In Jonah…He is the Resurrection and the One Who Forgives

In Micah…He is the Messenger with Beautiful Feet

In Nahum…He is the Avenger of God’ elect, the Stronghold in the Day of Trouble

In Habakkuk…He is the Great Evangelist, and the God of Our Salvation

In Zephaniah…He is the One Who Restores the Lost Heritage

In Haggai…He is the Desire of All Nations and the Cleansing Fountain

In Zechariah…He is the Fountain of Life and the Son Who Was Pierced for us

In Malachi…He is the Sun of Righteousness rising with healing in His wings

In Matthew…He is the promised Messiah

In Mark…He is the Wonder-working Servant

In Luke…He is the Son of Man

In John…He is the Word Made Flesh and God the Son

In Acts…He is the Ascended Lord, Voice from the Heavens and the Source of the Church

In Romans…He is the One Who Justifies

In 1 and 2 Corinthians…He is our Sufficient Lord

In Galatians…He is the One Who Brings Liberty from Sin and the Law

In Ephesians…He is the Christ of Great Riches and our All in All

In Philippians…He is our Joy and the Meeter of All Our Needs

In Colossians…He is the Fullness of the Godhead Bodily

In 1 and 2 Thessalonians…He is our Blessed Hope and the Coming King

In 1 and 2 Timothy…He is our Mentor and Mediator

In Titus…He is our Example and Devoted Pastor

In Philemon…He is our Friend and Brother

In Hebrews…He is our High Priest That Understands

In James…He is the Great Physician and Our Pattern for Daily Living

In 1 and 2 Peter…He is the Chief Cornerstone of Our Faith

In 1, 2 and 3 John…He is Love Everlasting

In Jude…He is the Lord coming with Ten Thousands of His Saints

In Revelation…He is the Lamb that was Slain, the Triumphant King, the Bridegroom, the Lord of Lords and the Final Say

How do you respond to a Savior like that?  You surrender in worship to Him!  No wonder we shout “He is Risen!”

 



Diagnosing Your Spiritual Health

Don Whitney, in his book Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, gives the following ten questions as a means of determining if you are growing in your faith, treading water, or actually backsliding:

  1. Do you thirst for God?
  2. Are you governed increasingly by God’s Word?
  3. Are you more loving?
  4. Are you more sensitive to God’s presence?
  5. Do you have a growing concern for the spiritual and temporal needs of others?
  6. Do you delight in the bride of Christ?
  7. Are the spiritual disciplines increasingly important to you?
  8. Do you still grieve over sin?
  9. Are you a quicker forgiver?
  10. Do you yearn for Heaven and to be with Jesus?[1]

Chances are very good, if you are like most Christians, you have not really spent much time thinking about these things lately.  Whitney suggests that these questions provide a sort of spiritual pulse in the life of a growing believer.  If you answered know to most or all of these questions, you are probably spiritually backslidden, or perhaps not yet a believer.  If you answered no to some of the questions, but not most, you may be seeing the beginning of a spiritual growth problem.  If you answered yes to all of the questions, honestly, then you are growing and are probably relatively healthy.  If you are offended to be asked, you probably have some other issues.

“So what do I do if I am not doing so well in growing spiritually?”  I am glad you asked!  Jesus addressed this in his letter to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:5 “Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place – unless you repent.”[2]  The best place for you get help in these and other matters is your local church.  I am not saying you must go to my church in order to grow.  That would be prideful and ridiculous!  But you must attend a Bible-believing church that preaches and teaches and disciples people in the Word of God.  With the holidays on us shortly, what a great time to plug in to a local church and get started making some good habits that could just make this your best year yet!

[1] Donald S. Whitney, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, Navpress, Colorado Springs, CO, 2001.

[2] New American Standard Bible, The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, CA, 1995.



Count Your Many Blessings
March 31, 2017, 1:50 pm
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Have you ever stopped to think about all of the blessings you have been given just by virtue of the fact that you are a believer in and follower or Jesus Christ?  Ephesians 1 lists seven of these blessings.  Perhaps in reading through the following list, we can embody Proverbs 14:30, which says, “A tranquil heart is life to the body, but envy makes the bones rot.”  Here is that list from Ephesians 1.[1]

Blessing #1:  God has chosen us to be holy and blameless.  (Ephesians 1:4)

This means that, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, God has chosen you and drawn you into relationship with Him.  He has begun a good work in you and will complete it. (Philippians 1:6)  He is giving you the desire daily to live for Him.  (Ephesians 2:13)  God already sees you the way you are going to be when you become what He is leading you to want to become.

Blessing #2:  God has adopted us into His family.  (Ephesians 1:4-6)

This means that you are wanted by God.  He is not stuck with you.  He knew you before you were born (Psalm 139).  He wrote your name down in the book of life before you came to be.  (Revelation 13:8)(Ephesians 1:4)  He chose you.  He loves you.  You are part of His family with all of the privileges that come along with being a child of the King!

Blessing #3:  We are redeemed and forgiven.  (Ephesians 1:7-8)

This means that the ransom has been paid to deliver us when we were incapable of delivering ourselves.  He loosed us from the demands of sin.  (Romans 6:23)  He purchased us and set us free.  He cancelled our debt.  We owe nothing for our sin because He already paid for it.  When we sin, He advocates on our behalf.  (1 John 2:1)

Blessing #4:  God has shown us the mystery of His will.  (Ephesians 1:9-10)

This means that we no longer have to worry about living for or carrying out the will of God in our lives.  For most of us, we get to a fork in the road of our lives and wonder, “What is God’s will for me in this situation?”  We really don’t have to ask this because we already know the answer.  God’s will for me in every situation is to glorify Him.  To point people towards praising the grace of God.  For many of life’s situations, we needn’t stand paralyzed at the fork in the road because in Christ, we should be living out this will everyday.  Jesus showed us the example in that He lived for and glorified God in every circumstance.  (John 17:4)

Blessing #5:  We are chosen for an inheritance.  (Ephesians 1:11-12)

This means that we are chosen to receive not just heaven, although that would be enough.  We are also chosen for an inheritance of God’s love, nearness, and presence in our lives.  We are also to receive an inheritance such as is described in the promises to the overcomers in Revelation 2-3.

Blessing #6:  We are included in Christ.  (Ephesians 1:13)

This means that I am in Christ.  Inside, covered by His righteousness, identified by His Name and considered His brother and fellow heirs (Romans 8:17).  When God looks at us, He does not see the sin we so struggle with.  Instead, He sees the righteousness of His Son that is being accounted unto us by grace, through faith.

Blessing #7:  We have the guarantee of the Holy Spirit.  (Ephesians 1:13-14)

This means that I already have the down payment for what is to come.  I have the seal of God that is an indication of His promise that I am His and will be for eternity.  (1 Corinthians 12:3)

With all of these blessings, why do we chase after others that don’t even come close to measuring up?  We are encouraged by some to seek parking places close to the store, bigger cars, fancier clothes, etc.  All of these “blessings” will burn up and will be gone in an instant.  The blessings described in Ephesians 1 will never go away.

Count your blessings!

[1] Holladay, Tom.  Great Chapters of the Bible:  Ephesians Chapter One, Discover Your Spiritual Blessings.  Rancho Santa Margarita, CA: Saddleback Resources, 2010.



What Does It Mean to Be Holy?
March 22, 2017, 2:03 pm
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A girl walks up to a group of boys at the local high school.  The boys stiffen up and straighten up as she nears.  Their raucous tones turn to hush.  As she walks by, one of the boys says, “There she is!  Who does she think she is?  She acts ‘holier than thou’.”  What would make someone look at another person and say they are holy?  What does “holy” even mean?

The Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines “holy” the following way:

HOLY — moral and ethical wholeness or perfection; freedom from moral evil. Holiness is one of the essential elements of God’s nature required of His people. Holiness may also be rendered “sanctification” or “godliness.” The Hebrew word for “holy” denotes that which is “sanctified” or “set apart” for divine service.[1]

So being holy means being different than everyone else around you.  Ironically, the word for “church” in Greek is ekklesia.  The direct translation means “to assemble out of or away from”.  In the New Testament, Paul refers to all believers in Jesus Christ as “saints” (see Romans 1:7, 8:7, 12:13, 15:25, 26, 15:31, 16:2, 16:15, 1 Corinthians 1:2, 6:1, 2, 14:33, 16:1, 16:15, 2 Corinthians 1:1, 8:4, 9:1, 9:12, 13:13, Ephesians 1:1, 1:15, 1:18, 2:19, 3:8, 3:18, 4:12, 5:3, 6:18, Philippians 1:1, 4:22, Colossians 1:2, 1:4, 1:12, 1:26, 1 Thessalonians 3:13, 2 Thessalonians 1:10, 1 Timothy 5:10, Philemon 5, 7)  The word saint is the noun form of the word that is translated holy.

So, the church is called out from world.  Believers are set apart and different.  By extension, then, Christians are holy.  So when you come upon someone who says that you are “holier than thou” what do they mean?  They simply mean that you are different than they are.  You are set apart by God for a special purpose and a certain affection by and through Him.  So what they are actually saying is that you are just who God called you, saved you, is transforming you, and how God already sees you to be.  You are different.

Maybe what we need in our day are not men and women who shrink back and are ashamed of being considered or called different.  Perhaps what we need are men and women who lean into the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.  Possibly what we need are believers who will own God’s stamp of approval over their hearts and lives as badges of honor and who look for opportunities to let their lights shine before men so that they might glorify our God, Who is in heaven.  We need men and women who will live out the part of the Lord’s prayer that we pray for so easily.  “Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.  They Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”

So the next time someone accuses you of being “holier than thou”, thank them.  Tell them that it is the work of God in your life and that He wants to do that work in them as well.  Tell them that you are not perfect yet, but you are not who you used to be either.  Tell them how they can become a follower of Jesus as well.  And then ask them if they would like to.  Who knows.  They might have started the conversation God wanted to use to save them.

[1] Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., & Harrison, R. K., Thomas Nelson Publishers (Eds.). (1995). In Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.



Why Are You Good?
March 22, 2017, 1:53 pm
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There is a bad joke that sometimes runs around churches.  It goes like this: “Pastors are paid to be good.  The rest of the church is good for nothing.”  While people sometimes laugh at the joke, the bigger question that this joke poses is, “Why are you good?”

There are many answers to this question, depending upon each person’s motivation.  Some people are good because they hope that they can somehow be good enough to earn God’s love.  They think that they have to stop doing bad stuff, start doing good stuff, or increase their output of good stuff so that God will love them.  The problem with this kind of thinking is myriad and manifold.  First, the Bible clearly tells us, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (Isaiah 64:6, NASB95)  The best we can do, compared to God, is like filthy rags.  We could never do enough to earn God’s love.  Even trying to earn God’s love is such a cheapening of the value of God’s love that we are continuing in sin just for thinking so.

Others might think that they are good because it is what God demands.  With no real love in their hearts, they attempt to obey God out of a sense of religious duty.  Like the older son in the Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, they think, “’Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends;” (Luke 15:29, NASB95) Or like the servant given one talent, ““And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. ‘And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’” (Matthew 25:24–25, NASB95) They think that obeying God is their duty.

Still yet others, wrongly think, like Paul anticipated some of the Romans would think, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” (Romans 6:1, NASB95) In other words, they think that sin is no big deal.  They will simply commit the sins they want to commit and then will turn to God for His forgiveness once they have gotten their way, achieved their goal, etc.  The problem with this sort of thinking is that they forget two things.

First, they forget, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, NASB95) They forget that God takes sin so seriously that He sent His Son to die on the cross for the sins that kept people from a relationship with Him and that prevented them from recognizing that He is sovereign and on the throne.

They also forget that Paul’s reaction to the question posed in Romans 6:1 is Romans 6:2 and following: “May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:2–4, NASB95)

So, what is the answer.  Why are we good?  Romans 6:2-4 above hints to the answer, but the answer is given so plainly within this and many other passages.  For instance, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1, NASB95)  We are good because we get to be. (1 Cor 2:14).  We are good because we have been so blessed by God and that goodness has so infected our lives that we want to be good because to be good is to be like God.  We want to become more like Him every day.  That is the mark of a true believer.

So…why are you good?