Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Decision Making 101

We are studying through the book of Ecclesiastes at church right now and it seems as if every week we are brought right to the edge of despair and then suddenly we see Jesus and the despair disappears.  It's really a great, practical study where I think everyone in the room can identify with Solomon's search for satisfaction.

This past week my son taught on Solomon's pursuit of pleasure and his conclusions (both Solomon's and Calvin's) were pretty earth shattering:  Pleasure is fun.  Pleasure is enjoyable.  But pleasure, just like work, is not satisfying in the long run.  Only Jesus satisfies for an eternity.

Now obviously the abuse of pleasure can be sinful, but Calvin made a strong argument for the fact that the church has swung the pendulum the opposite direction with legalism when it comes to pleasure, just to insure we are not like the world.  It's one of the reasons the world is not attracted to Christianity - it seems we live by rules and take the pleasure out of life to make a point.

I have often said that I would have made a great Pharisee because I am a rule keeper.  The Lord is working hard on me in that area and I still have a ways to go.  Hearing my son reprimand me personally, or at least it felt like that, was pretty awkward for me, though I don't think anyone in the room realized it.

So I started digging through my Bible and found myself back in I Corinthians 10, a passage that the Lord has used in the past to change me.  In verses 23 through chapter 11:1, Paul gives some practical instruction on how to make decisions in life, being sensitive to weaker brothers and managing your own conscience versus your brother's conscience.

Here are five questions that we can use in making decisions when it comes to amoral or non-illegal pleasures.  I am labeling it this way so that you understand I am not including illegal drug use, illicit sexual experiences or things that are blatantly sinful.  I am talking about basic decisions in personal choice issues, where we have replaced common sense with legalism:

  1. Is it profitable?  v. 23 says, "All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable."  It's a good question to ask yourself - is this activity profitable in anyway? 
  2. Does it edify?  v. 23 goes on to say, "All things are lawful, but not all things edify."  Edify means to build up - does this build anyone up, encourage anyone?
  3. Does it glorify God? v. 31 says, "Whether, then, you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."  Need I say more?
  4. Does it give offense?  v. 24-30 basically lay out the argument that sometimes we have to sacrificially give up a freedom we have because of a weaker brother.  Not all the time, but showing a sensitivity to the need of a friend.  For example, I'm not going to meet a girlfriend who is struggling with her weight at my bakery for coffee.  There's nothing wrong with the bakery but why put the temptation in front of her?
  5. Does it imitate Christ?  In chapter 11:1, Paul tells his readers to imitate him, just as he is imitating Jesus.  It's really that simple - I know some cringe when we say, WWJD, but sometimes it's really that simple.  Jesus wasn't a door mat - He was bold and harsh when necessary, He found enjoyment in the craziness of children at His feet, He ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, and He laid His rights aside, dying for my sin.  He's a pretty good example...
Notice one of my questions was not, "Does this earn favor with God?", "Does this help with the purchase price of my salvation?", "Will God think better of me if I do this?", or "Would this fall in the category of earned brownie points?"

My righteousness has already been bought and applied to my account.  I want to live a pleasing life because I love Him.  Legalism says He won't love me if I don't do it this way.  Reality says He already loves me as much as He possibly ever could.

By the way, here's the link to my son's sermon - if you haven't heard it yet, it will be time well spent:

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Persistent Widow

Chapter breaks bother me.  In fictional literature, chapter breaks change a scene.  They may even move the story up a decade.  But in scripture, chapter breaks don't always change the story.  Probably the best example of a chapter break that does major harm to the meaning of the writing is found in I Thessalonians 4 and 5.  That chapter break has led many down a false path of understanding, but alas, that is not a discussion for today.

Let's talk about the persistent widow.  Have you heard of her? Her story is found at the beginning of Luke 18 (hint, hint - chapter break).  Verse one says, "Now He was telling a parable to show that at all times they oughts to pray and not to lose heart."

If I was reading this as a new idea or a new storyline, I would think, "Oh, this is just Jesus' advice for when life gets hard."

The story goes on to describe a judge who did not fear God nor did he respect the people he served.  A certain widow repeatedly contacted him for legal protection from her opponent.  Now we don't know what the issue was - we only know she did not have a husband to battle this opponent, therefore the widow was calling upon the judge to defend her.  The judge ignored her pleas but over time she wore him down.  Finally he said, "Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out."

She wore him down and got what she so desperately needed - protection.

Jesus then goes on to say, "Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?"

Okay, point taken.  If we really want God's ear, we have to pray day and night.

But you have to admit, the "crying day and night" is rather interesting.  What would make the elect cry day and night?  They would really, really have to be distressed, don't you think?

Now, we could just stop there and make the simple application that we have to really be bothersome when we pray and God will eventually give in.  Is that what He wants us to know?

Well, just to check ourselves, let's read another verse:  "I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly.  However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?"

Whoa.  That verse is kind of a game changer, don't you think? Why did Jesus throw in something about His return?  What does that have to do with anything?

Context, context, context.  This actually is the end of an end times discourse by Jesus.  The problem is that it started in chapter 17 and when we see the number 18, we assume that it's a new thought.  In this case, 18:1-8 should have been attached to chapter 17.

In chapter 17, Jesus describes His return in a few ways:

  • like lightning that flashes from one end of the sky to another (v. 24)
  • like the days of Noah, where people were not even paying attention until it was too late (v. 26,27)
  • like in the days of Lot, where once again there was no concern but daily life will be suddenly interrupted by his return (v. 28-30)
Immediately after these descriptions Jesus instructs the disciples to not lose heart and pray for the Father will bring about justice for them quickly - this implies that the "elect" (Jesus' words, not mine) will be suffering unjustly in those last days. But then He adds that final question:  However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?

Stay with me:  the suffering is ended by the Son of Man coming.  But Jesus is concerned that any will remain faithful during the suffering.

Wow.  This is serious stuff.  Jesus is a teacher at heart and He is warning His children of a few things - first of all, before He returns life is going to be really hard for His children.  It's going to be so hard that either they will be killed and that's why there may not be faith left on the earth, or they are going to walk away from the faith because it's too hard.  That's quite the warning.

In Matthew 24:9-13, Jesus said, "Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated y all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.  Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.  Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold.  But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved."

The one who endures to the end will be the one who has the faith that Jesus is looking for when He returns.

Again, quite a warning.  

My advice to you?  Be sure to know the context of a story so you don't miss the real meaning.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The 10 Minute Plan

Ten minutes each day.

2 minutes to memorize a verse.

4 minutes to read a few verses.

4 minutes to pray.

Ten minutes a day.

Can it really be that simple?  You have to start somewhere and the simpler the better.  It's like any new discipline - ten minutes a day is a great place to start.  Exercise, piano practice, french lessons, organizing a messy storage room - just 10 minutes a day, day after day after day will accomplish much.

I was grabbed after study today and told I was making things too easy on you women.  Ten minutes is nothing, was the comment.  Yes, I agree but here's what I didn't tell you.  Ten minutes a day is actually really hard to accomplish because ten minutes is going to grow to fifteen, twenty and even thirty minutes.  To limit yourself to simply 10 minutes will be excruciating when you figure out the great benefits that flow from time spent with the Lord.

Here's what you will gain after a week of 10 minute visits:
  • You'll easily have your verse memorized
  • You'll start your day with wisdom from God's word to meditate on
  • You'll see God's character flow through His words
  • You'll find things to do that please the Lord and you'll suddenly have opportunities to put them into practice
  • You'll start your day communicating your love for the Lord, your need for His guidance, your confidence in His presence and with a clean slate between you and your Heavenly Father
  • You'll find yourself wanting to tell Him more, to hear more of His words
  • You'll find the words you've committed to memory will become a guide during the day
  • and you'll find that ten minutes fly by
So go get'em, ladies!  You can do this and you can make it better.  Don't shoot for the stars - start with 10 minutes and watch what the Lord does in your life...I'm praying for all of you!