Friday, August 22, 2014

Christ's Yoke & Light Burden

In Jesus day, the Pharisees were notorious for adding to God’s law while refusing to obey it themselves. I remember hearing that they were so concerned about following the rules of not working on the Sabbath that they came up with rules about how far they could walk on that day. Because some of them wanted to travel farther, they ended up implementing a rule that said they had to stay within a certain distance of the dirt of their home. In order to get around that rule, some of them would then carry a bag a dirt with them and then drop that dirt on the ground allowing them to increase their distance of travel.
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The bag of dirt story shows us how easy it is for man to think that he can ignore God as long as he working hard to do something to please God. That is not how the Christian life is to be lived. Jesus said, "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:29-30 NKJV)
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Even though Christ’s burden is light, He still tells us to take His yoke. In other words, God’s expectations are much easier to bear than man’s are, but God does have expectations for us. Consider Colossians 3:5-10 NKJV, “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him,.”
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Though Christ’s burden is easy, it still must be carried. In other words we need to be concerned about living for God’s glory and sometimes that can be a challenge. The end of the above passage (verse 10 of Colossians 3) tells us to put on the new man. In other words, once we are Christians we should be different than we were before. We should be changing to be more like Christ. The reality is that even as faithful Christians we sometimes struggle to live like we are supposed to live. It is sobering to realize that the letter that says not to lie anymore was addressed to the faithful Christians in Colosse (Colossians 1:2).
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So how is a faithful Christian to live the Christian life without having it become a heavy burden? Part of the answer is in verse 10 of Colossians 3. Notice it says to be renewed in knowledge according to the image of Jesus Christ our creator. (See Colossians 1:16). We are renewed in knowledge as we study God’s word. We are renewed in knowledge as we pray. We are renewed in knowledge as we think about God’s word. There is however a very important way that we are renewed in knowledge that is found right in the book of Colossians. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Colossians 3:16 NKJV)
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Christians are renewed in knowledge as they come together and hear the teaching and warning of God’s word and as they sing songs that teach Biblical truth. This is one of the reasons why we should go to church. Currently there are no churches meeting regularly on Sunday mornings in Worthing, SD. We hope to soon start a church here in Worthing, so that Christians have a place to go so they can be taught and encouraged to follow Jesus Christ and to take on his yoke in a way that is not overwhelming. For more information please visit www.southtownchurch.com.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Legalism and Lawlessness

We have been picking green beans- actually they are purple beans this year. My wife decided to plant a variety that that is purple instead of green. I like them because they are easier to see when we pick the reward of our labors.
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I have learned that some rewards are given for hard work and other rewards are given for just showing up. For example, the reward of our purple green beans comes from the hard work of gardening. On the other hand, our little boys often get the reward of Gummy Bears for simply showing up at Grandma’s house.
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Whether the reward was earned or just given because “Grandma loves you,” imagine how you would feel if someone tried to keep you from getting a reward that was meant for you.
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In the book of Colossians, we read of a wonderful reward that is given to Christians. That reward is the realization that we are complete in Christ. Colossians 2:10 says, “and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” (NKJV). Because we as believers are complete in Christ, we are no longer under the Old Testament law. “Having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:14 NKJV)
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Sadly some were trying to deprive the Christian Colossians of their reward of salvation and completeness in Christ. They were distracting them from Christ by putting their focus on angels instead. Furthermore, they were not only trying to make them think that they needed to obey the Old Testament ordinances, but they were also adding other man made ordinances as well. Consider vs. 16, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths,” (NKJV) The scripture is even more blunt in vs. 20-22, “Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations-- ‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’ which all concern things which perish with the using--according to the commandments and doctrines of men?” (NKJV)
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If we continue to read into chapter 3 of Colossians, we find that God does have expectations for Christians. “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5 NKJV) Further we read, “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds,” (Colossians 3:8-9 NKJV)
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I fear that the reward of the faithful Christian life is often robbed in a couple of ways. The first way is to put a heavy yoke upon Christ’s followers that he never intended for them to carry. This yoke is added by telling people that they have to do things that God does not require of them. Adding the earthly requirements of man as if they had come from God is a dangerous form of worldliness. (see Colossians 2:20-22 above). This worldly distortion of Biblical doctrine is often referred to as legalism.
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As damaging as legalism is, chapter 3 of Colossians shows us that lawlessness can be just as damaging. The Christian must study the Bible to understand what God expects and to know the difference between man’s demands and God’s. Without such diligent study, the believer is left to the whim of teachers who may either heap unneeded rules upon the backs of their followers, or encourage them to do things that are clearly forbidden in scripture.
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Because Christians must sort out the difference between legalism and lawlessness, it is important for them to study God’s word, but it is also important for them to find a church that preaches through the scripture verse by verse and explains what God wrote and why.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Treat Your Children Well

My family and I recently spent two weeks at a Bible camp. We were able to minister to kids from a variety of backgrounds. Some of the kids were homesick, others did not want to go back home. Our boys were among those who were not real anxious to go home. They had a lot of fun playing on the playground, swimming in the lake, and watching the older kids play games. Many of the kids who wanted to say longer had similar reasons, but for some the reasons were not as pleasant.
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Anyone who has worked with large groups of children quickly realizes that not every child has a happy family life. It is heartbreaking to see tears in a child’s eyes because their parents are constantly fighting. Some children have learned that alcohol is more important to a parent than they are. Others have actually become the victims of physical and sexual abuse.
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As an adult, I would not want the stress of having to live in such an environment, yet many children have no choice in the matter. The scriptures have a lot to say about children obeying their parents- in fact the command to honor them is the first command with a promise (Ephesians 6:2), but they also have a lot to say about treating children with respect.
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Ephesians 6:4 says, “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” (NKJV) Colossians 3:21 warns, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” (NKJV)
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Some parents simply view their children as an inconvenience to be tolerated. Jesus was very clear that children were important to Him. “Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:13-14 NKJV)
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Bible says that children are to obey their parents, but what happens when a parent uses that scripture to manipulate a child into sinning? They are ignoring that even Peter and the disciples said that they ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). Those who use scripture to manipulate children to sin should heed the warning of Matthew 18:6, "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (NKJV)
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Though children should never be abused, they should be corrected. Such correction shows that the parents do care about them. “For whom the LORD loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights.” (Proverbs 3:12 NKJV)
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Parenting is not always easy, but it is important. To do it right we have to set aside selfishness. The two greatest commands of scripture- to love God and to love others- involve putting aside our own selfishness for someone else. This is especially true in parenting. We must invest time in our children to be consistent in training and loving them. Proverbs 29:17 says, “Correct your son, and he will give you rest; Yes, he will give delight to your soul.” (NKJV). But we must also make sure that we not become brutal in our correction so that it becomes abuse. “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” (Colossians 3:21 NKJV)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The False Self Love Gospel

I recently met a man who told me that the way to heaven is to love yourself. I told him that Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6 NKJV) He then went on to say that he gets his teaching directly from angels rather than from the Bible. I reminded him that there are both good and bad angels- that demons are the bad angels.
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Sadly this man considered himself a reverend and said he was trying to help people with the messages he was receiving from these dark angels. You may ask how I know that they were not good angels. The apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 1:8-9, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” (NKJV)
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The message of loving yourself in order to get to heaven is a false gospel. “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-7 NASB)
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The gospel is summarized quite well in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Further clarity is given in I Corinthians 15:1-4, “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, (NKJV).
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Notice that Jesus died for sins. That means that we are sinners who need our sins forgiven (see Romans 3:23). Notice that not only did Jesus die, but He rose again. That means He is alive and that we believe in a risen savior. Believing in Jesus means we believe we need to have our sins forgiven and that He died and rose again in order to forgive them. But John 3:16 makes it clear that we must believe in Him in order to have eternal life. Consider John 3:18, "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (NKJV)
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The most important command for the believer is to love God and the next most important is to love your neighbor as yourself (see Matthew 22:37-40). As important as love is, loving yourself is not part of the gospel message. In fact, selfishness causes us to love ourselves more than God or others and we need to set aside that selfishness to put God first.
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2 Timothy 3:1-5 warns of those who love themselves, “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (NKJV)
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Turn away from false gospels and false preachers, and turn to Christ. God loves you even though you do not deserve it. Having the love of the all powerful creator and sustainer of the universe is far more valuable than having a love for yourself.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Thankful After The Storm

Our basement is drying out and there is no longer a small lake in our front yard. Monday June 16th 2014 was definitely an eventful- as well as discouraging- day as water ran into buildings and blocked or washed out roads. Twenty two years earlier when I lived in Murray county in southwest Minnesota, that same day was also discouraging. Many farms as well as the towns of Chandler and Lake Wilson were hit by numerous tornados on June 16th, 1992. Therefore, as I look back a couple of weeks and a couple of decades on the date of June 16th, I cannot help but think of disaster.
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During times of disaster it is easy to complain. Why didn’t the people who built our houses put more tile and larger sump pumps in the basement? Why don’t the stores stock an extra 10,000 sump pumps? Why can’t the county workers fix the road I want to drive on even though there are many other roads that are washed out as well, and the road I want to go on is still 3 feet under water?
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Instead of complaining we should actually be thankful. Our area experienced terrible flooding, but people in Nebraska had their homes leveled by powerful tornados. In other words, it could be worse.
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What about those county and city workers who did not seem to care about my road or the water in my neighborhood? Did we remember to thank them for the long hours that they were putting as they fought a losing battle to keep ahead of the water? The evidence is clear that they lost that battle, but it was a battle that no one could have won. We had some terrible flooding here in Worthing, but I was amazed how much better things looked the next day after the rain had stopped and I am thankful for the city workers and firemen who quickly pumped water away so things could dry up and get back to normal.
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I once heard that thankful people tend to be much more successful than complainers. Though thankfulness can help with success, there is an even more important reason to be thankful- God told us to. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 NKJV says, “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” It is hard to give thanks when your home is flooded or destroyed by a tornado. That is why it is important to let the peace of God rule in our hearts, realizing we can trust Him even when we do not understand why these things are happening. “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:15-17 NKJV)
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Regardless of our circumstances and regardless of what we are doing, we should be thankful toward God and we should be encouraging each other with our examples of thankfulness. “Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Ephesians 5:20 NKJV).
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The next time you are tempted to complain, be thankful instead. Remember to pray and thank God and then remember to thank those around for what they have done.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Are Christians Hypocrites?

Are Christians a bunch of hypocrites? When Jesus was on earth, He accused the Pharisees of being hypocrites. These religious individual claimed to have high standards, yet their lives were actually characterized by sin and Jesus rebuked them for that. Would He do the same to many Christians today?
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We know that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We also know that our sin is forgiven when we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as our savior. “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14 NKJV)
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I Corinthians 6 speaks of some sins that Christians had been involved in and then in verse 11 it says, “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” So does that mean that once we are Christians, that the actions that we do are no longer sinful because they have been forgiven? Some would suggest that since Christians have been sanctified by trusting Christ, that then we no longer have to worry about sinful actions since everything is now under the blood. This is a very dangerous error. The Apostle Paul warned, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1 NKJV)
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I John 1:9 tells us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The parallel passage from the Old Testament is Proverbs 28:13, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” Sin is forgiven when it is confessed, but it should also be forsaken.
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Often professing Christians are looked at as hypocrites because they don’t even seem to be concerned about the sin in their own lives. It is true that we are saved by the grace of God without works (Ephesians 2:8-9), but as Christians we are created to do what is good and right (Ephesians 2:10).
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Though we are not saved by our works, there are still a number of passages that command us to do what is right as Christians, so we must be careful not to emphasize grace to such an extreme that we are not concerned with how we behave and live our lives.
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Some false teachers have suggested that since Christians are forgiven that they are automatically blameless before God no matter what we do and thus we do not have to worry about our actions. Hebrews 10:10 makes it clear that we are sanctified through Christ’s offering on the cross. That offering is what allows us to have eternal life with God in spite of our sins and purifies us before God, but that does not mean that every action we do is now blameless. Hebrews 12:4-11 speaks of God disciplining Christians for sinful behavior. If we were so blameless that our actions no longer mattered, why would God discipline the Christian?
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Consider II Peter 3:14, “Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.” The scripture actually challenges us to put effort into living in a way that we ought to live so we are blameless in our behavior. Consider: Colossians 1:10 and 2:6; I Thessalonians 2:12 and 4:1; Philippians 1:27; and Ephesians 4:1. If we consistently obeyed these scriptures, we would not have be accused of being hypocrites because we would be living the way God expected us to live.

Friday, May 30, 2014

What if You Died Today?

My wife’s sister recently got married and our little boys had questions about her honeymoon. Our six year old was quick to share his opinion that a honeymoon should only last one day. His mother told him that his wife would probably like to have it last a little longer. He was not convinced, so she told him that when he got married she would help him plan his honeymoon.
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Our little six year old, then proceeded to tell his mom that she would not be able to help him with his plans because she would probably be dead by then. As if a ‘one day honeymoon’ were not enough to show his lack of understanding of the female gender, he then told her that she would probably be dead because she was getting old. To make matters worse, he then proceeded to tell her that he would have daddy help him. Of course I thought it was hilarious since I am quite a bit older than she is.
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Fortunately my wife saw the humor in it as well. Even though she is still quite young and statistically speaking, she should be able to expect to be alive when her sons get married, we really do not know how long any of us will live.
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This week we received some very sad news. A friend of ours was killed in a head on collision on I-35 south of Albert Lea. He was only 28 years old and engaged to be married next month. As tragic as that event was, it does have a happy ending. Our friend James was a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ and had trusted Him as his Lord and Savior. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 says, “Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord-- for we walk by faith, not by sight-- we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” (NASB)
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James death is sad for those of us who love and miss him, but we realize that he is home with the Lord. That is the happy ending.
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We take comfort in eternal life with the Lord, but let me make this discussion a bit more personal. If you were to be the one who died in a head on collision, do you know for sure where you would go when this life ended?
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The only way to know for sure is to trust Jesus Christ alone as your Lord and Savior. He told us in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” He also told us, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6).
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These verses make it clear that our hope for the next life is based on our belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. Still, the question remains, can we really know for sure? First of all, let me remind you that Jesus Christ is God and God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). If He promises us eternal life through believing in Him, then we can trust that promise. Further let us not forget another promise that He made in John 6:37, "All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” (NASB) He gives a warning as well, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” (John 6:36)
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As a Christian I desire to stay on this earth as long as God wants me here so that I can serve Him, but I also realize that when my life is over and my time here is done, that I get to be with Him because I have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.