Monday, May 2, 2016

Illustrating for Understanding

I love to watch old westerns. I like to sit and watch “Gunsmoke” with my boys. Festus is Marshall Dillon's sidekick and is one of my favorite western characters. He is actually smarter than he first appears and has a caring side behind his rough exterior. My boys just think he is funny.
-
I read the Bible to my boys more often than I watch “Gunsmoke” with them. Recently we have been reading in the book of Acts, and actually came across a man named “Festus.” He wasn't a sidekick, instead he was a ruler. When the Apostle Paul got in trouble with the authorities, he had to appear before this man named Festus. After reading about him, our boys were told that it was a different Festus than they had seen on the cowboy show.
-
We actually got a bit of chuckle out of it since these two men seemed so different. One of the biggest differences is that the man we read about in Acts chapters 24-26 was a real man. The one we watch on TV is actually a make believe character played by a real man named Ken Curtis. Still it got me to thinking. My boys actually understand more about the culture and expectations of the make believe world of the old west as portrayed by these movies, then they do about the culture of the Bible times.
-
Although we have seen many episodes of “Gunsmoke” we do not actually have a true understanding of what life was like in Kansas during the 1800's. Instead we have a sensationalized Hollywood version of that setting. When we read the Bible account, we are separated by much more time and geography than we are from 1800's Kansas. Still we have an advantage. The Biblical account is real. Still there are large advantages to gaining insight into the culture of that time period and location. Many of the illustrations that Christ used (we call them parables) are better understood once we realize the significance of what He was saying in the day to day lives of those He was speaking to.
-
Although we should hold scripture in such high regard that we not change it, we like Christ can use illustrations to help others better understand it. For example I was recently teaching about the encounter that David had with a foolish man named Nabal (I Samuel chapter 25). I was explaining it to a man who watched westerns, so I said that what happened would have been similar to some guys on a cattle drive. David would have been like a cavalry colonel who came across the cattle drive with his men and protected them from being raided by Indians. Since no cattle were lost, at the end of the drive he asked that a steer be given to his men to feed them since they were out of food. Imagine how upset the colonel would have been if the man were rude to him and would not even give him any food. Nabal in the Biblical story was like the rude cattleman.
-
A bit later, we were talking about David trying to avoid King Saul who wanted to kill him. David did not want to fight Saul so he went and lived with the Philistines even though they had been his enemies. The young man I was talking to then said, “It would be like him going to live with the Apaches.” Exactly! This new Christian had figured out how to use illustrations to make a connection to real life events. He took something that he understood and used it to help him relate to a culture and time that he was far removed from. The Bible text was not changed, it was simply explained in a way that he could relate to.
-
Although our parables cannot compare to Christ's mastery of the illustration, we should not overlook this powerful tool for gaining better insight into the scriptures. At the same time we must be cautious not to carry our illustrations too far so that they distort the original narrative.

Monday, April 4, 2016

We Have Been Fighting the Flu

We have been fighting colds and fevers in the Miller house. We started out with the coughs and runny noses and then the first boy got a fever. A day or two later another of our boys woke up saying that he dreamed that he was dizzy and and after he woke up, he was still dizzy. He too had a fever. Each boy would end up with a fever and so did I. We would get over the fever and then about a day later we would have another, but the cough and runny nose would continue for another week. Crystal got sick too, but not quite as bad.
-
It is not fun being sick for multiple weeks, but it does help me to appreciate the times when I am healthy. God allows the trials of sickness even to those who are faithful. For example Job (Jobe) was a man who faced terrible trials, yet God said of him, "Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man fearing God and turning away from evil. And he still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to ruin him without cause."
(Job 2:3 NASB)
-
As Job faced the trials he and his friends tried to figure out the reason. When we face trials we often ask “why?” as well. At the end of the book of Job, God essentially tells them that in all their reasoning about why, they are missing the fact that they are not able to grasp why God does everything that He does. He reminds them that they were not there when He created the world.
-
In trying to answer “why?” Job's friends even accuse him of facing trials because of his sinfulness. Job defends himself, but the reality is that Job was not without sin. Still as we saw in Job 2:3, God himself showed that Job was the most blameless and upright man there was. As people face trials in life, it is not always the result of specific sin.
-
The Bible actually shows why even righteous people like Job would face trials. “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” (Romans 5:3-5) Having a fever and feeling sick is not fun, but it can build character as we look to God for our strength. As we do so, we develop patience through our experience. Then as we survive our trying experience we are reminded that we now have hope to face the next trial. “Knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope.”
-
Job was an example of a righteous man who suffered, but the Bible also warns in Hebrews 12:4-11 that God disciplines Christians when they do wrong. In other words, there are times that we might get sick so that God can get our attention. The passage in Romans showed how trials can build character even in a righteous man, but Hebrews shows that trials can also build character in a Christian is who not living so righteously. “Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:9-11 NASB)
-
Whether a rough time we are facing is a trial or discipline, if we draw close to God during those times, both should result in fruits of righteousness as we become more like Him through the character building experience of the hardship.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Trusting God in Our Elections

Our 7 year old son was disappointed when he heard that Marco Rubio was no longer running for President. His mother and I were actually supporting a different candidate, but when our son heard Marco Rubio's name on the radio he asked me if he would be a good President. I told him that I thought he would. From that point on, he was rooting for Marco.
-
Not everyone agreed with his choice, just as not everyone agrees with mine. The fact that my choice is not the front runner proves that point. I actually heard a discussion on the radio concerning this topic and one of the people began to speculate about who Jesus would vote for. I turned to my wife and said, “well I guess we will find out. He voted for President Obama last time.”
-
I, however, did not vote for President Obama in either of the last 2 elections, so why would I not vote for a man that I believed Jesus had voted for? When I say that Jesus voted for our current President, I mean that God ultimately decided to allow or stop every President or potential President our country has ever had. “Daniel answered and said, "Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him. "And it is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men, And knowledge to men of understanding.” (Daniel 2:20-21 NASB) Daniel shows that God has the power to remove and set up kings. He continues, "This sentence is by the decree of the angelic watchers, And the decision is a command of the holy ones, In order that the living may know That the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, And bestows it on whom He wishes, And sets over it the lowliest of men."
(Daniel 4:17 NASB)
-
God is in control of who rules over nations, but notice that He does not always chose the best men to rule. “He sets over it the lowliest of men.” Every candidate running for President has sinned and come short of the glory of God. In fact every past President- even George Washington- has sinned. As I go to the ballot box, I must make a judgment call based on the information that I have, realizing that God is ultimately in charge of who actually becomes our next President and that He does not promise to give us the most righteous or smartest ruler.
-
Still there are benefits to having a righteous ruler. Proverbs 29:2 says, “When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, But when a wicked man rules, people groan.” (NASB) We understand that God is ultimately in control, but He also gives man a certain amount of freedom to make decisions. How all that balances out is decided by God Himself. Thus with an understanding of God's sovereignty over our elections, I also understand our responsibility to do what is right. With that in mind, I vote for those who I believe would be a righteous leader. For example, I look at their view of the unborn in making a determination.
-
I also realize that God allows evil men to rule. In I Kings 11:31 we read of His selection of Jeroboam who was an evil king over Israel. Though they did not have an electoral college like we do, Jeroboam rose to power as the people rallied around him. This is a reminder that an all powerful God is able to use even sinful men to accomplish His ultimate purposes.
-
Romans 13 reminds us that the governmental powers are ordained by God. As Christians we should prayerfully consider our voting choices and should realize the benefits of voting for a righteous ruler. At the same time, we need to trust God even if we are given an evil ruler that may end up causing much grief for our country.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Conforming vs Transformation

When I was a child, my little brother asked who would win if a mountain lion attacked a horse. Well, about a month ago we found out that the Broncos defeated the Panthers in the Super Bowl. Imagine that you were a Broncos' fan, but you had been invited to go to the super bowl by a group of friends who were die hard Panthers fans. They agreed to give you a ticket and to pay your way to the game as long as you wore a Panthers jersey to the game.
You still wanted the Broncos to win, but you did not want to pass up the chance to go to the Super Bowl, so you conformed to their request. Wearing the jersey did not turn you into a Panthers fan, but it got you into the game.
You were not actually transformed into a Panthers fan, you simply conformed to your friends request. How does this fit into the issue of faith? Christianity should not be about being conformed to some outward appearance or even conformed to some set of ideas, but rather to being transformed by Christ. Romans 12:2 says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (NASB)
Obviously Christians should not be conformed to the sinful behaviors of the world, but what if we are simply conformed to the idea of presenting ourselves as Christians without actually having an inward transformation? Christ had to address this very issue when He says, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.” (Matthew 23:25 NASB) The scribes and Pharisees were conforming on the outside, but inside there was no transformation. They were conforming both to an external appearance to be seen of other men, and also to a set of rules and standards drawn up by man. The problem was not with their zeal to obey God, but rather a zeal to follow man's standards while rejecting God's. Sadly that is still what happens today when religious people focus on conforming to religious expectations rather than being transformed by God.
True transformation should have an affect on our lives. In the Matthew passage Jesus next says, Mt 23:26 "You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.” (NASB) True transformation should cause the Christian to conform to God's standards, but simply conforming gets men stuck in ritual rather than renewal.
If you really become a Panthers fan, you will want to promote that team. It will be transformation rather than conformation. If you think that Christianity is simply going through the motions of religious expectation, you do not understand transformation. Christianity is about realizing you are a sinner in need of forgiveness. It is about changing direction in your life to follow Jesus Christ. It is realizing that He is your only hope for forgiveness. At that point old things are become new and you are completely transformed from a lost sinner on his way to the lake of fire, to a Christian saint who is now following the risen Savior.
Conforming is about following people. Christian transformation is about following and obeying Christ no matter what people think. Please visit www.southtownchurch.com.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Finding the Right Way

My brother-in-law recently moved. I had not been to his new apartment, but had been told that it was near Samaritan's in Albert Lea. I happened to be in that town, so I was going to stop in to see him. I drove to Samaritan's and called my wife for directions from there. I followed her instructions but told her that there was nothing but an open field where she said his apartment should be. After a bit of confusion she told me that he lived near St. John's, not Samaritan's.

I then drove to St. John's and found the street that I was told that he lived on, but I still could not find his apartment. I did find another apartment. I called my wife to see if this was the right building. As I described it to her, we realized I was again in the wrong place. After more confusion, we discovered that I had also been given the wrong street. No wonder I could not find my destination.

Fortunately, I was very close by this time. In fact I was only about a block and a half away, but I needed to turn down another street from the street that I had been told to go on. Once I found the correct street, I quickly found the apartment.

What if you were searching for eternal life with God, rather than your brother-in-law? What if you missed out because you had been given the wrong directions? This issue is so serious that the Apostle Paul wrote, “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. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-9 NASB)

The word “gospel” means good news. In the Bible, it refers to the good news of eternal life through Jesus Christ. So how does a person apply the gospel to their lives in order to have eternal life? John 3:16 says, “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.”

A jailer asked the Apostle Paul and his fellow minister Silas how to be saved. The answer was, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved.” (Acts 16:30-31). That same offer was extended not just to the jailer, but to his whole household.

Notice that belief must be in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Acts 4:12 says, "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved." (NASB)

I am often asked about those who have never heard about Jesus. For them to try to find eternal life would be like me trying to find the apartment with the wrong directions. Let us not forget that the same God who is powerful enough to create heaven and earth knows the very thoughts of men's minds. He can know who would and would not believe if they heard. That means He is able to get the right directions to those who are truly seeking Him. In Acts chapter 10, Cornelius prayed and God sent Peter to tell him about Jesus. As hearts are moved and the truth is shared, people all over the world are able to hear the gospel and realize that the only directions to an eternity with God are by believing that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior who died for your sins and rose again. www.southtownchurch.com

Friday, February 5, 2016

Faith Like a Mustard Seed

My little boys are still at the age where they think that their daddy can do almost anything he sets his mind to. Part of me enjoys that they have such confidence in me, but I also want them to understand reality- even if I become less of a hero to them. I would rather they understand the truth now than to have them face a major letdown later.
-
As Christians, we need to be cautious how we teach on faith, otherwise both children and adults can end up facing a similar letdown. Are there dangers in teaching that if we have enough faith, then we can do whatever we set our minds to do? Does the Bible support such teaching? What about Luke 17:6 which says, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you.” (NASB)?
-
In order to understand Christ's statement in Luke 17, we must look at the context of what He was talking about. He had just finished teaching about how Christians should not be a stumbling block to others and how we should forgive a brother even if they repent 7 times in one day. It is difficult- seemingly impossible- to consistently obey these expectations, thus in Luke 17:5 the disciples ask the Lord to “increase our faith.” The reason they are requesting faith is so that they can obey what Christ has commanded them to do. Upon hearing that request, Jesus gives the mustard seed illustration.
-
James shows in 4:3, that prayer requests are not granted because they are asked for out of selfish motives. In other words, they are man's requests rather than God's will. The point is that if we pray according to God's will rather than our own, then all it takes is faith like a mustard seed for what we prayed about to happen.
-
The challenge is to know God's will. In Luke 17, Jesus had just shown the will of God when He taught on forgiveness and not being a stumbling block. In other words, the context shows us that all it takes to obey God is faith like a mustard seed. This is supported further as we continue to read the next verses. In Luke 17:7-8, Jesus talks about a servant who worked hard all day, but then still had to work more to prepare a meal for his master at the end of the day instead of expecting his master to make the meal for him. The point is that in a servant master relationship, the servant does not get to order the master around even if the servant has been working hard.
-
Christians must remember that our Lord is our master and even if we have been working hard, we do not have the right to order Him around. We do not have the right to make demands of God in our prayers. Instead we should focus on obeying Him.
-
To suggest that an increase in faith gives us a right to make demands of God totally contradicts the teaching of Luke 17:1-10. The faith of a mustard seed is the power to obey God, not the power to order God around. Realizing that God is all powerful, loving, merciful, and must judge sin, we should be thankful that He restrains us from doing whatever we decide while showing us that it only takes faith like a mustard seed to obey Him.

For more information please visit www.southtownchurch.com

Friday, January 22, 2016

Is There a Key To Heaven?

Have you ever lost your keys? Imagine being outside your own house and not being able to get in because you do not have the key.
-
What if you do not have a key to heaven? Can you simply slide the locks on the pearly gates? How about just climbing over the gates? It is not that simple. Without Christ, you cannot even get close to heaven. Consider the account from Luke 16, where Jesus tells of two men who died. "And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. "Then he cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.' "But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. 'And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.'” (Luke 16:23-26 NKJV)
-
In this parable Jesus tells us that there is a great gulf between the place of torments and the place of comfort. Even if you think of hell simply as the grave, Jesus shows us in Luke 16 that the place of the departed dead has a place of comfort and a place of torments and that there is no way to get from the one place to the other. Notice as well that the place of torments had flames.
-
As bad as this place of torments is, things will get even worse. “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:14-15 NKJV)
-
Right before this we are told of the dead standing before God. This is referred to as the Great White Throne Judgment. Those who are not written in the book of life will be cast into the lake of fire along with the place called Hades/Hell.
-
Some are not worried about this place because they figure that they can just hold out until the fire burns out. Christ makes it clear in the Gospel of Matthew that this is a foolish idea when He says, "Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:” (Matthew 25:41 NKJV) Notice that the fire is everlasting. Still some suggest that even if the fire is everlasting that those being punished will soon be burned up. This too is false for Jesus says, "And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Matthew 25:46 NKJV) Notice that the punishment is everlasting. Remember the man in Luke 16 who was in the place of torments. That torment will not end. God is a merciful God but He is also a just God who must punish sin. We are all sinners and deserving of the lake of fire (see Romans 3:23 and 6:23)
-
There is some good news. “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.” (John 3:16) Though sin must be punished, God loved us enough to send His son Jesus Christ to take the punishment for us when He died on the cross. If we confess our sinfulness and trust in Jesus alone as we believe in Him, then we are given eternal life and written in the book of life. That means we do not have to keep track of a key to heaven. Jesus will let us in. He promised, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” (John 6:37) It also means if we do not believe on Him that we will face eternal damnation.