Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Military Officer’s Example

When I think of Roman soldiers, I often think of treacherous villains who used their power to suppress and abuse those under them. I think of their role in the crucifixion of Christ and of how they were portrayed in the popular movie “Spartacus.”
-
As I read the Bible, however, I do not necessarily see a group of people that are any worse than others. Just as we have good cops and bad cops today, there were godly and ungodly Roman soldiers in Christ’s day. In fact, Roman soldiers are portrayed in a positive manner in the Bible. For example, in Luke 3:14, we find soldiers asking John the Baptist for spiritual guidance.
-
Not only do we read of common soldiers in the Scripture, but we also read of military officers. They are most commonly referred to as Centurions and may have been leaders over 100 men, but that number could have been lower or even as high as 1000. Regardless, they were men of rank, with power and authority.
-
When Christ was crucified, a Centurion who was there, testified that Jesus was righteous and that He was the Son of God. In Acts 10, we read of the first non Jewish convert to Christianity and he is a Centurion named Cornelius. Later as the Apostle Paul is facing persecution for his Christian faith, he appeals to a Centurion for defense.
-
Even before the cross, during Christ’s ministry in Capernaum, we find another Centurion. It appears that this man had financial means in addition to his military authority, since we find out that he had built a synagogue in Capernaum for the Jewish people to worship God (Luke 7:5). It was likely that this was the very same synagogue where Jesus had earlier cast our a demon (Luke 4:35).
-
This Centurion also has a servant and this servant is sick. He cares about the servant and the servant is about to die, so he sends a message to Christ asking for help (Luke 7:2-3). As the Centurion communicates with Jesus Christ through his messengers, he explains that he understands what it is like to have authority over others and to be able to tell people what to do and to expect that it will get done. Remember this Centurion is a Roman military officer who has soldiers at his disposal to make sure that his commands are obeyed.
-
Jesus had no visible military here on earth, yet this Centurion recognized that Christ had even more power and authority than he had. He also understands that Jesus even has the power over the sickness of the servant. "Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. "For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." (Luke 7:7-8 NKJV).
-
The Centurion recognizes that others are under his authority, but he also sees that there are those who also have authority over him. He understands that not only does the Roman emperor have authority over him, but so does Jesus Christ.
-
Jesus commends him for his faith and heals his servant, but I also want us to notice that in understanding Jesus’ authority, the Centurion- who would often be able to demand what he wanted from others- asks Jesus for help rather than demanding it.
-
As we go to Jesus for help, let us follow the Centurion’s example of believing Jesus can do whatever we ask, but still praying that God’s will be done, rather than demanding that our will be done. We must recognize that God has the authority, not us. Just as the Centurion would not tell Caesar what to do, we should not tell God what to do.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Applying the Golden Rule

We try to teach our little boys to share, but sometimes the demand to share can turn into a selfish demand that negates the whole principle of sharing. For example, if one of the boys wants a favorite toy, should he always get it simply by telling his brothers that they have to share? The issue of sharing can end up being just as complicated for adults- even for Christians.
-
Consider Luke 6:29-30: "Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. "Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.” (NASB)
-
Does this mean that if I steal your coat from you, that you are to give me your shirt too? Does this mean that if I ask you for your car, that you should give me your wife’s car as well? Does this mean that if I steal you wallet, that you should just let me keep it if you know that I did it?
-
Of course stealing is wrong. “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.” (Ephesians 4:28 NKJV)
-
So how do we reconcile these two passages. First let us look at the parallel passage to Luke 6:29 found in Matthew 5:40: "If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.” (NKJV) There is a big difference between giving something away because it is has been stolen, and having to give something away because a court of law says that you owe it to another individual as restitution.
-
Let us remember that Jesus was ministering to a mostly Hebrew people who were living under Roman law. Regardless of what the Roman law said should happen in a lawsuit, the Hebrew law calls for more than just equal restitution. "If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.” (Exodus 22:1 NASB). Not only did the Hebrew law prohibit stealing, but it required that more be paid back that what was stolen.
-
The point Jesus was making in Luke 6, was that if you had wronged someone, then you should make restitution over and above what the person had lost. No wonder He next said, "And just as you want people to treat you, treat them in the same way.” (Luke 6:31 NASB)
-
The statement about allowing your face to be hit again makes much more sense in this context as well. This does not mean that if some random person assaults you, that you are not to defend yourself, rather it is the idea that if you have insulted a person to the extent that they are justified in in slapping you across the cheek, that you ought to show your remorse for the insult to such an extent that you let them hit you again.
-
Just as there needs to be restitution in a lawsuit, Luke 6:29 allows the person you insulted to have restitution as well. At the same time, we are to treat others like we would like to be treated. I would hope that if I insulted someone, that they would not hit me at all, therefore I will not demand to slap either cheek. Realize as well that our culture and our laws do not allow slapping for insults, while other cultures do.
-
Let us follow Christ’s example of humility and follow the golden rule that treats others like we would like to be treated.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Most Creative One of All

The Most Creative One of All

We have four little boys. Our oldest is 7 and our youngest is 3. They all love building things out of Legos. One of the older boys showed me a dump trailer that he had built and it really did dump. The youngest one doesn’t always know what he is building, but he plays with his Legos even more than the bigger boys do. He also has a Duplo set with Thomas the Train characters that he is constantly modifying.
-
The oldest also loves duct tape. He will ask me for scrap pieces of board that he will tape together. He just came into my office with a short chunk of 2x4 taped to a couple of other small boards and a metal clothes hanger bent into a strange shape. I was told that it was his rabbit trap. Animal lovers need not fear, I am confident that the rabbits that come near this trap will be quite safe- at least until he gets older and figures out a trap that will actually work.
-
Our second son turns 6 this week. He also likes to build stuff and if you ask him what he wants to be when he grows up, he will tell you that he wants to be an engineer. He is the one that will crawl under stuff to look and see how it is built. He wants to be an engineer so that he can build things that no one has ever built before. One of his ideas is to build a ladder that will catch you when you fall.
-
Our boys are quite creative. That is not unusual. Some people are creative mechanically- others musically, and some are skilled at drawing. There are even people that are creative with writing. I believe that creativity is part of the image of God found in human beings.
-
As creative as we humans are, imagine the creativity of God. Our son wants to make things that no one has ever made before, but he wants to do it by putting together things that have already been made. God, however did not even have the earth when He started. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1).
-
The fact that God was powerful enough to create the whole world should astound us, but He was also able to do it all by Himself. “Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, "I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself, And spreading out the earth all alone,” (Isaiah 44:24 NASB).
-
As we consider that God made the world all by Himself, let us not forget that the Bible is clear that Jesus is the creator. “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created by Him and for Him.” (Colossians 1:16 NASB) This shows us that Jesus is both creative and that He is God.
-
Let us consider that even after the earth was created by God, it still needed to be shaped and molded into something even more creative. “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2)
-
Though God has finished creating the elements that make up the earth and those in it, He has not given up His creative process of changing the landscapes with beauty. Consider the formation of a canyon as water flows, or just look at the beauty of the snow drifts after a winter storm, or look at a brilliant sunset as God puts the clouds in just the right spot to catch just the right light. Our God is not only the great creator of the universe, He is the most magnificent artist of all time.



Friday, January 9, 2015

Racism, Bias, & Christianity

On August 9th of 2014 in Ferguson, MO, a young man named Michael Brown was shot by another young man- a police officer named Darren Wilson. Michael died as a result of the encounter. This incident was more than just a passing news story though. Another component was involved. The two young men, Michael and Darren, were of different ethnic backgrounds. Soon racial tensions across the United States were heightened even more than they had been before.
-
The incident at Ferguson and the surrounding controversies were not the beginnings of racial tension in our country, they were just further evidence of its existence.
-
Racism is not a new problem. As we read the New Testament, we see much racial tension. Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well is the encounter of a Jewish man with a Samaritan woman. As we look at the encounter we find that much of the tension has more to do with ideology than it has to do with race. She says, "Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." (John 4:20 NASB).
-
The “you people” comment is often used by racist people today as well. One of the difficulties with the whole discussion is that racism is not limited to one particular ethnic or ideological group.
-
Racism can come in so many forms. Often there is a cultural, ideological, religious, or even political component. It is not uncommon for people to excuse racism as long as the racist has similar religious or political views. This brings in another component- bias. Bias is an unfair preference or dislike for something. It is very similar to racism.
-
Racism is basically bias directed at ethnic heritage. Such bias is wrong whether it comes from the majority or minority of the population.
-
Even when dealing with the leaders in the church, Paul warned Timothy, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality.” (I Timothy 5:21 NASB)
-
James also deals with the issue when he talks about wisdom from God. “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” (James 3:17) In the verses right before this statement, James warns about the wisdom that does not come from God and the damaging results. “But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” (James 3:14-16)
-
Much of today’s racism is rooted in bitterness, envy and strife. All races ought to judge others by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. Christians need to remember that we are all created in the image of God no matter what race we are; therefore, there should be no racial preferences. Consider Colossians 3:9-11 NASB) “Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him --a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.”

Saturday, December 27, 2014

What are Your Plans For 2015?

Christmas is ended and we look forward to a new year. We have no idea what this new year will bring. It may bring pleasure or it may bring heartache.
-
I think back to the end of 2005. I was still single then, and my friend Katie was telling me that I would marry her best friend who I had never even met. I did not take her seriously because people had been trying to set me up with their friends for years and nothing ever worked out. But when Katie’s friend Crystal came home from a year in Peru, I started to wonder if perhaps I should pay a little more attention to her.
-
Sure enough, Crystal and I fell in love, got married, and now have 4 little boys. We had not even met in 2005, but were married by the end of 2006. Neither of us were expecting this to happen. It seems that Katie was the only one who did. Of course God was not taken by surprise either. He knew all along what would happen. “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:” (Isaiah 46:10)
-
Often when a new year starts, people make resolutions, but those resolutions are frequently broken before February. Sometimes they are broken because of a lack of will power, but often they are broken because events occur that are out of our control.
-
In the Bible, the book of James tells about some people who had resolved to do business in a city over the next the year and make some profit. It was not a bad goal or even a foolish business venture. The problem was that they figured that they could have their next year all planned out and that it would work out just like they expected it to. Further, as they were planning out their year, they were focusing on what they could make for themselves, rather than remembering God.
-
Consider what James wrote: “Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that." But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.” (James 4:13-16 NASB)
-
As we come to the next year, let us remember that things may not work out like we had planned. They might be better than we expected or they might be worse. Perhaps the next year will be boring and uneventful. Regardless of what happens in our lives, let us remember that it will not take God by surprise.
-
Our conduct does have an effect on our lives, but we must realize that we are not the gods of our own destinies. When I was a farmer, I quickly realized that the one variable that had the most effect on yield was the weather. It reminded me that although I had a responsibility to engage in good farming practices and that the better job I did, the better my yields would be, that ultimately, whether I had a huge crop or a failure, depended on the grace of God and what kind of weather He sent.
-
Regardless of your plans and goals for the next year, remember that God is in control, not us.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Jesus Proved He is Good

Our little boys watched soccer on TV for the first time. They had already watched football and one of them wanted to know if the team with the horses on their helmets was playing because he wanted to watch the Broncos. I explained that they did not wear helmets in this game and then proceeded to explain the rules.
-
After explaining that the players could not use their hands unless they were the goalie, my five year old quickly stated that he wanted to be the goalie so that he could use his hands. His brother also agreed. Ironically, neither of them has ever even played soccer.
-
In order to be pro soccer players, my sons would have to prove that they were good enough. In order to play the position of the goalie, they would really have to be good. Imagine however that years from now, one of my sons showed up for tryouts for a goalie on a soccer team. Imagine then that he was so quick and so coordinated that no one was ever able to score a goal. Then the coach was so impressed with his performance that he called in the best soccer player in the world to try to make a goal and that player was still not able to score against him.
-
Such a performance would prove that this young man should be on the team. It would prove that he is a worthy player. It would prove that he has what it takes.
-
However, imagine that instead of a new soccer recruit, the world was looking for a new king. Not only were they looking for a king, but they were looking for a savior to rescue them from the curse of sin. In order to provide a rescue, this savior/king would have to perfect. He would have to sinless. He would have to be totally righteous. He would have to be so in touch with the will of God that His behavior would prove He is God.
-
When Jesus was temped by the devil, He was able to prove all of this. Just as a great soccer goalie is able to prove his skills by showing up on the soccer field, Jesus was able to show His goodness by going to a place of temptation. We must be careful not to think that we should follow His example in this. Our very sinfulness proves that we have already given into temptation many times.
-
As we consider the temptations Jesus faced, His goodness is contrasted with the sinfulness of all mankind. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;”
-
The first temptation in Luke 4 was to turn the stone into bread. Why would that be sinful- especially considering that Jesus later used a miracle to feed thousands? It would be sinful because He would have been giving into the will of Satan rather than the will of God. Because Jesus as the son of God is God, He understood God's will perfectly. You and I do not always know every last detail of God's will and this is further proof of how far we come from God's glory and why we need a savior.
-
The next temptation involved the kingdoms of this world. As we look at the corruption of world leaders both then and now, we are again reminded of the sinfulness of mankind and of our need for a sinless savior and king. Jesus proved that He is that kind of a king as He resisted temptation.
-
Finally Satan tempted Jesus by quoting Psalm 91:11 which speaks of the angles protecting Jesus. When the devil quoted that verse, he left off the words “in all they ways.” In other words whatever Jesus does, he will be protected, but we have to remember that whatever Jesus did was the will of God. Satan was trying to get Him to follow another will, but Jesus proved that He would always do what was right and never come short of the glory of God. By passing the test, Jesus proved that He is worthy to pay for our sins.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Let Us Always Be Thankful

I love leftover turkey. You can make it into sandwiches, hot dishes, eat it cold, or warm it up. You can cut it into little pieces and put in a salad. You can chop it up and add it to a soup. I love leftover turkey.
-
I hope you can see that I am thankful for leftovers. The Thanksgiving holiday is a wonderful time to be thankful, but our thankfulness should not be reserved for just once a year. Now that “Thanksgiving” is over for the year, our giving of thanks should still continue.
-
The holiday season is a time when we are able to gather with friends and family. I am very thankful for them. The Apostle Paul was thankful for the people in his life too, but I really like how he expresses his thankfulness in Philippians 1:3: “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,”. Notice that he was thankful to God.
-
We teach our little boys to say, “thank you,” to the people around them, but ultimately we all need to remember to be thankful to God. Without Him we would not have an earth to live on or a sunset to admire. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) Even the creation itself is to praise God. “Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens. Let them praise the name of the LORD: for he commanded, and they were created.” (Psalm 148:4-5)
-
God reminds us that not only did He create the heavens and earth, but He created us. “I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded.” (Isaiah 45:12) We should thank God for our very existence.
-
Remembering that God created the whole world and everything in it, I thank God for turkey leftovers. I also thank Him for the water that I drink and the place where I live. Knowing that I should be thankful to Him, I also want to have the right relationship with Him, but I realize that as a sinner I come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
-
That reminds me of another reason to be thankful. I am thankful for His grace and mercy. “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” (James 4:6) God extends His grace upon us through the Lord Jesus Christ as we believe on Him. 1 Corinthians 15:57 says, “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
-
I am therefore thankful that Jesus paid for my sins. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 2:23). I realize that I have a lifetime of reason to give thanks to God.
-
Thanksgiving is not just for November. Thanksgiving is not even just for this lifetime. It is for forever. Because I have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ- trusting Him as my savior-, I look forward to thanking God for eternity. “And I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing." And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, "To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever." (Revelation 5:11-13 NASB)