Thursday, April 17, 2014

What if They Don’t Forgive?

Romans 3:23 tells us, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Sin affects our relationship with God, but it also affects our relationships with one another. Fortunately God’s word tells us what to do when sin messes up our relationships. For example, Matthew 18:15-17 explains: "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. "But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' "And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” (NKJV)

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If a brother sins against you and they realize they are wrong and ask for forgiveness, then the relationship can be restored. We see in Matthew 18:17 that if they do not listen then the relationship is not restored, but at least the attempt was made. But what happens if a person is confronted and realizes they have sinned, but the one they have sinned against refuses to accept their apology? Later in Matthew 18, Peter askes, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” (Verse 21). In verse 22, Jesus answers, “ I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” In other words, instead of keeping track of how often you have forgiven your brother, just forgive him.
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But what happens when you realize that you have sinned against someone else and you ask for forgiveness but they are not willing to forgive you? Jesus was very firm in His answer concerning this when He said in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” The context of this passage as well as the parallel passage in Mark is prayer. Though unforgiveness does not cause us to lose our salvation, it does keep us from close fellowship with God.
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We must also realize that when someone else refuses to forgive us, that cannot keep us out of heaven nor can it keep us from having the right relationship with God. It does however, keep us from being close to them. If we have confessed our sin to them and asked for forgiveness and they refuse to give it, then they are the ones in the wrong, not us. I know it hurts when someone refuses to forgive, but we must understand that even if a person refuses to forgive us, God will not withhold forgiveness. I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Even if the people around us refuse to forgive, God still forgives when we humble ourselves before Him and admit our sin. Let us remember that He is the one that really matters when it comes to forgiveness of sin.
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We still must humble ourselves before our fellow man and ask forgiveness when we have sinned, but realize that some people are too sinful themselves to forgive us. As sad as that is, we must take comfort in the realization that even if people will not forgive us, God will. I am so thankful that even though we have a just God who must punish sin, He is also a loving merciful God who will forgive sin. In fact, He sent His son to die on the cross to make the payment that we could not pay so that our sin could be paid for once for all. As we remember Christ’s resurrection, let us also remember God’s forgiveness if we believe on Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Faith & The Science Method

What is science? When I was in school we were taught the scientific method. It was essentially a 4 step process of coming up with an idea and then doing experiments to either lend support to the idea or to suggest that the idea was wrong. It would break down something like this: 1) Make observations 2) Come up with a hypothesis (theory) 3) Test the hypothesis by doing an experiment 3)Analyze your data and come to a conclusion.
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We were taught that as we did experiments, we had to be very careful to have a proper control group because we could easily come to the wrong conclusions. For example, if we left a piece of bread lay in the refrigerator and watched it turn moldy we might conclude that refrigerators caused mold. A better experiment would be to have 2 refrigerators side by side with the exact same humidity in each one but with different temperatures. Then have another experiment with the exact same temperatures but different levels of humidity. Soon you would realize that there are other factors involved in mold growth on bread. Mold growth was not caused by the refrigerator.
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In our bread mold/refrigerator example we quickly see that although the scientific method is helpful and important, there are many factors that can easily be missed by the person doing the experiment. That should sound a loud warning that we must be careful about putting too much security in the conclusions one draws from the experiment. At the same time we must also realize that valuable data is being gathered.
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So what happens when data is gathered and conclusions are too hastily presented as facts? Fortunately the scientific community is not publishing articles telling us to get rid of refrigerators because they cause mold, but some in the scientific community are suggesting that we reject the Bible because of the conclusions that they have come to based on their observations. Others have looked at the same data and suggested that it actually supports the Bible just as some would look at the bread experiment and suggest that it actually shows us how important refrigerators really are.
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The field of science is made up of people- and people have biases. I know I do. With all the data available to us, we still have not settled the old debate about what is better, Ford or Chevy. Sure, you may have settled it in your mind, but your neighbor still has his bias.
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Imagine if this were 80 years ago and you sold ice. Your bias against refrigerators may have tainted your conclusions. At the same time imagine if you sold refrigerators. Your bias may cause you to overlook some conclusions.
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As a Christian, I understand that I have a bias in favor of the Bible. The reason I have such a bias is not because of greed to be able to sell a refrigerator, but rather because of my faith in my God. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
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In every experiment there are things going on that we cannot see. Even if we watched the mold grow with a microscope, there are still things going on with our bread experiment that we could not observe. Because I have trusted Christ, I realize that my faith is a part of my evidence. But I also realize that those who do not believe the Bible bring their bias into the experiment; therefore, it is not valid for them to reject my conclusions simply because of my faith.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Obey God Rather Than Men

We just finished with our taxes. The tax rules are so confusing that I hired an accountant to help us. For many Christians, God’s rules are just as confusing or even more confusing than the tax code, but they shouldn’t be. I recently read that it takes 73,954 pages to explain the US tax code. The Bible is closer to 2,000 pages and much of that is history, poetry and prophecy. It is not all commands.
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We all have rules to abide by that have no connection to morality. For example, an employee at a prestigious law firm may be required to meet a very stringent dress code that includes an expensive suit and tie. Even some minimum wage jobs require wearing a specific uniform. These are requirements placed upon man apart from the requirements of God. Still they do have a connection because Christians are taught to obey their masters as long as doing so would not cause them to disobey the Lord. We are even taught to pay taxes as we “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”
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Further there are rules of society. For example it is considered rude to burp loudly in public even though there is nothing in scripture that specifically forbids such behavior. In fact, in some cultures it is considered a compliment to burp after a meal. Still as a Christian in this culture, I want to avoid such behavior because of my love for my neighbor realizing that that the sound may make them uncomfortable.
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With all the different rules that affect us- expectations of our government, our boss, our teacher, our parents, and society in general, it can be difficult to sort out what God really expects of us and what sort of things are simply the expectations of man.
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Sometimes because of the churches involvement in expectations the line can get even more clouded. For example during lent, some may avoid meat on Fridays in order to focus more on God. Giving up anything for a time to give more attention to God is wonderful and ought to be encouraged, however; we must understand that we cannot find a specific directive in scripture to observe lent by avoiding meat. Another example would be the expectation that men wear suits and ties to church on Sunday. Although there is nothing wrong with someone dressing up for a special time of worship- especially if they are doing it to honor God- it is not a specific requirement of scripture. In fact, scripture condemns those who look down on others for not being dressed as well.
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All these expectations can end up leaving a Christian confused about what God really expects. For example, I have met Christians who did not even know that sex outside of marriage was wrong even though I Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.” (NKJV)
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The Bible book of Colossians addresses this challenge of balancing the rules of man with following God. Colossians 2:20-22 NKJV says, “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?” Then in the next chapter we are told, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Colossians 3:1-2 NKJV).
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Really what it comes down to is that we need to be more concerned about following what God has commanded us to do than what man has commanded us to do. In order to know the difference we must know the Word of God. “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15 NKJV)

Friday, March 7, 2014

Are Your Children Unruly?

I sat in the adult Sunday school class with my 2 year old son on my lap. Occasionally he would wiggle, but he had learned to sit still- for the most part- as I held him. After class the lady across the table told me how impressed she was about how good he was. I responded that he was not always that good. She then said that she was also impressed with how well his 2 older brothers had sat in the same class a few weeks earlier.
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At that time I admitted to her that our 3 and 4 year had been in class with us because they had not wanted to go to their own class even though we had told them they should. I then explained that we had been on the road a lot recently, preaching in other churches, and that the boys were often in unfamiliar settings and had gotten a bit scared and wanted to be close to Mom and Dad.
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This brings up an important question: Were my children being disobedient and unruly in a way that would disqualify me from being a pastor because they were too scared to go to their class and insisted on staying with us?
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Consider 1 Timothy 3:4-5, “One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)” Consider as well Titus 1:6, “If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.”
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Let me be honest. This is not the only issue my children have. They do not always sit quietly- especially if they have to sit for more than an hour. Further, they fight with each other over toys, they have taken candy without permission, and they have tracked mud across the floor. Even though we remind them to take their shoes off, they sometimes forget or are just in too much of a hurry to obey. Is this what the Apostle Paul was referring to when he used the word “unruly” in Titus 1:6?
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Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible defines the underlying Greek word for unruly as: “unsubdued, i.e. insubordinate (in fact or temper):- disobedient, that is not put under, unruly.” The Geneva Bible Notes (commentary from the year 1599) gives some further light to the subject when it states, “This word is used of horses and oxen, who will not tolerate the yoke.”
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In 1599, it was much more common to have horses and oxen in a yoke than it is today, yet the usage of the word should help our understanding. Though a horse may tolerate a yoke, that does not mean it will never throw its head or even stomp its hooves. Further the driver of the yoke may have to pull the reigns to steer the animal back on course from time to time.
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The same is true of children. They are not robots that we can just program for an automatic outcome. We have attempted to program them to never walk across the house with muddy shoes and they are improving, yet they are not perfect. Even a well trained horse may have to be reigned in now and then.
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Still, children should not be allowed to run wild. A pastor, just like any parent should be concerned about the behavior of his children. A pastor who has no restraints on his children should be disqualified from ministry, but this does not mean that his children have to be sinless.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Avoid The Kool-Aid Men

As a child, I remember watching commercials for Kool-Aid with the Kool-Aid man. He was basically a big juice pitcher with hands, feet, and a smiley face who offered Kool-Aid to kids after breaking through a wall. As he walked away he would turn to the kids and exclaim, “Oh yah,” as he saw that their thirst was quenched.
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In the innocence of my childhood, I was encouraged by the Kool-Aid man to drink Kool-Aid, but when I became older, I often heard the warning, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.” So why would people warn against drinking Kool-Aid when the commercials of my childhood showed it to be such an effective thirst quencher?
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In 1978, a preacher by the name of Jim Jones convinced his followers to drink Kool-Aid that had poison in it. Over 900 people were so loyal to Jones that they ended up dying after drinking the poison Kool-Aid. After that event, the phrase, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid,” became a warning not to blindly follow any human leader.
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Jesus gave warnings about false teachers long before Kool-Aid ever hit the market. He said, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 7:15 NKJV) "Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.” (Matthew 24:11 NKJV)
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The Apostle Paul gave similar warnings when he said, “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:29-30). He also sent this warning to a young pastor named Timothy, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:1-5 NKJV)
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Around the same time that Jim Jones was feeding his followers Kool-Aid, another false teacher name Bill Gothard was gathering followers. Instead of bringing them to a commune like Jones did, he sent them back to their local churches. Many of those churches became divided as people had to decide whether to follow Gothard or the Bible. Many pastors quickly recognized Gothard as a false teacher as he began to impose dietary restrictions and discouraged marriage. Still he gained loyal followers.
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Today Bill Gothard is an old man and does not travel around to seminars like he used to do. Still he has much influence through the ATI home school curriculum that he distributes. In the 1980’s he briefly stepped down due to a scandal involving young ladies who where volunteering at his ministry. A short time later, he returned to lead the ministry after replacing those who would have held him accountable. Sadly however many of his followers have continued to defend him no matter how much false doctrine has been exposed or how much evidence of ungodly behavior has been presented (34 different women have come forward).
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The examples of Jim Jones and Bill Gothard should remind us as Christians that we must be followers of Christ, not of men. It should remind us as well to study the scripture and really find out if what we have been taught is correct and then reject false teachers, even if it means we have to swallow some pride and admit we were wrong for following them. For further questions or comments, please contact southtownbc@yahoo.com

Friday, February 7, 2014

Conditioning is not Repentance

All of our boys love playing in water. The problem is, that apart from the bathtub, their earliest experiences playing with water involved another bathroom fixture. We quickly set forth to condition them that playing in the toilet was unacceptable behavior. Eventually they learned that it was easier to leave the toilet alone than it was to suffer the consequences.
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As they grew older, we began to notice that there was a difference between their conditioning to avoid certain behaviors and a genuine concern over doing what was wrong. We could train them to do what we expected of them, but that did not mean that their hearts had actually been changed. In other words, they really did not understand that there was anything wrong with playing in the toilet, they just knew that they would be scolded if they did it.
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We could explain all the details about germs and messes, but our 2 year old simply was not able to understand. On the other hand, it was encouraging when our 4 year old realized he had really hurt his brothers feelings and went and told him he was sorry with genuine concern in his voice.
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Although having concern for our fellow man is a good thing, when we sin we should have an even higher concern. We should be concerned that our sin has offended a holy God. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23 NASB).
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Sadly, too many people are more concerned about the consequences of their transgression than they are about sinning against God. The Apostle Paul had to write a letter to the Corinthians to confront their sin (the book of I Corinthians in the Bible). After being confronted, the Christians there were really sorry for what they had done. Paul then writes another letter to them where he says, “I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, in order that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10 NASB).
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As we include God in the picture, we understand that the issue is more than just having sadness over our actions or avoiding the consequences of our sins. The issue is understanding that our sin is wrong in God’s eyes and thus turning from our sins to instead obey God. That is what repentance is all about.
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Let me ask this question: If you could steal a large sum of money and never get caught and no one would know about it, would you do it? For many the answer would be “yes” because they are only concerned with the possibility of punishment or the stigma of being called a thief. Godly sorrow, however motivates us to understand that our sin is wrong regardless of whether or not we are caught. Remember God knows about all our sins. A truly repentant person wants to avoid sin because he wants to serve God.
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God will ultimately hold us accountable for our sins, “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a) But He loved us enough to pay for our sins by sending His Son to die on the cross, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23b)
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That is why it is so important that we repent and believe, not just condition our lives to avoid sin.

Friday, January 24, 2014

I Want to Eat All the Candy

Our little boys love candy. If we were to leave candy sitting on the table I have no doubt that it would quickly be eaten. We could tell them that it is not a good idea to eat too much candy, but in spite of our warnings about excess sugar and the dangers of obesity, I am confident that they would still continue to indulge in candy.
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As they grow older, I hope that they will develop some restraint. We seldom buy pop, but on a recent trip to the grocery store, my 4 year old suggested that I get pop. He did not argue with me when I said no, but instead said that when he is big like me he would get pop when he went to the store. That was a reminder that not all adults control their desires.
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Though eating too much candy and drinking too much pop can affect our bodies, there is nothing sinful about pop or candy. On the other hand, there are activities that are sinful and should be avoided- even if we realize we would get pleasure from participating in them.
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For example, I too like candy. In fact, I would really enjoy a Snickers bar right now. Imagine however if I were in the grocery and I had no way to pay for the candy bar, so I just stole it because I really wanted it. Of course that would be wrong. Exodus 20:15 tells us, “Thou shalt not steal.” (8th of the 10 commandments). Ephesians 2:28 admonishes us with the words, “let him that stole, steal no more.”
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Obviously stealing would be wrong, even if having and eating that candy bar would make me happy. What about other sins? Stealing the candy bar would obviously affect another individual and deprive them of their rightful possession, but what about a sin that does not affect another so directly?
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An example of such a sin would be the viewing of pornography in the privacy of ones own home. Just because a person has the desire to do such a thing does not make it right. Jesus was very clear when He said, “but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28 NASB). Let us not forget that the 7th commandment says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
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What if a man lusts after other men instead of women? First of all, let us understand that we do not all struggle with the same temptations. Some do not have to struggle with stealing Snickers bars, but they do struggle with the temptation of pornography. Others may not struggle with lying, but they do struggle with the temptation of homosexuality. Rather than debating the reasons for such temptation, let us look to the scriptures and determine what God says about the behaviors.
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The scriptures are clear that stealing, lusting after women, lying, and homosexual acts are sinful. The scripture is also clear that many other things are sinful as well. Rather than condemning each other for the temptations we face, let us instead encourage each other to obey God and exercise self control regardless of our temptations. With that in mind, never make an excuse for the actual sin, but also be careful about being judgmental toward someone who is resisting a sin that you never had to struggle with.
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Further if you are a Christian and are struggling with temptation toward a sin that the scripture clearly condemns, do not sin that grace may abound- even if others in society tell you that it is okay. As Christians, we need to let God decide what is a sin. That means we ought to avoid sin, even if it goes against our desires. Even if we want to eat all the candy in the candy store, that does not mean we should do it.
For further questions or comments, please contact southtownbc@yahoo.com or visit southtownchurch.com