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.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Is the Bible Too Hard?

Our oldest son just turned 8.  We were excited when he finished his math worksheet and said, "Tomorrow I want to do more like this. I like them."  That wasn't always his response to schoolwork.  In fact, when he first started school he struggled with grasping concepts and did not like it very well.  Now that he "gets it," his schoolwork has become fun.  
-
I did fairly well in school- except for gym class.  I later found out that when most people look at a moving ball, they literally see where it is going to be in a few seconds, allowing them to catch it easier.  When I look at a moving ball, I actually see where it is really at, thus making it much more difficult for me to catch it.  The gym teacher kept telling me to keep my eye on the ball, but had he known my condition, he should have told me to keep my eye in front of the ball.  I was well into adulthood before I actually figured that out.  Although I am still not that good at sports, they are much more enjoyable now that I understand the challenges and have the tools to help overcome them.
-
Although it can be fun and exhilarating to face a challenge, it is not as much fun if there is little to no hope of success.  I recently heard a New Year's challenge to read the Bible. The pastor making the challenge to his congregation recognized that there were parts of the Bible that were more difficult to read than others.
-
Too many people get discouraged and give up too soon. Please don't give up. It may appear that the Bible is too hard to read, but it is kind of like math homework.  If you get a few basic concepts down, the rest of it will make much more sense.  
-
First, we must recognize that the Bible is a compilation of 66 different books that are divided into two sections- the Old and New Testaments.  The Old Testament was written before Jesus was born, died on the cross and rose from the dead.  The New Testament was written after these significant events.  With that in mind, we must realize that God's expectations for the Hebrew people before the cross were laid out in the law of Moses.  Old Testament books like Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy record these laws in detail.  
-
These laws were important in showing man that he could not do all that God expected.  The Apostle Paul called them a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.  Galatians 3:24-25 says, "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.  But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster."  Christians therefore are not under the law of Moses, because of their faith is in Jesus Christ.  That is why Christians do not have to obey all the rules laid out in the Old Testament.
-
This does not mean that the Old Testament isn't still important.  By studying it we are able to learn a lot about God and His interactions with man.  In addition to the law, the Old Testament has beautiful poetry, history, as well as prophecy.  Much of the prophecy concerns the coming of Jesus Christ.  
-
The New Testament is made up of 27 books. These books can be divided into the Gospels (they tell of the life and ministry of Jesus), early church history (the book of Acts), letters to churches and individuals, and prophecy.
-
The individual books of the Bible are divided into chapter and verse simply to make them easier to study.  These were not part of the original Bible. Realizing that the Bible can be kind of intimidating, I like to start out with a Bible study just in the book of John. This allows the “student” to get used to the chapter and verse divisions without having to find a number of different books. If you are interested in a 4 lesson study in the Gospel of John, please contact me at jdpastor@yahoo.com.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

New Babies & Christmas Grace

As we traveled to spend Christmas with my in-laws, Crystal's brother's wife was in labor.  We were blessed with a new niece at about 11 p.m. Christmas Eve.  They named her Jana Grace.  What a wonderful Christmas gift.
-
When I heard this new baby's middle name, my mind went to the birth of a couple of other babies.  Of course, on Christmas day, we celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ- the baby who came into this word to demonstrate the grace of God to mankind.  Shortly before Jesus was born the scripture records the birth of another famous baby, John the Baptist.  His parents did not name him "John the Baptist," but simply named him, "John."  The title Baptist would come later.
-
The selection of the name "John" was quite significant.  That name had not been used by that family and many even questioned the choice, but John's parents were insistent.  (see Luke 1:59-63)  There was a reason why they wanted that name for their son.  In Luke 1:13, we are told that an angel had told told John's father to use this name.
-
We must not build our theology on the the names of all Biblical characters, but this particular name was chosen by God, and thus I believe we should take notice.  The name John means, "God is gracious."  Just as our niece who was born at Christmas time is able to remind us of God's grace, John was able to remind the people of God's grace as well.
-
John had a very specific purpose in life.  He was the forerunner to announce the coming of the King of the kingdom as he prepared the way for the Lord Jesus Christ.  As he prepared the way for the King, he spoke of the kingdom, but he also told people that they needed to repent.   Matthew 3:1-2 says, "Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying,'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'" (NASB)  
-
To repent is to think differently.  It is actually more than just a change of mind though.  It is a change of direction.  John was preaching that men were sinners and needed to change their direction to follow God.   He is known today for baptizing as well as for preaching, thus he is known as John the Baptist.  His baptism was not able to cleanse his followers of their sins.  It did however remind them of their sins, and they were being baptized for/because of their sins.
-
John's ministry told his followers that the King was coming and that they needed to repent because they were sinners.  Let us not forget that the man bringing that message had a name that meant, "God is gracious."  The man whose name reminds us of God's grace, brings us the message that we are sinners who need to change our direction.  The baptism of John was a public admission of sin.  
-
The King who John prepared the way for is Jesus Christ.  He was born into this world so that He could grow up to die on the cross in order to pour out His grace for our sins.  That is why the gospel is called 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)
-
As we share this good news, we like John, must remind people that they are sinners who need to repent.  "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God"  (Romans 3:23)  At the same time we must share the good news of God's grace.  There is eternal life for sinners who repent and change their direction to believe in Jesus Christ.  "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 6:23).  
-
Yes, we are sinners who need to repent.  Yes, God is gracious and if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9)  Please visit www.southtownchurch.com

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Christians & Christmas Giving

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about our wonderful Thanksgiving meal. Recently we sat down to another meal, but at the end of it, or boys said that they were still hungry. Crystal told them that they could have more chicken, but they wanted more potatoes. The potatoes were gone but they did not want more chicken. The truth was that they were not THAT hungry.
-
We had a similar issue happen when I was a pastor in small town Iowa. We got a phone call asking for food. The person said that their food stamp payment would be late and that they needed food. We were being very careful with our budget and ate a lot of rice. We could get a 25 lb bag for less than $9. We offered to share our rice and a few other basics, but the response I got was similar to when my wife offered more chicken to our boys.
-
I then looked up the Iowa food stamp payment. It was about double what our food budget was at that time. I did not think it was right that we were expected to give up our hamburger for someone who could afford to buy steak if they ate more rice like we did.
-
The scripture is clear that we are to help others. Jesus said in Luke 3:11, “He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.” The Apostle Paul says in Acts 20:35, “I have shewed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Consider as well 1John 3:17, “But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (NKJV)
-
The scripture teaches us that we are to help others. That does not mean that we are always expected to help everyone who has less than we have.
-
During the time of the Apostle Paul, the widows were among the most needy people in society. In First Timothy 5:3-10, he gives a list of requirements that widows must meet before the church would take care of all their needs. First, if she has children or grandchildren, they are to take care of her. Further, she is to be faithful in prayer and not just living her life for pleasure. She is to be blameless (not sinless, but not scandalous either). She is to be at least 60 years old and is to have a good reputation which includes having helped others.
-
These standards do not mean that we should not help others if they do not meet all these requirements. These are simply standards for whether or not to help these widows for the rest of their lives. There are some individuals in our society that expect to be helped for the rest of their lives regardless of whether they meet any standard. The Christians is not obligated to help all these people.
-
At the same time there are many people who find themselves in temporary circumstances of need. Things come up that there was no way to plan for. As Christians we must be willing to help those with needs without allowing them to have an expectation that they will no longer have a responsibility to work themselves. “For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.” (II Thessalonians 3”11-12 NKJV)
-
We can and should have compassion for those in need. That compassion should translate into action (James 2:16). Christmas time is a wonderful time to give to those who could really use a gift. At the same time, Christians are not required to become slaves to those who would take advantage of them.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Be Thankful, not Covetous

We had another wonderful Thanksgiving. We were able to go to Crystal's parents where our boys got to see cousins, aunts, uncles, Grandma, and Grandpa. I enjoyed visiting and playing a game of Scrabble. I also enjoyed the meal. There was turkey, ham, potatoes, gravy, string beans, corn, cranberries, numerous kinds of pickles, bread, crackers, pickled herring, jello, punkin pie, apple pie, other desserts, etc, etc. There was much to be thankful for as we sat down to eat. In fact there was so much good food that I did not even notice until later that there was no stuffing. I was so appreciative of the abundance we had. There was no thought of what we lacked.
-
If we end up focusing on what we do not have instead of what we do have, it is easy to become a complainer rather than a thankful person. We actually witnessed that when we sat down to eat the evening meal. Our boys were given leftovers from the noon meal and one of them responded by asking, “didn't we just have this?”
-
As we drove home, I turned on the radio and we heard about some orphans from Ukraine who were brought to a McDonald's for the first time in their life. A little six year old girl was unaware that they could get free refills, yet she still shared her drink with her little sister. Another little girl only ate half of her hamburger, because she wanted to share the other half with a friend back at the orphanage. They all saved their empty happy meal boxes.
-
As I listed to this, I realized how much we have to be thankful for. No doubt there are poor people in our own country who have slipped through the cracks, but those who are crying the loudest for more assistance already have so much more than those poor orphans do.
-
I Timothy 6:6-8 says, “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.” (NKJV) Notice we are to be content with food and clothing- or basic needs. Few people are content with such things. In fact, political movements have been formed to demand that if anyone has more than another, then they should share it. Too few involved in these movements are thinking of the little girls in Ukraine, but instead many are thinking about what they can get for themselves. In the very next verse of Paul's letter to Timothy he writes, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.” (I Timothy 6:9 NKJV)
-
You can be in the lower class socially and still have a preoccupation with being rich. Paul is warning us to be content with food and clothing and not to get distracted by wanting riches. Why would he give such a warning about foolish and harmful lusts? If we go back to the 10 commandments we are warned not to covet what other people have. Many of the “demands” being made today are not “requests” for food and clothing, but rather a call to have covetous desires satisfied.
-
Though we as Christians must have compassion on those who are truly in need, we must not encourage sinful behavior. In fact, we should call it what it is. Exodus 20:17 says not to covet anything that is thy neighbors. Romans 13:9 repeats the command not to covet. To covet is to disobey God. To disobey God is sinful.
-
Instead of demanding a share of the worlds riches, let us work hard so we can share what we have when we see a true need. “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)

Friday, October 30, 2015

Excuses for Disobedience?

Many of our readers already know that our youngest son is autistic. His talking is delayed and he has a few other habits that are unique to him. For example, when I ask him to do something, he wants to be able to finish what he is currently doing before moving on to the next task. We expect our boys to obey their parents and to obey right away, but we also recognize that autism causes people to look at tasks differently.
-
We were recently asked how much we let our son “get away” with because he is autistic. The person was asking because he knew of parents who had children diagnosed with certain conditions and those children were allowed to behave terribly.
-
My answer was that sin is never acceptable and that as a parent I had to punish sinful behavior. At the same time, I recognize that because he has autism, there will be situations where immediate obedience will be more difficult for him than it will be for his brothers. With that in mind, we try to give him advanced notice when we tell him to do something so that he has more time to follow through. In other words, we do not want to put him in a place where we are hoping he fails at obeying his parents, but we also want him to understand that obedience is not an option to be ignored.
-
Ephesians 6:1 says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” (NASB) Colossians 3:20 states, “Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.” (NASB) But then the next verse says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.” (NASB)
-
As parents, we must enforce standards, but we must also realize that God has shown grace to us and we must show grace to our children. In many ways, God is like a strict parent who will not tolerate any misbehavior. In fact, He is so strict that he tells us in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death. Yet God is so loving, that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. That payment only benefits us if we believe on Him as we trust Christ as our savior. Once we have done that, we become children of God, but that does not mean that we can do whatever we want. God is still a strict Father. Hebrews 12:5-11 says,
“and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,“MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.” It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 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, so 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. ” (NASB)
God is loving and merciful, yet He still disciplines us for our sins in order to make us more like Him. That should motivate us as parents to be consistent in disciplining our children when they sin. As long as we do not do it in a way that exasperates them, they will be better off because of the discipline.