Saturday, May 24, 2014

Preach the Word

Nehemiah 8: 5 - 8 (NIV): 5 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 6 Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, "Amen! Amen!" Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. 7 The Levites--Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah--instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. 8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.

    This happened in about 450 BC. The Jews had been taken captive in 605 BC by Babylon. But Persia defeated Babylon in 539 BC and King Cyrus had released the Jews to go home to Jerusalem. There they rebuilt the temple in about 25 years and rebuilt the wall around the city in an amazing 52 days.
    Now, Nehemiah comes, and he and the priest, Ezra, assemble the people and read God's Word to them. The chapter says Ezra read from early morning until noon and the people stood and listened attentively, saying "Amen", and then bowing before God in respect.
    Ezra is using "expository preaching". He read the scripture, then exposed its meaning. This is the kind of preaching we need today. We need preachers to read God's Word and make it clear. Preachers need to emphasize the Bible and not their opinions. Preachers need to emphasize what God's Word says and not spend their time in the pulpit telling personal stories. Stories are good for illustration, but our stories must support the truth of the scripture -- and not the other way around. The power for revival and repentance is found in God's Word. Churches must stick to it and teach it. We have too many Christians who do not know the scripture. We, as a church, must teach the word.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Taking a Stand

Ephesians 6: 10 – 13 (NIV) Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

    This weekend we honor those who have given their lives for our country. Freedom is never free, it is paid for in blood, and we honor the more than a million men and women who have given their lives for our country.
    In this passage, Paul talks about winning another kind of war. A war that we all face as believers. A war to make us ineffective; a war to keep us from spreading God’s goodness. We must stand our ground. The enemy is pushing back against our growth, our maturity. The enemy is trying to steal our joy and distract us from seeing God’s goodness in our lives. The enemy is looking for weaknesses in our armor. He wants to knock us down and keep us there. It’s a war, a daily struggle.
    Who is this enemy we struggle against? Paul says it is “rulers, authorities, powers of this dark world and spiritual forces in the heavenly realm”. There is a supernatural layer to life. There are angels warring for us and demons warring against us. The Old Testament prophet Elisha was allowed to glimpse God’s army protecting him in battle in 2 Kings 6. Jesus said the Holy Spirit is like the wind – he goes where he pleases and we cannot see him (John 3). There is a spiritual layer to the universe. The universe itself is supernatural, a miracle created by God himself.
    And so we must put on our armor so we can take our stand against the devil and his forces of evil. The armor of truth, righteousness, knowledge, readiness, faith and prayer. And we fight back with God’s Word. Make no mistake, we are at war, and we will be defeated if we do not fight back and take a stand.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Wife of Noble Character

Proverbs 31: 10-12, 30-31 (NIV): 10 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. 11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. 12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life ... 
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. 31 Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate. 

 The most important decision a man will ever make, next to his salvation, is who he chooses for his wife. A woman can make a man's life better or she can make it much worse. The wife in this chapter brings comfort to her husband. She is more valuable than anything else in his life. She continually brings him goodness. He trusts her and has full confidence in her. This means everything to a man.
   A good wife will be a good steward of the home's finances. She may or may not work outside the home, but she looks for bargains and is careful with her spending. She isn't lazy. She cooks and cleans and takes care of the children. Yes, the man should help with these chores, but she takes care of her house and makes sure everything is running smoothly. And she is compassionate, giving to needy families and sacrificing for others.
   Physical beauty is fleeting, but a woman's true value comes from her respect for God. I pray there will always be women who love and respect God. Women who have good character. 
    Our response, as husbands and children and grandchildren, should be to praise the women in our lives. We should honor and respect them and remember to say thanks for all they do. This is what Mother's Day is all about.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

All Have Sinned

Psalm 14: 1 - 3 (NIV): 1 The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. 2 The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. 3 All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.

    You have to be a fool to believe there is no God. You have to go against the instinct that God has placed in every person, and you have to go against the logic of creation. Saying there is no God is like saying a tin can evolved into a smart phone with no intelligent intervention -- oh and the tin can itself just suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Only a fool would believe that.
    Maybe the reason someone would say there is no God is because he wants to do what he wants to do. He doesn't want to be told what to do. He wants to live his life as he pleases and does not want to live under God's rules. (God's rules, by the way, which he gave to keep us healthy, safe and happy.) David, who wrote this psalm, seems to say this.
    But before you get smug because you do believe in God, David has something to say to all of us: we are all sinners. There is none who does good, not even one. Isaiah 53 says we all like sheep have gone astray. Romans 3:23 says all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory. None of us is good enough to be friends with God. None of us is good enough to get into God's heaven.
    God is looking for people who understand this, who realize they need him. God is looking for people who seek him, which means we want to get to know him.
    The end of this Psalm says, "Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!" We need a Savior. We need help to be friends with God the creator. Jesus provided a way at Calvary. David was made right with God because he believed it would happen, our righteousness comes from believing it did.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Jesus Rose on the Third Day

Luke 23: 40 - 47 (NIV): 40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, "Do you have anything here to eat?" 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence. 44 He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

    This was the day Jesus rose from the dead. It was that Sunday afternoon. He suddenly appeared in the room with the disciples, bending the laws of physics. He had a new body, but a body. He could be seen and touched, had the scars from his crucifixion, and he ate fish in front of them. He was no ghost, he had a body. So will we. 
    He said the Old Testament stated that he would suffer and rise on the third day. Can we find in the Old Testament such a prophecy? I want to show you four places where this is foretold:
    First, when Abraham was tested by God to see if he would sacrifice Isaac. Genesis 22 says "on the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance." This incident is symbolic of God sacrificing his son. Second, Ezra 6:15 says the temple was completed "on the third day of the month of Adar" This isn't very direct, but Jesus made it so when he said, "tear down this temple and I will rebuild it in three days." Third, Hosea 6:2 says, "After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence." Fourth, Jonah was in the fish for three days. Jesus said in Matthew 12 that this was a sign and that he would be in the ground for three days.
    The truth is there, but we sometimes have to look for it. All of these passages suddenly made sense when Jesus came back from the dead and showed his disciples the truth.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Why Is Easter So Important?

Luke 23: 44 - 49 (NIV): 44 It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last. 47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, "Surely this was a righteous man." 48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things. 

    Why is Easter such an important holiday to Christians? It is our highest holy day. Church attendance soars. People dress up and the ladies wear big hats. Some get up really early and go to sunrise services. Why? Why is Easter such a bid deal?
    Notice in the passage above that the curtain in the temple tore in two. This happened while Jesus was on the cross. It was God's way of showing us that we can now enter into God's presence. Jesus paid for our sins. Now its up to us to accept his gift of salvation. Now, we can trade our lives for his. There would be no Easter without the death of Jesus.
    The second reason Easter is so important is because it represents when Jesus conquered death. Death is the enemy of mankind and Jesus defeated it. Now we have nothing to fear. Yes, the separation of death is painful, but it is tempered with hope for those who are in Christ. When Jesus came back to life he showed that he has supernatural power. When we realize that God is supernatural, we understand the miracle of creation and we have hope that God will work in miraculous ways in our lives.
    The third reason Easter is so important is because Jesus proved who he was when he came back from the dead. He had made bold claims. He had claimed to be God in the flesh. As C. S. Lewis said, Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic -- or he was Lord of all and we must fall at his feet and worship him. When Jesus rose again he proved who he claimed to be. He proved that everything he had ever said was true. Easter is a big deal. A very big deal.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A New Mandate

John 13: 24 - 25 (NIV): 34 "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

    It was just hours before Jesus was betrayed and arrested. Hours before he would be whipped and beaten and nailed to a cross. Hours before he became sin for us, paid the price for it, dying in agony. Jesus had just washed his disciples' feet -- even Judas' feet. In a little while Judas would betray him and the disciples would run scared into the night. Peter would deny three times that he knew him.
Then Jesus pronounced a new command. You could call this the Eleventh Commandment. Jesus was elevating us loving each other to the status of being equal to the Ten Commandments. It's not that the command for us to love each other was new. God had already told the Israelites to love each other as they loved themselves (Leviticus 19:18). But Jesus was putting love at the top of what we should do as Christians to show the world who we are. And they were about to understand what loving each other really meant. Love involves sacrifice. Showing true love for someone costs you. Moments later, Jesus would say, "greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13).
Now we understand what it means to love each other. When Jesus washed his disciples feet, he showed that love is humble, that love is a servant, and that love forgives. He knew full well that they were all about to let him down.
The first word in the Catholic Holy Thursday liturgy is "Mandatum", which is Latin for mandate or command. This is where the term "Maundy" comes from. Many Christians recognize Maundy Thursday as the day Jesus washed his disciples' feet and issued a new command, that we love one another as he loved us. Because the disciples showed true, sacrificial love for one another, Christianity soon conquered Rome and is on its way to overtaking the whole world. But it will only do so if we continue to follow Jesus' command and love one another as he has loved us.