Expositional commentary on Scripture using an inductive exegetical methodology intent upon confronting the lives of Christians with the dogmatic Truths of God's inspired Words opposing Calvinism and Arminianism, Biblical commentary, doctrine of grace enablement, understanding holiness and wisdom and selfishness, in-depth Bible studies, adult Bible Study books and Sunday School materials Dr. Lance T. Ketchum Line Upon Line: June 2007

Thursday, June 28, 2007

WISDOM: The Faithway to Eternity

1 A Song of degrees. I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. 2 My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth. 3 He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. 4 Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. 5 The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand. 6 The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. 7 The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. 8 The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore” (Psalm 121:1-8).

In the midst of Job’s trials and the accusations of his miserable comforters, he cries out an affirmation of his faith in God, “23 Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book! 24 That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever! 25 For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: 26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: 27 Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me” (Job 19:23-27). We have really only two choices when confronted with life’s trials.

1. We can focus on the trial and live in depression and despair.
2. We can focus on the eternal and live in hope of our ultimate deliverance from the curse.

Wisdom chooses the latter of these two choices. Life is merely a journey to eternity. The trip there will prove to be troublesome because the forces of evil will not allow for ease, except for those having been deceived. Psalm 121 is referred to as one of the Pilgrim Psalms. Psalm 121 is actually an answer to the trials of life, the satanic attacks, and the deceptive forces of evil presented in Psalm 120.

1 A Song of degrees. In my distress I cried unto the LORD, and he heard me. 2 Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue. 3 What shall be given unto thee? or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue? 4 Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper. 5 Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar! 6 My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace. 7 I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war” (Psalm 120:1-7).

Wisdom understands that the pathway of life we choose will determine the eternal destiny to which we will ultimately arrive. The Biblical pathway of life is the faithway. There are only two eternal destinies.

1. There is the eternal destiny of the family of Adam known as the curse. The Bible refers to this destiny as Hell.
2. There is the eternal destiny of those “born again” into the family of God by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. The Bible refers to this destiny as “the regeneration” or, more commonly, Heaven.

Wisdom understands that the destiny to which a pathway leads is determined once we choose a pathway of life to travel on. The Bible refers to these pathways with the word “way.” We find the first instance of the use of this terminology right after the curse (Gen. 3:14-17) and the promise of coming of Messiah (Gen. 3:15). “So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life” (Genesis 3:24).

The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary translates Genesis 3:24, “And he dwelt between the cherubim at the East of the Garden of Eden and a fierce fire, or Shekinah, unfolding itself to preserve the way of the tree of life.” The intent here is that after the curse, the only access to God would be through the Messiah. Faith in the promised Messiah, and what Genesis 3:15 said He would accomplish at His coming, was the means God used to “preserve the way . . . of life.” The next instance of this terminology is found in Genesis 6:12. The word “way” is the same Hebrew word derek (deh'-rek) used in Genesis 3:24.

8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD. 9 These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God. 10 And Noah begat three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. 11 The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth” (Genesis 6:8-12).

We see in this text why God needed to end the lives of all but eight souls in the Great Flood. The reason was “for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.” God flooded the earth to give mankind another opportunity through a remnant to discover the “way” of faith in the promised Messiah. From that point forward in history, God would continue to use a faithful remnant to maintain and continue to propagate the “way” of faith in Messiah as the only means of access to God’s presence and to a destiny of eternal life.

This metaphorical use of the “way” as a road or pathway through life refers to a vision of eternity that impacts, affects and determines how we live our lives and how we establish what should be the priorities of our journey through this short bit of time we call our lives. This was a primary truth that took Israel forty years in the wilderness to learn. What was that truth? The only way into the Promised Land is absolute faith/trust in the Deliverer! This way was the faithway (John 14:6). Anything less and you die in the wilderness.

This truth, typified in the Old Covenant by Israel’s Wilderness experience, is the reality that is the spiritual dynamic of every professed believer’s life down through the Ages. This is what God is doing in every believer’s life. God is working to bring His redeemed to live by faith. Faith must be real! Real faith will manifest itself by a believer following God into areas of life that demand absolute dependence on God. This is a critical aspect of wisdom few believers ever acquire. Therefore, they are seldom willing to step out of their comfort zones into areas of life requiring absolute faith in God’s provision. This shortcoming is the major reason most people will never experience God’s Promised Land blessings in this life. The Apostles were COMMANDED to live the faithway in order to be models of it.

“19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. . .24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. 25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? 26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? 27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? 28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? 31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. 34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matthew 6:19-21 & 24-34).

Most people read this text in Matthew chapter six in amazement. The immediate question that rises from this text is how can God expect anyone to live this way? I mean, come on? Don’t even THINK ABOUT where your next meal will come from? Don’t even THINK ABOUT where you will find water (not something many of us consider in our travels today)? Don’t even THINK ABOUT how you will be clothed? We need to be honest with ourselves here. This is a level of faith of which most of us cannot even grasp the concept. Therefore, how can we live by a principle of life we cannot even comprehend? The question we must ask is why we cannot comprehend the faithway to eternity. The answer is simple, UNBELIEF! This is an issue that ought to cause us some fear.

1 Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. 2 For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. 3 For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. 5 And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. 6 Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: 7 Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. 8 For if Jesus {literally; Joshua} had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. 9 There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. 10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:1-10).

When Israel came to Kadesh-Barnea, they sent out spies into the Promised Land. The spies came back with an accurate, but “evil” report. The report was accurate in that there were giants in the land. There were powerful and fearsome city-states that would fight against them. Some of these city-states had physical resources and military might far greater than Israel’s. They were correct in all of this. The reason their report was “evil” was because it failed to enter the God-factor into the equation of their solution. Resultantly, they responded in fear of the problem rather than in fear of their God for their lack of faith in Him. It is hypocrisy to profess belief in the God of the Bible and then live in self-dependence.

Being able to live on the faithway to eternity is dependent upon our view of God. That is the message of Psalm 121.

“1 A Song of degrees. I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. 2 My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth. 3 He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. 4 Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. 5 The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand. 6 The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. 7 The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. 8 The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore” (Psalm 121:1-8).

These few verses of Scripture are much more than a statement of faith. They make up more than a doctrinal statement about God. These are words of confirmation. These are words of resolution. These are words of commitment. These are not words reflecting a low view of God. These are not words of complacency or spiritual pacifism. These are not the words of the masses of mediocrity. These are the words of true, real, living, world engaging faith. These are not words merely spoken. These words are lived! These words take us to the edge of our own graves with a smile of victory on our faces with shout of Halleluiah resounding from our hearts.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

RELIGIOUS & POLITICAL LIBERALISM: Where Did It Come From & Where Is It Going?

“18 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. 20 But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. 21 I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. 23 Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also. 24 Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life. 26 These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you. 27 But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him. 28 And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. 29 If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him” (I John 2:18-29).

I John 2:18-29 defines the religious and philosophical beliefs of both theological and political liberalism. God’s evaluation of this pseudo-faith is that it is “antichrist.” I John 2:20 tells us true believers have (present tense) “an unction from the Holy Spirit.” The word “unction” is translated from the Greek word chrisma (khris'-mah), meaning a smearing or anointing with oil. The idea is that true believers have the Holy Spirit to supernaturally lead them in discerning between what is true and what is false (v20b-v21). Jesus Christ is truth. Anything that contradicts the truth that is Christ is “antichrist.”

The Greek word arneomai (ar-neh'-om-ahee), translated “denieth” in I John 2:22 and 23, means to contradict, reject or abnegate. Therefore, to give up or renounce any truth that Christ taught (and is) is to reject the Person that Christ is. One cannot “confess” Christ and at the same time deny Who and What He is. To contradict, reject or abnegate any teaching (doctrine) of Jesus Christ as less then absolute is to reject the Sovereignty of Who Jesus is (God).

“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

The world is willing to accept the historical Jesus. This is the Jesus of liberal theology. In this case, they are willing to accept that Jesus was a great leader and that His teachings are of great social merit. However, when Jesus is not accepted as the Christ of God (God incarnate), all of His teachings are simply on equal ground with other great religious leaders of the past. In fact, according to liberal theology, in order to discover what truth is, we must gather all the teachings of all religions and bring them together (Ecumenicism/Syncretism). This was the foundation of the German Theological Idealism developed by Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677; denies the immortality of the soul; strongly rejects the notion of a providential God and claims that the Law was neither literally given by God nor any longer binding on Jews), Immanuel Kant (1724-1804; the possibility of human knowledge presupposes the active participation of the human mind), Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860; all but unique in intellectual history for being both an atheist and sympathetic to Christianity. Like Kant, he was greatly influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism), and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831; an astute student of Kant’s philosophies, he established the Hegelian Dialectic – widely used today in the advancement of socialism). Each of these men took theology farther and farther away from the revelation of Truth in the Person of Jesus Christ and down the “broad way” to destruction in human rationalism and a spiritual endemic in the integration of human philosophies into theology.

Hegel’s philosophies (liberal theology) were the foundation for modern Statism (the theory, or its practice, that economic and political power should be controlled by a central government leaving regional government and the individual with relatively little say in political matters) and Totalitarianism (relating to or operating a centralized government system in which a single party without opposition rules over political, economic, social, and cultural life). Karl Marx was greatly influenced by the writings of Hegel.

There are many modern names for what God calls “antichrist,” such as Marxism, Socialism, Darwinism, Liberalism, Eastern Mysticism, and etc. They all have one thing in common. They all reject the Christ of the Bible by rejecting the absolutes of His Word. They all come under one main heading; Antichristism. Many other “isms” of Antichristism are listed in the Humanist Manifesto II:

“Many kinds of humanism exist in the contemporary world. The varieties and emphases of naturalistic humanism include “scientific,” “ethical,” “democratic,” “religious,” and “Marxist” humanism. Free thought, atheism, agnosticism, skepticism, deism, rationalism, ethical culture, and liberal religion all claim to be heir to the humanist tradition. Humanism traces its roots from ancient China, classical Greece and Rome, through the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, to the scientific revolution of the modern world. But views that merely reject theism are not equivalent to humanism. They lack commitment to the positive belief in the possibilities of human progress and to the values central to it. Many within religious groups, believing in the future of humanism, now claim humanist credentials. Humanism is an ethical process through which we all can move, above and beyond the divisive particulars, heroic personalities, dogmatic creeds, and ritual customs of past religions or their mere negation.”

Christian Conservatives are constantly being told that they should keep their religious beliefs out of politics. In other words, the only acceptable approach to political decisions must be a non-theistic approach. From that perspective, man must determine his own values, laws and governing principles of life totally apart from the absolute edicts of a Divine Sovereign (God). Paul Kurtz and Edwin H. Wilson, in their 1973 preface to the Humanist Manifesto II said:

“As we approach the twenty-first century, however, an affirmative and hopeful vision is needed. Faith, commensurate with advancing knowledge, is also necessary. In the choice between despair and hope, humanists respond in this Humanist Manifesto II with a positive declaration for times of uncertainty.
As in 1933, humanists still believe that traditional theism, especially faith in the prayer-hearing God, assumed to live and care for persons, to hear and understand their prayers, and to be able to do something about them, is an unproved and outmoded faith. Salvationism, based on mere affirmation, still appears as harmful, diverting people with false hopes of heaven hereafter. Reasonable minds look to other means for survival.”

The “faith” of Secular Humanism is not a faith in the God of the Bible. It is a misdirected faith. It is faith in human philosophies of men and women that promote and propagate those philosophies. The “faith” of theological and political liberalism is faith in man and his abilities to correct social injustices through the means of social planning and social revolution. The “faith” spoken of by these people is faith in the ability to modify behavior through the means of their own priesthood of non-theistic Psychologists and Social Workers.
Theological liberalism still talks the language of Christianity, but in reality is steeped in various degrees of unbelief. They have rejected the idea that all social problems are the result of sin. Therefore, they reject God’s solution to these varying social problems through repentance of sin, regeneration (re-birth), and the process of sanctification through being discipled in the absolute truths of God’s Word. They also reject any person that promotes that solution. In fact, the person promoting that solution (the only solution that will work) is labeled an extremists and relegated into obscurity by ridicule.

“Promises of immortal salvation or fear of eternal damnation are both illusory and harmful. They distract humans from present concerns, from self-actualization, and from rectifying social injustices. Modern science discredits such historic concepts as the “ghost in the machine” and the “separable soul.” Rather, science affirms that the human species is an emergence from natural evolutionary forces. As far as we know, the total personality is a function of the biological organism transacting in a social and cultural context. There is no credible evidence that life survives the death of the body. We continue to exist in our progeny and in the way that our lives have influenced others in our culture” (Humanist Manifesto II).

Theological and political liberals have their own Saviors. They reject the Christ of the Bible and replace Him with their own. Their Savior is their own philosophies embodied in the titles of Reason, Science and Advanced Technologies.

“The next century can be and should be the humanistic century. Dramatic scientific, technological, and ever-accelerating social and political changes crowd our awareness. We have virtually conquered the planet, explored the moon, overcome the natural limits of travel and communication; we stand at the dawn of a new age, ready to move farther into space and perhaps inhabit other planets. Using technology wisely, we can control our environment, conquer poverty, markedly reduce disease, extend our life-span, significantly modify our behavior, alter the course of human evolution and cultural development, unlock vast new powers, and provide humankind with unparalleled opportunity for achieving an abundant and meaningful life.”

There is a whole generation of people living at the beginning of the 21st Century who have no historical connection to such things as Marxism, Marxist Reconstructionism, Fabian Socialism, Federalism, New Dealism, Democracy and/or Religious and Secular Humanism. Each of these things is simply a differing degree of the first; Marxism (better known as Communism or Socialism).

The Reformation returned theology to the Scriptures (Sola Scriptura). Sola Scriptura is the teaching and belief that there is only one special revelation from God that man possesses today, the written Scriptures or the 66 books of the Holy Bible, and that consequently these Scriptures are materially sufficient and are by their very nature, being inspired by God, the ultimate and final authority for life and its practices.

However, within the next 200 years after the Reformation, the vast majority of theologians would once again move dramatically away from Sola Scriptura introducing many pagan ideas of God into theology. This is the historical backdrop of Liberal Theology and Ecumenicism as we know it today. In doing so, this Liberal Theology became Antichristism.

Liberal theology has progressively moved theology away from Sola Scriptura to the broad integration of human philosophies. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was greatly influenced by the writings of Buddha and metaphysics (mind over matter) was introduced into Christian theology. In fact, it seems as if under German Idealism, the human mind became its own God. The five basic tenets of Buddhism became serious influences upon German Idealism; mainly through Kant into modern liberal theology.

1. Momentariness: Nothing exists for any real length of time.
2. Relative Existence or No Self Nature: Nothing has an essence, nature, or character by itself.
3. No-Atman: There is no Self (atman) in Buddhism, either as an essence or as a substance.
4. No-God: There is no Brahman or any other such ultimate enduring substance or nature to reality. Nirvana thus cannot be characterized as realizing either Self (Self Actualization), Brahman, or God.
5. Dependent Origination: Everything has a cause.

It is difficult for most people to understand that the sociological acceptance and promotion of such things as abortion, homosexuality, racism, sexual promiscuity (Free Love), materialism and modern atheistic Psychology actually find their origins in liberal theology. The universities of the 15th and 16th Centuries required students to read the Greek Classics. A classical education required a student to read and study such philosophies as those of Socrates, Aristotle and Plato; all founded in Rationalism, Relativism and Mythology.

This influence of ancient Greek philosophies introduced Rationalism and Relativism into Christian Theology and gave birth to Higher Criticism. Higher criticism sought to apply the same principles of science and historical method applied to secular works to the Bible. Everything the Bible said, even the authorship of the various books, came into question. Everything needed to be proven or substantiated by historical records or empirical evidences through archeology or other acceptable scientific methods. The Bible was no longer a book accepted by faith (autopisticism). Before the Bible could be accepted as true, that particular portion had to be proven to be true (in this position, the Bible is only worthy of faith, it still must be proven true; i.e., axiopisticism).

Monday, June 25, 2007

God’s Grace Locked Up In You

“19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. 20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. 21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: 23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained” (John 20:19-23).

In the above text, we find the Church (in embryonic form) locked up behind closed doors trembling in fear and unbelief. Mark 16:14 tells us Christ . . . “appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.”

It was at this appearance Jesus gave these disciples the command, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Christ had just spent three exhausting years pouring Himself into twelve men almost 24 hours a day. One had already betrayed Him for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 27:3). Peter had denied knowing Him on three separate occasions in one evening. Of the twelve, John was the only one recorded to have been at the Crucifixion.

Even after the risen Christ appears to them in John 20:19-23 and commands them to begin doing what He trained them to do, where do they go?

“Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing” (John 21:3).

They went fishing, but not recreationally, vocationally. They went back to their old jobs. But notice, “they caught nothing.” Why? DISOBEDIENCE! They were called of God to be fishers of men. The Lord Jesus had spent three years training them to be fishers of men.

We could stop right here and close this message with the fact these men were not willing to make the sacrifices demanded of ministry for one simple reason, UNBELIEF! That unbelief resulted in FEAR. Fear is always the product of unbelief and will exist directly proportionate to the degree of one’s unbelief. In turn, this will directly impact the professing believer’s willingness to step out of his comfort zone and take the risks demanded in serving the Lord and reaching the lost.

These men understood the Lord’s commission of evangelism to “go.” Going is a command obeyed by faith. Without faith, the command will not be obey. Rather than doing what God commanded because of the fear that resulted from their unbelief, these men got busy with their secular occupations so they would not have to do what Christ commanded. However, Jesus would not leave them alone.

Now, before we go on to see how to overcome the fear that results from unbelief, let’s stop right here for a moment and confess to God and one another that unbelief and fear are inherent in each of us. Amen? Until we recognize that fact, we will never honestly deal with our unbelief and the fear resulting from it. Until we confront this in our lives, the enabling grace of God will continue to be locked up in our lives. Our spirits will remain closed to the will of God and we will exclude God’s commands from the plans of our daily routine of life. We also will purposefully exclude evangelism from those plans.

How can we measure the degree to which God’s grace is locked up in us due to unbelief and fear? We can begin by asking ourselves some questions and honestly answering them. Unbelief is defined as not believing Who God is and not trusting in His promises. A person can believe in God and still not believe Him. Some questions that might reveal the degree of our unbelief are:

How often do you pray and what are the circumstances of life that prompt you to pray when you do pray? Do you pray only in crisis situations? Then expect God to continually bring crisis situations into your life to teach you to pray and trust Him.

How often do you personally share the gospel and seek to bring lost souls to Christ? Do you make plans and provisions to witness during your work day? Did you prepare your heart to be used of God through a time of Bible reading and prayer before entering into the routine of your day? Do you take Bible tracks with you to work? Do you carry your Bible with you to work? The degree these are a regular part of your life measures the degree you are trusting and expecting God to use your life.

How many opened doors of opportunity did you walk by this week? How many times did you excuse yourself from God’s prompting to minister or witness because you were just too busy? How we prioritize our time measures our belief in the reality of Heaven and Hell.

How real is a faith that knows, but does not do? James said, “. . . be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22). There is a lot of self-deception going on about the reality of faith in our lives.

If we are honest with ourselves before God, we will admit and recognize that God’s overwhelming, enabling grace is locked up in us behind the closed doors of unbelief and the resulting fear. The purpose of the ministry of Christ to the seven apostles on the Sea of Galilee (John 21) was to expose their minds to the potential of God’s power unleashed through their lives. In order for that potential to be unleashed, they would need to overcome their unbelief and fear.

Learning to open our spirits to release the enabling grace of the indwelling Spirit of God through our lives is essential to anyone ever being truly used of God. That is what Christ was doing in this particular series of events in John 20 and 21. Take a good look at this scenario. In John 20:19, it was Sunday evening of the resurrection day. The disciples (the eleven) had locked themselves in behind closed doors thinking the Jews that had Jesus crucified would also seek them out and have them killed. These Jews had started the rumor that the disciples of Jesus had stolen His body from the tomb and now were telling people He had risen from the dead (Matthew 28:11-15). The disciples feared being arrested and prosecuted.

As the eleven remaining disciples (Judas had killed himself) stand in the shadows of the lamplight, locked away from the world they were trained to reach with the gospel, suddenly out of no where, Jesus is standing in their midst. There was no flash of light or no cloud of smoke. One moment Jesus was not there and the next moment He was standing right in the middle of their huddle of fear.

His first words to them give us our first key to unlocking the doors of unbelief and fear that shut up the grace of God in us. He said, “Peace be unto you” (John 20:19). What do those words mean? Christ was saying, calm down fellas. I am here just like I promised I would be! I always will be with you. That was part of Christ’s promise to all believers in the Great Commission.

“18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:18-20).

When our relationship with Christ is real, the presence of Christ with us will be understood, accepted and realized.

“5 Let your conversation {manner of life} be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. 6 So that we may boldly say, The Lord {Creator of Heaven and earth} is my {personal} helper, and I will not {resolve} fear what man shall do unto me” (Hebrews 13:5-6).

Jesus’ second words (John 20:21) to His disciples give us the second key to unlock the grace of God in our lives. This was the key to their motivation for ministry. He repeats “Peace be unto you and adds, “as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” Although no one will ever do the work of ministry until they go, they will not go until they are motivated to go (a cause for which they are willing to sacrifice and take the necessary risks). When Jesus said, “as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you,” He was reminding them of His sacrifice on the Cross and the purpose of the Father in sending Him into the world. He had taught them that purpose on numerous occasions.

“16 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. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).

“For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:56a).

How can that help us unlock the grace of God within us? A soldier learns to focus on the importance of the mission, not on its dangers. When he spends all his time thinking about the possible consequences, he will never get out of his foxhole.

Understanding the enormous importance of our purpose and the eternal consequences to the lost, we will step out of our comfort zones and set the grace of God of the indwelling Holy Spirit free to accomplish His purposes in the world through us (Romans 6:11-13). We overcome the fear that comes from unbelief by relying on the continual presence of Christ with us (which gives us peace in our hearts). We overcome the fear that comes from unbelief when we concentrate on the nobility of our purpose (cause) in reaching lost people with the gospel.

Thirdly (John 20:22), we overcome the fear that comes from unbelief when we actuate the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit and seek to release the power of God through holy living and personal testimony. Any local church (local, corporate body of believers) that is not Holy Spirit controlled (filled), Holy Spirit changed (sanctified) and Holy Spirit motivated (the fruits of the Spirit released) will continue to be a Church locked up behind the closed doors of unbelief always fearing the consequences of boldly telling others of their need of Christ.

When grace is locked up in the believer due to unbelief and fear, the truth that sets souls free from sin and death is locked up as well. God is not calling the world to come to church. God calls Christians to the Church to train them so He can send them into the world on a search and rescue mission to bring lost people to Christ and than to the Church for training.

What locks have you put on your spirit that keep God’s grace (enabling power) from being released into the world through your life, personal testimony and sharing the gospel? Whatever they are, they reveal to you your degree of unbelief. Unlock the enabling grace of God in your life with the PRESENCE of Christ, the PEACE of Christ, the PURPOSE of Christ and the POWER of Christ.

How did Christ finally motivate the church to go, PERSECUTION (Acts 8:1-4). Perhaps we should pray like the man in Luke 9:24 who had a son possessed with a demon, “And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” The word “unbelief” is the word that identifies our battleground for service. Until we admit it, confront it and begin to obey what Christ has commanded us to do, we will never put go back into the gospel. Until we admit it, confront it and begin to obey what Christ has commanded us to do, God’s overwhelming, supernatural working of His indwelling Spirit will never be enabled and God’s grace will remained locked away within the prison of our own carnality.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Wisdom: The Wonders of God’s Omniscient and Omnipresent Intimacy

“1 To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me. 2 Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. 3 Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. 4 For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether. 5 Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. 7 Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? 8 If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. 9 If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; 10 Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. 11 If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. 12 Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. 13 For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. 14 I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. 15 My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. 16 Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:1-16).

God reveals two wondrous truths about Himself in this text. Here we see that God is both transcendent and immanent. These two great truths are far more than theological jargon attempting to understand and describe the incomprehensible Creator. When we understand God’s transcendency, we understand that God’s abilities exceed our wildest imaginations, surpassing and exceeding the scope of what the finite mind can even comprehend. When we understand God’s immanency, we understand that although God is not part of His Creation, He is intricately and intimately connected to and involved within His creation. In other words, God is not out there somewhere disconnected from our lives or disinterested in our lives. He is intimately involved in every minute detail of our existence and loves us in a way we cannot comprehend. God knows us in ways we do not know ourselves. There is not one thought that passes through our minds of which He has not taken into account.

1 In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. 3 Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops. 4 And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5 But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him. 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? 7 But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:1-7; compare Matthew 10:16-42).

The immanency of God is revealed in His intimate knowledge of the minutest details of our lives. It would appear that within this enormous crowd of people and within the chaos of entangled lives and thoughts of the crowd, Jesus was able to hear clearly the thoughts and whispers of the secret plotting and political maneuverings of the Pharisees (v 2). Jesus than warns His disciples to not be involved in similar plotting and political maneuverings. Every word covertly whispered in the darkness of concealment will be “heard” in the exposure of God’s revelation of righteousness. Every secret plotting of deceit and human manipulation whispered in the closets of concealment will be shouted from the rooftops. All secrets are known by God. All secrets will be revealed by God.

We must also conclude from this statement of Jesus to His disciples that God’s intimacy with His children goes beyond the knowledge of the details of their lives to His loving involvement in those details. God’s immanency intricately connects Him with His children’s lives. God has chosen to become a Partner in the believer’s combat with the secret plotting and political manipulation of the forces of evil. If we can understand God’s compassion for His children, His empathy and His love, we should never assume that we bear the trials of life alone or that we are in this struggle with evil alone. Although God is not a part of our trials, His immanency so unites Him with us that we can be assured that He suffers with us in the pains and wounds of spiritual combat.

Psalm 139:3 says, “Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.” Just as the air pressing in around us touches us at every area of our bodies, so is God’s immanency. The air fills our nostrils bringing smells to our senses. The air carries sound waves to our eardrums so we can hear. Light travels through the air to our eyes so that we can see. Yet, God’s touch upon our lives goes beyond the external to an intimate knowledge of our thoughts and motivations. Even the words on the tips of our tongues are known by God before they are spoken. David says, “For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether” (Psalm 139:4) and “Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off” (Psalm 139:2).

God has such intimate knowledge of us and, yet, loves us anyway. I would imagine God being grieved by those professing to believe in Him and, professing to know Him, that we do not love Him the way He loves us. After all, if we loved Him that way, we would study the revelations God gives us of Himself. We would spend much more time talking with Him, worshipping Him and just wanting to be with Him. Yet, all these things seem so laborious and burdensome to most Christians. Those Christians most used by God were those that sought to intimately know Him. The Apostle Paul said:

8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, 9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: 10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; 11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” (Philippians 3:8-11).

The Apostle John tells us that those who profess to “know” Jesus will manifest that knowledge by willfully and lovingly seeking to obey His commands. This reality is evidence of genuine knowledge of Christ and a manifestation of the reality of faith in Christ.

3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. 6 He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked” (I John 2:3-6).

Wisdom understands that human suffering does not originate with God, but with “the satan.” God allows suffering as part of His dealings with evil and trying of the faith of His redeemed. For the person with wisdom, suffering causes him to draw nigh to God. For the person without wisdom, suffering causes him to question God’s love and to push God away in some degree of rejection. This too is part of God’s trying of our knowledge and understanding of Who He is and what our relationship with Him is all about. Certainly, Jesus radically reveals the contrast between God’s transcendency and God’s immanency. The incarnation of the Son of God is a radical expression of God’s intimate and loving immanency.

2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:2-7).

Jesus knows the loneliness of suffering like no other human being in the history of the world. Our Creator (Jesus) not only stepped out of the glories of Heaven to put on a body of flesh to come to personally participate in the consequences of the curse and He not only bore our sins in His body on the Tree (I Peter 2:24), but He did it all alone. The depth of this loneliness is revealed by the cry from the Cross, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me” (Matthew 27:46b)? Jesus died for our sins to reconcile us to God and to restore man’s ability to have intimacy with God once again. God saves us for that purpose. Yet, so few professing believers want to make the effort to have an intimate relationship with God. After all that He has done for us, I cannot imagine how much that must grieve Him.

David speaks of God’s immanency in terms of awe and incomprehension, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence” (Psalm 139:6-7)? These words are both awe inspiring and fearfully sobering. There is not the smallest detail of our lives to which God is not fully aware and to which He is not intimately involved. The detail of the micro-aspects God’s creative genius is manifested in the human body to which David addresses by the statement, “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well” (Psalm 139:14).

The human body is one of the most complex organisms of all of God’s creation. The human eye is one of the most complex parts of the human body existing almost as an entity within an entity.

“The retina is probably the most complicated tissue in the whole body. Millions of nerve cells interconnect in a fantastic number of ways to form a miniature ‘brain’. Much of what the photoreceptors ‘see’ is interpreted and processed by the retina long before it enters the brain.” (Dr. George Marshall; Sir Jules Thorn Lecturer in Ophthalmic Science)

The human body is a work of God that deserves reverential awe of His creative abilities. The human body is versatile, able to heal itself when injured. Yet, it is delicate as well. As complex as the human eye is, it is easily injured and can be severely damaged by the smallest of accidents. Therefore, we are also “fearfully” made.

However, perhaps the most wondrous and fearful aspects of God’s creation of the human body is the creation of the eternal human soul. David says, “Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:16). Before we ever came into existence, God saw our “substance” and recorded every detail of our existence. God saw the details of our life as if they had already been recorded on the pages of historical fact. The word “continuance” is from the Hebrew word yowm (yome), meaning from sunrise to sunset or day after day. Literally, this might read, God knows our end from our beginning and every detail in between.

Wisdom learns to rest in the knowledge of such a Being. Once we are “born again,” we merely wait for the unfolding of a destiny and existence beyond our wildest imaginations. Really wise people try to lead as many as possible to come along with them. “Whosoever will” . . . may come (Rev. 22:17) is Christ’s invitation. He wants us to do the inviting!

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Lost Prodigal Son and His Lost Self-Righteous Brother

“11 And he said, A certain man had two sons: 12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. 13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. 14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. 15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. 17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, 19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. 20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. 21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. 22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: 23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. 25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. 28 And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. 29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: 30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. 31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. 32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:11-32).

At the first reading of this text, we would surmise it is about the son who left his father’s home to live a life of sin and squander his inheritance on riotous living. That is certainly an important part of this parable, but it is not its focus. The central point of Christ’s parable is about the “elder son,” the older brother to the Prodigal.

In this parable (as well as the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin), Christ is answering the question on the minds of the Pharisees revealed in verse 2. The question involved why Christ would associate with sinners and eat with them (something no Pharisee would ever consider doing out of fear of defiling himself before God).

“1 Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. 3 And he spake this parable unto them {the whole crowd, but addressed specifically to the Pharisees and Scribes}, saying,” (Luke 15:1-3).
In these three parables (the lost sheep, the lost coin and, the lost son), Christ tells us His purpose for coming to this earth and, in doing so, He is going to tell believers their purpose and ministry in life. He is going to do so by using this parable to rebuke the Pharisees murmuring around him and the Pharisees of Christianity of all succeeding generations after Him.

The name “Pharisee” carries a unique meaning to Christ. In fact, Christ historically redefined the meaning of the words “Scribes and Pharisees.” Read the following portion of Scripture and see if you can discover the word Jesus uses to define what the words “Scribes and Pharisees” meant to Him.

“13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. 14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. 15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. . . 23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. 24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. 25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. 26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. 27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. 28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. 29 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, 30 And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. 31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. 32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. 33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell” (Matthew 23:13-15 and 23-33).

The issue of the three parables is about seeking the lost. However, some people are more lost than others are (Matthew 23:15). Interestingly, it is not the person living in deep sin that is the most difficult to reach with the gospel of salvation. It is the self-righteous person. It is the person trusting in dead externalism and religious ritualism. This is Christ’s message in these three parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and, the lost son.

The reason why it is extremely difficult to bring the self-righteous person to repent of his “dead works” (Ritualism and Moralism) is because religious externalism gives people a form of godliness. They are deceived into thinking they are right with God when the truth is, their trust in their own self-righteousness and religious rituals disgusts God. It is this trust in self-righteousness and religious rituals that Christ condemns with the word “hypocrites.” Christ frequently condemned religious ritualism and dead externalism. Christ speaks of this often in the gospels.

“39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. 40 And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life” (John 5:39-40).
The religious externalist searches the Scriptures to find the commands of God because he thinks by obeying those commands he can please God and earn salvation. However, the Scriptures that have power to give eternal life are those Scriptures which “testify” (martureo, mar-too-reh'-o) of Christ. This means the Scriptures that lead a person to the way of salvation are the Scriptures that lead a person to the Christ of God and the finished work of the Cross and away from trust in Ritualism or Moralism. Yet the religious externalist is so locked up in his thinking, he will not even open his mind for a moment to the truth of the gospel. This person is closed to the gospel because he thinks he is already right with God and on his way to Heaven. This spiritual closed-ness keeps the religious externalist lost in his own condemnation (the moralist’s spirit is closed to the truth of his condemnation).

Throughout His ministry, Christ sought the conversion of all kinds of people. However, the most difficult to convince of their need of the Saviour were the self-righteous religionists (Luke 15:1-2). In the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, Christ is emphasizing that God the Father is actively (not passively) seeking those lost in the darkness of sin. He loves them and seeks for them in whatever state of life and degeneration they presently live in.

“I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).

“Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth” (Luke 15:10).
In Luke 15:11, Christ begins to bring the truth of God’s (the “father” in the parable) love and desire to see all men saved (even the Pharisees) by illustrating two kinds of sinners professing to be believers, but who are both really lost.

1. The prodigal son (verses 12-22) who comes to the end of himself and repents
2. The self-righteous, unforgiving brother who is filled with resentment towards the father and bitterness towards his brother and refuses to repent because he is blind to his own self-righteousness. Christ uses this self-righteous brother to represent the religion of the Pharisees.
The prodigal son rejects his father’s authority and direction in his life to live life the way he wants to live. He gets on the roller coaster joy ride of sin. A joy ride of sin always ends with the sinner in the pig pen with the pigs living like the pigs (to the Pharisees a pig was an unclean animal to which they equated all common people and the such as Jesus was trying to win to Christ).

When the prodigal son rejected his father’s authority and will for his life, he steps out of the circle of truth, out of the realm of the father’s blessings and provision and, into the realm of darkness and chastisement (verse 14). As a Jew, he had compromised his life to the lowest degree. Today, we would equate this with the children so willful they would rather run away from home, live in the gutters and abandoned buildings, prostituting themselves for food and drugs just so they will not have to live under the authority of their parents.

He is called the prodigal son because he wasted the wealth of the life he had with the father to live a life of squalor and sin in order to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. However, we find a great truth about the person fallen into the depths of sin that we do not see in the person fallen into the depths of the sin of religious self-righteousness. The prodigal finally “came to himself” (verse 17). That means he recognized what he had become and the wrong he had done against his father and his father’s name and repents.

The prodigal sons of this world are easy to see. They are easy for the self-righteous religionist to point their critical fingers of accusation. Their lifestyles are ungodly and condemned of God. It is easy to look on them with contempt rather than pity. They deserve what they reap from their lifestyle choices. God does not see them the way the self-righteous Pharisee sees them. God looks on them as deceived and lost. God looks on them with compassion not contempt, mercy not criticism.

The elder son represents the Pharisees in deeper sin then the Prodigal (Luke 15:25-32).

The elder son represents the religionist or self-righteous moralist. He represents the pretentious hypocrite that calls himself a Christian. His life is clean and white on the outside, but inside he is filled with corruption and the deadly sin of self-righteousness. He goes to church regularly. He faithfully participates in all of the religious hocus-pocus. When all of his dead externalism is over, he walks away from it all just as full of “dead men’s bones” as the dead externalism of his religious ritualism, but now he feels good about himself.

What Christ is saying in this parable is that the worst kind of sinner and the most lost kind of sinner is the self-righteous religionist who trusts in his religious externalism and ritualism to be right with God. Christ taught another parable very similar in scope to condemn the self-righteous Pharisees and their trust in their rituals and religious works.

“9 And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted (Luke 18:9-14).

The sins of self-righteousness and trust in ritualism are just as vile to God as the sins of the prodigal son. The prodigal son “came to himself” and repented. The example of the elder son is that he does not come to the end of himself and so never repents. The elder son goes through life thinking he is right with God when he is as lost as lost as anyone can be lost. He is in for a rude awakening when he finally stands before God’s Throne of Judgment.

“21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:21-23).

To the religionist who trusts in his own righteousness and his religious rituals to get himself to heaven, God has a simple message, repent. It is not the man-kind of righteousness that can get you to Heaven. It is the God-kind of righteousness. A person cannot achieve the God-kind of righteousness and he cannot earn it through good works or participation in some hocus-pocus religious ritualism. The only way to get God-kind righteousness is by a gift of God’s grace through faith in the finished work of Christ on Calvary.

“1 Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. 2 For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Romans 10:1-4).

“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16).

Friday, June 15, 2007

Decisional Christianity and the Call to Discipleship

35 Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; 36 And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God! 37And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. 38 Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou? 39 He saith unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. 41 He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. 42 And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone. 43 The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me. 44 Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. 46 And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! 48 Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. 49 Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. 50 Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. 51 And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man” (John 1:35-51).

A person’s Christianity is a history of thousands upon thousands of personal decisions of the will. One’s Christianity begins with a decision to believe that Jesus died for our sins, propitiated God’s wrath for the “sins of the whole world” (John 2:2), that He was buried, was resurrected and ascended victorious over death opening a “door” (Himself; John 10:1-9) into the New Genesis to “whosoever” that was willing to believe the gospel, confess Him as Lord (God) and call on His Name to save him (Romans 10:9-13).

The next decision that the believer is to be led to make is the decision to be baptized by immersion. This is the decision to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. This is the decision to be a committed student of Truth and a consecrated, sanctified follower of Jesus Christ. Baptism involved a decision to begin dying to the old, carnal way of life led by the “old man” and a commitment to “walk in the newness of life” (Romans 6:1-13) as led by the indwelling Spirit of God.

Decisional Christianity is clearly the pattern of orthopraxy that we find in the gospels, the book of Acts and in the New Covenant Epistles. In simple words, we find this pattern of decisional Christianity portrayed by Christ in His preaching and teaching ministry over and over again in the gospels. We find this decisional Christianity portrayed by the Apostles over and over again in the book of the Acts of the Apostles. We also find this decisional Christianity portrayed over and over again throughout the Epistles and even the book of Revelation.

Why then is this decisional Christianity so resisted, ridiculed and denigrated by some within Christianity? Decisional Christianity is resisted, ridiculed and denigrated because some professing Christians hold to such an extreme view of God’s sovereignty that God must be the cause of every detail “under the Sun” or God cannot be in control. In this view, nothing is determined or caused by man’s will. Everything is determined and caused by God’s will and God’s will cannot be resisted or denied. What God wills must happen. There can be no synergism whatsoever in this dynamic.

John 1:35 begins the first day of the three year ministry of Jesus Christ. From this point forward, it is a count-down to Golgotha. Jesus has three years to create a continuum of discipleship by training twelve men and leading them through a number of progressive decisions (progressive sanctification).

It is critically important to understand the disciples Jesus chose to train as the Apostles were already disciples of John the Baptist (1:35). That means they were already saved according to the Old Covenant. They were believers in the promised Messiah and were looking for His coming (1:41). This is important in order to understand what is taking place in this portion of Scripture. These men are not getting saved and leading others to salvation. All those they brought to Jesus were already saved like they were saved. This text is about becoming disciples of Jesus and the commitment involved with becoming a follower of Jesus.

Many people get saved who never become Christians. Being a Christian is defined by the practice of the teaching of Scripture. The whole body of Scriptural teaching is referred to as “the faith.” Once a person is saved by trusting in the finished sacrifice of Christ Jesus in His full payment of the death sentence substitutionally for all mankind, that person is eternally secure in that salvation. Getting saved is the easy part. It costs the believer nothing. It is a gift. Getting saved is a simple matter.

“8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

On the other hand, becoming a disciple of Jesus (Christian) is another matter all together. Becoming a disciple begins with a decision to follow Jesus and live according to His teachings. Salvation is a new creation. Salvation is a new beginning. Salvation is becoming a “born again” child of God. Discipleship is parenting that newborn babe in Christ to full spiritual maturity.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

What does it mean to be a disciple? When Jesus called these men to become disciples, He was calling them to two things. He was calling them to training and He was calling them to the work of evangelism (Mark 1:17). Making disciples of these men meant a long, slow process of training them to be soul winning disciple makers. This is why Christ ordained and established local churches. They were to be training centers for disciples to do the work of evangelism and to maintain the continuum of disciple makers.

“11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:11-16).

John the Baptist is the typical soul winner doing the work of evangelism. He led people to repent of dead works and sin, faith in the coming Messiah, baptized those who were saved and began to disciple them. It was not his purpose to gather disciples for himself. His purpose was to gather and prepare disciples to follow Jesus Christ. The success of his ministry was determined at the time his disciples recognized who Jesus was and began to follow Jesus by doing what Jesus did. John the Baptist’s ministry was successful when he did his work well enough to make himself dispensable. This is the goal of every true disciple maker.

As a typical disciple maker, we should not overlook the fact that John the Baptist was faithful unto death. The central focus of a disciple is faithfulness to Jesus. When faithfulness to Jesus becomes the priority of one’s life that is the point at which that individual becomes a disciple of Jesus.

A disciple is a follower of Jesus (John 1:37).

“Followed” is from the Greek word akoloutheo (ak-ol-oo-theh'-o) meaning to walk the same road. In the narrowest sense, it means to walk in another’s footprints or to walk side by side, mirroring one another. To be a disciple of Jesus is to seek to replicate Who Jesus is in one’s life, to be Christ-like. To be a disciple of Jesus is to incorporate His teaching into one’s life to the degree of complete transformation. This is the goal of the process of spiritual growth. The disciple studies to know the Word of God.

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15).

The disciple yields his life to the indwelling Holy Spirit to allow Him to live that learned truth.

“11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. 13 Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Romans 6:11-13).

“1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).

The disciple exemplifies the life of Christ to the lost world as the Holy Spirit lives the truth of God’s Word through his life.

Being a disciple is a twenty-four hour a day, seven day a week commitment (John 1:39).

Being a disciple is the merging of the Christ-life into every aspect of our everyday life. As a disciple of Jesus, there can be no separation of one’s life into the sacred and the secular. Disciples do not merely set apart blocks of time to be Christian. Disciples eat, breathe and live Jesus. If there is some aspect or area of your life in which your Christianity is not fully expressed, that area either needs to be abandoned or utilized for Christ. The only division in a believer’s life is the division between learning truth and living truth. This is what is known as spiritual growth and what defines spiritual growth. That division is like the space between the rungs of a ladder in the progress of upward mobility. It is an area of transition from knowing to doing. Growth is measured by the transition from knowing to doing.

Becoming a disciple is a matter of a free-will choice. However, that does not excuse any believer from the obligation of being a disciple. Salvation is not conditioned on becoming a disciple. Salvation is the first baby step in trusting in Christ. Discipleship is learning to walk. No parent would think it normal if their child did not learn to walk, feed himself, take care of his personal hygiene and eventually grow to the place he could support himself and live without constant supervision. Yet, somehow, professing Christians do not think anything abnormal about a person who never grows spiritually, who never tells anyone how to be saved and who never learns to study the Word of God and build a theological foundation of living truths into his life.

When new believers make a commitment to follow Jesus, it must be an intelligent decision based upon a free will choice. They may not understand all the ramifications of that decision, but they make it nonetheless. At each level of their training, a higher level of commitment will be expected. Along this process of growth and at each higher level of commitment, they are allowed another opportunity to make free will choices to continue. Many of those that followed Jesus chose not to follow Him any longer at these higher levels of spiritual commitment and sacrificial expectations.

“60 Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? 61 When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? 62 What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. 64 But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. 65 And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. 66 From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. 67 Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? 68 Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. 69 And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:60-69).

This is the common testing of true disciples of Jesus and this testing determines who Jesus will use and the degree He can use them. There is one simple question every disciple should ask himself at each level, is Jesus really Who He claims to be? It is always a matter of faith. If Jesus is Who He claims to be, nothing else matters.

Everyday of every week of our lives, Jesus is putting professing disciples through these tests. Pass the test by accepting the higher level of commitment and you move to a higher plane of spiritual growth and a closer walk with Jesus (and a higher degree of responsibilities). Jesus does not expect you to do anything He does not think you capable of doing when empowered by His Holy Spirit. The issue is not a matter of ability, but a matter of the will. When Jesus asks a disciple to take on some area of ministry, there is only one right answer: I will! It is not a matter that you know how to do what He asks you to do. You may need additional training in order to do the job. It is simply a matter of committing to whatever is necessary to do what is asked.

Jesus calls every believer to discipleship. That call is a call to train and a call to work. The training is incorporated in doing the work. Have you accepted the call of Jesus to discipleship? If you have, you are involved in some on-hand training in a local church to train you in an outreach ministry. If that is not the case, you have not accepted the call of Jesus to discipleship. Every disciple in the Bible was involved in being trained through participation training. Knowing was translated into doing. That is the only kind of discipleship the Bible speaks about. If that is what you are involved in, you are a disciple. If not, you need to begin.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Worthy Of Double Honor!

Taking Care Of Your Pastor:
An Article For All Local Churches

Over the years, I have come to know thousands of Pastors. The overwhelming and vast majority of these men are deeply spiritual with real hearts for ministry and genuine love for the Lord Jesus Christ and for His “sheep.” They are men who have literally given away their lives in service to Jesus Christ as they gave of themselves moment-by-moment, day-by-day, week-by-week and year-by-year.

Many of them have spent their lives (as people spend money) working in obscure places trying to help people escape their own carnal appetites (and the carnal destinies of those appetites), often being resisted at every turn. In many cases, (more often then we would like to acknowledge), they have done so with little thanks and even less appreciation. Often congregants’ view them as intruders into their private affairs rather than the spiritual caretakers God has appointed them to be. They are often abused, mistreated, slandered, taken for granted, unappreciated and underpaid.

The central reason this aberrant behavior towards God’s men continues from generation to generation is due mainly to spiritual ignorance and hard-heartedness of the “saints” to what God’s Word says about the position of the Pastor and a congregation’s responsibility to that position.

God Called:Pastors are “called” by God to the work they do. That means they have a divinely appointed responsibility laid upon their shoulders. In most cases, they did not choose that responsibility and did not want it. When God calls, the wise and spiritual man simply obeys. When the eternal ramifications of the responsibility of this calling are taken into careful consideration it becomes overwhelming in its scope. Only the greatest fool would step into such a position of responsibility without an assurance of God’s calling, because a Pastor involves himself in a supernatural work requiring a special kind of supernatural enabling. Although it can be said that this is true of every Christian, it is specifically and particularly true of the Pastor. He will need a Mountain Top walk with God in order to do the work God calls him to do. There will be no room for spiritual mediocrity in the life of the man God calls to lead His people.

Spiritual Qualifications

1 This is a true saying, If a an desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; 4 One that ruleth well his own house,
having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of
God?) 6 Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (I Timothy 3:1-7).

Obviously, the above verses of Scripture describe a very remarkable individual. These qualifications do not include being good-looking, charismatic or not having a sin nature. When Paul dealt with the problem of Pastor worship in the epistle to Corinth, he made this truth quite plain. God has chosen plain, ordinary men to accomplish extraordinary things through His enabling grace so that God will receive the glory and not men. Understanding that simple truth will move you out of the pits of ignorance that will cause you to constantly criticize the very weaknesses that qualified the man you call Pastor for God’s calling in the first place. Understanding that simple truth will help you understand the spiritual dynamic involved in God’s building and using the man He calls.

26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: 27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: 29 That no flesh should glory in his presence” (I Corinthians 1:26-29).

The word “bishop” is one of four words used to describe the work of the Pastor/Teacher. Each of these four words describes a different aspect of the responsibilities of this God-called man. The word “bishop” (“overseer,” 1 Peter 5:2) is from the Greek word episcope (episkoph, ep-is-kop-ay’). It denotes the function of an Overseer and relates to the administration of a Local Church (see Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Phil. 1:1). This is what is meant by the term “rule over you” in Hebrews 13:7 and 17. It is extremely important that the Pastor is given freedom to administrate in that God will hold him accountable for any failures of obedience in the Local Church he administrates (13:17). (In some churches, deacons are viewed as administrators. This is foreign to both the Scriptures and New Testament practice.)

As the Administrator of a Local Church, the Pastor oversees every ministry of that Local Church. It is not that he is supposed to do all the work. He oversees it all, co-ordinates it all and makes sure it stays true to the Word of God and on track for Christ. However, in many cases, he does do it all. He is the Church Janitor, Carpenter, Electrician, Plummer and Painter. He shovels the snow in the winter and mows the grass in the summer. He usually does all of this without any consideration for compensation either because there is no one else to do it, or, there is no one else willing to do it.

1 The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: 2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3 Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (I Peter 5:1-4).

In I Peter 5:2, God tells us the pastoral ministry is “not by constraint.” Every congregant should recognize that the pastoral ministry is the result of the calling of God upon a particular man. It is not just a vocational choice. Because it is a calling of God, it must be done willingly and voluntarily. He cannot quit just because too much is expected of him or because people treat him poorly or refuse to follow his leadership. The Pastor must be fully persuaded in his mind that the pastoral ministry is God’s will for his life. I can guarantee you there will be times in his ministry when he questions that calling and struggles with it.

The second word used to describe the work the Pastor is called to do is the word “elder.” This comes from the Greek word presbuteros (presbuterov pres-boo’-ter-os). It refers to an individual with mature spiritual experience and the ability to apply the Word of God with wisdom (see Acts 14:23; 20:17; 1 Tim. 5:1 and 17; and Titus 1:5-7).

Among the Jews, at the time of Christ, presbuteros was used to refer to the members of the great council or Sanhedrin (because in early times the rulers of the people, judges, etc., were selected from elderly men). Education and experience are valuable commodities. When it comes to knowing what to do with people problems in a church, these two things are priceless (almost every problem in a Local Church has someone’s Name on it). For the wise and experienced Pastor, potential people problems stick out like a sore thumb and can be dealt with before they explode.

The third word used to describe the work he is called to do is the word “Pastor.” This can also be translated “Shepherd.” It comes from the Greek word poimaino (poimainw, poy-mah’-ee-no) and it refers to a guardian or protector (see John 10:11 and I Peter 2:25). When Peter says, “feed the flock” (1 Peter 5:2), he is describing the role of pastoral care. Pastors do not have an 8-hour-a-day, 9 to 5, work schedule. They are on duty 24/7. They live, eat and breathe ministry. They constantly think about and pray for the people under their care. They often know the strengths and weaknesses of individual church members better then those individuals themselves. I have known many Pastors who were awakened by concern in the middle of the night to pray for some “sheep” struggling with some sin in his life or who is going through some trial or struggle.

The fourth word used to describe the work the Pastor is called to do is the word “teacher.” This is from the Greek word didaskalos (didaskalov did-as’-kal-os). It is used in conjunction with the Pastoral ministry (I Timothy 2:7; II Timothy 1:1). Teaching was what Christ admonished Peter to do when He said to him “feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). It is used in the sense of discipleship by teaching people the Word of God in order for them to grow spiritually (see Matthew 28:20). The method that God ordained for this teaching ministry was preaching (see I Corinthians 1:21). As a result of this, the teacher also came to be known as a preacher (khrussw; kerusso, kay-roos’-so, see Rom. 1:15-16; 10:14-15; and 1 Tim. 2:7).

Most Pastors prepare three sermons and one Sunday school lesson each week. This can amount to anywhere from 20 to 30 hours of study and preparation each week. Add to this the time needed for prayer, visitation and soul winning and there is little time for anything else.

What is such a person worth?

The kind of person described in the above qualifications is a rare commodity. In the case of every other commodity in this world, rarity increases the value exponentially. This is certainly true according to the declaration of God.

17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. 18 For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward” (I Timothy 5:17-18).

The word “honour” in I Timothy 5:17 is from the Greek word time (timh, tee-may’). It is obvious from the context that God is not talking about praise or respect. He is talking about material remuneration. The Greek word refers to “the price paid or received for a person or thing bought or sold.” Let me make a suggestion to how that might apply in a very practical sense. Take the average income of the members of your congregation and “double” that amount. That is the amount that God says a faithful Pastor is worth in the sense of material remuneration (his ministry is actually priceless).

The word of God tells us that one of the qualifications of a Pastor is that he cannot be “greedy of filthy lucre.” Again, in the vast majority of the men I know, this is certainly a true description of their character. This quality is also the central reason they are often taken advantage of.

Although Pastors are often the lowest paid people in their congregations, they are often the biggest givers. The financial structuring of a church often obscures their giving. Because the church budget requires that the bills be paid before anything else, the Pastor’s salary (better term: remuneration or support) is usually at the bottom of priorities. In other words, he gets what is left over. In actuality, what has just happened in that scenario? The support money that should have gone to the Pastor (and really belongs to him, I Corinthians 9:9) is used to pay church bills. According to that scenario, who really pays these bills?

I am also amazed at the generosity of local churches to missions when in many cases those same churches do not adequately support their Pastor. Many Pastors in rural areas work 40 to 50 hours a week doing the work of a Pastor and another secular, fulltime job to support their families. Where does the money to support a missionary really come from? I cannot understand why people are so blind to this reality. They just take what belongs to the Pastor and his family and give it to someone else.

Yes, missionaries need support too, but don’t force the Pastor and his family to sacrifice so your church can say you support missions. The fact is you don’t. Your pastor does. In many cases, he also pays the heating bills, the insurance bills, the electric bills and often the Church building and the parsonage mortgage. The money that should be going to support him is going to those needs. He understands that and is willing to make those sacrifices to keep a ministry in the black, but congregations need to understand who is really giving to provide for those needs. It is the Pastor!

What About A Parsonage?

A parsonage can provide considerable savings to a church and to a Pastor. Unfortunately there are considerable abuses in the use of parsonages as this practice relates to the Pastor. Usually a Parsonage is provided to the Pastor and his family and his salary is reduced by the amount he would normally pay for renting a similar home. Because of tax laws, the Pastor does not have to pay Income Tax on that amount of His salary (although he does have to pay Social Security on that amount if he has not opted out).

Because a Church is tax exempt, it is not required to pay Property Tax. This can be a savings of anywhere from $1,500.00 to $4,000 each year. However, the savings is to the Church, not the Pastor. Secondly, the Pastor is not gaining any equity in the amount he is paying for that home (he is paying for it, it is just that the amount is taken out of his salary). These tax perks do free up some funds. However, those funds should be passed on to the Pastor in the form of an IRA or Retirement Fund. This should equal the amount each year that he would normally gain in equity if he were paying on his own home.

Another abuse is the maintenance of the parsonage. Since the parsonage belongs to the Church, it is their responsibility to maintain it. That means painting it (interior and exterior) every four or five years, new carpet and floor coverings every ten years, hot water heaters, furnace and air conditioning maintenance, appliances and a hundred other items too numerous to mention. Do not make your Pastor come to the congregation every time something needs to be done. Build these needs into the budget and put the funds into an escrow account to be used as needed (and PLEASE, within reason, let the Pastor’s wife decorate the house she has to live in!). If the Pastor wants to live in his own home, that should be his decision. Do all you can as a Church to make that possible.

He Is Not A Hireling!

12 But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. 13 The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep” (John 10:12-13).

If you do not want your Pastor to act like a “hireling,” do not treat him like one. I had a Deacon say to me once, “We hired you and we can fire you.” Another Deacon, who was questioned about why he never came out for visitation night, was overheard telling someone, “I don’t know why I have to do that. I thought that is what we hired the Pastor for.” That is the “hireling” mentality that permeates our churches. It is absolutely destructive.

According to Ephesians 4:11-12, the Pastor/Teacher is God’s gift to your Local Church to equip and train (“perfect”) you (“the saints”) to do the “work of the ministry.” Like a good parent, his success is measured by your ability to be able to live and work independent of his constant care. Your spiritual maturity will manifest itself through the fleshing out of Christ in your life. Your life will become a distribution center for ministry and evangelism. If ministry and soul winning do not regularly and habitually take place apart from your Pastor, your Local Church is destined for a slow and painful death.

Should Pastors Be Poor?

According to the pattern of the Law for the Old Testament Priesthood, the answer would certainly be in the negative. It is quite obvious that the Levites were the wealthiest of all the tribes of Israel. The “tithe” belonged to the Levites as a substitute for giving up their claim to a portion of land. The “tithe” was their “inheritance.”

20 And the LORD spake unto Aaron, Thou shalt have no inheritance in their land, neither shalt thou have any part among them: I am thy part and thine inheritance among the children of Israel. 21 And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation. 22 Neither must the children of Israel henceforth come nigh the tabernacle of the congregation, lest they bear sin, and die. 23 But the Levites shall do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they shall bear their iniquity: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations, that among the children of Israel they have no inheritance. 24 But the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer as an heave offering unto the LORD, I have given to the Levites to inherit: therefore I have said unto them, Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance” (Numbers 18:20-24).

They were required to offer a “heave offering” (a “tithe”) to the Lord from the tenth they received from all the other tribes. They were the smallest tribe (they were not to be numbered, Numbers 1:47-49). However, according to their divisions in 1 Chronicles 23:1-5, there was 38,000 of them over the age of 33 at this time, probably about 1017 B.C. According to Numbers 1:23-46, about 470 years earlier, other than the tribes of Manasseh (32,200) and Benjamin (35,400), the Levites would have been the smallest by far (although we must take into consideration that they did not go to war, however large numbers were often slaughtered during conquests).

Yet the Levites received the largest material remuneration. The land was divided between the other twelve tribes (the tribe of Joseph was divided into two, Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph’s two sons). The Levites received a full “tithe” from all the other twelve tribes.

None of these “tithes” were used to build the Tabernacle in the Wilderness or the Temple in Jerusalem, or to maintain those structures. These things were provided for by “free will offerings” (Exodus 36:3-7). The transitory dispensational truth here is that the “tithe” really belongs to those that serve the Temple. The New Testament equivalent would be Pastors and Missionaries. The Pastor is the first Missions responsibility of any congregation. Until he is adequately provided for, other Missionaries should not be added.

(COL) Cost Of Living Increases

Recently the Cost of Living Increases calculated for Social Security and SSI benefits was 2.6 percent. The year before it was 3.5 percent. These are national averages. If you live in a metropolitan area, these percentages can be considerably higher.

This means if your Pastor’s salary package did not increase by 6.1% over the last two years, the purchasing power of his salary has decreased by that amount. In other words, the dollar that was worth a dollar two years ago is only worth 93.9 cents today. In that case, your Pastor has actually taken a decrease in pay. COL should be an automatic salary adjustment each year. It is not a “raise.” It simply keeps his salary at the same level it was the year before. “Raises” in salary should be considered on and above this amount.

“Remember” Him

“Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation [manner of life]” (Hebrews 13:7).

The first word of Hebrews 13:7 sets the tone of the admonishment to God’s people in regard to Pastoral authority and leadership. It is the word “remember.” It is from the Greek word mnemoneuo (mnhmoneuw, mnay-mon-yoo’-o). It means to be constantly aware of the Pastor, to think of and feel for him. It means to “keep him in mind.” Interestingly it is in the imperative mood, which means it expresses a command to the hearer to perform a certain action by order and authority of the one commanding (here that Person is God). Therefore, the word “remember” carries the weight of an absolute command of God requiring full obedience by the believer. It means to be constantly aware of the divinely ordained authority of the Pastor, with the idea of being sympathetic and submissive to that authority, and following his leadership.

“Remember” little things. Remember his birthday and his wife’s birthday. Remember their anniversary. Remember to send him a note of encouragement occasionally. Remember to invite him and his wife over for an evening of games and fun. Remember he needs a vacation and time to go to spiritual conferences to be refreshed and challenged. Make provision for that in both time and money.

Remember, although it is his responsibility to teach you truth, it is your responsibility to learn. Remember that he too is a growing spiritual organism. Remember he struggles with the same things you struggle with. Remember to forgive him when he fails. Remember to pray for him, care for him and love him. He is God’s gift to you. Be thankful for him. If you love him, show that to him in tangible, practical ways. You may know you love him and appreciate his ministry. Make sure he knows you do.

In many churches the idea of giving a pastor the leadership control of a local church is a thing of the past. There is little understanding of what the word of God teaches about pastoral leadership and his authority in the church. Because of this lack of understanding by congregations, many pastors end up struggling with deacon boards or some group in the church to gain leadership. It is a struggle where nobody wins and everybody loses, especially the cause of Christ. It is absolutely essential that what the Bible teaches about the Pastor’s position in a local church is established in your life so you will know what God says about the matter and what authority is given to the pastor by the Lord.

A major mistake commonly made regards the Pastor’s calling. Many local churches mistakenly believe they call a pastor. That is not true. God calls pastors to a ministry. A congregation’s vote is not an election of a pastor. A congregation’s vote is to confirm their belief that God has called a particular pastor to lead them. Congregational Polity presumes that the majority of a congregation will make spiritual decisions as led by the Spirit of God and will “vote” the mind of Christ.

Once God’s call upon a pastor is confirmed by the vote of a congregation, the leadership of that local church is to be turned over to that pastor’s direction. As he spends some time in a locality, God will reveal to him the direction and changes that need to be made to move that local congregation forward in its spiritual growth and service to the Lord. As long as the pastor is not doing anything unscriptural, to resist the him is to resist the Lord.

“Them which have the rule” is translated from the Greek word hegeomai (hayg-eh'-om-ahee). Its meaning centers in on the word “rule.” It refers to leadership or overseer authority, in this case a divinely appointed one. In the calling of a pastor to a local church, Jesus transposes His headship over that congregation to the pastor. This word is in the Participate Mood, which means it is used as a verbal noun. That means this word defines the pastor’s position and authority over a local congregation.

I Peter 5:1-4 further defines the role of a pastor in a local church.

1 The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: 2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3 Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (I Peter 5:1-4).

In I Peter 5:1, the word “elders” is from the Greek word presbuteros (pres-boo'-ter-os). It was a word used of those who in separate cities managed public affairs and administered justice. Among the early Christians it was used to describe those who presided over local assemblies of belivers. The NT uses the term bishop, elders, and presbyters interchangeably. The term “elder” ascribes mature spiritual experience and understanding to an individual. In this context, what they are is also who they are.

In I Peter 5:2, the words “feed the flock” gives us part of God’s job description for His pastors. The Pastor (poimen) is God‘s appointed guardian or protector over God’s local flock. In the old testament the strength of a house was dependant upon the strength of it’s leader. Jesus is the “Chief Shepherd” (archipoimen; ar-khee-poy'-mane). He is the only authority higher then the pastor.

In I Peter 5:2, once a pastor is called to be the Shepherd of a local church, he is commanded to “take the oversight” of that local congregation. “Oversight” is from the Greek word episkopeo (ep-ee-skop-eh'-o). This is the bishopric function of the Pastor. He oversees, or administrates the church. He oversees every ministry of the church. He doesn’t do all the work. He oversees it all and co-ordinates it all. He makes sure it stays true to the word and on track for Christ.

A local congregation is not administrated by a church “board” or a “Board of Deacons.” The pastor is not the churchs “hireling” who is supposed to do all of the spiritual work of the church. He is not called of God to do all the praying, or all the yard work, or all the painting or all the soul winning or all the visitation. He is called to “perfect the saints for the work of the ministry.” In other words, he is called of God to train the congregation he leads to do those all those things.

11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 5:4-11-12).

According to I Peter 5:2, the pastor‘s ministry should not be “by constraint.” It is not something a man should be forced into or compelled by another person to do. It is not a vocational choice. It is a calling of God. Therefore it must be done willing and voluntarily. Every congregation needs to regularly be reminded that their pastor is there because God has compelled him to be there. Once he is fully persuaded in his mind that this is God’s will for him, he cannot leave that position regardless of how poorly he is treated, how carelessly he is compensated or how miserably his people follow his leadership.

A pastor does not serve a congregation “for filthy lucre’s sake.” He is not in the pastorate merely for material gain or for power and position. That often means that congregations do not take adequate financial care of their pastor. A congregation should never ask a pastor to make sacrifices they are not willing to make. When a church cannot pay its bills, the first bill usually not paid is the pastor’s support. Most churches are built upon the faith of pastors who live so sacrificially that if most of the members of their congregations were force to live on the same amounts, they would be on welfare.

Hebrews 13:7-17 is talking about congregational responsibility and accountability to their pastor. First, “remember” means you are to be constantly aware of the Pastor’s authority and be sympathetic and submissive to that authority. The pastor on the other hand is to be careful that this does not go to his head and he is to be extremely careful not to take advantage of people because of it. He is to lead, not Lord.

Secondly the ruling force of the church is the Word of God (Hebrews 13:7)

17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. 18 For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward” (I Timothy 5:17-18).

The Pastor is supposed to labor in learning it and teaching it. Deacons and congregations are to do the work of the ministry so that the Pastor will have time to “labour” in the Word.