October 22, 2017 “Remember Me”
Walk Like Jesus
In Times Like These
“Grace or Grief?”
It is one of the most dramatic rescue missions in history. The numbers were immense and their conditions were deplorable. They had neither political power nor hope. What could slaves possibly look forward to? Hard labor was their lot in life and had been for four centuries. Attempts to liberate them backfired. Bad went to worse. The future was bleaker than their past. At least, it was until God stepped in.
He summoned an eighty-year-old whose resume included four decades in luxury and another forty years looking after sheep. Oh, he had tried along the way to help his Jewish kin folks, but they couldn’t figure out what he was up to. He was a man of insecurities and doubt, but he was the Lord’s hand-picked leader. It was not without its lumps, but the mission was accomplished. The miracles were attention-grabbers, but Pharaoh was hard hearted and it took ten of them to penetrate his thick skull. All that stood in the way of freedom was the sea. No problem. It was an unforgettable experience, or so it would seem.
God provided a path to freedom right through the sea. It was dry as a bone for their journey through. The troops chasing them were swept away by the waters. It was a time of celebration. They believed. They sang. Then they forgot. Just like that, as quickly as they escaped the enemy’s hands it slipped their mind. It would appear to be impossible, but it happened in a proverbial instant. The repercussions of forgetting echoed loudly.
They ceased seeking the Lord’s instruction. The word of God means very little to us when we forget what He has done for us. Lose sight of His miraculous deliverance from sin, and we soon stop searching the Scriptures for His ways which differ so much from ours. They become a burdensome inconvenience which is more comfortable to ignore.
Their desires got the better of them. They began to lust for the wrong things. They badgered God for that which was not good for them. It is sad when people do not get what they want. It is suicidal when they do get what they want when it is inconsistent with the word of the Lord. Flesh defeats spirit and death results.
They ultimately tossed the living God aside for a hunk of gold shaped like a calf. They worshipped jewelry. It had just been melted and sculpted into a different shape. What had dangled from their ears became their god. It all began between those ears. They forgot (Psalm 106:6-21).
“Do this in remembrance of me (1 Corinthians 11:24-25).” We have many religious neighbors who think that we take the Lord’s Supper too often. Every week, they say, is excessive. Really? Forgetting sets off a chain reaction that will lead us to bow down to earrings. Too often? Can we truly remember the Lord too often?
The Corinthian church would have fit very nicely into modern day America. The sins that had crept into the congregation would make a heathen blush. Bickering among the members had disrupted the unity that the Lord died to establish. The time had long past for them to grow up, but they had not. Spiritual babies arguing instead of mature Christians cooperating. Legal issues hounded them. Unimaginable immorality sat on their pews. These were God’s people? Yes, they were.
They apparently bore few of the characteristics of followers of Jesus. Their growth was stunted. They were blessed with a wide range of miraculous gifts but missed the matters that truly count. They had flash without substance. It is easy to do. They were not the first to wade into the shallow end of the Lord’s expectations without plunging into the deep waters (Matthew 23:23).
Paul led them to the mountaintop. The perspective is different there. It was a remarkable experience to be an apostle or prophet. Specially endowed teachers were a great blessing to the church. Miracles, healings and tongue speaking were impressive. No one had all of those abilities, but they were fundamentally significant in reaching the mountaintop (1 Corinthians 12:27-31). God had something much better in mind (1 Corinthians 13).
Tongue speaking, even of the angelic kind, is irrelevant if we do not discern that which is most important. If we know all about the mysteries of God and our faith can shake the mountains, we are worthless unless our journey is down the more excellent way. If we give up our possessions to look after the poor and sacrifice our lives, we are going nowhere without this quality in our lives. It is the target for which we must all take aim.
Love. It seems too simple, but it is the defining characteristic of Christians. It is not confined to an elite, specially trained group within the Lord’s church. Anyone can and everyone is expected to love. In addressing the divided immoral church in Corinth, Paul exposed their childish behavior and led them to the superiority of love. It is the antithesis of immaturity. That shows us who the grown up Christians are.
For God so loved the world…It is among the first verses that we ever learn. It is not even necessary to cite book, chapter and verse because of its universal familiarity. His love prompted the sending of His Son who lived by that principle. He showed us love. Jesus left an example for disciples to follow (John 13:34). That includes us (Ephesians 5:2). When we walk by the Spirit, He produces love in our lives (Galatians 5:16-23). The demonstration and involvement of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit relating to love show its importance to God.
Nothing will change our lives like a commitment to love. Love God. Love our neighbor. The Lord will shine through us when we do, and we all can.
The Gift of Giving August 06, 2017
The rumors were rampant (Matthew 16:13-20). Reputation circulation had provided nearly everyone with an opinion. Jesus confronted His disciples with the question of what was being said about Him. There was no shortage of speculation, but all were wrong. He was neither John the Baptist, Elijah nor Jeremiah. He was more than a prophet, and people failed to see it. Did they?
They had traveled with Him, seen His miracles and heard His teaching. The others had, too, and they misunderstood who He was. They underestimated His role, but His immediate concern was not the thoughts of the masses but those to whom He was speaking. What about you? Who do you say that I am? It was a critical moment. The implications of that question and answer are transforming.
Simon spoke up (Hard to believe, Huh?!), and nailed it. Jesus was the Christ. He came on a mission of deliverance. Sin has a stranglehold on people and chokes the eternal life out of them. His purpose was to free Satan’s slaves and to change the course of their journey. We sometimes believe that we can only come to the Lord when we have escaped sin. That is out of order. We come to Him and He breaks the bonds of sin (John 8:36).
Jesus was no less than the Son of God. The old fisherman knew that this was more than a prophet who stared them in the eyes. He was unique. What an extraordinary expression of heaven’s love for misguided people. The world had gone astray. Misconceptions abounded. Christ revealed a deity that the people did not recognize. From His birth among the animals to His death on a cross, He simply was not anything that they expected.
He made a promise to Simon that day. He had the facts precisely right about who the Christ was. He had not bought into public opinion but had accepted what the Father had revealed. It is not always easy. The word of God can challenge our long held beliefs. It can come into direct conflict with popular thought. Now, as much as ever, that is true. The question is: Who will we believe? Peter had the correct understanding because of the source of His information, and it was on that foundation that He was going to build His church.
There is as much speculation today about His church as there was then about who He was. Virtually everyone has an opinion. Does it matter? Jesus bought the church on a cross with His blood (Acts 20:28). It matters that much to Him. He loves His church (Ephesians 5:25). It is described as His bride (Ephesians 5:22-33). The relationship between Christ and His church is impossible to overstate, and it will be that important to us as well unless we believe world opinion rather than the word of God.
Tame that Temper
Stephen was a special man. When friction arose within the church, they looked to him as one to smooth the ripples. Feeding the widows was not a particularly flashy assignment, but it was his to do. Without that job being covered, time would be taken away from the apostles for their dedication to the word of God. So, seven men were selected, but these were not just any men. They had to have good reputations and be full of the Spirit and wisdom. Yep, sounds like Stephen.
The entire congregation agreed, and that freed the apostles to return to their focus on the word and prayer. Division of labor always increases productivity, and as the word spread the number of disciples grew. Even the Jewish priests got the message and obeyed the faith. Conversions inevitably lead to conflict, and it was hovering just around the corner. Stephen was just the right man for that moment, too.
Though his appearance in early church history is brief, he is singled out among those seven table servers as a man who not only possessed the mandated qualities, but also one who was full of faith. His portrait becomes more complete. He is clearly a person to be admired, respected and not to be confronted. Challenge him if you wish, but you will not win. A few dared. They all lost.
Add to his admirable qualities those of being full of grace and power, and we have a very impressive list. So, when a group of out-of-towners picked a verbal fight with him, he twisted them in knots that only served to infuriate them. In no time, they stirred up a mob mentality with lies that led to his confrontation with the authorities. Stephen was apparently not one to squander an opportunity.
As unwelcoming as his audience may have been, he did not back down. History is a great teacher, and he utilized theirs to expose the terrible miscalculation they were making, again. His message must have been an effective one, because they got the point. They had repeatedly missed the ones sent by God, and they had done it again. They certainly understood what he was saying, but instead of repentance they attacked him. Stephen was dead.
We look and see a man who had a good reputation. He was full of the Spirit (Worthy of two mentions!), wisdom, faith, grace and power. He enters the picture in one chapter and is dead at the conclusion of the next (Acts 6 & 7). It is a hard lesson of history.
Stephen was a Christian in every sense of the word. All we know about his work is that he served widows and preached a single sermon that cost him his life. Having the right stuff carries no guarantees, except that God notices and that it touches lives. He is still touching ours.