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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fleeing Idolatry, Fearing God

Fleeing Idolatry, Fearing God

"I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, 'The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.' We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry." 1 Corinthians 5:1-14

Being chosen by God, whether for a special relationship with Him, or for a special purpose, does not equate to unconditional acceptance or approval of disobedient, rebellious hearts and sinful behavior.

The people of Israel were chosen by God for an intimate, unique relationship with Himself, demonstrated by miraculous delivery from slavery and by abundant providence in the wilderness.

However, despite the intimate relationship with God, most of the people of Israel died from disease.

In the same way, Christians are not shielded from God's severe chastening when we express rebellion by our sinful behavior.

In this passage of Scripture, Paul uses the idolatry of the Israelites as a somber warning for Christians.

Idolatry in Hebrew means "image-worship", which is substituting the Almighty God for an image or object made by humans. The image does not only represent God...it IS a god.

When the people of Israel feared that God Almighty had forsaken them in the wilderness, they created a golden likeness of an animal and worshipped it as their god, praying and praising it, desperate for a feeling of being protected and provided for.

Paul called this idolatry a spiritual form of prostitution. There is probably no better illustration of how a human heart rebels against God, than by describing a woman who stands willingly along the road, baring her breasts, touching herself alluringly, asking for others to use her body sexually in exchange for money in which she places all her longing for protection and providence. She expects her intense desire for happiness to be sated by things money can buy. All the while, her husband, or one who desires to be her husband, is ignored, regarded as worthless or non-existent.

She has sold her body and forsaken her true Lover.

Rebellion and sin are compared to prostitution, but the people of Israel were chastened by God for sinful behavior that appears to be unrelated to sexual immorality.

The golden calf motivated the people of Israel to immediately proclaim a holy day of celebration and worship. They ate and drank and played games. Nothing in the language indicates prostitution or sexual immorality. (Exodus 32)

The Israelites joined whole-heartedly in worship of an idol, Baal of Peor. Although the religion may have encouraged sexual immorality, and the account in Scripture called it whoredom, the specific acts described were limited to simple worship: the people offered sacrifices to Baal, ate in his honor, and bowed down in submission and dependency...to an image! (Numbers 25)

Paul refers to an instance in which the people of Israel put Christ to the test, and God chanstened them with deadly serpents. The Old Testament account describes this testing of Christ as speaking against God, accusing Him of evil and neglect. (Numbers 21)

The Israelites again were found grumbling, despising God as being without power to protect them. God responded angrily, killing them. (Numbers 14)

Paul says that he's describing these instances of rebellion as a warning for us. He's attempting to draw our attention to how similar to Israel's rebellion can be our own Christian hearts.

God was willing to severely chasten the idolatry and rebelliousness of the Israelites, and He is willing to do the same to Christians.

Paul ends with practical advice on dealing with temptation, temptation which all humans feel. Relating this advice to all that he's described so far, his emphasis is not on temptation to sin sexually, but the temptation to rebel against God, to substitute an imaginary or earthly object in place of the Almighty God.

Sexual immorality is but one of many manifestations of rebellion against God.

And God chastens rebellion, Christian rebellion as well as pagan rebellion.

I'm not saying that disease always means God is chastening sinful behavior. I'm not saying that sickness or death means the loss of God as Eternal Father and Savior. I'm not saying that the Israelites who died lost God as Eternal Father and Savior.

I'm saying what Paul said: Christians, be afraid of losing your earthly life prematurely if you worship any thing or any one other than God Almighty and His Son Jesus Christ.

That's called "fearing God".

Image courtesy of Lars Sundström and modified by Milt Reynolds using GIMP.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bitter Jealousy and Selfish Ambition

Bitter Jealousy and Selfish Ambition

"But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice." James 3:14-16 (ESV)

Bitterness and selfishness are two inescapable evidences of a heart that is controlled by Satan.

Satan is able to influence and deceive human hearts, appealing to their natural self-love, making them believe that their carnal, selfish desires are paramount, above the needs and concerns of any other person, including the God Almighty Who created and sustains them by His general mercy.

Appeals for assistance from others and opportunities for self-advancement all are filtered by the natural man's filter, often producing a false appearance of an attack or a threat to the natural man's desires.

The demon-controlled natural man reacts to the complaints and concerns of others with an inner fire of indignation, a sense of self-righteous heat that is almost painful; a feeling of sharp, bitter jealousy: "My dearly loved desires and plans are threatened! This I will not allow!"

Every sinful, natural facility is bent toward defense. The carnal, natural man will devise a hidden agenda, a scheme to stimulate argument and division, all calculated to allow opportunities for victory and advancement. An argument may be won, insults may be suggested or even violently hurled, another's confidence may be shaken, friends may be separated, competitors may be weakened or humiliated.

The sinful, selfish, natural satan-seduced human heart seeks to be exalted in the eyes of others, desiring to be seen as superior, wise and great. He desperately desires to be made much of.

None of this is of God. God allows every proud tower to crumble down in depravity...perhaps not soon, rarely instantly, often after a lifetime of undeserved mercy on the part of God.

But eventually, bitter jealousy and selfish ambition erode the foundations of even common courtesy and commonsense, bringing the man to disorder and disgusting depravity.

And it begins with a love of self and the desire to be made much of.

Photo courtesy of Robert Linder

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Spiritual Power

SPIRITUAL POWER

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." Acts 1:8

POWER: "Dynamis", force, specially, miraculous power; from "dynamai" (to be able or possible

COME UPON: "Eperchomai", to supervene, i.e. arrive, occur, impend, attack, (figuratively) influence; from "epi" (upon) and "erchomai" (to come or go)

WITNESSES: "Martys", a witness

END: "Eschatos", farthest, final (of place or time); from "echo" (to hold)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? To this point the disciples had not experienced the indwelling Spirit of God. Why not? And what would change not many days later when they would? Why would God delay sharing His Spirit? Was there some change required in the lives of the disciples?

The primary purpose of the indwelling Spirit of God was to empower Christians to be witnesses to the world, testifying about what they had seen and heard from Jesus.

The words "power" and "come upon" convey the idea of sudden, explosive miraculous ability to boldly speak about Jesus. The Holy Spirit would move them from their homes and familiar country to far corners of the world.

This perhaps was the greatest reason for the enforced wait for the Spirit. The time the disciples spent waiting allowed the last words of Jesus to echo in their minds: "You will be my witnesses." Without God's powerful Spirit, they would not be witnesses. Witnessing for Jesus would require more than ordinary human talent and influence. Whatever witnessing for Jesus would require, it would be something superhuman and extra-ordinary.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What would the disciples encounter that would make dependence upon God's Spirit absolutely essential?

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Is it a mistake for modern Christians to simplify, schedule, or strategize a plan for witnessing to others about Jesus? Do modern Christians try to make witnessing too easy or programatic (following a program or system)?

JESUS WILL COME AGAIN

"And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.'" Acts 1:8-11

Why will Jesus return? What more is necessary than what He's done to this point? His death and resurrection, His indwelling Spirit, all seem more than sufficient.

One remaining part of God's plan concerns justice:

"I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." Matthew 12:36-37

"For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." Matthew 16:27-28

"But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works." Romans 2:5-6

WHAT DO YOU THINK? How could some disciples not taste death until they see this final act of God triumphing over wickedness and the inauguration of His kingdom on earth?

Part of "repaying each person" will be gathering to Himself all those who have followed Christ.

"Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." Matthew 24:30-31

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.'" Matthew 25:31-34

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Is this a future gathering of Christians, or a description of the Holy Spirit's ministry right now?

DEVOTED TO PRAYER

"Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers." Acts 1:12-14

ONE ACCORD: "Homothymadon", unanimously; from "homou" (at the same place or time) and "thymos" (passion, as if breathing hard) and "thyo" (to rush, breathe hard)

Passion and prayer. Passionate prayer. Praying together passionately. Having different concerns and needs, but sharing the same passionate dependence upon God to meet each person's prayer.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What hinders or distracts us from sharing passionate prayer with each other?

APPOINTED TO MINISTER

"In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 'Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.' (Now this man bought a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) For it is written in the Book of Psalms, 'May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it'; and 'Let another take his office.'

'So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us - one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.' And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias."

"And they prayed and said, 'You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.' And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles." Acts 1:15-26

FULFILLED: "Pleroo", to make replete, to cram a net, level up, to furnish, finish or verify; from "pleres" (replete or covered over, complete) and "pimplemi" (to fill or fulfil)

PUT FORWARD: "Histemi", to stand

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Why does conventional church practice avoid making important decisions based upon choosing lots?

Image courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/profile/MBeltman

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Restoration

RESTORATION

"So when they had come together, they asked him, 'Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?'" Acts 1:6

RESTORE: "Apokathistemi", to reconstitute (in health, home or organization); from "apo" (off or away) and "kathistemi" (to place down (permanently) and "histemi" (to stand)

The Greek word for restore meant to reconstitute, a rebuilding of something that once stood. The word carries the idea of placing something that will stand permanently.

The early Christians expected Jesus to destroy the ruthless, godless rule of the Romans, bringing the nation of Israel back to its former glory as a world power.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What biblical evidence can you remember that describes the nation of Israel as a world power?

The last chapter of the last book of the Old Testament foretells of a day of victory and vengeance by God against all unrighteousness:

"For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts." Malachi 4:1-3

Malachi prophesied that God's victorious triumph over wickedness would be heralded by a return of the great prophet, Elijah.

"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction." Malachi 4:1-6

Rumors identified Jesus as being Elijah:

"When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, 'Who do people say that the Son of Man is?' And they said, 'Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.'" Matthew 16:13-14

Jesus acknowledged the prediction of the return of Elijah, but His interpretation was not at all what His disciples expected:

"Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands. Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist." Matthew 17:10-13

Jesus said that John the Baptist was Elijah, although there still remained yet a more future reappearance of Elijah that would bring restoration.

An angel made it very clear to Zechariah that his son would be given "the spirit and power" of Elijah:

"Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared." Luke 1:13-17

"Restoration", then, involves more than one instance or period of time. There will indeed be a restoration of Israel's glory and power as a nation, but it will be as part of a restoration that began with the ministry of John the Baptist and continues now with the ministry of God's Holy Spirit in the hearts and minds of all who are called, converted, and commissioned by Jesus Christ. The restoration of all things back to their rightful place and order under God will be completed when the new earth and heaven are created and God Almighty rules over all through His Son Jesus Christ and all those given to Him.

"The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed." 2 Peter 3:10

"But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells." 2 Peter 3:13

"For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness." Isaiah 65:17-18

The disciples of Jesus were not wrong to expect a coming restoration of glory and power for God's people. Their error was in a too narrow understanding of how spiritual restoration would look, and when it would come.

"It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority." Acts 1:7

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What abuse or perversion would we likely pursue were we to know the precise "times or seasons" of God's plans? How is God glorified by His concealing exact dates and times from human knowledge?

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Does your personal theology allow for a yet future physical return of Christ and a victorious establishment of a righteous earthly kingdom? Or is God's kingdom exclusively a spiritual one with the Holy Spirit of Christ reigning in the hearts of those in His Church?

Image courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/profile/ColinBroug

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Proven Alive

PROVEN ALIVE

"He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God." Acts 1:3 (ESV)

SUFFERING: "Pascho", a sensation or impression of pain; same as "patho" or pentho" (seen in empathy, pathetic, sympathy)

PROOFS: A token, or criterion, of certainty

KINGDOM: "Basileia", royalty, rule, or realm; from "basis", a pace (as in walking)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? In what ways does the action of walking support the idea of a kingdom or royalty?

What proofs do we see immediately after the tomb was found empty?

"While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen." Luke 24:4-6 (ESV)

"But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened." Luke 24:12 (ESV)

"That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them." Luke 24:13-15 (ESV)

"When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him." Luke 24:30-31 (ESV)

"He said to them, 'Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.' And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, 'Have you anything here to eat?' They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them." Luke 24:38-43 (ESV)

THE PROMISE OF THE FATHER

"And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, 'You heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.'" Acts 1:4-5

PROMISE: An announcement; "epangelia"; from a word meaning to lead or drive.

This is a reference to the last words of Jesus to His disciples:

"I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." Luke 24:49 (ESV)

The "promise of the Father" was an announcement from God of the Holy Spirit, the "power on high", indwelling believers.

"If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." John 14:23 (ESV)

"The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." John 14:26 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Why the wait? The disciples don't appear to gain any more faith between the giving of this promise and when it is fulfilled, as recorded in Acts 2. Does this forced time of waiting for God's Spirit correlate to our own times of feeling "on hold" with God?

Image courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/profile/benflux