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The Kingdom of Jesus

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

 

As we’ve been going through the gospel of Mark in our neighborhood Bible study, I’ve been reminded of what a sneaky writer Mark is.  Let’s say that Paul, for instance, has four things that he wants to say to you.  They might be complicated things, but Paul is going to give them to you straight:  here’s the first thing, here’s the second thing, and so on. 

Mark isn’t like that.  Instead, if he’s got four things to say to you, he’s going to tell you four stories about Jesus, expect you to see the point of all four stories, and expect you to see the way that those four things fit together.  Often, there will only be the tiniest clue that he’s up to something.

Let me give you an example.  Let’s read together from Mark 1:14-15.  Here, we learn that Jesus is proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom.  We might think that this is only a random comment.  After all, the word “kingdom” doesn’t appear again in the whole first chapter of Mark.  However, a closer examination reveals that the kingdom is the theme of much of the rest of the chapter.  Let’s consider, then, what Mark has to say about the kingdom of Jesus.

First, we see that the kingdom has to do with FISHING FOR MEN.  Consider the story of Mark 1:16-20.  This story contains a double contrast with the wisdom of the world.  First, this is a kingdom that is going to advance with words, not with swords.  Jesus isn’t recruiting soldiers.  He’s recruiting disciples. 

Second, these disciples aren’t the kind of people that worldly wisdom would expect Jesus to call.  These aren’t philosophers.  These aren’t lawyers.  These aren’t scribes.  Instead, they’re fishermen, uneducated men from the middle of nowhere who probably never have made a speech in their lives.  Yet Jesus says, “These are the people I want telling others about Me.”

How heartening this is for all of us!  If we want to serve the Lord, we don’t have to go kill somebody for Him.  We don’t have to be experts in the Bible who know every Scripture forward and backward.  Instead, we get to be us.  We can be ordinary, flawed people because Jesus has chosen ordinary, flawed people from the beginning. 

We don’t have to do great things.  All we have to do is reveal the greatness of Jesus in our words and our lives.  All we have to do is follow Him as the people we really are.  In Him, that will be enough.

Next, Jesus reveals that the kingdom involves TEACHING WITH AUTHORITY.  Look at Mark 1:21-22.  Remember, Jesus is a Capernaum resident.  At this point, He still owns a home in Capernaum.  Probably, everybody in town thinks of Him as good old Jesus, the carpenter. 

Now, He pops up in the local synagogue one Sabbath, and He starts teaching with authority.  The natives react with astonishment, likely both at the authority of His teaching and that a carpenter could be teaching so authoritatively.  However, if Jesus’ teaching isn’t authoritative, He isn’t really proclaiming the kingdom.  A kingdom with no authority is no kingdom at all.

Today, we still have to remember that the kingdom of Jesus consists of His authoritative teaching.  Lots of people want to call that into question.  They deny that Jesus and His chosen messengers speak with authority when it comes to the practice of homosexuality, or to marriage, divorce, and remarriage.  They deny that Jesus needs to be King in the work and worship of the church.  Instead, they claim that we get to do whatever we want, and Jesus—if He even exists—doesn’t care much one way or the other.  However, denying the authority of Jesus doesn’t make it so.  Either we hear His authoritative teaching, or we will face His authoritative displeasure.

After this, we see that the kingdom includes POWER OVER THE SPIRIT WORLD.  Let’s keep going in Mark 1:23-28.  In this case, the illustration is provided by a demon-possessed man who helpfully shows up in the middle of Jesus’ teaching.  Jesus immediately demonstrates that His kingly authority isn’t limited to teaching.  Instead, He sends the demon right back to Hades.

Imagine for a moment that you are in the synagogue on this day and you see Jesus cast out the demon.  What are you going to think?  Judging from the Scriptures, demon possession was common in Galilee during the Lord’s ministry, but there was nothing anybody could do about it.  How can a human being fight a demon?  Jesus, though, proves that through His power, He can fight demons and win.  This one act gave a lot of suffering people hope that they had never had before.

Thankfully, we don’t have to deal with unclean spirits today, but it is still true for us that our worst enemies reside in the spirit world.  Ephesians mentions rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of darkness.  Over them all, of course, is Satan himself. 

None of us can see these enemies, though their handiwork is obvious, and if we have to fight them on our own, we will certainly lose.  Jesus, though, defeated them.  Indeed, through His death He defeated even the devil!   We can’t fight the evil rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers in the heavenly places, but we don’t have to.  Once we are in the kingdom of Jesus, we are safe from their hatred.

Finally, Jesus reveals His kingdom in His POWER OVER ILLNESS AND DEATH.  Our last story for the evening appears in Mark 1:29-31.  I suspect that most brethren pay attention to this story because it proves that rather than being celibate, the supposed first pope was married. 

However, once we read it through the lens of the kingdom of Jesus, we see that there’s a lot more going on than that.  Jesus is not limited to casting out demons.  Instead, He also has the power to go to someone with a serious illness and heal them completely and instantaneously.  Sickness cannot stand against the authority of Jesus.

Even that, though, is not the final point.  As I was studying this, I was struck by Mark saying that Jesus took Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand and lifted her up.  I thought to myself, “That sounds like a sneak preview of resurrection!”  I checked, and in fact, the Greek word translated here as “lift” is the same word used for raising someone from the dead.  Mark is implying that Jesus is not merely in the healing business.  He’s in the resurrection business too.

For now, death has not yet been defeated.  Even the faithful still get sick and die.  However, the day will come when the final victory of Jesus’ kingdom will be revealed.  On that day, He will say the word, and everyone who died in Him will rise from the dead in Him.  Death will be no match for the authority of King Jesus!

Psalm 94

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

 

Shine forth, O God of vengeance;
Bring judgment on the proud;
They overflow with boasting
And shout their crimes aloud.
They kill the helpless orphan,
The stranger in the land,
And say, “He does not see us
“And cannot understand.”

Give heed, you foolish people
Who mock at His decrees:
He made the ear and hears you!
He formed the eye and sees!
The Judge of all will punish;
His grasp of truth is sure;
All plots are plain before Him,
And they cannot endure.

How blest are those You chasten,
Who learn Your law, O Lord!
Through trial, You will sustain them
And grant a right reward.
You hear my cry for justice
And hold me when I fall;
When troubles overwhelm me,
You cheer me through them all.

Can You support corruption
When wicked laws arise
That work against the righteous
And kill the just with lies?
The Lord has been my fortress,
The refuge of my joys,
But all who trust in evil
He baffles and destroys.

Diligence in Discipline

Monday, February 25, 2019

 

Proverbs 13:24 reads, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”  Typically, when we go to this verse, we see it as being about corporal punishment.  All the experts in our society tell us that spanking children harms them, but we know better (generally from personal experience), and besides, Proverbs 13:24.  Certainly, I believe that there are times when my children’s backsides listen better than their ears do!

However, we ought to spend as much time in this verse considering the importance of diligence as we do defending a particular method of discipline.  The contrast in the proverb isn’t really between spanking and not spanking.  It’s between being diligent in discipline versus refusing to discipline when appropriate.

There are many reasons why parents, even Christian parents who believe in corporal punishment, can find themselves in the latter category.  I’m here to tell you—it’s HARD to discipline children consistently!  For one thing, parents who work long hours may simply not spend enough time around their children to consistently hold them to a standard.  If you only have a couple hours a day with them, do you really want to spend those few hours making them do stuff and calling them down when they don’t?

Energy is another issue.  I have heard legends of children who only need to be told once and then obey their parents’ wishes.  It is not so with my children. 

Don’t get me wrong; they’re basically good kids.  However, they will gladly expend ten times as much effort evading some instruction as they would in obeying it.  Never mind that simply listening the first time would be easier and less painful for everyone.  They remain as intent on freedom as the plot of a Mel Gibson movie.

As a result, they are exhausting to parent.  Getting them to do anything they don’t want to do requires a massive expenditure of energy, and tomorrow, there will be no evidence that the energy was expended.  If the same situation arises, the same conflict will take place. 

I have been known to observe that trying to train my children is about like banging on a hunk of scrap steel with a hammer.  It makes a lot of noise, but it doesn’t appear to produce much change.  That being the case, why not hand them the remote and let the TV and the Xbox raise them?

To myself, to my wife, and to all parents with children like that, I say, “Do not grow weary and lose heart!”  It may be tempting to walk away from the daily struggle, but that won’t end well.  As Shawn likes to say, if you don’t teach your children to act right, the police will.  Life isn’t kind to people who haven’t learned to control themselves. 

Additionally, I doubt that I am truly as ineffective as I sometimes feel.  My children may be learning at a glacial pace, but they are learning.  These days, they can sit through an hour-long funeral without having to be bribed with books or tablets, and that wouldn’t have been true two years ago.  The signs of progress will be evident to those who look for them.

Diligence matters.  It matters in everything, but it particularly matters in raising children.  The more we apply ourselves to the task now, the less cause we will have to regret it later.

Is Socialism a Biblical Concept?

Thursday, February 21, 2019

 

Much to my surprise, for the first time that I can remember since the Cold War, there is a flurry of national interest in socialism.  As someone who is a student of history, this concerns me.  As someone who is politically unaligned, I’m not sure what to do about it. 

I have seen, though, a small minority of brethren with left-leaning political views justify their embrace of socialism by pointing to the communal practices of the first-century church.  They cite texts such as Acts 4:32, which reads, “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.”  Ergo, the argument goes, adopting a democratic-socialist form of government is Biblically acceptable, if not outright Biblically justified.

From my perspective, though, the argument appears to suffer from the usual problems with basing public policy on the Bible.  New-Testament Christianity is concerned with the conduct of individuals and small groups, not nations.  It assumes that those individuals and groups will be motivated to obey by love.  The less true those things are, the less applicable the code of the Bible becomes.

Take, for instance, Acts 4:32.  It certainly describes a communal moment in the history of the early church.  However, we see plainly in the text that everyone who was involved in sharing their possessions did so willingly.  If a group of people chooses to pool their possessions, whether Christians or not, I don’t have a problem with that.

However, socialism is never 100 percent voluntary.  No political system is.  It invariably involves coercion.  Somebody who is a citizen of a socialistic country but doesn’t want to have his possessions redistributed will have those possessions redistributed forcefully. 

I think that generosity among brethren is beautiful.  I think that forced redistribution is hideous.  It is provoked by greed, not love.  Historically speaking, lots of people have died in the course of state redistribution of property.

Second, Acts 4 captures a particular moment in time.  It comes on the heels of the establishment of the church on the day of Pentecost, during which thousands of Jews from all over the world who were in Jerusalem for the festival obeyed the gospel.  Most of those converts didn’t own property in Jerusalem.  They didn’t have employment there. 

As a result, if they wanted to remain in Jerusalem and be taught, they had to rely for their needs on others.  The native Christians were driven to sell their property to meet the need.  This took place only for a limited time, and if the situation had continued indefinitely, it would have been unsustainable.  There’s a sense in which the persecution of Saul did the Jerusalem church a favor by forcing it to scatter.

Political socialism, by contrast, does not advocate state assumption of assets as a limited-term response to a crisis.  Instead, to at least some degree, it contemplates the permanent collectivization of property.  This too is unsustainable.  People who are not motivated by the prospect of reward will not work. 

In summary, there is a facial resemblance between the economics of the Jerusalem church and socialism, but the parallel doesn’t stand up under scrutiny.  What a church might do when many of its members are in need has little to do with how a nation should organize itself.  As always, we are on solid ground when we seek to apply the word of God to ourselves and our churches.  The more we stray from the intent of the Holy Spirit, the more fraught the exercise becomes.

Out of the Depths

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

 

As many of you are aware, a few weeks ago, I took a trip to Texas to work on a project called Timeless.  Its goal is to rewrite all 150 psalms so that we can sing them in our worship.  On the Saturday morning of that trip, several dozen brethren and I sang through about 20 of the psalm paraphrases that have been written so far.

Many of them were good, but there’s one in particular that I haven’t been able to get out of my head ever since.  It’s called “My Soul Waits for the Lord”, and it’s taken from Psalm 130.  I’ve been stuck on it partially because the music is so beautiful, but primarily because the thoughts are so powerful.  I want to share my meditations with you this morning as we consider what it means to cry to God out of the depths.

The first section of the psalm presents God as A GOD WHO LISTENS.  Look at Psalm 130:1-2.  These are dark words, brethren.  These are the words of somebody who is calling out to God from the depths of uttermost despair.  The emotion here is so raw that it should make us a little bit uncomfortable if we understand what it’s saying.  And yet, the Holy Spirit inspired this raw, dark, emotional song so that it would be part of the worship of God’s people forever.

There’s an important lesson here for all of us.  It tells us that we shouldn’t be afraid of darkness in our song worship.  We shouldn’t come in here and only sing about light and joy and happiness because that isn’t true to our walk with God.  Sure, hopefully all of us experience light and joy and happiness from time to time, but we also experience suffering and sorrow and heartbreak.  We shouldn’t try to hide those things from one another and from God.  Instead, we should sing about them together, so that our song worship can spring authentically from our lives.

Second, this psalm should remind us that there are no depths too deep for God.  This is true of the depths of physical and mental illness.  It’s true of the depths of the trials of life.  It’s true even of the depths of sin.  In fact, I think this psalm is about sin.  It’s the cry of somebody who has wrecked his life so thoroughly that only God can fix it.  Even then, no matter what we have done, we cannot go so far that God will refuse to hear us when we cry to Him. 

Second, the psalmist shows us that God is A GOD WHO FORGIVES.  Consider Psalm 130:3-4.  He begins with the darkest thought in a dark psalm:  the possibility that God could be a God who marks iniquities.  Imagine that.  Imagine that the God of heaven and earth is still perfectly holy, perfectly just, but that He is no longer a God of mercy.  Instead, He’s looking down from heaven, writing down every sin that every one of us commits, so that when the day comes, He will judge every one of us justly, and He will justly condemn every sinner to eternal torment. 

Could you stand up and face a God like that?  I know I couldn’t!  If all of my sins were exposed to the light of His presence, I could only hang my head in shame.  If God were only a God of justice, it would be better for all of us if we never had existed.

Thankfully, though, the word doesn’t tell us that God is justice.  It tells us that God is love.  He is rich in mercy, and He overflows with forgiveness.  Indeed, so great is His desire to forgive us that He sent His Son to die in our place! 

If God is only just, there’s no point in serving Him.  I know that I’ve already blown it.  Why bother?  However, because there is forgiveness with Him, it makes sense to fear and honor and worship Him.  He is a God of second chances, and I know that if I seek Him, He will give a second chance to me.

Indeed, God’s nature is the source of HOPE FOR US.  Let’s continue our reading with Psalm 130:5-6.  I think that the entire psalm is beautiful, but in my opinion, this is the most beautiful lyric in the whole thing.  Here is this man who is crying out to God from the depths and the darkness of sin, and he is waiting for God more than the watchmen for the morning. 

I know we have many veterans in the congregation, and I suspect that just about all of you have had to stand a watch that lasted until morning.  In fact, some of you may even have done that in a time of war, when the darkness might conceal enemies who wanted to sneak up and kill all your sleeping friends.  In the midst of exhaustion and fear, how anxiously might a watchman long to see the dawn!  And yet, the psalmist says, we should long for God even more than that.

However, this longing, this hope in God’s presence, isn’t founded on our wishful thinking.  Instead, the text tells us that it is founded on His word.  God isn’t merely a God of mercy.  He is a God of faithfulness.  He has promised to forgive and bless His people, and through thousands of years of Bible history, we see Him doing exactly that, over and over again.  Even if we are down at the bottom of the well, even if we have sunk as low as we can possibly go, still we can wait on the Lord.  We can wait with hope and expectation because of the promise of His word.

The psalmist concludes by observing that God is the source of HOPE FOR EVERYONE.  Let’s read Psalm 130:7-8 together.  It’s clear to him not only that he should turn to the Lord from the depth of his sins.  He sees that his entire nation should turn to the Lord from the depths of their sins. 

In particular, God has three attributes that make Him the source of eternal hope.  They are His steadfast love, His plentiful redemption, and His complete forgiveness.  All of these attributes are based on the first.  “Steadfast love” is a translation of the Hebrew word hesed, which doesn’t have an English equivalent.  Hesed is God’s covenant love, a mingling of love and faithfulness.  He offers plentiful and complete redemption because those things spring from the depths of His nature.

We’ve been talking a lot this year about evangelism, and when you get right down to it, this is what makes evangelism so important.  We have to tell other people about God because there are so many people who so desperately need to know His steadfast love.  They’re down in the depths.  They’re down in the depths of depression and suffering and sin.  They know that they can’t get themselves out, but they don’t know that God can get them out.  They’re hopeless, and they’re hopeless because nobody bothered to tell them the truth.

That’s where we come in.  Evangelism isn’t for us, so we can boost those attendance numbers and puff ourselves up for doing the Lord’s work.  Instead, evangelism is for them.  It is for everybody who is hurting and hopeless and doesn’t know where to turn, because everybody can turn to God.

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