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Stumbling Blocks Before the Blind

Friday, March 08, 2019

 

I maintain that Leviticus is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Pentateuch.  It gets no respect.  Despite its reputation as the mostest boringest book in the Bible, I find that every year, I come away with something new from reading through it.

Today, for instance, I was struck by Leviticus 19:14, which reads, “You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God:  I am the Lord.”  On its face, this appears to be an instruction not to engage in boorish frat-boy behavior with disabled people:  “Look!  I can cuss him out, and he can’t hear me!  Hur hur hur!”

It is certainly that, but I think there’s a lot more under the surface.  Fundamentally, this is a passage about taking advantage of others.  You curse the deaf because you can do it and get away with it.  You put a stumbling block before the blind because you can do it and get away with it.  You’re in a privileged position, and you’re using your privilege to exploit others for your own satisfaction.  You do something to somebody because you can, not because you should.

That has a distinctly modern ring to it, doesn’t it?  Isn’t this, after all, what the #MeToo scandals are about?  You’ve got somebody, usually a man, who is in a position of power and oppresses others for his sexual enjoyment.  From Harvey Weinstein to Larry Nassar to legions of predatory clergy, you’ve got evil men who are putting a particular kind of stumbling block before a particular kind of blind person. 

Why not abuse the weak and vulnerable?  Who’s going to stop you?  Them?

Of course, you don’t have to be a criminal to do similar things.  How about the mortgage brokers 10 years ago (if indeed the practice has stopped) who were quoting higher rates to minority borrowers than they were to white borrowers?  “They don’t know!  They’re too dumb to figure it out!  Ca-ching!” 

How about the Christians who will happily gossip about a brother or sister in Christ?  To too many brethren, building yourself up while tearing somebody else down looks like a win-win.  

Similar examples abound.  As the passage points out, though, such behavior can only come from those who do not fear God.  After all, God is in the position of greatest power and advantage.  He could use and abuse all of us for His amusement, and there’s nothing we could do about it. 

However, God’s very nature is opposed to such exploitation.  He seeks our good, not His pleasure.  He continually exerts His power for us, not Himself.  Rather than taking what we have, He gave us the most precious thing He had. 

We don’t have to imagine how He feels about those who do differently.  Read through this lens, the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18 is about a man who seeks mercy from great power, then uses his slight power to oppress someone else.  He acted as he did because he did not fear the king.  Not enough.

In our dealings with others, we always must remember that God is watching.  If we have a measure of power, it is because He has given it to us.  If we are in a place of advantage, it is because He has put us there. 

However, He remains the God of both the hearing and the deaf, both the sighted and the blind.  If we take advantage of the lowly, He will balance the scale, and we will not enjoy it.  If we will not fear Him now, He will reveal why we should have been afraid.

Prayers for Vengeance?

Thursday, March 07, 2019

 

A couple of weeks ago, I paraphrased Psalm 94.  It was certainly a journey into the darker side of Psalms.  If the first line of the psalm is, “O Lord, God of vengeance,” you pretty well know how the rest is going to go!  Indeed, Psalm 94 is a powerful prayer to God to punish the wicked, particularly those who use the machinery of the law for wicked ends.

This is something God did 2500+ years ago, and it’s still something He does today.  He brings every act to judgment, whether good or evil.  Of course, the scope of the day of judgment is universal, but even before then, a high percentage of the wicked are going to suffer for their wickedness in this life.  It’s true of individuals, and it’s true of nations, which is why many Christians are gravely concerned about the future of the United States.

God certainly punishes unrighteousness, but are Christians allowed to ask Him to do that?  There’s certainly plenty of Scriptural evidence that says, “No.”  Most notably, in Luke 6:28, Jesus says, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”  By this, Jesus does not mean praying, “O God, please turn the people who abuse me into grease spots!”  We are supposed to pray for their good.

However, neither does that mean praying, “O God, please give these evil people many years of life and prosperity, so that they can continue to treat others as shamefully as they have treated me!”  Continued evil isn’t good for anybody.  It isn’t good for the victim, and it isn’t even good for the practitioner.  What we really want is for that evil not to continue.

This should begin with prayer for God to forgive our tormentors.  My favorite New-Testament example of this appears in Acts 7:60.  Fascinatingly, among Stephen’s murderers was the young Saul of Tarsus.  Stephen’s prayer for Saul was answered in Acts 9:18 when Saul was baptized.  We should likewise want everyone who troubles us to repent so that they can be forgiven.

Sadly, many evildoers never repent.  In such cases, we may well echo the cry of the martyrs under the altar in Revelation 6:10.  Even though we often use it generically, the cry, “Lord, how long?” is not generic.  Instead, it is specific, asking how long God will take to avenge the blood of the righteous.  In Romans 12:19, God promises us, “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay.”  As with all His other promises, we have the right to ask Him to keep that one.

Some might see this as inconsistent with our calling to love our enemies.  However, even though it can be, I don’t think it necessarily is.  After all, God’s perfect love is consistent with His judgment of the wicked.  It follows, then, that our love can be consistent with an appeal for that judgment.

God doesn’t want anyone to perish.  Neither should we.  Prayers for the salvation of the souls of the wicked should always be our Plan A, and we should sincerely desire to see them saved.  However, those who reject the mercy of God have only His justice left.  If someone who has wronged us will not repent (and God knows whether they will or not), we have the right to ask Him to balance the scales, and we can leave the matter in His hands.

Psalm 17

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

 

Hear my righteous cause, O Lord!
Give attention to my cries;
From Your presence, send my help;
Keep my plight before Your eyes.
Test me, and find nothing wrong,
For my mouth does not transgress;
Taught according to Your word,
I have walked in righteousness.

Saving God, incline Your ear;
Hear my pleading when I speak;
Wondrous in Your steadfast love,
Grant the refuge that I seek.
As the apple of Your eye,
Hide me with Your wings outspread
From the violence of the foes
Who surround my soul with dread.

Pitiless, they close their hearts,
Swift as lions to the strife;
Keep me from such men, O Lord,
Who delight in earthly life.
Wealth and children are their hope,
And You offer these with grace,
Yet I will be satisfied
Waking to behold Your face.

King Me or King Jesus?

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

 

A few weeks ago, I realized something interesting about my preaching.  Growing up, I heard many sermons about the authority of the Bible.  Today, I frequently preach about the authority of Jesus.

I think this is a significant switch.  The justification for the first tends to be, “Follow the rules ‘cause they’re the rules.”  Frankly, that leaves me a little cold.  By nature, I’m not a rule-follower.  I gain no satisfaction from doing something because the rules said I should do it.

On the other hand, doing something because Jesus said to do it is very different to me.  Jesus loved me before I ever existed.  He left the glories of heaven to come to earth and shed His blood for me.  Without my Savior, I would be dead in my sins.  I owe Him everything, and that makes me want to honor Him in everything.  Every little scrap of Bible that tells me anything to do that would make Jesus happy, that’s what I want to do.  That’s what the authority of King Jesus means to me.

Lots of people claim they honor Jesus like that.  I hope everyone here would make that claim.  However, the way we handle the Scriptures and order our lives reveals the truth about us.  With a tip of the cap to my wife, who came up with the title for this one, let’s consider whether we’re honoring King Me or King Jesus.

The first step in this analysis is to ask whether we are TWISTING THE SCRIPTURES OR SEEKING THE TRUTH.  Consider what Peter says about this in 2 Peter 3:16-18.  I think it’s kind of funny that Peter starts out by saying something about the writing of Paul that most of us would agree with—some of it’s hard to understand!  Some will take those hard parts of Paul’s writing and twist and distort them.  They get something out of them that the Holy Spirit didn’t put in.  However, the result of this twisting process is not salvation but destruction.

We certainly see examples of this in the denominational world.  One of the most glaring is the way that many handle 1 Peter 3:21.  The verse says, “Baptism now saves you,” but by the time they’re done twisting it, the verse comes out meaning, “Baptism does not now save you.”  That’s a lie, and everyone who believes that lie will lose their souls over it.

We must be aware, though, that we ourselves can twist the Scriptures in ways that are every bit as dangerous.  I think the key question is this:  When we come to the word, do we come in wanting to find something and then finding it?  Or, instead, do we come to the Bible with silence in our hearts, eager to do whatever Jesus wants, desiring only to figure out what that is? 

Let me tell you:  If you want to lie to yourself about what the Bible says, if you want to slide around the hard truths of Scripture, the devil will be delighted to help you do it.  He’ll feed you those sweet, sweet lies about marriage, divorce, and remarriage, the practice of homosexuality, women’s roles in the church, and so on.  Believing those lies might reassure us, but it will not give us eternal life.  For that, only the truth will do.

Second, we must ask ourselves whether we are FOLLOWING TRADITION OR HONORING THE WORD.  We see this distinction in the words of the Lord Himself, in Matthew 15:7-9.  Some brethren read this passage as saying that human traditions are bad.  That’s not true.  There is nothing wrong with traditions per se.  We have human traditions in this church right now, and we always will.  That’s not the problem. 

The problem is when we elevate human tradition to the same level as the word of God.  Again, there are obvious examples of this in other religious groups.  Every church out there that’s got a catechism or a creed book, guess what they’re doing?  They’re teaching as doctrine the commandments of men! 

We don’t have any creed books here, but that does not mean that we have dodged the problem.  Let me tell you what I’m afraid of.  I’m afraid that too many members of churches of Christ do not honor the word of Christ.  Instead, they follow “Church of Christ” traditions.

Let me explain.  Brethren like this, they don’t know much at all about the word.  If you handed them a Bible and asked them to explain the first-century pattern of worship, they couldn’t do it. 

Instead, they come to church and follow that pattern not because they understand it, but because it’s what they’ve always done.  If that’s all they know—that the right way to do things is what they see—they won’t be able to distinguish between tradition and the word.  If the traditions of the church change so that the word of Christ is no longer honored, the religion of these Christians will change right along with the tradition.

Brethren, ignorance and tradition-following is a breeding ground for apostasy.  Sheep who can no longer distinguish the voice of the Shepherd are going to go astray.  The only way for us to avoid the problem is to continually seek Jesus in His word.  We must love Him enough that we can tell His will for us from anything else.

Finally, the truth about our relationship with King Jesus will be revealed by our GIVING UP SOME OR SURRENDERING ALL.  Let’s look here at 2 Corinthians 10:4-5.  Paul doesn’t say here that his work is to take some or even most thoughts captive to obey Christ.  Instead, it is to take every thought captive.  King Jesus wants everything in our minds and in our lives to belong to Him.

Of course, all of us know people outside these walls whose every thought has not been taken captive by Jesus.  On the one hand, they spend a lot of time crying out, “Lord, Lord!”  On the other, though, they live however they want.  Really, they serve themselves, not Him.

The problem is that this sad story can be about us too.  We must beware the temptation of shunning only the sins we don’t care for.  For instance, I myself never have drunk a drop of alcohol, and I’m not likely ever to do so.  It’s no temptation to me.

Does that mean, though, that I’m righteous?  Not hardly.  I can go through my life never having had any alcohol, much less getting drunk, and still go straight to hell!  I can give the sins I don’t care about to Jesus while keeping the sins I do care about for myself, and that is not surrendering to Him.

If we want to know the truth about how we feel about our Lord, all we have to do is look at our performance in the areas where we are tempted.  How am I doing when it comes to gossip?  How about loving my unlovable brother in Christ?  How about generosity to the poor?  We don’t have to be winning all the time in those difficult areas, but we need to be fighting.  If we aren’t trying to surrender everything to Jesus, it shows that we already have surrendered to the devil.

Psalm Summaries, Psalms 16-20

Monday, March 04, 2019

 

Psalm 16 describes how meaningful God is to David.  He has no protection apart from God.  He loves those who seek God and rejects idolaters.  God, rather than some patch of dirt in Palestine, is his true inheritance.  God gives him wisdom.  Finally, in 16:8-11, David trusts in God to stand beside him, protect him from death, and give him eternal joy.  This section of the psalm is quoted in Acts 2:26-28, where Peter by inspiration applies it to Jesus.  It is a prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection, that even though He died, He would not undergo corruption or be abandoned to Sheol.

Psalm 17 is a plea from David to God for justice.  In 17:3-5, David engages in spiritual self-analysis.  He insists that his words and actions have been righteous.  Next, he expresses his confidence that because God is filled with steadfast love, He will hear him.  Because of this, he asks God to preserve him from wicked people.  They are going to attack David like lions, and only God can defeat them.  David concludes the psalm by contrasting his hope with the hope of the wicked.  They look for fulfillment in this life, in riches and children, but David’s hope is to awaken to see the face of God.  This reveals David’s belief that God would raise him from the dead.

Psalm 18, which also appears in 2 Samuel 22, expresses David’s joy at God delivering him from Saul.  Our praise song “I Will Call Upon the Lord” is taken from 18:3, 46.  18:4-5 describes David’s peril.  Vs. 6-15 poetically describes the passion and power of God’s reaction.  In 18:16-24, David presents the good things that God’s deliverance accomplished.  Vs. 25-30 relates this to the goodness of God’s nature.  16:31-45 goes into greater detail about God’s goodness to David and severity to David’s enemies.  The Psalm concludes in vs. 46-50 with another expression of praise.

Psalm 19 is about two main ways of coming to know God.  The first is through the physical creation.  Vs. 1-6 point out that even though the sun, the moon, and the stars don’t actually talk, when we look up at them, they declare the glory of the One who created them.  19:7-11 discusses the other great way God reveals Himself, which is through His word.  Here, David examines the perfection and goodness of God’s law.  The lyrics of the hymn “The Law of the Lord” are nothing more than this section of Scripture.  Vs. 12-14 describes David’s reaction to these things.  He asks God to examine his spirit and keep him from evil.

Psalm 20 asks God’s blessing on the king of Israel.  Presumably, David wrote this either about Saul or about himself.  In either case, it asks God to protect the king, receive his sacrifices, and bless his plans.  20:6-7 explains the reason for this confidence.  It is that God hears His anointed.  As a result, unlike the kings of the surrounding nations, who trust in chariots and horses, Israel’s king can trust in God. 

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