Thoughts on life and Scripture...

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Aztecs, Mayans, Incas, and the Glory of the Lord

I was recently reading a little about the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas. These were civilisations in South and Central America. They flourished for a time until ultimately they were conquered by the Spanish. But what struck me as I read, was their bloody religion. Each of these empires sacrificed humans. This was not just once and awhile, but often. In fact, many of their wars were launched for the sole purpose of getting captives to be sacrificed to their gods. Often the best victims were taken up a pyramid on top of which was a temple. There the victim was held down and his heart cut out by the priest. The heart was then placed on the altar to please the gods and the body was thrown down the steps. Men, old women, and children were all sacrificed to please the gods. Even the worshippers of these gods would cut themselves and present their own blood to the gods. Their gods were angry gods. They needed to be appeased by the death of people. What horrible religions!

When we look at the religions that the heart of man has come up with, we see in most cases that his gods are horrible beings. The gods of the Greeks and Romans were sinful and wicked. Allah is cold and distant. The god of the Jehovah Witnesses and the god of the Mormons demand good works for salvation with no assurance of salvation. These are gods made in the image of man. In many religions the spirits are out to get people and must be appeased. People live in great fear that the spirit will harm or kill them. The gods of the nations are cruel to their worshippers. The worshippers find no peace of conscience by rituals.

Here in our modern culture, we have cruel gods too. We worship the god of Self. This god also demands us to sacrifice others. Sometimes it is a literal sacrifice, where babies are sacrificed by abortion to meet the selfish demands of the god, Self. Sometimes the sacrifices are not so literal but still very real. We sacrifice the feelings, plans, interests, and hopes of others to make the god Self happy. All our modern gods are not much different than the gods of the ancients. Yet in every case man-made religions and idols are oppressive to people. Strange as it is, it is true. But what a difference there is in the true God and His worship.

The true and living God is so glorious and good. His love is infinite. His laws are good laws intended for our joy.  He is good to His enemies. He should make a quick and painful end to all rebels. But He does something more glorious; He becomes a sacrifice for them. He came to earth, took on a human nature, and lived among His creatures. Then He suffered in their place for their sins. He died for them and then rose to give them eternal life. How different is our God than the gods of men. All that is needed for salvation, He accomplishes for us. We don't have to appease Him. We simply give to Him in love and gratitude our lives in holy service. The life, salvation, and peace that God gives are real and powerful.

Reading about the gods of the Aztecs, Mayans and Incas made me worship our great God who is so different. I hope you will join in worship to the Lord as well.
Psalm 96:2-6
Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
Tell of His salvation from day to day.
Declare His glory among the nations,
His marvelous works among the nations!
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
He is to be fear above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idol,
But the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before Him;
Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.

Friday, August 21, 2015

A Short Manual on How and Why We Must Love Our Enemies

"Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the LORD see it and be displeased, and turn away His anger from him."
Proverbs 24:17-18
Have you an enemy? Have you someone in your life who is out to get you? Or maybe there is someone who ignores, mistreats, or slanders you? How do we act towards such a person? The Bible gives us clear guidelines for dealing with those who mistreat us. Romans 12:17-21 teaches us to not repay evil for evil, to promote peace, to not avenge ourselves but to trust God to deal with the person as is fitting, and to do good to them. We are to overcome evil with good. Matthew 5:43-48 calls us to love our enemies, to pray for them, and to do good for them. God is not only concerned with our outward actions to our enemies, but with our heart attitude toward them. These verses from Proverbs drive that truth home. We are not to even be happy about the fall of our enemy. There should be no secret thrill when we see our enemy stumble. We should never take pleasure in the misfortune and difficulty that comes to others. It displeases the LORD very much to see us gloating over the calamity that falls upon one we dislike.
This proverb also gives us a warning about such secret pleasure in the trouble of our enemy. By such a mean spirit, we bring on ourselves God's displeasure and discipline. God will now direct His anger toward us. The Lord sees not only our actions but also all that passes in our hearts. He requires us to love our enemies and to feel compassion for them even when they stumble. What a high standard that God has called us to! Who can ever live up to this? We all can confess that we have not loved our enemies very well. We can all remember times when we secretly rejoiced to see someone we didn't like in some trouble or difficulty. How we all need God's forgiveness! In fact it is only those who are children of God that can begin to love their enemies. It is only those with a new heart and the Spirit dwelling inside them that can show this love. This kind of love comes from God because this is how God loves.
God's love and compassion are so very great. We see His love shining in a blazing brilliance when we understand His love to His enemies. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. "Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the LORD God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?" Ezekiel 18:23. It is not His delight to bring judgement. He does good to His enemies. He gives them many good things to enjoy. "He makes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust." Matthew 5:45. God gives evil people good food to enjoy, friendships, talents, comforts, laughter, and many other gifts. He does this even though they never thank Him or praise Him. The truth is, they often mock His laws and people. They insult and hate His person. They would kill Him if they could. But God continues to give good gifts. He even warns them of their sin through His word and their conscience. He is patient with them, giving them time to repent even when they reject His gospel. His love is so great that He died for those who were His enemies. "For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life." Romans 5:10. All of us who are Christians were once enemies of God. But in His infinite grace and love, He paid our debts, changed our hearts, and adopted us into the family of God. Such magnificent love should motivate us to love our enemies.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

How God Used a Lost Calf to Teach Me About Evangelism

Last week, one of my calves escaped its pen. This calf was a very large red and white calf. Calves like that are very valuable these days. After his morning feeding he had pushed his door open and vanished into thin air. When I came back to the barn, he was no where to be seen. Normally calves stay around the barn when they escape. But not this time. All day as I did my work, I looked for the calf. I looked in all the tall grass. I looked through out the cow barn. I searched on foot and on the gator. Nothing! I was beginning to think someone stole the calf. I fretted over the disappearance of this calf. I had looked everywhere and now there was no more places to look.The work day was ending soon. I went out to feed the calves. As I looked about again for the calf, I saw a red and white calf off in the distance. As I ran closer I realized it was our lost calf. It must have walked out to the heifers out on pasture and then hid in the grass somewhere out in the field. As feeding time come around, it decided to try find that funny creature that gives it milk. The calf happily followed me back to its bottle and to its pen. Finding the calf was a huge relief. It brought me great joy to find this calf. I ran to tell my wife so she could rejoice with me.

While I was searching for the calf and later when I had found it, the parable of the lost sheep kept running though my mind. I understood that parable in a new way that day and it taught me a lesson. The parable is found in Luke 15:1-7. Jesus wanted to teach the Pharisees that God  joyfully seeks and saves sinners. The story Jesus tells is like this: A shepherd has lost one sheep from his flock of one hundred. So he goes out to look for the one sheep. When he finds the lost sheep, he takes it home rejoicing. Then he has a party with friends and neighbors to celebrate the finding of the sheep. So it is in heaven when one sinner repents. The angels rejoice. God rejoices. The question is: Do we rejoice when sinners repent? Do we share the same joy that God has in the salvation of sinners? Since people will not seek God, God seeks sinners. It brings Him great joy to bring one home. Do we seek sinners? Do we reach out to them with the good news of salvation? Do we struggle and sacrifice to tell others of the riches of God's grace.
Evangelism is one of the main reasons God has left His people on this earth. He uses His people to bring the light of the gospel to the dark world. Do we as individuals and churches realize how important this is. Often the church gets distracted by other issues. These may be good and right, but they end up taking people away from the simple task of reaching the lost with the gospel and teaching the gospel to those who believe. People spend more time, energy, money, and effort on these side issues rather than on evangelism. These things could be saving children from poverty, political activism, ending abortion, and feeding the hungry and homeless. These are good pursuits, but when they eclipse our passion for reaching the lost with the gospel, then they need to be put into their proper place. Let us share in God's joy by seeking the lost with the gospel. Let us pray sinners will repent and believe. Then we who are on earth can celebrate with those in heaven over the salvation of a sinner.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Blessing of Trials

'Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet with trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.'
-James 1:2-3

Most of us do not like trials.
We'd much rather avoid trials.
But each one of us endures trials.
And, it is often through our trials that we grow.
We grow in faith. We grow in patience. We grow in humility. We grow in love.
When a loved one dies, when we suffer from illness or pain, when we suffer emotionally, when we are persecuted.
Even in the smaller trials of every day life.
The battles that we need to fight with our children.
The battles that we fight against our own sinful selves.
The battles we fight when dealing with conflict.
They all teach us.
They may teach us to throw ourselves more fully on Christ.
They may teach us to be long-suffering or patient.
They may teach us to be content in all situations.
They may teach us forgiveness.
They may teach us that we have lingering sin that needs to be addressed.
So when we are faced with trials, we may rejoice in our suffering.
We may count ourselves blessed.
And, we may give glory to God as we look to Him for patient endurance.
We can say with Job, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." (Job 1:21)


Saturday, August 1, 2015

Scoffers and Church Discipline

"Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease."
Proverbs 22:10
What is the scoffer like and why is this drastic solution given to the problem of the scoffer? To help us answer these questions, we'll briefly look at how a scoffer is described in Proverbs. Scoffers are those who delight in sin. They like scoffing or mocking the truth. Proverbs 1:22. To rebuke or correct a scoffer is useless and in fact, he might turn on you and do you harm. Proverbs 9:7-8. A scoffer may seek wisdom, but his search is in vain for his heart is not in the right condition. Proverbs 14:6. Scoffers don't like to be rebuked and reject correction. Proverbs 13:1, 15:12. Scoffer don't learn from beatings or any form of physical punishment. The only benefit to beating a scoffer is that others may learn from their punishment. Proverbs 21:11, 20:25, 29.  Scoffers are proud and arrogant which is to say, there is no fear of God in their hearts and lives. Proverbs 21:24. Scoffers can destroy a city with their arrogant and stubborn behavior. Proverbs 29:8. This is how Proverbs presents the scoffer.
The only way to deal with this type of person when he is in the company of the godly is to drive him out. Don't let him continue to be in your presence. As long as he is there, there is only misery and trouble. No other solution will do. Talking, instructing, rebuking, or correcting him are useless. Punishment is useless. He needs to leave, now!
If you listen well to God's wisdom here, you will find that a lot of trouble will leave with the scoffer. The scoffer produces strife, division, discord, quarreling, abuse, disgrace, and shame. If he goes so will all these problems. So many problems could be avoided if we would listen to what God says
While this proverb doesn't speak of church discipline, it certainly relates to it and anticipates it. Titus 3:10-11 says, "As for a person who stirs up divisions, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned." The person described in Titus is the person who is called the scoffer in Proverbs. Church disciple is needed for the individual in sin and for the church. Warning someone in sin with love is needed so that they will leave their sin and return to God in repentance. These people are in serious danger and need to be warned. If they refuse to listen to the warning of the church, then they must leave. Their presence will infect the whole church with trouble. "Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened." 1 Corinthians 5:6-7. So many church problems can be avoided if we correctly, quickly, and lovingly remove such people from our congregations. One bad apple can ruin a whole church and bring great shame to christians and to Jesus Christ. Removing such a person from our midst will also warn others in the church. Some may wake up from their simple and foolish lives. They will see that sin is serious in the eyes of the church and of God. They may turn from their sin. Church discipline is painful, but it will have a very sanctifying influence in the church.