The Return Of The Exiles

-The Life Of A Refugee!

We see the pictures on the nightly news or our online news sources; and, though pictures may be worth a thousand words, they can never adequately portray what it’s like to be exiled from your native land & to flee as a refugee to a foreign nation! The stories are horrific! The greatest fear, as a parent, is to be separated from your children in such a setting; although, in some cases, where the conditions are brutal enough, parents willingly hand off their children to someone else with the hope that they might survive & have a better life! Most of us, living in this country, simply have no point of reference or experience to draw on when it comes to living like an exile or a refugee!

-Israel’s Refugees From Babylon!

And, while some of the world’s current refugee crisis has similarities to the time of Israel’s exile— as recorded at the end of 2 Chronicles— there are many differences! The majority of exiles today are leaving war-torn nations by their own will, seeking refuge in a safe, neighboring country. Israel’s exile occurred against their own will when, the foreign nations of Assyria; and, then Babylon, swept in like a flood & plundered their homeland; and, then exiled them off to serve as slaves! For Israel, their exile was the more bitter because they had no one to blame but themselves.

-Israel Broke Covenant!

God had covenanted with them to bless them in the land—that He gave them—if they would obey Him & keep His commandments! But, He had also promised a curse if they broke covenant with Him; and, that’s exactly what they did! They abandoned Yahweh & chased after other gods; until, finally, Yahweh abandoned them! The 137th Psalm was written as a lament by those who endured the exile, the slavery & the human trafficking in that day:  “By the rivers of Babylon,” they cried, “there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. There we hung up our lyres on the poplar trees, for our captors there asked us for songs, and our tormentors, for rejoicing:  ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’ they mocked.  “How can we sing the Lord’s song on foreign soil?” That’s how the book of 2 Chronicles ends!

-Exiled To Babylon!

It reads that King Nebuchadnezzar, of Babylon, “…deported those who escaped from the sword to Babylon, and they became servants to him and his sons until the rise of the Persian kingdom. This fulfilled the word of the Lord through Jeremiah and the land enjoyed its Sabbath rest all the days of the desolation until 70 years were fulfilled” 2 Chronicles 36:20-21.  So, Israel was exiled to Babylon for 70 years; and, God’s prophecy, through Jeremiah, was fulfilled. It was during those 70 years that the Medo-Persian empire overpowered Babylon!

-The Lord Put It In His Mind!

From there, the book of Ezra picks up the story of the exiles:  “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, the word of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah was fulfilled. The Lord put it into the mind of King Cyrus to issue a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom and to put it in writing” Ezra 1:1. That verse includes 2 significant details! First, that Jeremiah’s prophecy, of a 70-year exile, was completed in the first year of King Cyrus’ reign in Persia! And, second, that it was God who “…put it into the mind…” of Cyrus to issue a proclamation! I would encourage you to make a note in your Bible, right there, that says, “Here is an example of God’s Sovereignty over the world.”  Cyrus wasn’t in control! Persia wasn’t in control either! God was directing traffic here! He put it in Cyrus’ mind to issue the proclamation we’ll look at next week!

Lessons Learned The Hard Way!

-Last Post Until September 16! Vacation Time!-

 

-Experience, The Great Teacher!

Some lessons in life are learned the hard way. For example, putting a can of soda in the freezer, to get it cold, may sound like a smart idea! It’s NOT! Also, if you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur! Cheaper isn’t always better, is it? Some lessons are hard and painful to learn! I’ve watched kids, at the zoo, learn one of life’s lessons the hard way— don’t mess with the geese! I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve seen a kid chasing after a goose; only, a little later seeing him run the other way with the goose in hot pursuit! I love what someone said about learning lessons the hard way: “Experience is a great teacher; and, a fool will learn no other way!”

-Gaining Wisdom!

Don’t be that guy! I big part of the wisdom gained, from reading Scripture, is learning from the hard lessons others learned the hard way! I don’t want to sound arrogant or be overly critical of Israel’s constant failures because I’ve been equally as guilty of falling into sinful patterns in my own life. But, don’t you just wonder sometimes if they’re ever going to learn some of the lessons God puts in front of them? Over and over they fail to listen to God’s Word & the results are never good!

-Don’t Be Foolish!

I want to challenge you, in this post, to learn God’s lessons well! Don’t be foolish & hard-hearted & stiff-necked like Israel often was! Be committed to reading God’s Word! To hearing God speak! And, determine to trust whatever God says! With your whole heart! A devotion to obeying God’s word will keep you from sin; but, sin will keep you from obeying God’s word! You can have no better life than the one spent in obedience to God! Don’t be the fool that finds out the hard way! God is good! He is gracious! He is merciful! He promises to forgive every sin when you trust Jesus’ work on the cross to atone for your sin!

-You Reap What You Sow!

But, you will reap what you sow! That is a principle in God’s word! He will forgive the sin of the drunkard who weaponizes his car & crosses lanes, killing someone driving in the other lane! But, God doesn’t give him back the arm that he also lost in the crash! Though God offers grace to endure the terrible consequences of our sin, He doesn’t always remove the consequences! I’ve found it deeply disturbing to read the account, in Joshua chapters 7 & 8, of Achan’s sin.  God had commanded Israel to set apart, for destruction,  all the plunder from a military victory over Jericho!

-What If He Had Repented?

But Achan disobeyed; and, he had done so secretly! I’ve often wondered what might have happened if he had quickly acknowledged his sin? What if he would have come running to Joshua with the stuff he had taken; and, confessed his sin & asked God for forgiveness? In the epistle of 1 John, it’s recorded, “If we say, ‘We have no sin,’ we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:8-9). I can only imagine that the story, for Achan & his family, would have had a happier ending if he had only confessed his sin & repented quickly! But, he did not confess until he was caught! Until he was found out! And, his sin resulted in the death of himself, his family, and 36 men in Israel’s next battle! God’s judgment for unconfessed, hidden sin was harsh! God, help us to learn well this lesson; and, not to learn the hard way!

 

Are You Happy Now?

-Obedience Makes Us Happy!

One reason God condemns sin is that it brings us pain! He hates sin because of what it does to us! That’s why He gave Israel the 10 Commandments & the rest of the law! So, they could be happy! So that they could avoid all the pain & the diseases that the other nations, who rejected Yahweh & followed idols, suffered with! You will never be happier than when you’re living in right relationship with God & with your neighbor! That’s why we need to read & meditate on His word! That’s why we need to memorize it! So you’ll know when you’ve stumbled out of fellowship with God & with others! So, you can resolve it!

-Who’s Happy?

Listen to what the psalmist said in Psalm ch.1:  “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. He is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” Who’s happy? The one who doesn’t follow the advice of the world! Who’s happy? The one who avoids the path of those who disobey God’s Word! Who’s happy? The one who doesn’t hang out with those who mock God’s law! The mocker says:  “What, you’re going to wait until you get married before you have sex or live with that person? That’s stupid! What if you’re not compatible?” That’s the mocker’s advice! And, it doesn’t work! That counsel is ruining lives & ruining marriages! It automatically builds mistrust in the relationship!

-How To Be Prosperous!

Instead, the psalmist says that it’s the one who delights in the Lord’s instruction that will prosper! It’s the couple who ignores their worldly friend’s advice whose marriage will prosper! It’s the one who is in God’s word & structures their life accordingly that will prosper! Over & over, in the Old Testament, God told Israel that it was their sin that separated them from a relationship with Him! He was holy and they were not! The Prophet Isaiah told Israel:  “But your iniquities have built barriers between you and your God, and your sins have made Him hide His face from you so that He does not listen” Isaiah 59:2.  We can’t assume that God is like some old, doting grandpa that looks the other way at our sin! No! Our sin breaks fellowship with Him! It builds barriers between God & us! So, when we sin He hides His face from us & refuses to listen to us in our presumptuous sin!

-Fellowship With God!

Our fellowship with God cannot be taken lightly! We cannot treat it like a casual thing & just assume we can fellowship with Him whenever we want; especially if we’re living in unrepentant sin! Under the old covenant, the sacrifices, required by God, were laborious & frequent! They were a constant reminder, to Israel, that it would take effort & a sincere heart if they desired relationship & fellowship with God. The sacrificial system was required, as part of their confession of sin. And, it foreshadowed the coming Messiah’s ultimate sacrifice for sin. When engaged, by faith, Israel’s sacrifices opened the door to genuine fellowship with God! To know Him & to be known by Him! And, by offering their sacrifices, to God, in humility & sincere confession, of sin, God would change their hearts! He would make them a holy people for Himself!

You Reap What You Sow!

-God Honors Those Who Honor Him!

The life of obedience, to God’s word, really is the best life! It’s a happy life! God honors you when you honor His word! He blesses you! The Prophet Hosea said that sinful disobedience, to God, is like sowing the wind; and, when you sow the wind, you reap a whirlwind! It’s that “reap what you sow” principle! For the last several posts, we’ve been looking at the 10 Commandments & the rest of God’s Law in the book of Exodus! In Exodus 11, God tells Israel, His people: “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse—the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today.”  There’s that “reap and sow” principle again!

-We Need A Mediator!

If you sow “OBEDIENCE” you’ll reap a “BLESSING”! But, sow “DISOBEDIENCE” and you reap a “CURSE.” It’s because of our proclivity to sin, that God’s law reveals our need for an “intercessor.” God gave Israel the Levitical priesthood. Only the priests could enter the tabernacle & the Holy of Holies; and, then only once a year! And, when they entered, they were required to bring an animal blood sacrifice. The priests were also responsible to wear special clothing & had to be washed in a special ceremonial fashion. The point was that God is HOLY! And, we are NOT HOLY! We need a go-between! A mediator! And, the entire sacrificial system pointed to Jesus Christ— the LAMB who was slain! “For there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself—a ransom for all” 1 Tim 2:5,6.  We cannot make it to God on our own! We need Jesus to be our mediator!

-Sin’s Consequence=Death!

Even in the Old Testament, God’s Law required the necessity of a substitutionary sacrifice to cover our sin! In a very graphic way, the Law depicts God’s requirement for the blood of an innocent sacrifice to atone for the sins of the guilty! That burning carcass, on the altar, was a vivid reminder that the consequence, of our sin, is DEATH! God chose to accept the sacrifice of a spotless lamb as representative of the One who was to be the ultimate sacrifice—Jesus, God’s only Son! When we say that Israel’s sacrifice, of a lamb, was “efficacious”, we mean it was “capable of having the desired result! It was effective!” God said a substitutionary atonement was effective in curbing His righteous judgment! It appeased Him! But, only because it was a Gospel picture of Jesus Christ!

-Jesus Was Always God’s Plan!

Every lamb offered, on the altar, was a foreshadowing of God’s own Lamb—His own Son—who would be offered as the ultimate sacrifice to take away ALL SIN FOREVER! And, all the furniture, in Israel’s Tabernacle, pointed to Jesus. The Lampstand pointed to Jesus, who was the light of the world! The showbread pointed to Jesus, who was the bread of life! Jesus was always God’s plan. It wasn’t because the Law of Moses failed; and, God was forced to come up with a “Plan B.” No, the law finds it’s ultimate fulfillment in the Gospel, the good news about Jesus! Paul makes this point crystal clear for us: “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” Galatians 3:24. The law acts as our guardian, to deliver us to Jesus! We’re justified, not through the law; but, by Jesus’ sacrifice!

 

Jesus Fulfilled The Law!

-The Law Reveals God’s Character!

The law, of God, reveals the character of God! It speaks to His righteous judgment & His love! Some people want to “judge” God because He judges people! But, His love clearly balances out His judgment:  “…I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the fathers’ sin, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me,  but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commands “ Exodus 20:5-6.  He judges & punishes sinners to the 3rd or 4th generation; but, He shows love, His “faithful love”, to a thousand generation those who love Him and keep His commandments! He is a kind, benevolent God!

-But, We Have A Problem!

Our problem, as the human race, is our pride & arrogance that keeps us from being open to God’s revelation about the truth of our sinfulness! The depth, of our brokenness & depravity, is such that we’re not even aware of all the times we sin against God. This is why God gave us the law; to, reveal our sin! The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Rome:  “What should we say then? Is the law sin? Absolutely not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin if it were not for the law. For example, I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, Do not covet” Romans 7:7.  Paul, under the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit, says that I wouldn’t even know that it was a sin to covet or lust after my neighbor’s wife if God’s law didn’t call it sin!

-The Law Is A Mirror!

So, the law acts as a mirror, revealing & reflecting our sin back to us! As Israel moves into the land, one sacrifice God tells them, to offer, is for all their “unintentional” sins.  In other words, God points out, to us, that it’s impossible for us to even name & confess all our individual sins because there are so many! God’s law reveals God’s 2 overarching concerns; and, we talked about this last week— Love GOD & Love PEOPLE! In that order! When we get our “vertical” love— for God— right, we’ll get our “horizontal” love— for our fellow man— right! Though God gives us His 10 Commandments, in Exodus ch.20, He actually expands on them in Exodus ch.21. He gave them laws in regard to slavery; and, laws regarding personal injury; and, laws, about theft; and, crop protection; and, personal property. He gave them laws about seducing someone & capital crimes; and, laws about protecting the vulnerable, the foreigner & the marginalized. And, Jesus came to fulfill the entire law!

-The Heart Of The Law!

That’s what He said! He didn’t come to abolish the law; but, to FULFILL it! Jesus loved God & His fellow man perfectly! There was no sin found in Him! Jesus also taught that the “spirit” of God’s law was more about the “heart” than the “letter.” He said, for example, that when we hate our brother that we murder them in our hearts! And, when we lust after someone, we commit adultery with them in our hearts! There is no way we can overstate God’s concern for the way that we treat each other; or, the way we think about one another; or, the way we talk about one another! God is concerned with justice! And, God’s law reveals the principle of “sowing and reaping” also! We’ll talk more about this next post! But, God’s bottom line is that the obedient life really is the best life we can experience! God honors those who honor Him!

 

The Minimization Of Sin!

-All Sin Is Against God!

All sin is ultimately against God! After sleeping with another man’s wife & then having that man killed, to hide his sin, King David prayed to God:  “Against You—You alone—I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight. So You are right when You pass sentence; You are blameless when You judge” Psalms 51:4. He didn’t say that he sinned against the woman by sleeping with her! He didn’t say that he sinned against the man by having him killed! His sin was against God ALONE, because God, alone, is the LAWGIVER!

-Caught In Sin’s Carnage!

It was God, who said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery”; and, “Thou shalt not kill.” We minimize our sin when we say that we sinned against a human being— whether it’s spreading lies, or gossip, etc. No! Those sins are against God alone! You may “wound” someone who’s gotten caught up in the carnage of your sin! But, the sin was against God; and, that’s why there is judgment! That’s why there is pain, suffering & death; because, in Adam, we sinned against God & brought the curse of death on ourselves!

-God’s Plan To Save Man!

But, in Genesis— the book of beginnings— God also reveals the beginning of a plan to save mankind from their sinful depravity! No sooner had Adam & Eve “missed the mark” of obedience; no sooner had they sinned against God; then, God shares a plan to redeem them from the deadly consequences of their sin! It’s found in Genesis chapter 3, verse 15; and, it’s a veiled prophecy pointing forward to a coming redeemer! A Savior! Amid His judgment against Satan, for the part he played in Adam & Eve’s Fall, God says, “I will put hostility between you (Satan) and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” And, that prophecy comes together in the New Testament. Satan strikes a wound to Jesus’ heel when He dies on the cross! But, Jesus strikes a mortal wound to Satan’s head in that very same act on the cross; as, His death atones, for their sin, and, negates everything that was lost in their disobedient act against God! Now, all members of the human race can be FORGIVEN… REDEEMED… and, made RIGHTEOUS by repenting, of their sin, and trusting in Christ’s work on the cross!

-God Makes A Way!

God makes a way to undo what sin did, in the beginning, back in the garden! And, He plans to use a nation—Israel & the Jewish people—as the people group, through whom, Messiah would come! The book, of Genesis, really sets up the rest of the Biblical narrative. It begins with the Creation & the Fall. We’re then introduced to Abraham, whom God, according to His promise, makes a great nation, Israel. Let me draw this post to a close, by getting a little personal with you. You are part of this whole thing! God is your Creator! You’ve sinned against His authority over you! But, to the praise of His Glory, God has made a way for you to be saved! Have you ever personally accepted His gracious offer? He is willing to move you from death to life! Don’t presume on His grace! Come to this awesome, loving God; and, trust Him for salvation!

 

Missing The Mark!

-Why Do We Have A Moral Conscience?

The theory of “evolution” has no explanation for why man has a moral conscience. This makes us different from the animal kingdom; and, Genesis— the 1st book of the Bible— explains that God dignifies man by creating him distinct from the animals! We are NOT part of the animal kingdom. Animals were created, separate from man, with “instinct”! We were created, by God, with a moral “conscience.” He created us with the capacity to make moral decisions.

-God’s First Command!

Shortly after creating Adam & Eve, God showed them around the Garden of Eden; and, look at ch. 2, v.16, where it says,  “And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.’” This is the 1st recorded command, of God, in the Bible.  So, “…in the beginning…” there was LAW! As Creator God, He rules over His creation! He made us to be moral agents who are responsible TO HIM! And, notice that there were severe consequences for disobeying God’s command.

-God’s Generosity!

From the beginning, of creation, we see that God is a generous God! He gives great FREEDOM— “…you are FREE to eat from ANY TREE in the Garden…”; but, FREEDOM always has limitations— ”…but you MUST NOT eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…” God commanded! The “freedoms” God gave vastly outnumbered the “restrictions.” But Adam wasn’t content to humbly submit to a good, gracious, benevolent God, was he? He wanted to be in control! So, in the beginning, of Genesis, we’re also introduced to humanity’s 1st sin.

-Sin Misses The Mark!

That word “sin” literally means to “miss the mark.” Hunters would aim at their prey; and, if they missed, would say, “I sinned!” When Adam & Eve disobeyed, they “sinned” and missed God’s “mark”, which was obedience.  Look at how Satan’s tempting words:  “…God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be LIKE GOD…” The temptation was that they could “…be like God…” They could be in control! Satan was casting doubt on God’s goodness! God was holding out on them, he implied! That was the temptation; and, they took the bait!

-Sin’s Consequences!

And, that’s where we see the consequences, for their indiscretion, executed! God judges them guilty, for their sin! He follows through! Right from the beginning, we see judgment for sin. Because He alone is God and Creator, He has the right to govern His creation as He determines! Adam & Eve had to give an account of their sin to God. The N.T. book of Hebrews says, “No creature is hidden from Him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account” Heb. 4:13.  Every man, woman, boy & girl, from the beginning of time, must stand before God & give an account to Him! “So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God” Rom 14:12. But, thank God, He forgives every sin when we come to Him in repentance & faith in Jesus’ work on the cross!

 

The Proof Of Your Faith!

-As You Wish!

One of my all-time favorite movies is The Princess Bride.  It’s a romantic comedy; and, if you haven’t seen it, you need to! It’s a classic! It begins in the home of Buttercup, who’s dressed in the drab brown clothes of a peasant girl; but, orders everyone around as if she were royalty. Another peasant, named Wesley, is a laborer on Buttercup’s farm; and, the narrator—Peter Falk, he of Columbo fame—says that Buttercup’s greatest pleasure, in life, came from tormenting Wesley. She calls him “farm boy” & orders him to do all kinds of menial, boring jobs. But, regardless how menial the task, Wesley always responds the same way— ”As you wish!” While she’s incredibly condescending toward Wesley, he never refuses her demands; and, his attitude is always kind & willing. One day, she has an epiphany; and, the narrator says:  “That day, she was amazed to discover that when he was saying, ‘As you wish’ what he really meant was ‘I love you.’”

-Communicating Love!

I love that line because it fits so well into a Biblical conversation about service. It’s Buttercup’s realization that Westley was communicating his love for her, through his service to her, that holds such a remarkable spiritual parallel to something the Spirit of God inspired James to write:  “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” James 2:14-17.

-The Invisibility Of Faith!

By its very nature, faith is invisible! You can’t see it! I can tell you that I have faith; but, I can’t show it to you.  James says, however, that faith can be seen through good works or acts of service & ministry.  He uses this imaginary person who claims to have faith; though, it can’t be seen. But, James disagrees:  “Yes, you can!” he argues, “You can see faith! You see faith when a believer offers to serve someone who lacks food; or, the necessities of life.” And, then, he uses the example of Abraham in the verses that follow. You can see Abraham’s faith, in his obedience to God, when he offered Isaac, his son, on an altar, James argues.

-Works Cooperate With Faith!

Abraham’s works were cooperating, with his faith, so that His faith actually became visible through his works. He offers Rahab, as another example, in his text.  In essence, James shows us that saving faith always produces acts of service that evidence it’s genuineness.  That’s why it must be a core ministry value, for every community of faith, to serve widows & orphans & others who are marginalized by their neediness. God’s word tells us that’s really the only way people can SEE our faith! Our faith is seen in the way that we love people! That means that any “faith” that fails to serve is, at best, questionable! James asks, “What good is it my brothers if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” It’s no good!

 

When Church Culture Meets Needs!

-Haunted By A Scripture!

I grew up in a church culture that did relatively nothing to meet “physical” needs! It was argued that if you gave people money that they’d just spend it on booze & cigarettes & drugs. So, don’t give them anything, we were told! We had no food pantry to provide for the hungry in our city! We had no benevolent funds to assist with other needs! And, yet we thought we were being faithful to God’s Word.  But, there’s a scripture, in James, that always haunted me as I read it:  “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows” James 1:27.  What do you do with that?

-Playing The Legalist!

How can we just dismiss that? Or, play the “legalist” and limit the spirit of the text to caring for orphans or widows exclusively. At the same time, we cannot just be preoccupied with physical needs and omit the sharing of the Gospel! That’s the problem with many socially-minded churches! If we limit our care, for them, to physical needs & never share the Gospel, with them, all we’ve accomplished is to keep them alive longer, only to prolong their ultimate meeting with God @ the judgment, whereupon their unbelief will be exposed! It’s not “good deeds” or the “Gospel.” It’s not an EITHER-OR! It’s a BOTH-AND decision we must make!

-What Is Pure Religion?

To James, pure religion is not the RESULT of good deeds; but, RESULTS in good deed! We don’t take care of the orphan, the widow & the poor in order to ATTAIN pure religion! Rather, when our religion is the pure Gospel, of Jesus Christ, we become Jesus “in the flesh” when we meet the needs of the orphan, the widow & the poor! “Not by works of righteousness that we have done; but, by His mercy He saves us” Titus 3:5.  Salvation is “…not of works, so no one can boast…” Ephesians 2:9.  But, when we humble ourselves & trust Christ’s atonement work, on the cross, He changes us inside & the Holy Spirit gives us the heart of Jesus! As we are sanctified & grow, in our faith, we’ll want to meet the physical & spiritual needs of the down-trodden, of our world, just like Jesus did! This ought to be a core ministry value for the church!

-A Change That Includes Service!

Look again at that verse in James; but, this time let’s back it up one verse & see how it flows, in context, from one verse to the next:  “If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself. Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” James 1:26,27. Notice how James lumps together 3 very practical evidence of pure religion; or, 3 areas of obedience that evidence genuine saving faith— 1) Self-control in your speech; 2) A Ministry of Compassion to the needy; and, 3) Practical holiness. See that? Inspired by the Holy Spirit, James places ministry to the needy & cleaning up a potty mouth on an equal plane as living a holy life! More on that next week!

 

Is Every Believer A Disciple?

-What Does Scripture Teach?

The Church, here in the west, has often made a distinction between a “believer” in Jesus Christ & a “disciple” of Jesus Christ! It’s a distinction, however, that Scripture fails to make— that you can be a saved “believer” & just live your entire life for yourself! That, if you desire, you can become a “disciple” and live out your days as a “super saint” for Jesus. No where, in Scripture, does Jesus say anything even close to that! If you abide, in Jesus, you will produce the fruit of a disciple! That’s the outcome of genuine faith!

-Grape Vines Produce Grapes!

There will always be fruit where there is genuine faith. It’s as natural as a grape vine producing grapes. That’s what grape vines do! And, there is fruit that is naturally produced, by God’s Spirit, in the life of every genuine believer who abides in Jesus! In fact, that’s exactly what Jesus says! Fruitfulness is the proof that you’re a “believer” & “disciple.” “If anyone does not abide in Me,” Jesus said, “he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” John 15:6-8.  We bring glory to God when our lives produce fruit because it PROVES that He’s saved us! The PROOF is in the FRUIT!

-Love, Joy & Obedience!

Then, Jesus expands, on that, in the next several verses (v. 9-17). Fruitfulness, He says, is measured by our love, by our obedience, and, by our joy! “This is My commandment,” Jesus said, “that you love one another as I have loved you.” Loving others isn’t an option for anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus! If there’s no love, it’s because there is no spiritual life. Where there’s no love, there’s no “abiding in Jesus.” “You are my friends,” He said, “if you do what I command you.” We cannot pick and choose what we’re going to obey in God’s Word. Disobedience isn’t an option! If we truly abide, in Christ, we’ll repent when we disobey & realign our life accordingly with the Scriptures. And, there’ll be joy in your life— “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may full.” Our joy is linked to a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ! It’s not circumstantial!

-Even When Life Is Hard!

Abiding in Christ produces joy! Even when the rest of life derails, our joy is centered In Jesus. All those grumpy, mean-spirited, haters out there who claim to be followers of Jesus must have missed that Scripture! Or… they don’t really abide in Christ! This text presents a clear case that God, the Father, won’t stand idle while His children act up! He will prune— “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” John 17:2. He will discipline His own! He will spank! But, He doesn’t spank the Devil’s kids! Our response, to His discipline, will either confirm or deny that our “faith” is legitimate! We will confess sin & let His Spirit clean house!