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!

A Heart Devoted To God!

-Qualities Of A Good King!

In my last post I talked about the Old Testament descriptions of kings who were said to be either “good” or “evil.” Either they did that which was “good” in the sight of God; or, they did that which was “evil.” We talked, at length, about King Jehoshaphat; and, some of the reasons he was said to be a “good” king! In today’s post, I want to continue pointing out some of the qualities that made him a “good” king! The Scriptures also claim that he was good; because, his heart was devoted to the Lord— ”His heart was courageous in the ways of the Lord…” 2 Chronicles 17:6.  That literally means that his heart was “devoted” to the LORD! Above every other thing, in his life, he was COURAGEOUS in his devotion to the ways of the LORD!

-Jesus: 1st Place In Everything!

The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Corinth about where Jesus needs to fit in our live:  “He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together. He is also the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He might come to have first place in everything” Col 1:17-18. We need to be devoted to Jesus in the same way that King Jehoshaphat was devoted to the LORD! 1st PLACE in everything! We need to be honest about this, Church! We give a lot of lip service to Jesus having 1st PLACE in our life; but, does He have 1st PLACE in our lives when it comes to reading the Scriptures every day? Or, does that only happen if you can find time to squeeze it in? If He has 1st PLACE you’ll make reading Scripture to be PRIME TIME in your day! Does He have 1st PLACE in your Sunday morning when it comes to gathering for worship with the rest of your faith community? Are you ready to worship at the start of that service? What about the Sunday School hour? Does He have 1st PLACE during that time slot in your week? Are your kids getting the Bible training during the Sunday School hour that they so desperately need?

-Have You Been Lying To Yourself?

Does He really have 1st PLACE? Or, have you just been lying to yourself? We need to get real with ourselves, Church! We need to get real with God! We need to get real with each other! We need to identify the idols that are pushing Jesus out of that 1st PLACE position in every part of our lives! King Jehoshaphat’s devotion to God was so deep and true that he longed to know God through His Word! In 2 Chronicles, chapter 18, there’s an incident where he had interaction with King Ahab.

-He Sought His Father’s God!

Now, King Ahab was classified by God, in Scripture, as an “evil” king in Israel! And, when he showed interest only in what the false prophets of Baal had to say about a situation, Jehoshaphat insisted on hearing the Word of God from Micaiah, the prophet of Yahweh. And, that was the pattern of King Jehoshaphat’s life! Though he failed to always keep God’s Word, he had an affinity for it! He loved it! So, again, he provides us with another great example to follow. If you don’t long to know God’s Word; if, you’re not hungry for it, you’re not in a good place spiritually! You need to pray for God’s Spirit to help you! What made King Jehoshaphat a good king? Well, his story clearly reveals that he wasn’t a perfect man! He sinned! He was guilty of indiscretions. Not all of his decisions were wise ones! But, God called him a good king because he humbly repented when he was faced with his sin! The world needs men like King Jehoshaphat!

Don’t Be Deceived!

-How To Approach Your Faith!

To beware of something is to be wary; to be cautious; to be careful! It means you can’t assume anything! You take all the necessary precautions. And, that’s how Scripture tells us to approach our faith! Beware that you’re not deceived! Be aware of the genuineness of your faith. Be sure it’s not counterfeit.  “Test yourselves,” the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians,  “to see if you are in the faith. Examine yourselves. Or do you yourselves not recognize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless you fail the test” 2 Cor. 13:5. Put your faith to the test, Paul says! Examine it! Compare it with Scripture! Does it match up? Is it authentic?

-The Holy Spirit’s Work In You!

The Apostle Paul also wrote the Church of Rome and told them, that, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” Romans 8:16. God’s Holy Spirit indwells every believer! I know when He’s there! You know it too! And, He Himself will convince you that you belong to God because you’ve denounced your own worthiness & you’re clinging to the righteousness of Christ to save you! Numbers 16 unpacks the story of Korah; how he incited rebellion against Moses because of his desire to hold a more prominent position of leadership in the Jewish nation. This raises a red flag in regard to the genuineness of his faith.

-Desiring To Lead!

A desire to lead is, in itself, not evil! It’s not necessarily evil to be a leader! In fact, one of the qualifications, of an Elder in the church, is that they hold a “desire” to actually be a leader. It’s really the rest of the Biblical qualifications that either confirm or deny that the person is fit to be a leader in the church.  What is the motive behind that desire to obtain a position of leadership? That was Korah’s issue!

-Rebellion Against Leadership!

The Scripture gives us a peek into his motives in the first 3 verses of Numbers 16:  “Now Korah son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took 250 prominent Israelite men who were leaders of the community and representatives in the assembly, and they rebelled against Moses. They came together against Moses and Aaron and told them, ‘You have gone too far! Everyone in the entire community is holy, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?’” Korah sought a higher level of leadership by rebelling against the legitimate leader; who was God’s choice to lead— Moses! His desire, for Moses’ position of leadership, was illegitimate! It was motivated by a lust for power & a desire to be recognized! His evil motive was exposed by his methods!

-Undermining Legitimate Leadership!

And, then it says he set off to undermine Moses by gathering 250 prominent men, who were also leaders in the camp. Rebels always seek to gather a crowd when they oppose leadership because that gives the appearance that they’re right & the legitimate leader is wrong! No doubt he did so by whispering, spreading rumors & back-biting the current leadership. But, the one true God is more than capable of righting the wrong; and, He will right all wrongs Romans 12:19 tells us! Moses doesn’t defend himself! He puts the situation in God’s court (vs.6,7); and, God judges Korah severely! The earth opens up and swallows up Korah and all 250 rebels with him! That’s intense! The application? It tells us to submit to God’s sovereign plan & to submit to those leaders He has placed in our lives!

 

Yahweh: Merciful & Gracious!

-Living With Shame & Guilt!

Bettina Goering is the great-niece of Hermann Goering, one of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi leaders, who founded the Gestapo Secret Police & helped organize the holocaust. In a newspaper interview, from May 2016, she revealed how she & her brother were voluntarily sterilized.  “I had my tubes tied at the age of 30,” she said, “because I feared I would create another monster.” Monika Hertwig lives with the haunting memories of her own father, who was the commandant of an Auschwitz prison sub-camp. He was hanged, in 1946, for the murder of 10’s of thousands of people, at least 500 of them by his own hands.  “He liked to shoot women with babies in their arms from the balcony of his house,” she recollects, “to see if one bullet could kill two.” And, then she asks out loud, “How much of the murderer is in me? These are the things that torment me.”

-The Shadow Of Family Sin!

I find it haunting how the relatives, of Nazi war criminals, try and deal with the shame & the guilt they feel. What a tragedy that they continue to live in the shadow of the sins of family members! Could that be, in part, what Exodus 20:5 is referring to when it says, “You shall not bow down to idols or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” Could the guilt & shame, their offspring feel, be, in part, the punishment that they endure?

-Yahweh! God Of Compassion!

There’s a similar passage, in Exodus 34, that follows Israel’s breaking of the covenant, with God, when they made an idol, of a golden calf; and, worshipped it! “The Lord came down in a cloud, stood with him (Moses) there, and proclaimed His name Yahweh.  Then the Lord passed in front of him and proclaimed: Yahweh—Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth,  maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation. Moses immediately bowed down to the ground and worshiped” Exodus 34:5-8.  There’s perhaps no greater example, of God’s grace & compassion, then that passage! Israel broke the covenant with God! They didn’t believe God at the Red Sea! They complained against God & Moses in the wilderness! When would enough be enough? I wanna tell you that you all ought to be glad that I’m not God! I’m equally glad you aren’t; because, none of us have God’s love, grace & mercy for sinners!

-The Way To God!

Sin devastated man’s relationship with God! So, God established the sacrificial system for Israel, His covenant people, as a way for them to worship Him & restore fellowship with Him! It provided for repentance and forgiveness! Hebrews reflects back on the Old Testament sacrificial system:  “According to the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” Hebrews 9:33. No sacrifice! No forgiveness, God says! If you study each of the 5 sacrificial offerings, in the book of Leviticus, you’ll see how they foreshadow the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus’ life on the cross! Galatians 3:24 says, “The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith.”  The old KJV says, “The law was our SCHOOLMASTER…” that hands us off to Jesus Christ, God’s ultimate sin 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!

 

Favoritism Hurts!

-A Devastated Family!

There’s a story, in Genesis ch.25, about a family that was devastated by the sin of favoritism.  It begins with Abraham; and, it reveals how “playing favorites” is a learned behavior that Abraham passed on to his children, who passed it on to his grandchildren, who passed it on to his great-grandchildren. Each generation continued the same destructive behavior.

-Playing Favorites!

The chapter begins:  “Now Abraham had taken another wife, whose name was Keturah, and she bore him…” (6 kids, if you count them; and, the text lists the names of the generations that followed); then, v.4 “…All these were sons of Keturah.” And, then v.5 “Abraham gave everything he owned to Isaac. And Abraham gave gifts to the sons of his concubines, but while he was still alive he sent them eastward, away from his son Isaac, to the land of the East.” Notice, Abraham gave everything to Isaac; and, some token gifts to the kids & grandkids of Keturah, his 2nd wife.  And, then, he sends them away! Really? What’s up with that? That’s FAVORITISM!

-What Is Favoritism?

Favoritism is showing partiality toward one person or group over others with equal claims! It’s the state of being the “favorite.” Favoritism is prejudice! It’s discrimination! And, it’s favoritism that can escalate into racism or sexism! It’s something that is absolutely devastating to relationships; especially, within families! Abraham passed on this sin, of favoritism, to his kids. When you get to Genesis 26 after his son Isaac married Rebekah, they have 2 boys & the text tells us that Isaac played “favorites” with Esau; while, Rebekah played “favorites” with Jacob. Then, mom helps her favorite son, Jacob, deceive dad; and, his favorite son, Esau, out of the family blessing that should have been Esau’s by birthright.

-Esau Held A Grudge!

What resulted? “Esau held a grudge,” v.41 says, “against Jacob…” because of his deceit! In fact, it says that Esau “…determined in his heart…” that he would kill his brother Jacob after their father, Isaac, passed away. That’s how deadly favoritism can impact a family. It produced envy; and, hatred; and, can lead to murder! But, Jacob didn’t learn from his father, Isaac’s, mistake; who didn’t learn from his father, Abraham’s, mistake. Instead, in Genesis 37, we see Jacob playing favorites with his own children.

-He Loved Him More!

It says, “Now Israel (after God changed his name, from Jacob to Israel) loved Joseph MORE than any of his other sons…”; and, what did that produce? Just what you’d expect that playing favorites produces in a family:  “When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not bring themselves to speak peaceably to him” Genesis 37:4. I’m not justifying their attitude; but, their envy & jealousy & hatred, toward Joseph, was incited by the fact that dad loved ONE KID MORE than the others! Children know unjust behavior, by their parents, when they see it & experience it! The rest of the children had “equal claims” to their father’s affections. Favoritism destroys family harmony!

 

Broken Relationships!

-The Way Of The Transgressor!

During the early years, of my kid’s lives, I often quoted one verse of Scripture, to them, more than any other. It was from the Old King James version; and, I quoted it whenever they had gotten themselves into some kind of trouble. It’s Proverbs 13:15; and, it says “…the way of the transgressor is HARD.” Many times I gave them no additional words of correction! I just shook my head & repeated those words, “…the way of the transgressor is HARD.” It means that there are consequences for sin & disobedience! Sin is HARD! Sinful actions reap painful, cruel results!

-Hard Circumstances!

And, my wife and I would speak to our kids from our own experiences. We’ve experienced the hard circumstances of transgressing against the Word of God. Nothing good ever comes from disobedience to God! Never! Only pain and suffering! And, one of the most painful circumstances we endure is the broken “relationships” that lay scattered in the wake of our sinful conduct. Some relationships will never be reconciled because the damage is perceived as being too severe.

-The Toxicity Of Sin!

The Scriptures, from its early chapters in Genesis, with Adam & Eve’s sin, expose the toxicity sin brings to our human relationships. Just flip back to Genesis chapter 3 for a moment. God confronts them after their sin; and, demands an explanation for their disobedience.  “What is this you’ve done,” God asks Eve in v.13. And, Eve shifts blame, “It was the serpent.” She avoids the question. God asked her, “…what have YOU done…” And, she shifts blame to the serpent. But, she wasn’t the 1st person to shift blame! She had just heard her husband, Adam, respond to God’s question, “It was the woman YOU gave me— she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate.”

-The Ultimate Blame Shift!

Did you catch that? Who is Adam ultimately blaming? GOD, right? He shifts blame to God, “…the woman YOU gave me…” So, Adam & Eve’s relationship, with God, is broken! And, their marital bliss also came to a very abrupt end because of their sin. In outlining the curse, because of sin, God told Eve v.16, “…your desire will be for your husband, yet he will RULE over you…” Sin would forever mar their relationship; and, though God, by His indwelling Holy Spirit, will work to sanctify our marriages, it’ll require work & great effort to overcome the harmful effects of our sin.

-What A Nightmare!

And, what a nightmare, that we pass our sinful nature on to our children, who in turn, make many of the same sinful decisions we made; and, also make up a few of their own. We read, in Genesis chapter 4, of the tragic history of humanity’s 1st murder; and, incredibly, it happened within the family, as one brother (Cain) murdered his brother (Abel).  We bear, as the human race, the consequences of our sinful natures. You can try & deny it or ignore it; but, “…be sure about it, your sin will catch up with you” Numbers 32:23. Also, “…don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows he will also reap” Galatians 6:7. Why? Because “…the way of the transgressor is HARD.” Only God can fix the mess we’ve made!

 

Serving Those Crushed By Circumstances!

-The Unwanted & Discarded!

I grew up, in a home environment, where I never doubted my parent’s love for me! I never felt abandoned or neglected! But, there are those, in the world, who have experienced the pain of being unwanted and discarded! Most of the 153 million orphans, in the world, have been forsaken by their parents! They’ve been shunned and left to fend for themselves! So, when James addresses this matter, in Scripture, he says, “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” James 1:27.  This is what “pure religion” looks like, he says.

-Look After Orphans In Their Distress!

Pure, or genuine, faith, in Jesus, takes care of orphans who’ve been crushed by abandonment! That’s what it means to “…look after (them)…in their distress.” For the orphan, they’re distressed or crushed by the fact that they’ve been abandoned by the very people who are supposed to care for their well-being at any cost! One, or both, parents abandon their children because of custom—baby girls, for example, are considered undesirable in many non-Christian cultures. Many are killed just for being born as a little girl! The fortunate ones are just abandoned! I cannot even begin to comprehend the pain and distress that would bring these precious little ones! Some have become orphans because a war has separated them, from their parents; or, their parents were killed and they were spared!

-Look After Widows In Their Distress!

Whatever the reason, these orphaned children have been crushed by the weight of their situation.  And, those who have pure, genuine faith, in Jesus, will be moved to take care of them as much as we can. I don’t know about you; but, I don’t feel like I’ve done enough! But, James doesn’t limit his description, of a pure religion, to caring for those children who’ve been crushed by abandonment! He also says that genuine faith, in Jesus, takes care of widows who’ve been crushed by spousal loss! Again, I’ve never experienced the painful loss, of a spouse, to death! I have, however, observed it enough to know that it’s a crushing blow to the spouse left behind! It’s distress, in their life, that they never quite get over! The separation is devastating for many!

-Proving Faith By Caring For The Hurting!

The church shows genuine faith, in Jesus, by taking care of the widow who’s been crushed by the loss of their mate. We may need to sacrifice our own time to spend time with them in fellowship! We may have to sacrifice financially to help meet their needs! That’s why the ministry to orphans & widows is very much like Jesus’ 3 1/2 year ministry here on planet earth. No one ever cared more for the broken & the hurting, for the abandoned & the marginalized than Jesus! So, how do we apply this? There are ministries to get involved in, especially, in the area of orphans! Become foster parents! Find something to do! Remember, pure religion is not the result of good deeds; but, results in good deeds!

 

Pure Religion!

-An Orphan’s Story!

I married the granddaughter of an orphan! When my wife’s grandfather was a young boy, his father died; and, his mother remarried.  Unfortunately, her new husband out NOT to be the kind of man she thought he was.  He held no regard for her children; and, when she died, he considered them disposable; and, had them removed from his home. My wife’s grandfather was a 14-year old boy when the authorities placed him in an orphanage where he was physically abused; until it was discovered and he was removed and placed in a foster-care home where he was loved & cared for. Eventually, he came to faith in Jesus Christ, married my wife’s grandmother & they established a Christian home together. A home that produced a legacy of faith with children, grandchildren & great-grandchildren who’ve grown up loving Jesus. What a great story, right! An “orphan’s story” with a happy ending!

-An Orphan Crisis!

Unfortunately, that’s the exception. There is an orphan crisis in our world! I was shocked to discover that there are more than 153 million orphans worldwide! That’s staggering! If orphans were a country, of their own, their population would rank 9th in the world, ahead of Russia! 100 million of them live or work on the streets. They survive by selling flowers or cigarettes, by watching cars; and, many sell their bodies, for sex, or engage in criminal activity. Many, of these street children, are subjected to abuse, neglect, exploitation; or, in extreme cases, are murdered by “death squads” paid by their governments to “clean up” the image of their cities.

-It’s Easy To Become Hard-Hearted!

So, why am I sharing all this with you? Why should you care? It’s so easy to become hardened to all the images, isn’t it? We’re bombarded with the infomercials! The sad faces. The sad music. The compelling stories. All meant to move us to reach into our wallets ad pay up! And, we can try and rationalize that so many of the agencies out there, who claim to be helping the orphan population, are just siphoning off huge amounts, from the giving, to support elaborate lifestyles for their big-name CEO’s. So, let me tell you why this is important to you! Because we can’t just ignore what God’s Word says about it! God has an opinion & we need to listen!

-Look After Orphans!

It’s a statement inspired by God’s Holy Spirit— “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 1:27.  What was that? “PURE RELIGION” is looking after orphans & widows? Is James supporting a salvation of good deeds? No, he’s not! The book James authored dovetails quite nicely with Paul’s book to the Romans. James is NOT saying that your good deeds, like caring for orphans & widows, will result in salvation! Rather, that the result of genuine, saving faith, in Jesus—or, “pure religion” he calls it—is to love others! Like orphans, widows & the marginalized of society! God gives us a heart to love & serve them!

 

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!