Handling Conflict In The Church!

-Tolerance Advocates Not Very Tolerant!

It amazes me how quickly the advocates of “tolerance” sound off & run off everyone who disagrees with them. Not very tolerant, are they? The Apostle Paul tells the Church of Rome to knock off that kind of behavior. He says that God intends to grow you spiritually as you learn to willingly put up with one another—“Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (Rom. 15:2). We don’t join a faith community to please ourselves! The purpose, for becoming a church member, is to please our neighbor “…for his good, to build him up.” Or, to “edify” if you prefer to use the theological term!

-Be Other’s Focused!

It’s a matter of focus—our interaction, in the body, should be “other’s focused”, not “self-focused.” Like Jesus, we’re here to serve others; not, to be served! Only when we put up with each other; and, bear with the weaknesses of others, will God use us to help construct the spiritual lives of others! It’s having the mindset of a “discipler”—someone who helps others grow as a disciple of Jesus. There’s no better motivator than Jesus Himself. God will give us grace to put up with each other; and, to build up each other, as we look up to Jesus for our motivation!

-Fix Our Eyes On Jesus!

As we fix our eyes on Christ, we remember that He did not come to please Himself; but, He made Himself a servant (See Philippians 2:5-11).  Paul said:  “For even the Messiah did not please Himself. On the contrary, as it is written, The insults of those who insult You have fallen on Me” (Rom. 15:3).  He’s quoting Psalm 69:9 and referring to Jesus. He embraced the insults of mean-spirited, hateful people; and, on the cross He bore the reproach that we should have bore!

-How Jesus Loved!

We love like Jesus loved when we willingly endure each other’s “heat-of-the-moment” hasty words; and, rather than returning evil for evil, we seek to resolve the conflict & make peace! We extend grace! So, look again at the progression of Paul’s words in Romans 15—if we’re going to be strong enough, in our faith, to “put up” with weak or prickly people (v.1); and, “build them up” (v.2) when we’re tempted to smack them, we have to “look up” to Jesus (v.3); and, “grow up” in our faith (v.4).  We won’t get that kind of counsel from the world!

-Understand The Scriptures!

Paul tells the Church of Rome that we can only have that Christ-like mindset as we understand the Scriptures—or, those things which were “written in the past” (v.4). It’s only through the “instruction” and “encouragement” of the Word, he says, that we have any hope of enduring those difficult relationships in life. And, we will never “grow up” in our faith if we run away from every uncomfortable or difficult relationship in our faith community. We need to remain faithful to one another as a testimony to those outside the Church. In a band there are all kinds of different instruments & a variety of musicians playing them. But, bring them all together under the direction of a capable conductor & they can produce beautiful music together. That beautifully illustrates the Church when Jesus is doing the conducting!

 

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Your Good Works Offend God!

-Because Jesus Already Did It!

Being a disciple of Jesus does not begin with something we do; but, with something Jesus already did! When Jesus went to the cross, He redeemed our relationship with the Father.  A relationship broken by our sin against Him! By Jesus’ death on the cross, He paid the penalty, for our sin, that we should have paid so that the Father would be just to grant us forgiveness, grace, mercy & love.  By Jesus sacrificial act, He made a way for the Father to actually adopt us into His family when we accept the work of His Son & His payment on our behalf.

-Don’t Disrespect Jesus’ Sacrifice!

But, Jesus’ work, on our behalf, is only effective when we quit trying to work our own way into the Father’s favor! We must accept God’s offer of salvation through Christ alone by grace alone; and, cast aside any hope that our good deeds might impress the Father.  Can you see how offensive it is to God when we try to make ourselves presentable to Him? We trample on His Son’s sacrifice when we try to impress God with our “perceived” good deeds! We spit in His face & tell Him His Son’s work on the cross wasn’t good enough; that, we need to “add” our own. What God requires of us is nothing more than humility & brokenness, along with a confession that we’re not worthy & incapable of ever becoming worthy of the salvation He offers us!

-Are You Heaven’s Citizen?

What we need is a new start; a new beginning; a new birth! “You MUST be born again,” Jesus said. He was referencing a “SPIRITUAL” birth. Your “physical” birth makes you a citizen of this world; but, only your “spiritual” birth can make you a citizen of heaven! That becomes your new identity! You’re no longer a citizen of this world; rather, Scripture calls you a “temporary resident” here! Your citizenship is heaven! And, that’s where we have to begin when we start a conversation about “spiritual growth.”

-An Identity In Christ!

You have to be sure of your identity—in Christ—before you can ever hope to mature as a disciple of Christ. That, in fact, is what Paul said happens at the moment of faith. Here’s how the Amplified Bible expands on the meaning of Paul’s words:  “Therefore if anyone is in Christ [that is, grafted in, joined to Him by faith in Him as Savior], he is a new creature [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit]; the old things [the previous moral and spiritual condition] have passed away. Behold, all things have become new [because spiritual awakening brings a new life]” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

-You’re Not The Old You!

If you’re a believer—or, a disciple—of Jesus, you’re no longer that OLD you. You’ve become; and, are becoming the NEW you—the spiritually born again you! And, one day God will finish the work He began in you that day you were converted—that’s the coming day of “glorification”! Until that day, God will be at work, in you, sanctifying you. That’s a big word—SANCTIFICATION—but, break it down to it’s simplest form & it’s the process by which God makes you more like Jesus and less like you! He does that, in part, by revealing to us our sin, convincing us to forsake it, and, empowering us to actually overcome it!

 

Daniel: War In The Spirit World!

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

-All We Need To Know!

It’s easy for us to go off on a tangent & obsess over the supernatural aspects of a Biblical text like Daniel chapter 10. It’s true that we need to be aware of what happens in the realm of the supernatural; but, ONLY in as much as the Word of God reveals it to us! Everything else is in the realm of speculation! Scripture tells us all we need to know about the spirit world. There is no other authoritative source on demons and angels! That said, there’s really no debate that the “…prince of the kingdom of Persia…” in v.13 & the “…prince of Greece…” mentioned in v.20-21 are “fallen” angels. While Scripture refers to demons as “princes” in other passages, not every occurrence of the title “prince” points to a demon. Even here, in v.13, Michael, the archangel—is called a “chief prince.”

-Are Demons “Territorial”?

But, for several good reasons, it seems accurate to call “the prince of Persia” & the “prince of Greece” fallen angels or demons! For example, they oppose the angel of God sent to Daniel; and, Michael—God’s archangel—fought against them. Then, in v.20-21, the angel told Daniel that he was going to “…return to fight against the prince of Persia…”; and, when he was through with him he’d fight the “prince of Greece.” So, here’s my best shot at interpreting that—it seems like demons (at least some of them) are “territorial.” They seem to have spiritual responsibilities over countries, regions, and perhaps cities. And, somehow they seem to gain strength as they get a deeper foothold.

-Overcoming Demonic Strongholds!

We need to keep that in mind as we pray for revival. It’s possible that our area could have a strong demonic foothold—not unlike the kind of opposition that Daniel faced in Babylon. Let me draw another point, from Daniel’s story, because of that: Our prayers may require fasting & extra time & effort because of spiritual warfare in the spirit world! In case you forgot, look back at v.2 to see the amount of time that Daniel devoted to prayer & mourning & fasting! It says 3 FULL WEEKS! We need to pray MORE! We need to pray LONGER! And, perhaps we ought to be giving ourselves to FASTING if we hope to break through the demonic front-lines that war against us! Perhaps we need to let that thought soak in awhile! To meditate on Daniel’s spiritual stamina!

-Do You Have Spiritual Grit?

As I pause on that, I can’t help but think that our God deserves a higher level of devotion than we typically give Him. I’m ashamed to admit that I so rarely give Him my “1st Offerings.” It’s usually my leftovers that I give Him. What about you? Isn’t that also true of you? We usually give God our leftover time, our leftover effort, our leftover “piano”, and, a whole lot of leftover stuff we don’t even use anymore! Is it possible that we haven’t seen revival because we only pray for it if we have any leftover time? Daniel took a spiritual retreat for 21 days; and, just one note of interest—in v.13 it says God’s angel was delayed, by a demon, for 21 days. Daniel prayed ‘til there was a breakthrough! He didn’t quit!

 

 

Daniel: What Revival Looks Like!

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

-It Starts With Humble Prayer!

I don’t know that there’s a more beautiful & spiritually moving prayer than Daniel’s prayer in the 9th chapter of the book named after him. There’s a humility & a brokenness that’s often missing from the hurried & self-centered prayers of our day! When revival occurs, in the hearts of believers, this is what it looks like! Prayers, uttered by a revived saint,  admits a brokenness & even shame over their sin, selfishness, and idolatry— “Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but this day public shame belongs to us: the men of Judah, the residents of Jerusalem, and all Israel—those who are near and those who are far, in all the countries where You have dispersed them because of the disloyalty they have shown toward You. Lord, public shame belongs to us, our kings, our leaders, and our fathers, because we have sinned against You.  Compassion and forgiveness belong to the Lord our God, though we have rebelled against Him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by following His instructions that He set before us through His servants the prophets.  All Israel has broken Your law and turned away, refusing to obey You” (Daniel 9:7-11).  Wow! What brokenness & transparency!

-Admitting Public Shame!

“…PUBLIC SHAME belongs to us…” he confessed in v.7; and, in v.8 he says it again, “…PUBLIC SHAME belongs to us…” Daniel’s greatness, in the eyes of God, was not because he was without sin! None of us are! It was Daniel’s sensitivity to his sin! He admitted the depth of his sin! He owned it! For our world—and, our NATION—to experience revival, it has to begin with the broken humility of God’s people! With us! We, the Church, have to take ownership for our sins—for our IDOLATRY! For our failure to love all the world’s people groups & every kind of sinner!

-Looking In A Mirror!

Daniel didn’t just throw “…our kings, our leaders & our fathers…” under the bus (v.8).  He said, “…WE have sinned against You…WE have rebelled against you…” (v.9).  I fear the American church has been too preoccupied with pointing fingers at political leaders when WE are the real problem! We should be looking in the mirror, spiritually speaking! God will only use a broken church to bring the world to revival!

-Concern For God’s Reputation!

Daniel was concerned that Israel had hurt God’s reputation in the world! “LORD, bring revival to your people,” Daniel prays, “…for the LORD’S sake” (v.17); “…make us a city called by YOUR name” (v.18); “LORD, HEAR! LORD, FORGIVE! LORD, ACT…” (v.19). Did you notice that? “…for YOUR SAKE”, Daniel prayed, “We base our prayers on YOUR abundant compassion” (v.18). Do you pray like that? I’m afraid that, for most of my life,  my prayers sounded nothing like that! Is it possible that the reason so many of our prayers go “unanswered” is because we’re not offering “God-Centered” prayers? Can we begin to pray—as Christ’s Church—that God would act in HIS own BEST INTEREST? And, for HIS GLORY? Let’s do it!

 

Daniel: You Should Know Better!

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

-Don’t Lick Frozen Flagpoles!

One of the most hilarious scenes in the movie, A Christmas Story, occurs when one of the characters sticks their tongue on a frozen flagpole because they were “triple dog dared” to do so! The reason that scene is so funny is because we’ve all been there, haven’t we? Licking a frozen flagpole is like some weird right of passage in elementary school. And, it wouldn’t make any difference if they put signs up all over campus— “DON’T LICK FROZEN FLAGPOLES”—kids are going to do it! When they complain that the top layer of skin, on their tongue, has been ripped off, we tell them, “You should have known better!” They knew the consequences! They’d observed it in their foolish classmates! When they complain, for the next week, that it hurts to talk, that it hurts to eat,  that it hurts to do anything with their tongue, we tell them, “You should have known better!”

-Pride Always Gets Us In Trouble!

That’s almost exactly what Daniel says to the Babylonian king as we open chapter 5 of the book, of Scripture, that bears his name. Here we’re introduced to King Belshazzar. Almost 70 years have passed since Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael & Azzariah were exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon (Daniel chapter 1); and, it’s been some 25 years since the end of chapter 4 when we see King Nebuchadnezzar become a worshipper of Yahweh. The historical record fills in some of the details—we know that it was Nebuchadnezzar’s son, Nabonidus, who followed him to the throne of Babylon; and, it was his son, Belshazzar, who succeeded him & became the central figure here in the 5th chapter of Daniel’s story. We don’t know why; but, the Holy Spirit inspired Daniel to bypass the life of Nabonidus completely; and, all but the last day of Belshazzar’s life! Here’s what else we know—outside the massive walls of Babylon, the Medo-Persian army had surrounded the city. In his pride, King Belshazzar threw this huge drinking party for all his nobles to show them that there was no reason to fear the army outside the walls (ch. 5:1-4). Someone has said that “Pride is the evil response of sinful men to the grace of God”; and, King Belshazzar’s response was evil!

-The King Who Should Have Known Better

He had heard about the grace that God had shown his grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar; but, his pride led him into the deeper sins of idolatry & blasphemy. And, as Daniel rehashed the details, of his grandfather’s story, with him (vs. 18-21) he concluded: “But you his successor, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this. Instead, you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven…”(vs. 22-23)  “You knew all this,” Daniel told him, “You should have known better!”  And, we should know better! God’s patience can be exhausted! We make much of God’s mercy, grace & patience with us; and, we should because God is loving, merciful, gracious & patient with us! But, we dare not ignore the justice & judgment of God! We do so—like Belshazzar did—at our own peril!

 

Daniel: A King’s Pride Is Broken!

-Here’s Nebuchadnezzar’s Story!

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

Should you find yourself reading the Book of Daniel someday, you’ll note a significant change as you start the 4th chapter—it’s no longer Daniel’s story! This is King Nebuchadnezzar’s personal testimony of how he came to have saving faith in Yahweh—it’s become Nebuchadnezzar’s story! His words are directed at “…those of every people, nation, and language, who live in all the earth”; and, reads like what someone would say if they stepped up to the mic in a worship service & shared a testimony of faith! “I am pleased to tell you about the miracles and wonders the Most High God has done for me” (v.2).

-Your God Becomes My God!

Up until now—throughout the first 3 chapters—the King always referred to “YOUR God…” Daniel; and, to “YOUR God…” Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego! In this chapter, the King describes a personal relationship with God—he shares what “…the Most High God had done for ME.” In v.4 the King said he was “…at ease & flourishing in my palace”—some translations render it “…content & prosperous.” Rarely do the “content & prosperous” seek after God! In fact, Jesus said, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into heaven”; and, then He follows with one of the most misused statements in all of Scripture: “But, with God all things are possible!” Be careful! Don’t carelessly quote that verse outside of it’s context! What Jesus is saying is that it’s humanly IMPOSSIBLE for the rich to enter into heaven; but, “…with God ALL THINGS are POSSIBLE!” Even the salvation of a rich, powerful & pride-filled King, like Nebuchadnezzar, is possible with God; but, ONLY after he’s been broken & humbled!

-Until He Acknowledged The Most High God!

And, the rest of the chapter is Nebuchadnezzar’s incredible story—how God drove him away from people to live, as a wild animal, with the wild animals! For 7 years he ate grass & acted as a wild animal; until, he acknowledged “…that the Most High God is ruler over the kingdom of men, and He gives it to anyone He wants” (v.25).  The King learned that pride is way more dangerous than it appears! Pride blinds us to our sin; and, we become self-absorbed in our own little world of self-importance!

-Failure Can Be A Gift!

The British playwright, George Bernard Shaw, said, “There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart’s desire, and the other is to gain it…we tend to listen more when God speaks through sorrow, pain, loss, and personal failure. Success tends to make us complacent…” What he’s saying, in a sense, is that failure can be a gift from God! It was for Nebuchadnezzar! Getting himself knocked off his perch of pride became his salvation because it broke his sinful self-confidence! Thank God! He will cut us down to size in order to save us! Nebuchadnezzar had taken credit for his accomplishments when it was God who had blessed him with his abilities! Someone said: “Pride is like plagiarism because it attempts to take for ourselves Glory that belongs to God alone!” God will not share His glory with us! Repent of pride or face His judgment!

 

Daniel: Standing Against Evil!

-Evil Always Gives You A 2nd Chance!

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

Have you ever noticed how evil will always give you a 2nd chance to do evil? If you miss the first invitation, there’ll always be a follow-up! That’s what Daniel’s 3 friends—Hananiah, Mishael & Azariah—observed after they failed to bow down and worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s gold image as he had commanded them to do (Daniel chapter 3). “Ya know boys,” I imagine the King saying, “I’m thinking you just must not have heard me! When the music starts, all you have to do is follow the crowd! Just bow down & worship my gold image & all’s cool!

-He Picked On The Wrong Deity!

And, then he lays down the gauntlet: “…and who is that God who can rescue you from my power?” Oops! You just picked on the wrong deity, Nebuchadnezzar! Don’t ever draw a line in the sand & dare Yahweh to cross it! But, that’s what he did! He bragged that no God could deliver them from his hand! I love how they stood up to evil—they “…replied to the King, ‘Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the King. But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as King to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.” They had faith in God’s ability to deliver them—that God was ABLE!

-Don’t Make Promises For God He Doesn’t Make!

But, even if He, according to His Sovereign plan, didn’t deliver them, they would not bow to his image! There’s a great application to take from their example—we need to be careful not to put words in God’s mouth! Don’t make claims for God on His behalf! We may think that God has to respond in a certain way; but, our knowledge is finite and limited! His ways are higher than our ways! Don’t make promises for God that He doesn’t make! We can’t presume, on Him, about how our story ends! God doesn’t always deliver the way we “think” He ought to! While He brought these 3 through the fiery furnace unharmed, He may not do the same for us! We don’t know! We just know that He’s ABLE! Our response is to take a stand against evil no matter the personal cost! “When ungodly men make ungodly laws, godly men disobey them!”

-This Was Real: It Was Life Or Death!

One of the biggest challenges, to preaching this text, is overcoming some of your childhood perceptions. This isn’t a “fairytale” or a “myth”—Daniel & his 3 friends were real people who loved God! They were people just like you & me trying to live out the difficulties of life by faith in God. And, their story—like our story—put them in a place where they had to make a tough decision! And, like they experienced, when we obey God rather than man, we’ll be judged, by the world, as insubordinate & NOT a “team player.” This 3rd chapter of Daniel points out that “…some (of the King’s counselors) took the occasion to come forward & maliciously accuse the Jews…” of ignoring the King! Nothing could be further from the truth! They had proven their loyalty to the King! Be prepared to pay a price if you obey God over man!