What A Healthy Church Looks Like!

-It’s Supernatural, Holy Spirit Empowered!

God’s work is never accomplished in the strength of the flesh! The book of Acts describes the early church as a supernatural, Holy Spirit empowered organism. What we read, in the 2nd chapter, is the result of a healthy church living in obedience to Jesus. After His resurrection, He gathered the disciples; and, He commissioned them to go & do something—He commissioned them to make disciples of all nations! But, He told them 1st to go to an upper room, in Jerusalem, and, WAIT for God’s Holy Spirit to indwell them & empower them! And, that’s exactly what they did!

-The Normal Way The Spirit Works!

In the power, of the Holy Spirit, they began to make disciples! It says:  “Those who accepted the message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them. And they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved” (Acts 2:41-47).  The church grew spiritually & numerically! This is the normal way that the Spirit of God works.

-A Healthy Church Is Gospel-Centered!

When a church gets spiritually healthy, Jesus uses them to add disciples—a healthy church is loyal to God & to one another in their devotion to sound doctrine. The text says “…they devoted themselves…” to the teaching of the Apostles! That word “devoted” literally means to be “loyal” or “attached” to something—the church was LOYAL to the teaching of the Apostles; so, they were LOYAL to sound doctrine! That’s a mark of a healthy church—it’s “Word” centered! It’s “gospel-centered”!

-A Healthy Church Rejects Error!

That means it exposes “error”—all teachings contrary to the Apostle’s! Any church that fails to expose error; and, fails to align with the New Testament teachings of the Apostles is unhealthy! And, we do so out of a loyalty, and, attachment to God first; but, also to the rest of the members of our local church! As a faith community, we show loyalty to each other; and, Biblical love for each other when we insist that everything we teach & preach—in classes, in Small Groups, in the pulpit—is consistent with the Apostle’s teachings in the New Testament!

-It’s A Challenge To Stay Healthy!

Can you imagine the challenges, of this church, in Jerusalem? Adding 3,000 new believers in one day is both a Pastor’s “DREAM” & a Pastor’s “NIGHTMARE.” All the variety of backgrounds! Their ignorance of basic Bible doctrines! What a mammoth task to disciple them all in their new faith—but, they were “devoted” or “loyal” to each other & that made all the difference!

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Daniel: Praying Through Obstacles!

GOING ON VACATION! NEXT POST WILL BE: AUGUST 16

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

-Life Doesn’t Always Go Right!

The so-called “Health, Wealth & Prosperity Gospel” would have us believe that doing the right things & praying the right way will insure that everything, in life, will go right! That health will follow us! That wealth will follow us; and, prosperity too! But, the Biblical story, of the prophet Daniel, shows us quite the opposite! In fact, the Bible is replete with similar examples  which show that doing the right thing does NOT insure that everything, in life, will go right! In spite of Daniel’s faithfulness, to God’s Word & His commandments, he still had enemies who meant to do him harm (read Daniel chapter 6).  When “…they could find no charge or corruption, for he was trustworthy…” (v.4) they conspired to use his faith against him by deceiving King Darius into signing a decree that exposed his ultimate loyalty to God rather than the king!

-Trust God To Deal With Your Enemies!

But, Daniel’s story teaches us to trust God to deal with our enemies! We don’t need to work so hard to defend ourselves! Let God defend us! Daniel’s story also proves that a believer can thrive in an environment that’s hostile to their faith; but, it’s not always going to be comfortable! In our “politically correct” world, we’re tempted every day to compromise our faith! To fudge a little here! To keep our mouth shut there! Like Daniel, if you don’t compromise, you’re going to run into trouble with this unbelieving world sooner or later! So, trust God with your enemies!

-Staying Faithful In A Hostile World!

Daniel has seen this before. He’s a very old man, at this point, in the story; perhaps, more than 80 years old! He had been exiled to Babylon as a teenager; and, Darius is now the 4th king under whom he’s served. So, the “names” may have changed; but, Daniel’s challenge, to remain faithful to God in a hostile world, remains the same!  So, how does he respond when he is informed of his enemies deception? The text says, “…he went into his house…and three times a day he got down on his knees, prayed, and gave thanks to his God, just as he had done before” (v.10).  See that? Daniel didn’t just turn to prayer when he had exhausted all human attempts to fix his predicament! Prayer was part of the regular rhythm of his life!

-Planned Neglect!

Like clock work, the text of Daniel 6 informs us that Daniel prayed regularly, 3 times a day every day! A noted concert violinist was once asked about the secret of her mastery of the instrument; and, she answered with 2 words—“Planned Neglect! There were many things that used to demand my time. When I went to my room after breakfast, I made my bed, straightened the room, dusted, and did whatever seemed necessary. When I finished my work, I turned to my violin practice. That system prevented me from accomplishing what I should on the violin. So, I reversed things. I deliberately planned to neglect everything else until my practice period was complete. And that program of planned neglect is the secret of my success.” Nothing got in the way of Daniel’s prayer time! He scheduled it… to the planned neglect of everything else!

 

Daniel: God’s Mercy Has A Limit!

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

-Do Not Test God!

So, how long will God extend mercy, toward the habitual sinner, before He finally breaks out in judgment against him! No one, but God, actually knows! But, Scripture is clear that it’s incredibly dangerous—and stupid—to test God! He does have a limit; and, the Babylonian King Belshazzar discovered it according to the prophet Daniel’s account in chapter 5 of the book named after him! As the grandson of King Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar should have known better! By his grandfather’s own testimony, he knew that God had judged him to live like an insane animal for 7 years until he acknowledged that God was Sovereign over all the affairs of man; and, that all of life’s “stuff” is a GIFT from Him. But, Belshazzar continually turned his back on God until God, in judgment, turned His back on Belshazzar. And, that would be the tragic ending to Belshazzar’s life.

-He Died A Fool!

His was a wasted life! He became a “byword”; or, a moral proverb! He should have known better! But, the words of judgment, “…you…have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this…” haunted him at the end (v.22).  He died a fool! What about you? You need to know that pride invites God’s judgment! You need to know that human wisdom is inadequate! You need to know that God’s patience can run thin! It can be exhausted! You need to know that God’s Word is certain; and, that there’s no escaping God’s judgment!

-You Need An Advocate!

God’s Word says, for certain, that “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one of us may be repaid for what he has done in the body, whether good or worthless” (2 Corinthians 5:10).  You don’t want to stand, before Him, alone because the deeds you’ve done will never earn you salvation! You need an advocate! You need Jesus to stand beside you! You want His atoning work, on the cross, for your sin to be applied to your account! Only by accepting His Son, Jesus, will God “…vanquish our iniquities; and…cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:19) He’ll “…remember them no more…” (Isaiah 43:25); and, “…remove them as far as the east is from the west…” (Psalm 103:12)

-You Are No Longer Ignorant!

I urge you to turn to Jesus! Don’t come to the end of life; and, say, like King Belshazzar, “I should have known better.” It matters not what you’ve done with your life up until now! If you humble yourself before God, He will extend to you His love, mercy and grace! Dedicate the rest of your life to serving God by the power of His Holy Spirit! You’re flesh isn’t enough! You’re physical strength isn’t enough! You need Jesus! You can’t “UNDO” what you’ve “DONE”; but, you can change the course of your life moving forward! We serve the God who makes beauty from ashes! He loves to set the sinner FREE! He redeems and makes all things new; including, your life if you’ll just give it back to Him!

 

Daniel: The Handwriting’s On The Wall!

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

-The King Was Suddenly Sober!

As the 5th chapter—of Daniel’s prophetic book—opens, the Medo-Persian army has surrounded that great city of Babylon. In his pride, the Babylonian King Belshazzar has thrown this huge drinking party, for all his nobles, because it was believed the visiting army would be unable to penetrate the massive walls of the city.  “At that moment the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and began writing on the plaster of the king’s palace wall next to the lampstand. As the king watched the hand that was writing, his face turned pale, and his thoughts so terrified him that his hip joints shook and his knees knocked together” (vs. 5-6). King Belshazzar was suddenly sober!

-There Are Always Consequences!

After a failed attempt to gain an explanation, from his “wise men”, the queen mother shows up and encourages the King to seek the prophet Daniel’s counsel.  Now advanced in years, Daniel rehearses the story of Nebuchadnezzar—Belzhazzar’s grandfather—with him; and, concludes with this:  “…you have not glorified the God who holds your life-breath in His hand and who controls the whole course of your life” (v.23).  Like many, in our own day, Belshazzar seemed to think he was entitled to live his life however he wanted with no consequences! Perhaps he thought God would just wink at his sin! There’s a grave danger in over-focusing on God’s love, mercy & grace! We dare not ignore His justice & judgment! We do so at our own peril!

-He Abused God’s Patience!

We can exhaust God’s immense patience! How did he think this would end for him? Was he so deluded that he thought he could live out his life with no regard for the God who created him; and, get away with it? Apparently so! He abused God’s patience; and, God’s judgment was against him— “This is the writing on the wall,” Daniel said, “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN.  This is the interpretation of the message: MENE means that God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end. TEKEL means that you have been weighed in the balance and found deficient. PERES means that your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians” (v.25-28).  Times up, King Belshazzar! God is stripping you of the kingdom!

-When God Speaks, We Need To Listen!

This whole tragedy was so unnecessary! Belshazzar should have known better! He knew his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar’s “story”! Some 40-50 years earlier, God had revealed—through the Prophet Daniel (ch.2)—that Babylon would be replaced by the Medo-Persian empire—the very army just outside Babylon’s walls!  And, it all happened, just as God said it would! God’s Word is certain! It’s authoritative! If God says it, you can bank on it! Don’t grow weary over the delay of God’s promise that Jesus will come again! “Scoffers will come in the last days to scoff,” Peter warned (2 Peter 3:3), “living according to their own desires, saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?” When God speaks, please listen!

 

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: 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!

 

 

Daniel: Questioning Civil Disobedience!

-There Is A Law Above Our Laws!

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

I have a huge curiosity for all things Adolf Hitler & WWII Germany—perhaps, in part, because I’m of German descent; but, mostly, I think, because I find it incredulous how an entire nation could be duped by such an ungodly man! How could they ever go along with a plan to round up a certain people group & have them exterminated as Hitler did some 6 million Jews; not, to mention the thousands of non-Jewish German citizens that he killed because they wouldn’t go along with his plan? When WWII ended, in 1945, a series of military tribunals were held by the Allied forces, in Nuremberg, Germany, to prosecute the prominent leaders of Nazi Germany who carried out or participated in the Holocaust & other war crimes. Painted as patriots,  by their attorneys, their defense was that they were only carrying out the direct orders of their government; and, therefore could not be held responsible for their actions. But, one of the judges dismissed their argument with one simple question: “But, gentlemen,” he asked, “Is there not a law above our laws?

-We Ought To Obey God!

While Scripture gives us the general principle that, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities…” (Rom 13:1,2);  the higher, Biblical principle is this: “When ungodly men make ungodly laws, godly men disobey them!” The Apostle Peter taught the general principle to “…submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution…” (1 Pet 2:13-15); but, he also said, “…we must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29).  It’s in that kind of quagmire that Daniel’s 3 friends found themselves in chapter 3 of Daniel’s story! King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, from chapter 2, becomes a “nightmare” for Hananiah, Mishael & Azariah as he builds a 90’ tall gold statue, of himself, and demands that everyone bow down and worship it—“…when you hear the music…you are to fall down & worship the gold statue…” (ch. 3:5) This was a problem! They had been raised in good Jewish homes & knew the commandments Yahweh had given to Moses in Exodus chapter 20: “I am the LORD your God; do not have any other gods besides me…”

-It Was Us Against The World!

They knew the law: “…do not make an idol for yourself,” it continued, “you must not bow down to them or worship them…” (Exodus 20). So, here they were between the proverbial “Rock & A Hard Place”—obey the King & face God’s judgment or obey God & face the King’s fiery furnace! Let me try & paint the picture for you as you follow the narrative in Daniel chapter 3. There are probably thousands upon thousands of people, representing all the nations that Babylon had subdued, waiting for the sound of the music! They hear it & all the thousands upon thousands bow down & worship the King’s gold image….. EXCEPT 3 MEN! They knew their insubordination wouldn’t go unnoticed; and, it didn’t! But, the fear of God outweighed their fear of man: “When ungodly men make ungodly laws, godly men disobey them!