Life is about choices: A Covenant Forgotten – Part 3

In the first covenant that God made with man Adam was free to do as he pleased, which he did and mankind has regretted his choice ever since. What we can learn from Adam’s story is that ultimately our eternal future depends upon our belief in the Lord’s faithfulness, and our commitment to entering and keeping our covenant with the Lord.

In the parable of the “Parable of the Bags of Gold” (Matthew 25:14-29) the Master said to the servant, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”[1] Notice that the Master did not commend the servants, who returned with a profit, for what they believed; he commended him for what they did. They obviously believed because they chose to act on what they believed. The third servant had the same information as the other two, about the master, yet he decided to believe and act differently. Was that because of what was in that servant’s heart? That third servant had no trust in his master even though he believed his master. Did the servant see the master as being the same as him? (“To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless, to the pure you show yourself pure, but to the devious you show yourself shrewd.”[2])

In that same chapter of Mathew Jesus told the parable of the “The Sheep and the Goats” that described the final judgment. In that parable Jesus said, “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”[3] Jesus said to the righteous, “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’”  In that parable the righteous are those who chose to love their neighbors as themselves.  In other words the people who were faithful to what the Lord said are the ones who were righteous.

All through scripture we see people making choices. Adam and Eve chose to disobey the Lord. Noah, by choice, walked with God. Following Israel’s choices is like taking a wild roller coaster ride, one moment they would choose to follow God and soon after they were sacrificing their children to false gods. King Saul chose to follow God and then chose not to. Solomon chose to follow the Lord with his whole heart and then chose to follow him somewhat. David, on the other hand, followed God and all but one of the Apostles chose to follow Jesus to the end.

One way to view those stories is that they are stories of those who would choose to be in and stay in covenant with the Lord, those who would choose to not be in covenant with Him, or those who would enter and then leave His covenant with them.

There may not be any place in scripture that shows that we must make our own choices better than Joshua 23-24 does. Israel had journeyed from Egypt, wandered in the desert, conquered nations and was able to rest for a moment. Their leader, Joshua, gathered them to hear him speak and after he reminded them of the great things the Lord did for them, that they saw Him do, he reminded them that they must make a choice. “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” [4]

The Lord doesn’t force us to follow Him and He didn’t force Israel to serve Him. Adam and Eve had to make a choice to obey Him as did Noah, Abraham and many others. The Lord made covenants with them all. Every time we see the Lord making a promise or giving a command, in Scripture, we are seeing a form of a covenant.  The Lord promises His faithfulness to mankind in the Bible through covenants and it is through covenants that He expresses his expectation that man be faithful to Him.


[1] Matthew 25:23 (NASB)

[2] Psalm 18:25-26 (NIV)

[3] Matthew 25:46

[4] Joshua 24:1

” . . .set your hearts on things above. . .”

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Colossians 3:1

If you call yourself a Christian, ask yourself what your heart is set on.

Did you spend more time yesterday studying the stats of your favorite sports team than you spent reading your Bible?

Have you spent more money this month entertaining yourself than you did tithing or giving to charities?

Did you talk more about the new box office hit than you did Jesus yesterday?

To the casual Christian these things seem trivial and unimportant. But according to scripture they show what you are truly passionate about and where your heart really is. Scripture never commends the casual Christian or speaks of rewards for the casual Christian. In fact according to Jesus and the Apostles there is no such thing.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus does not want anyone to hate anyone else. He is using hyperbole to show you that there is nothing casual about being a true Christian. You are either hardcore or you are……………………..

hyperbole |hīˈpərbəlē|
noun
exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.

Don’t take it literally, do take it seriously.

Christians and Entertainment, what should we be doing on That Day?

I was recently involved in a discussion about the Beatles and their contributions to the world. I left the discussion with some new and some re-evaluated convictions about Christians listening to secular music and in a greater context Christians and how they choose to pleasure their minds and entertain themselves.

I grew up in the 70’s and admired my rock stars. I believed the Beatles had all the answers, the Stones were cool and Dylan had insight that neared genius levels. I went there, did that, bought the tee shirt and partied till I puked (literally). The Beatles wrote about LSD so I took LSD, Dylan was anti-establishment so I fashioned myself to also be. Looking back, I see that my heroes, whose public lives I tried to emulate brought some level of misery for me and all of their followers. You might say that, for me, reality has set in. (Praise God, in the despair that the influence of that culture led me to, I came to know Jesus.)

With the Hippy/rock and roll era came a degree of decadence not seen in the world since Roman and Greek orgies were common. Drug and alcohol use skyrocketed; sexual promiscuity became the norm, and social standards dropped. With those issues came rises in the rates of teenage pregnancy, drug related deaths, divorce, abortion and suicide. I cannot begin to count those that I know who have been and are still being affected by one or more of these problems. Of those of you who of grew up in that era, which of you can count the numbers of friends who died in some drug/alcohol related incident, accident or overdose? For years I idealized the influence that the Hippies and rock n rollers had on me and on the world, I now see the devastation that era has left behind.

So what does this have to do with the well-grounded, mature Christian who is not as easily influenced as millions of teens in the 70’s were? Does secular music or secular movies affect our children or us? Does it matter to God? Paul wrote, “Everything is permissible”, and we must ask how that statement influences how we entertain ourselves and spend our time. Another question we must ask ourselves is do we stop reading at that statement or continue reading to the point where Paul wrote, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:14-33) Does listening to the Beatles, the Jonas Brothers, or Fifty Cent meet the standard that Paul’s statement set? Does what we watch or listen to even matter, because there is Grace after all and God does want us to be happy?

Modern Christians like to think in terms of what is appropriate and what is not appropriate. For example some of us convince ourselves that the Beatles singing, “all you need is love” would be appropriate, but Ice T rapping “Die, die, die pig, die! F**k the police!” might not be. If we take an honest look at the “what is appropriate” approach we understand that the standards it gives the Christ follower are ever changing. The definition of “what is appropriate” differs from person-to-person, culture-to-culture and generation-to-generation. In other words the “what is appropriate” approach offers no standard at all that is based in Biblical truth and in the end is not a measure of what is right or wrong Christian behavior.

Modern Christians like to take the Pharisee’s legalistic approach also don’t they? Many Christ followers may say that it’s OK to listen and watch this or that, because there is no law (commandment) against it. That makes for a pretty shallow relationship with Jesus though and it is certainly against everything He taught and teaches through His Word.

Other modern Christians have said “God is an artist and we can learn about God from all art”, but have you noticed that God’s art, (the sunsets, fall leaves, peacocks, etc) is never profane, never vulgar, never sexual and always leaves you wanting more of God? Certainly we can learn some good from some art, however all that is art is good.

It’s easy to believe these approaches are sound, because with Jesus in Heaven and us here on earth we kind of lose our true perspective. He’s so far away and His heartbreak is not evident since we are unable to see the pain in His eyes when we do the things we do. Maybe it would help if we put things in the perspective of Christ being the husband of the church, which of course He is.

If you have a spouse or significant other you might be able to understand what I’m about to say. If I say that I love my wife, yet run off to dance with another woman when I feel the need to dance, is that love? If my wife tells me that she loves me and then entertains herself with my sworn enemies, is that love? If you leave the company of your sweetheart, whom you say you love, to go find pleasure in the company of those who are against your sweetheart, is that true love? What would you think of me if I taught my son to do these things?

Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me”, so those who truly want to love Christ must consider what kind of Christian love it is that runs off to dance with the devil. If love is “not self-seeking” (1 Corinthians 13) then can we say we love God when we entertain and pleasure ourselves with the music and movies (or even books) made by and about godless men and woman? What will He think of us if we have taught His children to accept that love is self-seeking?

I know that many will come up with well-reasoned arguments against what I just wrote. If you are one of my brothers or sisters who has already done that or is doing that now, I hope you will ask yourself if you are coming from a self-seeking perspective or a God-seeking perspective. You see our relationship with Jesus is all about love. In every decision we make love will guide the approach we take, if our relation with Jesus is what it should be.

On “The Day of the Lord” when we stand before Jesus, we will no longer believe that listening to our favorite secular music, reading a best selling novel or seeing the newest greatest movie is so important. At that moment all we will see is the opportunities that we lost and the examples we failed to set. We will find that our heavenly rewards and crowns have been lost. Only then will we see that Jesus could care less that some awesome riff or a suspenseful moment in a movie enthralled us. I believe that at that time, on that day, we will completely understand the pointlessness of our quests to find pleasure, when compared to what He has called us to do. On that day we will fully comprehend who it was we served when we engrossed ourselves in the “art” of those who are against Jesus.

Be Relevant, Love Jesus
Steve

No Comprimise, No Retreat

Endeavor, as much as you can, to keep clear of everything, which may prove injurious to your soul. People may say you are too conscientious, too particular, and ask where is the great harm of such and such things? But don’t listen to them. It is dangerous to play tricks with sharp tools: it is far more dangerous to take liberties with your immortal soul. ~J.C. Ryle

There are those who would convince us that it’s OK to compromise. Also, we each have some in our circles who would convince us to tone down the talk about Jesus and who are embarrassed that we seem extreme. In reality they convince us that it’s normal and proper to not “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

How many of us were once on fire for God and refused to compromise what we believed, only to have our resolve chipped away by “well intentioned” others, who convinced us to “tone it down.” Some of us never had the chance to live uncompromised lives; we may have lived in a compromised position, around compromised Christians, our entire Christian walk. If we fall into either group it’s time for us to turn around and start living lives of uncompromised purity and righteousness. No matter what the anti-Christians and the world have convinced us of, Christ still calls us to a different standard.

We live in a world where Christians are taught early not to be dogmatic about their beliefs, because it may offend others. We feel embarrassed about telling others about Jesus. We feel that it is improper to tell others that He is the only way and the Hell awaits those who do not believe in Him. The Grace of christ is lost on those who remain unconvicted of their sin. Christians explain that they do not witness to unbelievers because they “do not feel led to.” The Holy Spirit of God did not stop them from witnessing, what stopped them was compromise and complacency. Compromise broke their will and complacency sapped them of their boldness.

Modern Christians have been taught that it’s OK to walk with one foot in the world. Many of us know Christians who compromise themselves, in small ways, to save or make some amount of money. We know those who spend more time watching world events on the news, playing video games or being entertained by sports than they do praying or reading God’s Word. We see our Christian brothers covering themselves with tattoos, and our Christian sisters wearing cloths designed to highlight their sexual parts. To many Christians this is perfectly normal and acceptable. Anti-Christians have convinced them, in conversation and by example, that these things are quite acceptable.

These or other compromises are not acceptable, except by the world. Christians must redefine what is acceptable and what is not. Many of us define what is acceptable by whether or not it is sinful, or whether or not we will get caught. That is legalism. Some allow modern culture to define what is right or wrong. Fear of being unacceptable to friends and the world motivate us. That is worldliness.

To us Christians those things that are acceptable should be those things that bring glory to God. Acceptable things are those things that we know would please God and best represent the nature of God. Our obedience should come from love and not fear of reprisal.

God loves us as we are. He loves us though we are still sinners; God’s love for us is not in question. The questions are these. Do we love God as He loves us? Have we been convinced to love both Him and the world? Are we convinced that we must live our lives for our own comfort, our own self-image and our own sake? For whose or what’s sake do we make our choices?

We must live our lives and make our choices only for the honor of His name. We must die to the expectations of the anti-Christians and the world, and we must begin to live for the sake of His name. What we do to our bodies, what we watch and listen to, what we say and do; these things all represent Christ to every one who sees us.

Be relevant, love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.

Spiritual Maturity

The other day I was speaking to a young man, who I admire and love, and  he said something that was startling to me. He told that he had gone to his friend’s church and he said something to the effect that the Spirit wasn’t there. I took what he said to mean that the Holy Spirit was not present at his friend’s church, at least not as powerfully as He is at this young man’s church.

In the past I have been associated with, and for a while, I was taught in the same “belief system” that the young man is now in. It is common to hear those in that “belief system” to say things like “I went this or that church and I didn’t feel the Spirit there” “that church doesn’t have the Spirit” or “We didn’t feel the Spirit when we sang in that church.”

In reality what is being said is “our church is Spiritually superior to those other churches”
and “that other church does not give me an emotional high like mine does.” I have two things to say to this.

First, Jesus and His Spirit are wherever two or three are gathered. Our faith tells us this is true. Even though we never see the Spirit or Jesus we know that they exist, by our faith. Even though the music might be the old songs our grandparent listened to and do not stir us up, our faith should tell us that God is among the body of believers that we are with. The person who wrote Hebrews wrote, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” We need to understand that the certainty of our hope is not in what we see or feel, but in the promises of God. Jesus does show up because a certain kind of music is played or clothes are worn.

The second point I would like to make is about the similarities between us thinking, “our church is spiritually superior to that church” and the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Pharisee did not know the heart or life of the tax collector and judged on what he saw and felt about the man. Another similarity is the Pharisee lacked true godly humility and the way he judged the tax collector was based in pride.

If a church or a body of believers has doctrine or teaches things that are against scripture then we must speak out against those things. But, if a church’s music and services are different than what we are accustomed to and they don’t evoke the same emotion and feelings that we are accustomed to, we need to understand that they are not wrong. They are only different. Being different is not wrong. Understanding this and accepting our brothers and sisters who are different is a sign of our Spiritual growth and our Christian maturity.

Peace, Steve

“Jesus told a story to some people who thought they were better than others and who looked down on everyone else:

Two men went into the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood over by himself and prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not greedy, dishonest, and unfaithful in marriage like other people. And I am really glad that I am not like that tax collector over there. I go without eating for two days a week, and I give you one tenth of all I earn.” The tax collector stood off at a distance and did not think he was good enough even to look up toward heaven. He was so sorry for what he had done that he pounded his chest and prayed, “God, have pity on me! I am such a sinner.” Then Jesus said, “When the two men went home, it was the tax collector and not the Pharisee who was pleasing to God. If you put yourself above others, you will be put down. But if you humble yourself, you will be honored.”

Luke 18:9-14