Ripe For Picking!

As I came down my driveway this week I noticed the blackberry briars by the pond were covered in berries. My mind began to reminisce of blackberry cobbler, blackberry jelly, blackberry syrup, blackberry… Oh I’m sorry, where was I? Oh yeah, as I looked at them from the truck it appeared that there were so many ripe berries that I could easily pick a gallon after supper. That would be enough for a cobbler and two pints of jelly.

After supper reality set in as I began picking. The ripe berries I saw from the road were not as plentiful upon closer inspection. I would carefully begin picking only the best berries and then realize that there were more ripe berries just out of my reach. So I carefully moved through the thorns to the “better” location only to find that were not as many berries as I had thought. As I moved around this patch of briars looking for the best I saw the mother load of blackberries! It was right where I first began picking. I thought, How could I have missed all those perfectly ripe berries? Did they ripen after I left? I went back an stood right where I started and looked for them but I couldn’t see them until I pulled back the leaves.

You see, if you are going to get all the best berries you’re going to have to pull back some leaves and branches. Blackberries don’t move, they just stay right where God put them. The outer berries are easy to see and pick, but that’s just the beginning of the harvest. The sweetest grow in the shade.

And so it is with the Bible. The truth is right there in front of us, and much of it visible and easily accessible. How ever there is much that goes unseen because we don’t study for a fuller understanding. Much like blackberries the sweeter fruit grows in the shade of the leaves. Sometimes its not until we are reading another passage that a previous verse is brought into light.

Many people take one verse or one phrase and thank they have all God has to offer. This is just laziness seeking low hanging fruit. One passage will never fill your berry bucket up and feed you a cobbler. We must carefully study all the Bible in context. God has blessed us with a bountiful harvest, but it will not be enjoyed by the lazy.

VBS Treason

It is clearly Vacation Bible School season in the south. Social media is filled with invites and accounts of each church’s VBS program. I have always been amazed at the time, energy and cold hard cash churches invest in this one week affair. It seems to be a contest to see which church is first, has the biggest or the most unique VBS.

I am not anti VBS, I think it can be a healthy program for the church in the summer months. The problem with VBS is that is has become a sacred right that is required in Evangelical churches. Over the years VBS has become big business and churches will spare no expense to have the latest greatest. Or they will spend countless hours making the decor by hand.

Let me ask you few a questions about VBS, Could it be we majored on the minor and minor on the major? Are crafts and games needed every night to teach kids the Bible? Or are they only needed to draw a crowd?

Allow me to illustrate, the 12×8 inch match stick cross that I made in VBS when I was 8 years old still hangs in my moms kitchen. It consist of about 150 burnt match sticks that some adult struck and blew out and not for me only but for 100 other kids as well. That was a cheap craft but how long did they spend preparing those 1500 matches? To be honest, I don’t remember a single VBS lesson. I remember a few water balloon fights, starfish sandwiches, and making a bead bracelet. VBS was just a fun time.

Churches tout every kind of stat on VBS to justify the expense of it. Stats like enrollment, average each night, workers present, commencement attendance, who gave the most spare change, who did and didn’t get a pie in the face, and how many got saved. Why do we still call this a Bible School?

Those who benefit most from VBS are the publishers, Oriental Trading Co, and parents who just want a free babysitter. I know this is Baptist treason and I run the risk of being classified as the VBS Nazi but VBS is out of control. When a church spends more time decorating, crafting, gaming, snacking and teaching sign language to songs than they do teaching the Bible, it’s not a Bible School, it’s just a Vacation. Vacations are great and everybody needs one, but a church shouldn’t pay for it.

The Ups and Downs Of Ministry

The office of pastor carries with it a number of joys and sorrows that are not typically experienced in any other walk of life. This is uniquely seen in the regular preaching two or three times each week to the same people. This sustained ministry of the Word forces the minister to live with the results of his ministry. In other words, he has to live among those he has taught.

The sorrow comes when warnings are proclaimed from Scripture but not heeded by the congregation. Sometimes his counsel or a message is even despised, and some people ultimately leave the church over it. The pastor has no option but to watch the out come and offer to help pick up the broken pieces if their life choice doesn’t work out. What makes this so saddening is the fact that many personal, family, and church problems are preventable if we will simply pray and seek to mold our lives to Scripture.

The joy comes from delivering God’s Word on a regular basis and then hearing someone tell of how that teaching or counsel helped them. On any given Sunday even the worst of preachers are told “that was a good message” or “great sermon today” by many good folks in the church. Real lasting joy never comes from preaching a good message or getting a lot of compliments. It comes from seeing lives changed by God’s Word.

Let me explain, Jeremiah was an excellent preacher and faithful to declare all that God had told him. He even acted it out and painted a crystal clear picture for Israel. But no one responded to God’s commands. They hated him and he wanted to quit. You all know the story, he couldn’t stop, the Word was in his heart and it was like a fire in his bones. So he went on preaching but remained weary and sad.

With out giving you all the details, I’ll just say, I’ve carried a lot of this kind of sorrow of late. But it is not all doom and gloom. I have personally heard of quite a few accounts lately where a sermon was brought to someone’s mind in a time of need. Actions were altered, eyes were opened, troubles were avoided, and answers were found. In other words, God is changing lives at Lee Creek. That has been a wonderful source of encouragement to me. I praise God for it and pray that it will continue.

Good Preaching

“That guy can really preach” he told me as he recounted last Sunday’s service at a local church. “It was powerful to see how everyone responded at the end.” I interrupted him after a few minutes and asked “What was the sermon about and what Scripture did he preach from?” “Oh” he said “he used a whole bunch of Bible verses, you couldn’t narrow it down to just one passage. That’s what I like, a preacher that uses lots of Bible.” So I asked again “What was the title of his message?”"Uh, I don’t guess he ever gave us a title” he said with a smile “he just preached what God put on his heart. And boy, it was a good one.”
This is a typical conversation here in the “Bible Belt” about how successful last Sunday’s sermon was. The preaching was really good and the alters were full but nobody really remembers what was said during the message. Except for a few jokes or a funny story. Sadly, it could very well be true that jokes and stories are all that’s worth repeating from many worship services. “That guy can really preach” can mean just about anything around here. He’s loud, he’s animated, he’s funny, he’s simple, he draws a crowd, he’s short, he’s educated, or he may simply fill the alters at the end.
You see, most people don’t have any biblical concept of what preaching is. We just have our own preferences that we have been conditioned to look for in a preacher. David Clark always said “In the South, we’ve been trained to watch preaching instead of listening to sermons.” I’ll never forget a song leader telling me his job was “to light a fire in the church and fan the flames till he could pass the torch on to the pastor. Good preaching starts with the flow of the Spirit.” What does the “flow of the Spirit” even mean? Sigh…
Biblical preaching is reading the Word, explaining the Word, and teaching the hearers how the Word applies to their lives today. 2 Tim 4:2 “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.” Not Shouting and spouting random verses, old cliches, or telling us what God put on you heart. Good preaching lays the Bible before the hearers and explains their responsibility to it. If you can’t remember the content on Monday, how good was it?

Man Made Mandates

In Romans 14 Paul gives instruction to brothers in Christ who happen to disagree on diet, days and drinks. Some eat the meat of pagans and some think it’s a sin to do so. Some keep special holy days and others don’t. Some only drink water while others enjoy wine. This chapter has been made famous for dealing with “weaker brothers.” Paul’s advice is not to force someone to do something they are not comfortable with. Don’t push alcohol on the teetotaler nor think less of him who does drink. Don’t mandate or forbid holidays. The same goes for the food you eat, avoid it if it makes someone else uncomfortable. That is how the weak and the strong can get along in the same body. By the way, it is the strong who have liberty to do such things and the weak that forbid it. So as the strong and liberated let’s not flaunt our freedoms.
I encountered some weaker brethren this week in social media. They were mandating that Christians not allow their children to attend public schools. Because the “clearly biblical” thing to do is home school or private school. While there were no clear Bible references given to support the sinfulness of parents sending their kids to public schools. Many bad examples from around the country were sited as to the failure of governmental education. Basically if your children attend public schools you are a weak Christian at best and you might not be saved. Or so they said.
This legalistic approach to education is a text book weaker brother moment and here’s why. The Bible is not cut and dried on the methods of educating your children, save that the parents bear the responsibility. The Bible does not condemn governmental services or our use of them. Every school district is as different and every set of parents. This is why a binding statement in Scripture can’t be found on this subject.
So how should a strong brother respond? We have the liberty to decide for our family the educational system that best suits our needs. It we choose in home, private, or public it’s none of their concern. Nor do we hold the right to force our preferences on them, it their choice as well. Problems will only arise when one brother tries to force the other. Be strong, don’t do it.

No Absolutes

We clearly live in a society that does not like absolutes. Conversations are filled with statements like these: “you can’t know right or wrong, what’s right for one maybe wrong for another.” ” No one knows what is right for me to do since they don’t know me or how I feel.” “We can’t be sure about anything because there is so much science hasn’t discovered yet.” Some people claim to be unsure of their own gender. A few even claim there gender changes from day to day. Never mind that science discovered there to be only two genders (both evident at birth) many millennia ago. But hey, who are we to set up such absurd absolutes as male and female?
The problem is not merely that the facts haven’t been given to this wishy-washy generation. Its that our society does not want facts. They would rather operate on feelings. If you feel OK about something then its OK for you to do it. Who are we to judge how someone else feels? After all, insensitivity and hurt feelings are the worst things anyone can experience in our society. The problem with feelings is that they can change over time but absolutes never change. So a society built on feelings tends to become very fluid and eventually falls further than anyone ever imagined possible.
Before you try to take the high ground and distance yourself from the responsibility of these societal leanings. This attitude didn’t start last night, we’ve all been programmed this way. Consider these phrases that have been around for years: “Follow your heart” “Trust yourself” “Whatever makes you happy.” At least four generations were raised hearing this message from parents, schools, friends and the media. Is this not “feelings” driven advice?
No one likes to be told they are wrong. No one wants to hear about the negative consequences of their own actions. When a society lives without absolutes, it ends up as in Judges 21:25 “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”
As Christians we embrace absolutes. We have an absolute ruler in Jesus Christ. We have absolute truth in the Bible. Therefore we are not free to live our lives based on our feelings. We base our lives on Christ and his Word. This is what makes Christians stand out in an ever changing world.
A word of caution is in order here for every believer. Just because you embrace Christ and his Word does not mean you can force others to feel the same way. Some Christians want to legislate moral absolutes. You were not forced to accept the absolutes of Christ and Scripture by legislation, but rather by the Holy Spirit. So why try to force others to your position when the Bible calls us to exemplify it every day among them? I Peter 2:12. “Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.” The absolutes of Scripture apply to Christians and when we embrace them we demonstrate His lordship in us.

Lessons In Taking Liberties

In Philemon verse 13-14 we can learn a great deal about how to handle other people’s possessions. I would venture to say that more hurt feelings and more broken friendships are caused by taking liberties with out asking than anything else. This can refer borrowing items, using property, or simply assuming it’s ok without ever asking. How we treat the property of others says a lot about who we are.

In out text the Apostle Paul had led Oneisimus (a run away slave) to salvation in Christ while he was imprisoned in Rome. Paul knew his owner Philemon personally, and was sending Oneisimus back the be repent and be forgiven. Paul wrote this letter to encourage Philemon to accept Philemon as his brother in the Lord. Lets look at Paul’s view of taking with out asking.

13 Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel: 14 But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.

Paul’s Destitute Condition v13 Paul’s first thought was to keep Oneisimus in Rome as his servant till he could be released. He also implies that if Philemon were in Rome, he would have providing this service himself, hence “in thy stead.” Paul is “in the bonds of the gospel.” Literally imprisoned for preaching the gospel. In first century Rome many people died in jail because food and clothing were not always provided. So could he have used a servant at this time? Who needed this servant the most? Imprisoned Paul or wealthy Philemon? Surely Philemon wouldn’t care considering the circumstances? We often use our circumstances to justify taking liberties with someone else’s stuff. We think we need it more or since we are friends, they won’t care.

Allow me to give you some guidelines for taking liberties with out asking.

  • 1 Only in an emergency. If it is not an emergency, then ask first and wait on their response. Anything that can be put off, should be, untill permission is granted.
  • 2 Is it a matter of life or death? If it is, don’t ask, just act! Nothing is more precious than saving a life.
  • 3 Look at the value of what you are taking. Risking a $1000 item that doesn’t belong to you to save a $10 item that does, is never a good idea. However, I’m sure any friend wouldn’t care for you risking his $10 to save your $1000, in a pinch.
  • 4 Is this really an emergency? We tend to over exaggerate, so ask yourself again. BTW 4 missed calls to a cell phone in under 5 minutes is NOT waiting patiently. Don’t try to justify not asking first.

Paul’s Duty To Consult v14a “Without thy mind” doesn’t imply that one of them was crazy. Paul is waiting for Philemon’s consent. Paul would not take a liberty that did not belong to him. So he sent Oneisimus on a 1300 mile journey to Colosse rather than keep him in Rome with out Philemon’s approval.

You may say “He’s chained to a Roman soldier! This is a pretty serious situation.” Yes, it’s a bad situation, but not an emergency. According to verses 1, 23 and 24 there were at least six other men with Paul to take care of his needs. “But Paul was on a mission trip. He is doing the work of God.” some will reason. What we are doing and the cause it goes to support does not give us the right to take what is not ours. Many will say “They are such good friends. Surly he wouldn’t care. Why even ask? Just send him back later.” The closeness of your friendship can easily be destroyed by actions like that. However, your friends are sure to grow closer by treating them the way Paul treated Philemon. We should always respect their property.

Philemon’s Decision To Consent v14b When Paul referred to “thy benefit” he was referring to the reward Philemon would receive for his aid in spreading the gospel. Had Paul kept Oneisimus it would have been to Philemon’s benefit. But that was not Paul’s decision to make. That is why he wants Philemon to make his own decision “willingly” and not out of “necessity.” Paul was not seeking acceptance for his actions. He was seeking permission to act.

This is hard for people to take some times. If I have seen it once, I’ve seen it a hundred times. A friend asks a favor and the other friend says no. Just because they are friends does not require the other party to comply with their request. They have a right to say no. We have a responsibility to accept their answer, even if it’s not what we expected to hear. Remember, this is not an emergency or a matter of life and death, it is a favor.

Here are three words to take away from this study:

  1. Condition: If it’s not an emergency, you are in a position to wait.
  2. Consult: Take the time to ask permission. Your relationship with them or the good cause that this will support should not matter.
  3. Consent: Accept their decision and thank them regardless of their answer.

 

 

 

 

Four Reasons For Forgiving

We have been studying the book of Philemon on Wednesday nights and it has been a real joy to read a personal letter from Paul. Before asking Philemon to forgive Onesimus, Paul praises Philemon as an example to others of how a Christian lives in verses 4-7. Then in verses 8-10 he lays out four reasons for him to forgive Onesimus before he makes his request known. I hope we all can learn the importance of forgiving others. My outline for this text is as follows:

#1 Obeying a command of a leader. v8 Paul had the right as an Apostle to require his forgiveness. But he chose not to force this on him.

#2 Obedience to Christ’s love. v9a “for love’s sake” Because we have experienced the love of God, we should share that love with others.

#3 Observing a compassionate life. v9b Paul refers to himself as the “aged” in reference to the miles more than the years of his life. II Cor 11:23-28

#4 Obligation to a changed life. v10 Paul reveals that Onesimus is now a believer and a new creature in Christ. This alone warrants forgiveness, love and encouragement.

Luke 9:57-62 Outline

Three Versions of a Shallow Superficial Faith
Luke 9:57-62

V57 A Charismatic Faith: Built on emotion and a swift decision.
V58 Downfall: The loss of personal comfort.
Example: Lot’s Wife Gen 19:26

V59 A Convenient Faith: When ever it fits into your plans.
V60 Downfall: The pursuit of cash.
Example: Young Ruler Mat 19:16-22

V61 A Confused Faith: Looking to others for approval.
V62 Downfall: The prospect of coming home.
Example: Family and God Luke 14:26-27

This is a simple outline I used in a Bible study to demonstrate that all who claim to believe may not truly believe. True faith is not built on emotion, advantage or what others think. True faith comes from God to convict of sin and causes us to place our only hope in the work of Christ Jesus. True faith is visible in our lives by the choices we make and the lives we live. Regardless of the cost true faith will forever stand.

Election Thoughts

These were my first thoughts at 10:30 last night.

#1 It is not the end of the world.

#2 It might be the end of America as we know it.

#3 I can rejoice that I’m a citizen of Heaven, and this world is not my home.

#4 Now, back to praying for our President and nation.