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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

You Will Know Them By Their Fruits

"You will know them by their fruits.  Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?  Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit." [Matt 7:16-17]

There are certain kinds of plants that we know are dangerous, such as death caps or lima beans (safe when cooked, but raw they contain a toxin that can make you violently ill in a very small quantity).  Anybody who is aware of the dangers of these types of plants knows not to eat them.  They don't stumble upon a death cap one day and think "I wonder if it's safe to eat this time."

Likewise some plants are beneficial such as strawberry bushes or olive vines.  These plants bear fruit that are good to eat and are always good to eat.  You can know by looking at the fruit that they produce that they are good and healthy without having to test each one.

There are many people who profess to be children of God but either do not produce good fruits, that is good works, or in some cases even produce bad fruits.  They live sinful lifestyles, are involved in sinful relationships, or conduct themselves in ways that are not in keeping with God's word.  We cannot be children of God if the fruit that we produce is rotten or bitter or poisonous.

In John 15 Jesus said that he is the true vine.  Like an olive branch that produces fruit that is good to eat, those who truly follow Jesus, who are branches on His vine, should produce only good fruit, or good works.  We should be holy, meaning different from the world; set apart from sin.  If the fruit that we bare is bad, if we walk in the ways of the world, then we cannot be one with Christ anymore than a deadly death cap can grow from an olive branch.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Send Me

Often when I pray I'll include something like "And Lord, let your will be done," or "please bring peace to our nation."  But I got to thinking, what do I actually mean by that?  What am I expecting God to do when I pray like that?  I'm praying for some desired outcome and just leaving it up to the "mysteries of God" to work out.  Then I thought about the prophet Isaiah when he had a vision of heaven and the Lord asked "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" and Isaiah answered "Here am I!  Send me!" [Is 6:8]  Isaiah was willing to work for the Lord to bring about His will for His people.  That's how God works, and it wasn't an isolated example in Isaiah.  For example:

  • When God wanted the people of Nineveh to repent, he sent the prophet Jonah.  When Jonah tried to flee God sent a giant fish to swallow him for 3 days before spitting him back out onto dry land where God once again told him to go to Nineveh to try to get them to repent on their sins (Jon 1-3)
  • When the Messiah came into the world, He didn't descend from heaven like the Holy Spirit or the angels.  He was born to a woman, and not just any woman, but a woman in the lineage of king David and Abraham [Luke 3:23-38].
  • When Jesus' work on Earth was done he left His kingdom in the care of humans.  He also charged his disciples to spread the kingdom throughout all the world [Matt 28:18-20] rather than simply appearing in a vision to everyone on Earth and telling them to repent.
The point is that God has always used us, His people, to do His will on Earth.  He wants all men to be saved [I Tim 2:4] but relies on us to spread the gospel of Christ and to bring lost souls to salvation.  So from now on I think I'm going to be more specific in my prayers.  Rather than asking that God's will be done, I will ask that God use me to bring about His will.  Rather than asking for peace in our nation, I will ask that God use me as an instrument of peace.  If I want God to work in this world, I must be willing to be the instrument that He uses.  I must be willing to say "Here am I!  Send me!"

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Jealousy

Is it okay to be jealous?  The 10th commandment says you shall not covet your neighbor's house, wife, servant, etc. (Ex 20:17), so we shouldn't desire what others have, right?  Would it surprise you to learn that in that same chapter, in the same set of commandments, God describes himself as being a "jealous God" (Ex 20:5)?

In English, the meaning and usage of words changes over time.  Only a few decades ago, the words gay and queer we very common words to describe being "happy" and "strange" (respectively) and had nothing to do with somebody's sexuality.  In the 1800, for someone to condescend to someone else's level was considered an honor, because it meant that they were including you in something even though they belonged to a higher social order.

When God describes himself as being a jealous God, he means that he desires him people only for himself and doesn't want to "share them" with other gods or idols.  Is this a bad attitude to have?  Absolutely not!  After all, he is our God, and he created us to serve and worship him.

I am jealous of my wife.  She is my wife, and I don't want anybody else to have her.  That doesn't mean that I secretly dig through her emails or keep tabs on her because I suspect her of anything, it just means that I rightly desire all of her affection for myself, and in turn give her all of mine.

I am jealous of my kids.  They are my kids, and I don't want anybody else trying to be their parents.  I still trust other parents to keep an eye on them and teach them things at school and church, but I do not expect or want other parents to love my children as their own.

So there are times when jealousy is not only okay, but good.  The problem is that in modern usage, we have come to equate jealousy and covetousness.  Jealousy is NOT good when you desire something that doesn't belong to you, or when it causes you to be mistrustful or mean.  Biblical jealousy is merely desiring what is rightfully yours.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Higher Law

"...for where there is no law there is no transgression." [Rom 4:15]


It is becoming more and more popular for people to say that there are no absolute truths, a theory called "Relativism."  The idea is that there are no absolute rights or wrongs and people must do what is best for or brings the most happiness to the most people.

There are only two problems with this theory: 1) It's not true, and 2) The people who claim to believe it really don't.  Just wait until someone slaps you or steals from you or kills someone you love, and you don't have to think twice about the fact that they did something wrong.  For example, when a politician is caught with his hand in the cookie jar, his supports rush to defend him and find excuses for why what he did wasn't really that bad ("think of all the good he's done!").  But those same people immediately condemn a political opponent who does the same thing.  They don't really believe the action was somehow okay the first time, they were just okay with who was doing it.

I think that most would agree, to some degree, that right and wrong is then determined by law.  This is true, but whose law?  Certainly not the law of man.  How can sinful creatures come up with their own, perfect law that defines right and wrong when we ourselves are incapable of following such a law?  And besides, different places have different laws.  Which are more right or more wrong?  And some laws are created for the sole purpose of protecting evil men.

Suppose a group of people from all over the world board a rocket and fly off into deep space, never to return to Earth again.  No government is set up and no system of laws are established on this rocket.  One day, someone steals a dehydrated food packet from someone else.  Is that wrong?  Why?  These people have no law, and they are no longer under the laws of the lands which they left.  Why would such an act still be wrong?

The answer is because it is God's law that ultimately determines right and wrong.  Paul said in Romans 4:15 that "where there is no law there is no transgression."  If there was no law on this hypothetical rocket ship, then stealing someone's food packet wouldn't be a transgression of the law, and therefore wouldn't be wrong.  But there is a law, one that all men everywhere are subject to; God's law.

It is this law that compels us to make our own laws as just as possible.  It is God's law that allows us to recognize injustice and evil in the world, even when such things aren't actually a violation of man's law at the time.

Christ said in John 12:47-48 that all men will one day be judged according to his (Christ's) word.  Think about how wonderful a thing that is?  Could you imagine if we were judged according to the fickle laws of man or what we "felt" was right and wrong?  The Nazis couldn't be found guilty, because they were acting in accordance with their own law.  A murderer couldn't be found guilty, because he was doing what he thought was right at the time.  Having a universal standard actually makes right and wrong easier to understand, because it's the same everywhere at every time.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Not Everyone Who Says "Lord, Lord"

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven." [Matt 7:21]

In my previous post, I commented on how the fact that not all will be saved seems to be a recurring theme in the teaching's of Christ.  In Matt 7:21-23 He elaborates more on that idea.

According to Jesus, there will be some on the day of Judgement who believe they know Christ and are expecting to be saved.  They will see their Lord standing before the seat of judgement and run to him as the prodigal son returning home, but instead of being greeted with open arms as they expect, the Lord will answer "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!"  Why?  Didn't they prophesy, cast out demons, and do many wonders, all in the name of Christ?  What more does He want?!

Christ will later reference Hosea 6:6: "I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings."  His point was that even though the Old Law required animal sacrifices and burnt offerings, one could not simply buy his way into heaven with those things.  One cannot simply follow the motions and be saved.

So how then does one enter heaven?  Christ tells us in the same passage: "...but he who does the will of My Father in heaven."  Doing the will of God means more than just going through the motions.  It's more than just attending prayer meetings and knocking on doors.  As James puts it [James 2:14-26], we must have both faith and works, not just one or the other.  If our works are done with a lack of faith, they profit us nothing.  If our faith is lacking works, it profits us nothing.

As in all things, let Christ be our example.  Imitate Christ, both His love for God and His love for others, and you will understand the will of the Father.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Narrow vs. Broad Way

"Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it." [Matt 7:13-14]

In my study of the book of Matthew, one thing in particular keeps jumping out at me; a common theme in many of Christ's teachings.  Not all will be saved.  My guess is Jesus brought this up over and over because the Jews at the time had grown complacent in their faith and thought they had a golden ticket to get into heaven because they were decedents of Abraham [Matt 3:7-12].  They relied more on their traditions and the acts of worship than on honoring God.  They needed to be reminded that nobody can be grandfathered into heaven.

He presents two options: the broad way that leads to destruction, or the narrow way that leads to salvation.  Many, He tells us, will enter by the broad gate that leads to destruction, either by choice or out of ignorance [Matt 7:21].  Its way is broad, and easy to follow.  It is the tempting path, the one that looks comfortable, the one that we see many friends and family on.  But we do not desire its destination.

Instead, we need to choose the narrow gate that leads to life and salvation.  The text describes it as difficult, not because Christ's burden is heavy [Matt 11:30], but because it can be difficult going against the norm, against our friends and family who would lead us astray.

The KJV uses the word "strait" instead of difficult, meaning the same thing.  This is the origin of the expression "stay on the straight and narrow," although the word has been altered to "straight" instead of "strait".  It means do what's right, act with moral integrity, stay on the path that leads to life.

This passage reminds me of Robert Frost's poem The Road Not Taken in which he chooses to take the path less traveled and it made all the difference.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Golden Rule

"Therefore, whatever you want me to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." [Matt 7:12]

"The Golden Rule" is one of those teachings of Christ that is so practical and, as I like to put it, "no duh" that it's amazing men have a hard time following it.  The basic principle is to treat others the same way you want to be treated.  Do you want to be respected?  Honored for your hard work?  Given a cup of cold water when you're thirsty?  Then do likewise.  Do you want to be mocked?  Lied to?  Cheated?  Then don't do likewise.

It always drives me crazy in movies and books and some big bad thug or gangster who makes a living off of stealing from and killing people gets outraged when someone steals from him or kills someone close to him.  I always think, "Fool!  Don't you do the same to others every day?  Why should it offend you when the same is done to you??"

Following the Golden Rule can take some effort, especially if you're not used to it.  It requires placing the best interest of others before our own, and in many cases we're not used to that.  It also requires having integrity and doing the right thing, even if nobody would find out.  Right and wrong is not determined by how much trouble we get into or how much praise we receive for our actions, it's determined by the action itself.

In marriage, it means rubbing your spouses shoulders because she's had a long day, even though you did too.  In the office, it means encouraging a coworker who's falling behind and offering to help out, even if he annoys you.  On the athletic field, it means playing by the rules and having a fair game, even if cheating would help you win.

Act with kindness, humility, and integrity at all times, and following the Golden Rule will become second nature.