Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Is The Church Losing Blood?

By John Stallings

A group of mountain climbers were climbing in the Swiss Alps.

The lead climber lost his footing & fell, dragging the next two climbers after him.

The other climbers braced themselves for the jolt. As the three went over the cliff the rope pulled tight & suddenly broke in half. The others watched in horror as their three fellow climbers fell four thousand feet to their death on the glacier below.

Once the others were safely back they examined the broken rope. They discovered that there was no red strand running through it. The special type of rope they used had an identifying red strand. It had special strength to withstand the extreme tension they had experienced in their accident that day. The current rope, though, was a cheap imitation. It was a weak substitute. It cost three men their lives.

Most of us remember hearing in Sunday School about a red strand that runs through the Bible. That red strand is a strand of blood. If that red strand is left out what is left is weakened to the endangerment of the souls of men. It loses its power to save.

 Sadly, blood is such a repulsive thought to many that they’ve sought to remove its mention from Christian songbooks. However, when speaking of Christ’s passion, bible writers use the word “blood” three times as often as “death.” Jesus could have died in many different ways without shedding His blood, but there is a special significance in that precious blood being shed.

 We live in a sad hour. Many of the main-line denominations are proclaiming a mere social gospel. As for me, the blood is the bed rock of my faith & I’ll cling to this blood & its power to save & keep. Apart from the blood of Christ we’re all doomed to spend eternity in a devil’s hell. Others may call it unnecessary but I’ll just stick with the blood of Jesus. Robert Lowery got it right when he penned,--“Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

THE MODERN DAY CHURCH IS LOSING BLOOD

Songs like “Nothing but the blood,” “There is a fountain filled with blood,” “Are you washed in the blood,” & “There is power in the blood” are still sung in some places but fewer & fewer & there aren’t that many newer songs or praise choruses focused on the blood. The Cross, yes; redemption, yes; but the Blood, not so much. We’re eager to speak of life but hesitant to speak of blood. I’m told that even among Catholics, centered as they are on the Eucharist, they are more apt to speak of “the Cup” than “the Blood.” Could it be true that with our churches designed to look like malls, with information booths, coffee shops & book stores with everything bright & shiny, we wittingly or unwittingly are trying to remove the sting of offense from an “arcane bloody gospel?” Are we trying to distance ourselves from what has been called a “slaughterhouse religion?”


THIS MIGHT DISTURB YOU

Vampires are hot stuff right now. These creatures leer from the covers of books, magazines, T.V & movie screens. Vampires lust after their prey wherever they can be found. Following up on the Twilight movies, Stephenie Meyer’s wildly popular vampire-romance series, hundreds of vampire publications have been published in the last three years. These vampire stories borrow greatly from Christian theology, because of the idea of achieving immortality through blood.

 Like it or not, & most of us will not, these modern parodies mimic Christianity because of the ingesting of blood. This is what we do symbolically at the communion table. Of course the drawing of a parallel between the vampires who live on blood & the atoning nature of Christ’s blood is a cheap counterfeit of the true salvation offered through the blood of Jesus.
In a medical setting blood is considered to be a hazard. Steps are taken to cover clothes, eyes & hands from contact with the patient’s blood. Rescue workers are constantly trained to take precautions to avoid contact with the blood. HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C can be transmitted through accidental contact with an infected person’s blood.

There is one man’s blood however that is sought after by those who recognize its importance. Although man’s blood can kill, Christ’s blood can heal. Those who wash in it become free & forgiven. It’s strong enough to wash the clogged, putrid, infected & malignant puss of sin from your heart, soul & mind. It can wash away all of our tears, broken hearts & broken souls. Christ’s blood opens the windows of your heart & lets the sunshine in.

BLOOD IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

From outside the gates of Eden in Genesis 4, to inside the gates of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21, the Bible is filled with the importance of blood in regards to salvation.

We first hear of blood with the animal sacrifices Abel made unto God. Later, Noah offered sacrifices to God. Abraham was tested by God when he was commanded to offer Isaac as a sacrifice.

It’s interesting to me that if a person picks up a Bible & reads from the first page, in 22 chapters they come to the story of God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son & God subsequently stopping him & allowing a ram to be sacrificed instead.

 One might think that God would tuck this story further back in His Word, after a person had a chance to read more “uplifting” things. People might be turned off reading a story like this before they have an opportunity to read more about the wondrous love & grace of God. People might misunderstand & say something like, “well, this Christianity certainly is a gruesome business.” It’s possible that a person might not read any further after reading this story, in spite of the fact that God didn’t require Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.

The point being; God didn’t think a blood sacrifice was somehow “off the reservation.” God takes the shedding of blood seriously. He doesn’t seem to concern Himself in the least with someone finding the subject distasteful. This fact should & certainly does tell us something very important.

The story is told of a large religious service that was being conducted at the Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco. The Christians in attendance became aware that the minister delivering the main address wasn’t thoroughly Christian. He was a great speaker but it was evident he was directing his eloquence against the power of the blood of Christ. When the old “wind-jammer” finally finished, you could have heard a marshmallow fall on a carpet.

Everyone knew something would have to be said, but no one knew what to say. Finally a, timid elderly lady stood up in the audience & began to softly sing the great hymn written by William Cowper as a rebuttal to the modernist minister. A hush fell over the place as the folk assembled there heard the faint but familiar words;

 “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that blood lose all their guilty stains.”

 Before the lady could complete the second verse, approximately a hundred people rose to join her. By the time she reached the third verse nearly a thousand Christians all over the audience were singing that wonderful song of faith. Then these words were sung by the joyous crowd,

-Dear dying Lamb thy precious blood shall never lose its power, till all the ransomed church of God be saved to sin no more.

For the Jewish people, an important festival related to blood. While they were slaves in Egypt, the death angel was going to pass over the land. They were to take a lamb without blemish & slaughter it & some of the blood was to be placed on the doorposts & the lintel of their houses.

The blood shall be a sign for you, upon the houses where you are; & when I see the blood, I will pass over you & no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you. [Ex. 12:13]

Just as the Jews were slaves in Egypt, you & I were slaves to sin. But that was before the blood of Christ was shed for us on Calvary. In the Law of Moses, the Jews were given numerous regulations that involved the use of blood.

Listen to Leviticus For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it for you upon the alter to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life.

BLOOD IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

Jesus was riding high in the popularity polls of Israel until the day He pulled out His “cannibal sermon.” In John 6:50-60, Jesus began to talk about his broken body & His blood. He told the people that unless they ate His flesh & drank His blood they had no life in them. Slowly the crowds started to dwindle away. They didn’t grasp the concept; neither did the disciples grasp the concept. To be frank, they weren’t anywhere near the concept yet. It must have been a sobering moment when Jesus looked at His twelve disciples & said,-will you also go away?

At the institution of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus explained it further; -This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.-Mt. 26:28

Paul said, -Whom God has set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in His blood…Roman

The apostle Peter reminded Christians,-You know that you were ransomed….with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without spot or blemish. 1 Pet. 1:18-19

In Revelation a scene in heaven is observed where no one is found worthy to open a scroll. Then we read;

And they sang a new song saying, thou art worthy to take the book and to open the seals…for thou wast slain & hast redeemed us to God by thy blood…Rev. 5:9.

Not Abel’s blood that cried out from the ground,
Not that blood.

Not the blood of bulls & goats,
Not that blood.

Not the millions of gallons of blood that was shed over many hundreds of years, that had no power to cleanse,
Not that blood.

Not the blood of murder & mayhem,
Not that blood.

Not the 50,000 deaths of the American Revolutionary War,
Not that blood.

Not the 646,000 causalities of the Civil War,
Not that blood.

Not the multitude of casualties of WW1 and of WW11,
Not that blood.

Not the 211,000 American soldiers who died in Vietnam,
Not that blood.

Not the multiple thousands of casualties of the war in two Iraq wars,
Not that blood.

Not the blood of millions of martyred Christians throughout the centuries,
Not that blood.

The blood of Christ alone. One man. One cross. One blood.

The apostle John explains that the shed blood of Jesus is the cleansing agent in the life of the Christian throughout our lives. He writes;

If we walk in the light as he is in the light we have fellowship one with another and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.-1 Jn.1:7

If I’m reading that right, if you & I aren’t having fellowship with those of like precious faith, it must follow that we’re not walking in the light.

1.    THE BLOOD OF CHRIST’S BACK PROVIDES HEALING.

When He walked the earth it was mandatory that Jesus heal people because it had been prophesied that He’d be a healer.

One of God’s first promises to Israel in the Old Testament was---I am the Lord your God who heals you. He called Himself Jehovah-Rapha, meaning-God our healer. Jesus, being God’s son, did exactly what His father did.

Isaiah said, speaking of Christ -Surely He took up our infirmities & carried our sorrows…but He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him and by His wounds we were healed.-Ish. 53:4

Throughout the Old testament God showed Himself as a merciful healer.

Pilate’s lacerating whip on Jesus’ back provides us with divine healing. I might add right here; when ObamaCare finally kicks in & America sees what it really is, we’re all going to have to go back to divine healing. Thankfully, Doctor Jesus is still making house calls.

2.    THE BLOOD PROVIDES FOR US A SOUND MIND.

A crown of thorns was placed on Christ’s head & a Roman soldier probably took a spear & struck it, causing the thorns to stick deep into His brow. One writer has said the long spike-like thorns could have easily stuck down through His eyelids making prison bars for Him to look through on His way to Calvary.

Christ’s mind never entertained one vile affection. For thirty-three years He walked in a body subject to the same temptations as were are yet Satan never succeeded in polluting His mind. This means you & I can silence the accuser’s mental attacks by declaring victory through the blood that spilled from Christ’s crown of thorns.

The reason our minds endure constant assault is because life’s battles are fought there. It’s Satan’s preeminent area of attack. He attacks when we’re awake & when we’re asleep. He attacks with tormenting thoughts, bizarre dreams, fearful flashbacks & attacks our conscious & subconscious mind.

Friend, here’s how we can counter every Satanic attack. Rebuke him with the blood of Christ. When you plead the blood against old Satan, you remind him that he ripped into Christ’s body with a whip, nails, thorns, & a spear, drawing that Holy Blood. When you do that, he’s hearing you recount the worst mistake he ever made. You can be sure Satan won’t linger & let you pummel him by pleading the Blood.

1 Corinthians says we can claim “The mind of Christ.” Paul told Timothy—God has not given us the spirit of fear but of power, love & a sound mind. [2T1 1:7]

Hebrews 9:14 says, How much more then will the Blood of Christ who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death so that we may serve the living God.

2 Corinthians 10:5 says—We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

 Christ’s death liberates the mind. Don’t permit Satan to harass you with the Blood-covered, confessed sins of your past. Christ’s Blood has freed you from that bondage.

3.    FROM CHRIST’S RIVEN HANDS AND FEET HE PROVIDES VICTORY FOR OUR WORK AND OUR WALK.

There’s an interesting Old Testament passage that deals with the application of blood on the Levite priests. Leviticus says that priests were sprinkled with blood “on the lobes of their right ears, on the thumbs of their right hands and on the big toes of their right feet.”

 This emphasized anointed hearing, anointed working and anointed walking. The blood anoints our work and our walk.

4.    THE BLOOD FROM CHRIST’S SIDE PROVIDES FOR CLEANSING OF THE SOUL.

The spear going near Christ’s heart opens up a flow that cleanses from all sin. Leviticus tells us that life bubbles from the circulatory system. It’s impossible to live without blood. Our eternal life depends on Christ’s uncontaminated thoroughly Holy Blood.

A person may know all about the Blood theologically but unless it’s applied to their lives, nothing will happen. I can go to a Doctor & get a prescription, but if I take the medicine home & never open the bottle & ingest the medication, it can’t help me. I could go to the computer & Google the medicine until I knew everything about it but if I never took the medicine I’d get no help from it. You may have heard about Jesus all your life but until you by faith receive Him into your life His redemptive power is of no advantage.

Many years ago in Detroit, Michigan, the famous evangelist Dr. Charles Finney preached on the text-“The blood on Jesus Christ, God’s Son cleanseth us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

After the service a stranger asked Dr. Finney to walk home with him. Advised against it by church officials who knew the man, Dr. Finney went with the man.

Ushering the preacher into the rear of a building, the stranger locked the door & put the key in his pocket. “Don’t be afraid, I’m not going to hurt you. I just want to ask you a few questions. Do you believe what you preached tonight?”

Dr. Finney said, “I most certainly do.”

The man continued, “We’re in the back of a saloon. I’m sole proprietor. Mothers come in here, lay their babies on the counter & beg me not to sell liquor to their husbands. I turn a deaf ear to their cry. We see to it when a man leaves here he’s well under the influence. More than one night a man leaving here has been killed by the train the runs behind the saloon. Dr. Finney, tell me, can God forgive a man like me?”

Finney replied, “I have but one authority, the Word of God which says, “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son cleanseth us from all sin.”

“But that’s not all” added the man. “In another room we run a gambling hall. If a man doesn’t spend all his money on liquor, we bring him back here & with marked cards see to it that he’s fleeced out of his last dollar. We often send men home penniless to a hungry family. Dr. Finney, I’m sole owner. Tell me honestly, can God forgive a man with a heart like that?”

Again Finney replied, “I have but one authority, the Word of God which says, “The blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanseth us from all sin.”

The man spoke again.” That’s not all. Across the street is my home where live my wife & little daughter. Neither one has had a kind word from me for five years. Their bodies bear marks from my brutal attacks. Dr. Finney, do you think God could forgive a man like me?”

Finney’s head lowered. His eyes filled with tears as he said, “My friend, you have painted one of the darkest pictures I’ve ever gazed upon, but I still have one authority which says, “The blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanseth us from all sin.”

The man opened the door, ushered the preacher into the night, then never left that room till daybreak—not before ripping up the decks of cards & pouring the contents of the bottles down the sink. Across the road at home he sat in his living room. His little girl called, “Daddy, Mother said breakfast is ready.” When he answered his little girl kindly she ran back to her mother, “Daddy spoke kind to me. Something is the matter.” The mother followed her little girl to the living room. The man took one on each knee he explained to their amazement that they had a new husband & daddy. He said, “I’m done with that business across the street!

The man later became a member, then later a leader in a leading Detroit church. When asked to tell how his life was changed, he’d reply, “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son cleanseth us from all sin.”

It reaches to the highest mountain. It flows to the lowest valley. The blood that gives me strength from day to day, it will never lose its power.--Andrae Crouch
                                                                                                 


Blessings,


John

Monday, June 26, 2017

Dumb And Dumber

By John Stallings


One of the funniest movies of the last few years was “Dumb & Dumber.”

We would expect zany Jim Carry to be able to carry off one of the leads in this movie. However, Jeff Daniels is a highly respected thespian with real acting chops, who among other serious roles recently portrayed George Washington in a made for T.V movie.

Daniels must be a more than adequate actor because in this bit of nonsense, he played dumbness to the hilt. I think the movie was hilarious.

THE LIFE OF DAVID OFFERS MANY EXCELLENT EXAMPLES OF THE DUMB THINGS PEOPLE CAN DO OUT OF FEAR AND DISCOURAGEMENT.

Discouragement remains the most destructive tool Satan has & it can make a person do crazy things. When anger can’t stop us, lust can’t reach us & envy finds no foothold, discouragement always seems to work to keep us from moving ahead. A person makes bad decisions & wrong turns when they’re discouraged.

I’d like to tell a little known episode or series of episodes in the life of David to prove the point. The story is told in 1 Samuel chapters 27-30. It begins; -- But David thought to himself, one of these days I’ll be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will give up searching for me anywhere in Israel.

DISCOURAGEMENT DESTROYS PERSPECTIVE.

David had been running from Saul for nearly ten years. Ten years is a big chunk out of a man’s life & David is tired & run-down. You can’t blame him for that. He felt that Saul might kill him in a year or it may happen tomorrow but sure as sunrise, it was going to happen. David was focusing on the negative & things will always look bleak when we focus on the negative.

You may recall that a few chapters before this, [I wrote a message a month or two ago about it called [“A great man’s descent into madness,] David got discouraged & afraid & went to live with Goliath’s people. He went to Ahimelech’s house & lied to get bread for his men. The episode ended with David being abjectly humiliated & slobbering all over his beard to make Achish think he’d gone nuts. His little odyssey also enraged Saul & caused him to kill a whole village of priests & their families.

This can serve as a warning for all of us. One act of spiritual compromise sets us up to easier make a compromise next time. One step in the wrong direction sets us up to take another step sooner or later.

GOD’S WORD IS CRYSTAL CLEAR

The children of Israel weren’t to mix with the surrounding nations. Over & over the warning was given & every time somebody tried it disaster resulted. David had compromised once before & gone down to live in Gath & that ended up with him looking exceedingly dumb, now he was going to do it again & look even dumber. Yes, David had a lot to discourage him but lest we forget, he also had the firm commitment from the Lord that he was going to someday be Israel’s king, so neither Saul nor anyone else was going to kill him.

DAVID’S DISCOURAGEMENT INVOLVED INNOCENT PEOPLE.


1 Samuel 27:2 says;--David & the six-hundred men with him left & went over to Achish son of Moach of Gath. Each man brought his family with him, & that means 600 men, 600 women & who knows how many children were involved? All these folk were now living with the enemy because of David’s choice.

The same thing happens to us when we compromise; we end up taking other people with us. We may not think about it at the time but at some point we discover that our impulsiveness has hurt a lot of innocent people.

So what happened? Well David’s second episode living among Israel’s enemies ushered in a surprising period of temporary peace & prosperity. Saul did stop chasing him. Also, David & his people were given their own little town to live in named Ziklag. 1 Chronicles 12 informs us that during this time a great many of Saul’s soldiers defected to David in Ziklag. Also we’re told that Achish king of Gath was very pleased with David.

On the surface it looked like David made a wise decision in going to the Philistines. I’m sure for awhile he felt vindicated. Things are good. David gets up in the morning & reads the Ziklag Gazette, goes down to the Gym & works out with the boys, in the afternoon he raids a nearby village [shame- shame] & in the evening maybe there’s a feast. Again, life is good.

DISOBEDIENCE OFTEN RESULTS IN A TEMPORARY LESSENING OF PRESSURE.

David felt better for a while. “There is pleasure in sin for a season.” Sin is fun for a while & compromise has its exciting aspects, which is exactly why so many Christians do it. But for David, compromise led him to greater sin. First there was discouragement, then desperation, then defection & now further disobedience that led to deceit & needless death.

David & his men would go on raiding parties while in Ziklag. David would take his men & raid villages to the south & southeast of Ziklag. But when king Achish would ask him, “Where did you go raiding today, David would answer, “I’ve been to the Negev of Judah,” which was south & east. The implication was that he’d been raiding his own people but the truth was he was telling the king that so he’d feel David was loyal to him.

Are you sitting down? I hope so, because…. on these raids, David didn’t leave a man or woman alive because “dead men don’t tell tales.” So- what started off as plundering parties ended up as bloody slaughter. David is now in a downward spiral & the worst is yet to come.

DAVID GOES TO HIS MAILBOX ONE DAY & FINDS A DRAFT NOTICE.

Things are going wonderful for David & his band of men. “Everything’s coming up roses.” 1 Samuel 28:1 puts it this way;-In those days the Philistines gathered their forces to fight against Israel. Achish said to David, “You must understand that you & your men will accompany me in the army.” Now David’s chickens have come home to roost. Achish welcomed David’s “defection” so many months ago because he fully expected to collect an IOU & now he calls it in. What’s worse, he names David as his personal body guard. That means that if the Philistines win the battle it will be the bodyguard’s duty to kill the defeated king; which means that David will be forced to….kill Saul!

David never intended to get into this mess. He knew he was never going to kill Saul. In his mind living among the Philistines was a temporary thing to buy a little time & space. But now he’s faced with the full results of compromise. Unless God intervenes he’ll be forced to fight against his own people. But that’s what happens when an individual lives apart from God; one little step leads to another- & before long they’re in too deep to get out. They think, “It’s O.K, I’ll make it.” But they don’t.

David is now the perfect picture of a carnal man operating on his own resources. I’ve seen young men with the call of God on their life get involved with unsaved, worldly young women. They thought they could handle the situation; at least the girl was coming to church with them. I’ve watched couples like that gradually move from the second seat in the church to the back seat, then out the door, all because the young man, not wanting to admit he was compromising thought he could follow God & still have a relationship with an nonspiritual young woman who had no intention of following God.

SO NOW THE SCENE IS SET

The Philistines gather at Aphek to war against the men of Israel. The soldiers gather in small groups, check their weapons, discuss strategy & wonder when the battle will began. Men are here from all the various Philistine cities---Gath, Ekron, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gaza—the total number is up in the thousands. This is no small border skirmish. David & his men are bringing up the rear.

All goes well until one of the Philistines says, “What are these Jews doing here?” Then someone else says, “Get those guys out of here.” Word shoots through the ranks & something like a small riot breaks out. The generals come to Achish & say, “What’s this man David doing here? Don’t you remember the song they used to play on the Hebrew Hit Parade ten years ago?” And they quote the little ditty that used to make Saul so mad, “Saul has slain his thousands but David his tens of thousands.” They object to David being near them because they fear he’ll turn against them in the heat of battle in order to regain Saul’s favor.

So Achish goes back to David & says, “Sorry, but you can’t fight with us. My men don’t trust you. Go back to Ziklag. We’ll let you fight in the next battle.”

THE WORLD DOESN’T TRUST A COMPROMISING CHRISTIAN.

The world doesn’t accept a compromising Christian because they’re smarter than that. They recognize true children of God & don’t respect us when we try to play on their team.

Any man who’s ever preached the gospel is forever branded as “preacher.” It doesn’t matter if he only preaches a year. He can preach a relatively short time & quit & live the rest of his life & if folk find it out, even if he goes to the penitentiary, they’ll still call him “preacher” as he walks to the death chamber.

The world respects Christians when they stand up for what they believe. They might dislike us or even persecute us but they respect us & they can’t deny the reality of our faith.

The end is almost upon David & he doesn’t even know it. As David & his men head back to Ziklag they are feeling pretty lucky. They just barley missed having to join in the attack on Israel. As they drew near home someone said, “I smell smoke.” Someone shouts, “Its Ziklag.” In a split second 600 men break ranks & run for the village but their eyes aren’t prepared for what they see. While they were gone, the Amalekites came & took their wives, took their children, took all their possessions & burned the village to the ground. Nothing is left.

The Amalekites were part of those villages David used to raid when he was playing that little game & pretending to attack Judah. Remember David not only raided the villages, he killed people to keep them from talking. Now the Amalekites have returned the favor.

David has been flirting with disaster for a long time. A simple case of discouragement has now led to something almost inconceivable. When he first came to the Philistines he only wanted to relieve the stress, he never meant for anything like this to happen. God has been trying to get David’s attention & when He finally does, David is totally unprepared.

The text says that David’s men wept until they had no more tears to cry. They were so bitter they even discussed stoning David. And why not? Ziklag is burning & it all goes back to the dumb leadership he provided & decisions he made. Discouragement, desperation, defection & disobedience have now led to disaster.

But now God is beginning to get David’s attention. Sometimes the Lord has to get rough in order to get through to us. Sometimes we have to stand in the smoking ruins of a part of our life to at last come to our senses. After 16 months of compromise & on this little “side trip,” disobedient David finally begins to look up. The tragedy is that it took so long & hurt so many people.

HOW DOES DAVID GET IT ALL TURNED AROUND?

The turn around comes so quick it’s easy to miss it. 1 Samuel says that;--David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.” David’s problem all along was the fact that he was so gifted & talented he could operate pretty successfully apart from God. After all, he was handsome & strong, we know he was a gifted musician & a mighty warrior, he was attractive to women, & he was a born leader. In later years those qualities would make him Israel’s greatest king.

God had to put David through ten years in the obscurity of the desert to teach him not to rely on his own abilities but in the Lord alone. That’s a hard lesson for all of us to learn & doubly hard to learn for those with great natural gifts. As long as David leaned on the Lord those gifts could be used to accomplish great ends. We see it already & we later see it as he leads his people in the greatest era of prosperity they will ever know. But every time David did it his way he got in trouble & a lot of people were hurt in the process.

I may have shared this story with you before but it bears repeating & certainly fits here. When I was a kid, my mother’s greatest desire for me & my older sister was for us to learn to play piano. I was born with an ear for music, certainly not “perfect pitch” but non-the-less a pretty good ear for music. When I was four or five years old I could harmonize with someone singing lead. Let me tell you what this innate ability did for me; it robbed me of ever being a good pianist & it also robbed me of ever learning to fluently read music.

Why, you ask was my ear for music detrimental to my technical development? Well, just by using the inbred ear for music, I could sit down at the piano & chord any song- that is if it was in either of my two keys. Of the two keys I could play in, one was C & the other one wasn’t. When I sat down to “practice,” instead of learning to read the music before me I would take off on my own, in my limited way, & have a ball. However what I wasn’t doing was learning to read music, & consequently learning to play the piano. This was rather dumb of me & it became a heart break for my mother.

You might also ask if I can’t read music how can I write songs. I do it the same way the other uncultured & unfinished musician/writers do it; I put the songs on tape, in one of my two keys & let someone who’s qualified do the arranging. I can look at a piece of music & tell you what the notes are & I can do the same with a piano but that’s a far cry from sitting down & playing a piece of music. My point is my natural ability effectively vaccinated me against ever developing into a finished musician, because it was too easy to do it “my way.”

I know you’re way ahead of me on the spiritual application here. Like David, anyone with natural ability has to subjugate the desire to take off on their own, thinking they can work it out themselves, when in truth without God they will miss the really great things God could have accomplished in & through them. This weakness almost became David’s downfall.

WHAT ARE THE TAKE-AWAY TRUTHS IN THIS STORY?

We can learn that when we think we are standing firm we should take heed lest we fall. 1 Corinthians 10:12.

We can learn discouragement is inevitable when we attempt to face the problems of life in our own strength.

We can learn the world offers only a temporary solution to our problems.

We can learn God’s punishment is usually to let us face the consequences of our own wrong decisions.

We can learn that discouragement isn’t meant to knock us back on our heels but to bring us to our knees.

We can learn that God never gives up on us & loves us too much to let us stay in our sins.

We can see in this story a great warning but also a great hope. A hope based on the fact that God loves us so much, even when we’re acting like we don’t have two brain cells to rub together His love keeps calling us back home.

Some of us have done exactly what David did. Some of us are still doing it. Whenever we’re ready, truly ready, we can turn things around’.

The question is, how far will we have to go before that moment comes?

Every blessing,

John

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Caging The Beast

By John Stallings


Don’t let its size fool you. It’s small but deadly.

Its influence & power far exceed its size. The destructive venom of this little monster has an almost unbelievable potential for destruction.

The beast is restless, arrogant, powerful, poisonous, deceptive & hypocritical. Graveyards are filled with its victims.

The smallness of this monstrous creature will cause you to tend to underestimate the damage it can do.

The snakes that slither through the swamps & jungles of this world, many of them packing enough deadly venom to kill elephants are almost a joke when compared with this little destroyer. It’s a nasty piece of work. Tiny but terrible.

This beast can hurt you & hurt you bad. Its powers can prove fatal. You must know what you’re dealing with, the insidious power packed into this shocking little monster. It’s too wild, too fierce, and too poisonous to ever be fully domesticated.

It only weights a couple of ounces. It hides out of sight, yet no force on the planet carries as much power.

Strong words? Yes- but in no way do they exaggerate. This little terrorist is shockingly hideous, ravenously hungry, a slithery, slimy, poisoned tipped beast. It’s indigenous to every country in the world & has caused untold destruction on a global scale.

Before I tell you the name of this little monster, let me first ask a few questions.

What part of the human body is so important that if we could control just that one part we could be considered to be a perfect person?

What part of the body, when it opens it can reveal our inner landscape?

What part of our body is said to be the “tattletale of the heart?”

What part of our body has the ability, at will, to strengthen others or tear them down at its own discretion?

THE TONGUE

By now I’m sure you know what body part I speak of. I speak of the tongue. We must admit that this movable muscular structure attached to the floor of the mouth has catapulted the world into global conflict, brought down empires, raised up leaders, & instilled courage into deflated minds.

Proverbs 13:3 says,--He who guards his mouth guards his life.

Johnny Cash “ shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.” The uncaged tongue likes to set fires just to watch people burn.

Probably no subject makes us more uncomfortable than the tongue. All of life seems to revolve, in one way or another around the tongue.With it we conduct business, build relationships, & express praise to God. But with it we might also deceive, tear down relationships & ruin the reputation of others. Each day we live, good & evil resides in our tongues therefore we must be sure that we submit our tongues to the lord & make certain we’re functioning by divine grace & that our love-level is high.

THE BOOK OF JAMES

The popular movie that has recently caused a sensation at the box office called Twilight & its sequels conjure up a scary scenario about human vampires & are categorized as horror movies.

But when you read James’ description of the tongue & its destructive potential you feel as if you’re in a horror movie to end all horrors. You feel as if you’re being pursued by a ravenously hungry & deadly monster, & you are. We all are because we all possess one of these potential killers called the tongue.

All the intricate connections that we are involved in, whether they be family, friend, or business related can quickly and easily be burned to the ground with a word. The tongue is the “top dog” among our members. Once let loose, the destructive potential of the spoken word can’t be recaptured. Every word that passes through our lips has the potential to wreck someone’s reputation or destroy a business or break-up a family.Such is the uncontrollable character of the tongue.

The book of James is different to say the least. It is basic entry-level “in your face” Christianity. If we spoke metaphorically, we could say that in James, we’re being exercised but it isn’t in a fancy spa. James is just crunches, push-ups & heavy bag work in a smelly basement gym. James is going to stretch us until we grasp the importance of putting our faith to work. You have to really mean business when you start with the book of James.

Reformer Martin Luther couldn’t understand how the book of James got into the Bible. He didn’t really appreciate the book because he couldn’t find grace in it. To Luther, James was all about works & right-living & wasn’t worth much.

To be frank, the first time I got into the book of James, I mean got into it in a serious way, I said, “God help me, I’m doomed.” Several times as a pastor I’ve tried to preach through James & it got so tedious I was looking for exit ramps. If you’re going to teach this book, you’d be wise to do as I’ve done & ask God for a revelation. James doesn’t flow in story form-James hits you from all sides so before you read it make sure you’re ready to get “fit.”

James has a lot to say about the tongue. We should keep in mind as we read that James is considering the tongue in its natural condition apart from divine power & grace. James’ whole point is to point us to the absolute necessity for God’s grace to work in our lives, especially in our tongues.

Maybe you’ve observed that I write a lot about the power of the tongue. To be very candid, it’s probably because I’ve so often been humiliated by some of the infractions I’ve made with words. I can honestly say that I’ve said lots of good things in my life. We all have. In a very real way, words have been my life. Words I’ve spoken have changed the lives of many for the better. When I’ve based what I’ve said on God’s Word, as in preaching & teaching, the eternal destinies of many souls have been changed by words I’ve spoken. Occasionally I’ve said & written some things that people a lot smarter than me have actually called profound.

But I’m also capable of occasionally saying stupid things that have made me long for a trap door so I could beat a hasty retreat & escape. I’ve wept over some of the things I’ve said. I’m sure I’ve caused others to weep too, & for this I feel terrible, even though it’s all under the blood. I’m getting better all the time but I still have the capacity to say the wrong things.

Attacks of stupidity play no favorites; you can find it in Washington D. C as well as in the ghettos. In this "silly season," as we move into an extremely important election period, we see the use and misuse of the human tongue on full display. I venture to say that the average politician doesn't have a clue to the richness of the book of James and how he could be enriched, even revolutionized by it. If we could print just this little book and send copies to the individuals of all todays political parties and ask them to please read it  through, their  outlooks would be changed and without a doubt we'd see a stunning immediate  difference in the words they say. Indeed the whole political discourse  would change and our nation would be the recipient of untold blessings. Don't you agree?

Who hasn’t hurled hurtful words in retaliation for real or perceived hurts? Who hasn’t wondered out loud if this or that may or may not be true & dropped a spark that ignited a forest fire of rumor? Who hasn’t said--- “now don’t breathe a word of this, but……?” I’m sure we’ve all put a few people in the spiritual burn unit with our words.

If you & I don’t acknowledge the awful power of our tongue & take steps to cage it, we’re sure to do some damage-some real damage. Psychologists say a small child can be caused to start a lifetime of stuttering when they’re abused with words or have been caused to feel they don’t have anything of importance to say.

James doesn’t offer any magic solutions. He isn’t under any illusions that we in our own power have the ability to change our ways. He says it flat-out—every species of bird & beast & reptile & sea creature can & has been brought under control but the tongue no man can control. The tongue is a restless evil full of deadly poison.
It doesn’t seem to be in our DNA to be able to control our tongue. Do you remember a few weeks ago while Obama was giving a speech, when Congressman Joe Wilson shouted out—“You lie?” He later said he wished he hadn’t done that. IMHO, whether what he said was correct or not isn’t the issue. The man was out of line & his little beast temporarily escaped its cage & struck like a rattlesnake.

Also, have you noticed lately how many public figures have lost their job, been shuttled around to get them out of the public eye or have been retired because of the improper use of their tongue? They didn’t know how to cage the beast in their mouth or maybe they just had a lapse & in an unguarded moment the little beast slipped out of his cage.

James is right when he says in essence, one minute we’re using our tongue to glorify God & the next minute we’ve opened our mouth & released “tongue toxins” into the air by saying mean & nasty things. Words can slip off our tongue & past our lips before we even know it.

Famed defense attorney Herbert J. Miller was asked the most important advice he ever gave a client. His answer was, “keep your mouth shut.”

How are we unlike the rest of the world when as Christians we tongue-lash each other & stab each other in the back with our words & too many times are too full of pride to apologize for the wrong things we’ve said. God help us all!!

STRATEGIES FOR CAGING THE BEAST

1. HOLY SILENCE

In modern day language—Zip-it!

Jesus is the example in this regard;

He was oppressed & he was afflicted yet he opened not His mouth; he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, & as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not His mouth.—Ish: 53:7

David said;

"I will take heed to my ways that I sin not with my tongue….." Psalm 39-1

As believers, we should seek to develop the virtue of Holy silence; a silence that produces peace, reconciliation, & forgiveness.

I heard about a young unmarried man who was talking to a man who’d been married for many years. The young man, seeking to tap into some of the older man’s wisdom asked this question; “What in the world do you still have to talk about when you’ve been married all those years? It seems to me that after a while you’d just run out of things to say & then…silence.” The married man said with a smile, “Yes my boy you’re right…blessed silence.”

It’s been said that we should never pass up the chance to be quiet. God has placed our “little monster” behind a wall of teeth & between two powerful jaws & as a last resort behind two fastened lips. If you don’t think those jaws are powerful, just have the smallest child with teeth to bite you. Even the most powerful athletes in the world couldn’t deal with bites from human jaws.

Part of our wisdom & even our holiness is what we could say -but don’t.
This doesn’t mean that to be good Christians we should never speak. Speech is too precious & powerful a gift to just give up. Part of what we need is to develop a “filter.” A mark of maturity is the quality of our filter.

James 1:9 says….Let every man be swift to hear & slow to speak. Funny how we’ve gotten that backwards isn’t it?

2.  RECOGNIZE THE PROBLEM FOR WHAT IT IS

If we have a problem with that little critter one inch above our chin & one inch below our nose, we shouldn’t hesitate to take it to God in prayer & ask Him by His Holy Spirit to help us get control.

I heard about a woman who fell under deep conviction for gossiping so she went to her pastor & said, “pastor, I have a problem with gossiping & I’d like to lay my tongue on the alter tonight.” The pastor said, “That will be good, here’s 40 foot of alter, lay as much of it as you can on the alter.”

Many times we criticize ministers for preaching the same precepts & messages over & over but the truth is, some things are so important we need that repetition so that we might be constantly aware. This is especially true as regards the tongue because it can seem to be so trite.

How would you feel if you suspected that your house was “bugged?” If you thought someone was recording your every word how would it affect you? Well, we are being bugged. I’ve heard for years that every sound that’s made goes out into the ether waves & lives on. Apparently sounds never die. That would mean that everything we’ve ever said is alive somewhere.

Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when He said, -But I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken.—Matthew 12:6

Our society tells us that people should just “let it all hang out. If you feel it, say it. Never hold back, if you do it’ll make you sick. Get it out there.” Well what about this little piece of wisdom;-“Put a lid on it?”

3. DON’T SAY TOO LITTLE

Just as we should ask ourselves if we’re talking too much, we should also ask ourselves if we’re saying enough.

Proverbs 25:11 says,--A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.

God wants to fill our mouths with good things. Too many Christians hold their peace when they should be speaking out.

Don’t say too little when your sweet wife has outdone herself in the kitchen making your favorite meal.
Don’t say too little when you kid works hard to get his/her grades up just to make you proud of them.
Don’t say too little when God has answered your prayers & given you your hearts desire.
Don’t say too little on the birthday of your precious wife who’s the most loyal woman on the planet & has stuck with you through thick & thin.

One more important tip;

4. THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK

The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.—Proverbs 15:28

Here’s an acrostic that can be helpful & can assure that our words will be gracious & uplifting;

1. T—is it true?
2. H-is it helpful?
3. I—is it inspiring?
4. N.—is it necessary?
5. K—is it kind?

Obviously our words have great weight. But we should take heart because every word of love, grace, mercy, & encouragement will also be remembered.

Malachi 3:16 is an interesting prophetic passage in regards to this;

Then those who revered the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord took note & listened & a book of remembrance was written before Him of those who revered the Lord & thought on His name.

Like David we should pray, set a guard O Lord over my mouth. Keep watch over the door of my lips. Psalm 141:3

In order to use God’s gift of speech for the purpose for which God created it, we must control our tongue so that it is used to worship Him & build up others.

When we successfully cage the beast, we are free to loose words of life, hope, & peace. As I’ve said many times, we can work on it together.


Blessings,


John

What Condition Is Your Condition In?

By John Stallings


You’re stale, you’re stagnate, you make me want to vomit.—Rev.3:16—The Message

A great Bible scholar was appointed by his denomination to be in charge of quality control for his organization’s educational ministries.

He would drop in unannounced at local churches & attend children’s Sunday classes.

One day he was in a class for boys when he decided to ask one of his standard questions, this one about Jericho. He blurted out, “Who caused the walls of Jericho to fall down?” There was dead silence for several seconds. Finally a little boy spoke up: “I don’t know but it wasn’t me.”

The visiting dignitary about lost it all. He was horrified. He turned to the teacher in the presence of the kids & asked: “What have you been doing in this class? I asked who caused the walls of Jericho to fall, & the only response I get is, I don’t know but it wasn’t me.”

The teacher looked thoughtful for a few seconds, & then she said, “Well, I’ll tell you. I’ve known Johnny all his life if that boy says he didn’t do it then he didn’t do it.”

The visiting expert was doubly distressed to see that this terrible ignorance existed even on the church educational staff. After the Sunday service he took his case to the pastor & told him the whole story. The pastor called an emergency board meeting. After it was over he called the expert & said, “Well, here’s what we’ve decided. We’ve known Johnny & his teacher for a long time & we don’t think they’d lie to us.

To be frank we don’t really believe Johnny did it either so we’ve decided to charge the walls off to “miscellaneous building expenses” & forget it.”

Kind of a cute little story but it’s built on a basic reality pointing up the lack of Bible knowledge many people have, even some who sit in church Sunday after Sunday.

Like the song Kenny Rogers sang, once in a while we need to ask-“what condition our [spiritual] condition is in.” What about the verve & zest of our daily walk with God?

LESSONS FROM LAODICEA

In the closing verses of the Epistle to the Colossians, Paul speaks of the church at Loadicea. He asks that when his letter is read, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans.

We know that the Laodiceans heard & likely treasured this letter. It’s a credit to them that they understood apostolic revelation. That’s good because a more majestic picture of Christ can’t be offered than the one found in Colossians 1-2. A clearer statement on biblical sanctification & Christian growth can’t be found than Colossians 3-4.

Yet for all of the spiritual blessing heaped on them some 30 years later they had grown smug, arrogant & self-dependent. Numbed by materialism, they met with the sternest rebuke of Christ in the letters to the churches in Asia Minor.

In the book of Revelation there are letters written by John to “seven churches which are in Asia.” But of course the words were Christ’s words. These weren’t denominations but rather separate local churches. John wrote to these churches regarding “things which must shortly come to pass” & events that would be “hereafter” These churches are identified as Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia & Laodicea. Each of these churches is addressed in chapters two & three.

Two of the churches are commended without any rebuke or indication of resident sin, Smyrna & Philadelphia. Five had sin & repentance was needed. Absent repentance, their “candlestick” or light would be removed. These seven churches are selected because they seem to represent every possible condition of local churches & the instructions given them applies to all churches in like conditions.

The Laodicean church is undoubtedly in the worst condition of all the churches, although outwardly it appeared to be in great shape.

Laodicea was the wealthiest of the seven cities known for its banking industry, & its manufacturing of black wool & a medical school that produced eye ointment. So rich was this city that when an earthquake almost destroyed it in 60 AD, its wealthy citizens refused imperial help in rebuilding the city, choosing rather to do it entirely by themselves. The people of Laodicea were well heeled & flaunted it.

The only downer about the place was their lack of good water.

The city of Hierapolis was only seven miles away & they were famous for their hot springs. The city of Colosse was about ten miles away & they had cool mountain water. Loadicea had to build a six-mile aqueduct & by the time the water arrived it was lukewarm & insipid, filled with minerals & chemicals. The water was noted to make people gag when they tried to drink it & sometimes they vomited.

Slowly over the years the culture of this city became the culture of the church & because of their riches, they became comfortable & complacent.

LET’S DROP IN FOR A VISIT THE NIGHT THE LAODICEANS RECEIVED THEIR LETTER FROM JESUS.

The letter as heard for us through the ears of a church member named Robert.

Robert arrived just as the meeting was starting. It had been a hectic day at work but he wasn’t going to miss this evening. The church was packed because everyone knew there would be the reading of “the letter” tonight & they were all looking forward to it.

Robert had heard about the letters the other churches had received & some of them had gotten a royal roasting. But as he thought about it, he felt they’d be O.K. He wasn’t aware of any sexual immorality in the fellowship, at least not like those guys in Pergamos & Thyatira. They had the riot act read to them but Robert was sure his church would be spared.

There wasn’t any false teaching here & the people didn’t get excited about every new fad that came along. The sermons weren’t all that exciting but at least they weren’t going to lead anyone astray.

The Smyrnans had been warned that they’d be persecuted & maybe even sent to prison but Robert knew he’d leave the church if it came to that. He wasn’t going to put his career at risk over religion. But, not to worry, Laodicea was a peaceful town & wasn’t the sort of place where that kind of thing happened.

No, nothing negative was going to happen tonight, not at this church. After all they had the biggest & most beautiful church in the area, the best dressed choir & the people of the church were all upscale folk. He thought they’d probably get about the same letter the good folk at Philadelphia got last week; that was rather encouraging stuff.

The pastor is starting to read… “The words of the Amen, the faithful & true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.”— “hey not a bad start” Robert thought.

The pastor continued. “To the church at Laodicea! I know exactly what you’re like. And frankly you make me sick. You think you’re so great but you are useless. Your self-satisfaction just makes me want to throw up.”

You could have heard a marshmallow fall on a carpet. The stunned silence held for a minute & then the people started glaring at each other.—“How dare He!”—they whispered ferociously to one another. “After all we’ve done.”

Robert just sat in silence, reeling from the blow. After all, there were no false teachings that are mentioned in the letter. It may not have been an alive & excited church but it certainly wasn’t a dead church. It wasn’t thriving neither was it dying.

We’ll come back to Robert a bit later.

The Laodiceans weren’t “risk takers” but they weren’t comatose either. The church was well within the range of evangelical respectability. You might say it was sort of normal. It was a safe place to have your membership. No big high-risk plans were on the drawing board in Laodicea. Nothing dynamic was in the offing, just a warm group of people meeting together to share middle class values & a Christian orientation to life in general.

They were just a group of benign believers content to cocoon together with other believers for an hour or so each week. They weren’t frozen & they weren’t fried. They weren’t hot, neither were they cold. Call them tepid, call them lukewarm, [call them irresponsible,] &, Oh, did I mention; call them disgusting in the eyes of Christ.

Jesus literally said, “I’m about to vomit. What’s going on at your church makes me sick to my stomach.” Unlike most of the other six churches, there are no words of commendation for this church. Once we get over the initial shock at what the usually meek & mild Jesus said to these folk we’ll proceed to learn why He felt that way. Before I go further with the Laodiceans, I’d like to ask you a question;

WHAT’S YOUR CONDITION WHEN IT COMES TO SPIRITUAL PASSION?

I’m not asking if you like pizza or Haagen-Dazs ice cream.. I’m asking “what is your passion?” What pulls you out of bed & keeps you going when there’s very little in the outward circumstance to encourage you?

What can make you burn the midnight oil? What would you do if you didn’t get paid? What would you sacrifice blood sweat & tears for? I’m talking about hunger, thirst, fire, passion & a drive for meaning & achievement in life.

One dictionary defines passion as; “Intense, driven, overmastering feeling of conviction, ardent affection, devotion to some activity, deep desire or interest.”

PASSION comes from the Greek word Pascho which means “to suffer” or “to sacrifice.” Passion is a requirement if we are to be truly successful at any enterprise.

When you think of successful people in any field you automatically think of passion. The truly great ones are always the ones who burn with passion for their sport. There’s Mohammad Ali who made me want to watch every fight. There was something about his enthusiasm that captivated me.

Basketball legend Michael Jordan is another man who has a passion for his sport that makes him a “star.” These athletes are people of passion & when you watch them you feel as though they’d play even if they weren’t so handsomely paid.

When we think of Bill gates certainly passion comes to mind. A man of mega-bucks but not only that, we think of a man possessed by computer software & how to make it accessible to as many millions as possible.

PHINEHAS

In Malachi chapter two, the prophet speaks highly about Levi and a covenant God made with him. Yet, when we look at Genesis or in the death poem of Jacob there is nothing complimentary to Levi. So, what is Malachi talking about? Who is Malachi talking about?

Malachi is clearly talking about a descendent of Levi by the name of Phinehas. We meet the exceedingly zealous Phinehas at Shittim, on the opposite side of the Jordan River from Jericho, after Israel has wandered through the wilderness for 40 years.

Settling in a land populated by pagans, the Israelites were being drawn into a web of idolatrous practices represented and symbolized by cultic prostitution. Spiritual adultery, not merely physical adultery, is at the heart of this story.

It was at Shittim that the daughters of Moab succeeded in seducing the sons of Israel to indulge in the sexual immorality associated with the worship of Baal Peor.

The Lord brought judgment and destruction upon Israel and all the people of Israel repented and stood before the Tent of Meeting weeping with sorrow for their sin.-Numbers 25.

While this act of penance was going on, Zimri son of Salu did something that can only be described as brazen. He brought a Midianite woman to his tent. He did this openly, boldly, right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel.

When Phinehas, son of Eleazar, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand and followed Zimri into his tent. He caught Zimri and the Midianite in the act of sexual immorality and drove the spear through both of them .The Bible tells us this was "credited to Phinehas as righteousness," because he was zealous with and for God Num 25:11. Ps 106:31

Zimri’s action was designed as part of a plot to draw Israel into the Midianite religious cult. This act of apostasy wasn’t a covert affair. It was done to provoke those who had gathered at the tent of meeting to mourn Israel’s deteriorating spiritual condition and the plague that had come as a consequence of it.

Have you ever heard a sermon on this story? To be frank, very few have ever been preached and many who’ve preached on it have gotten its meaning wrong, making it a warning against intermarriage rather than God’s judgment on sin.

This is definitely an Old Testament story, but Phinehas goes down in the sight of God as blessed because of his zeal to do that which was right in God’s eyes and his linage was blessed because of his selfless act.

John 2:17 says that Jesus was literally “eaten- up “with zeal. The word zeal is another word for passion. It’s defines as “eagerness & ardent interest in the pursuit of something.” When Jesus went into the temple to run the money changers out, He wasn’t mad as some have supposed. He sat down & weaved a whip of cords before going into the temple. A man freaking out with a temper fit doesn’t take time to do that. Jesus no doubt was disturbed but the scripture says it was His “passion,” or more literally: He was eaten-up with zeal & passion for His Father’s house.

Passion isn’t the temporary surge of joy a person gets when he/she has just been hired for a new job that will give them more money. Too often when this kind of job has been taken, the good feeling quickly dissipates when the reality of what the job entails sinks in. I’ve heard people say they hated their job so much they got physically sick on Sunday night because they had to go back to work Monday on a job they hated, even though the pay was excellent.

Maybe you left the small job you had because it wasn’t showing the flash you felt you needed but in truth it involved something you were passionate about. Now you may have a good paying job but the passion isn’t there & you hate every minute of it. I’m not deprecating good pay or any kind of work, or saying we have to be giddy & in love with every task we do. Gainful employment is necessary & a person must work to exist. However the truly happy person is the one who has found their life’s work & is so passionate about it that it really doesn’t seem like work.

LET’S LOOK AGAIN AT THE CONDITION OF THE LAODICEAN CHURCH

In Revelation 3:15-16 Jesus said, -I know your works that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other. So because you are lukewarm—neither nor cold, I’m about to spit you out of my mouth.

Unlike Colosse, whose water was cool & refreshing, & unlike Hierapolis, whose water was hot & healing, the water at Laodicea was lukewarm & hard to swallow. I don’t believe Jesus was saying that He’d want anyone to be openly hostile to him—although at least that would mean they had some emotion.

What Jesus was saying was; you’re all the wrong temperature, you’re passionless & indifferent & don’t take a stand for anything. You’re a group of half-hearted self-sufficient Christians & you’re making me ill.

The church at Laodicea was singing “standing on the promises,” but they were only “sitting on the premises.” They were “so satisfied they were petrified.” They were singing “throw out the lifeline” when they never made it any further than the “close line.” They were probably singing, “I surrender some.” And maybe, “Take my life & let me be.” And the ever beautiful “My hope is built on nothing much.” At the end of their services they’d probably stand & sing “Asleep in Jesus” & pass out.

But before we get too critical of these Laodicean folk, let’s ask ourselves if we’re familiar with any churches that are lukewarm. Most churches are filled with nice people are they not? They are meeting their budget. They are seeing some growth.

THE LAODICEANS DIDN’T SEE THEIR CONDITION

They “didn’t know what condition their condition was in.”

In Revelation 3:17---They say “I am rich; I have acquired wealth & don’t need a thing! ---But Jesus evaluates them & says,--you are wretched & pitiful, blind, poor & naked.

“There is none so blind as he who will not see.” Not only was this Laodicean church indifferent, they were ignorant of their true condition.

Have you ever looked at yourself from the side in a mirror & not been delighted with what you saw? I have. It feels awful, not to mention how it looks. You thought you were okay in the weight department until you got a gander at yourself in that big mirror. You didn’t realize the condition your condition was in until you turned sideways & got that side perspective. You’d been kidding yourself all that time. I hate those mirrors. That side-view never fails to put me back on my diet.

JESUS OFFERS SOME ADVICE TO THESE PEOPLE

“I COUNCIL YOU TO BUY FROM ME GOLD REFINED IN THE FIRE SO YOU CAN BECOME RICH; AND WHITE CLOTHES TO WEAR SO YOU CAN COVER YOUR SHAMEFUL NAKEDNESS—and salve to put on your eyes so you can see.

In a city that had plenty of gold as a source of its wealth Jesus says,

It’s not enough. You need gold from me. In a city known for its manufacture of black wool “You need to get clothes from me. In a city renowned for its manufacture of eye salve Jesus said, come to me for divine vision. You need a renewed spiritual vision so you can see life & eternity for what they are. Your eyes have been blinded by the light of culture but my eye salve works. Come to me realizing that you have no resources of your own you need my salvation & my power to be what you need to be.

JESUS ALSO SAYS, ACCEPT MY DISCIPLINE

Whom the Lord loves He disciplines. Jesus still loves this lukewarm church even though their love for Him has grown cold. Christ wants them to repent & rekindle their love for Him & replace complacency with a renewed zeal.

Revelation 3:20 is one of most graphic pictures of Christ in the Scripture. It’s the picture of Him standing at the door knocking asking to be allowed inside. By all rights, this picture should be reversed & we should be knocking on Jesus’ door, but here He is, in all His grace & mercy, knocking on our door.

We generally use this as an appeal to sinners but as we can see, the context here is lukewarm Christians. It seems Jesus is saying, “I’m the offended, the wronged party. You should be pursuing me but here I am again, seeking you out. I’m extending myself to you, I’m knocking at your door, and I’m taking the initiative.”

What is most astounding about this scene is; Jesus has obviously not even been asked into this church. He isn't included here. He's standing on the outside knocking. This isn't a den of iniquity where Jesus requests to come in to show His love & mercy to the unsaved & unchurched. Rather, this is a church where Jesus is seeking to gain admission.

Though it grieves me to say it, I've been in churches where Jesus' presence wasn't anywhere to be seen or felt. But still He stands desiring to be welcomed in. Though this statement seems ludicrous, just think what some of these churches who seem to be doing so good without Him, could do if they ever actually welcomed the Lord into their midst.

IT’S NOT TOO LATE FOR THE LAODICEANS

All they had to do was open the door, to be sincere & repent.

Back to the meeting where the letter has just been read & to Robert our eye & ear witness.

There was practically a riot when the pastor got through reading the letter. People were storming out left right & center. It almost reached stampede proportions. But Robert didn’t move. There were just a handful of people scattered across the church sitting quietly with their heads bowed & some were softly crying.

“Lord I’m so sorry.” Robert prayed quietly. And for the first time in his life he was really praying. “Lord I had no idea. Please forgive me. I hadn’t seen my condition until now. Please come into my life & make it your own. Thank you for not giving up on us!”


That night the church was reborn.


Blessings,


John

Monday, June 19, 2017

Stop It!



By John Stallings


Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you. John 5:14--NIV

A successful young lawyer was driving one day & a policeman pulled him over for not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign. The young man argued technicalities for a living so he thought he’d engage the young cop in some of his courtroom expertise.

The lawyer said, “I slowed down & no one was coming, & I moved on after looking both ways, why isn’t that enough?” The young man was doing what I see drivers do every day & that’s the “rolling stop.”

The lawyer said, “Why don’t you give me a good, practical reason why it’s so important that I come to a complete stop when I can slow down to a “snails pace,” look carefully & move on with great caution?” The educated to the hilt lawyer was asking the unsophisticated policeman to give him an illustration of the difference in slowing down, almost stopping, & coming to a complete stop.

The policeman asked the man to step out of his vehicle & when he did he proceeded to pull out his Billy-club & began hitting the young man repeatedly. As he swung the Billy-club across the back of the lawyer’s neck he asked, “Now, -- you tell me the difference in stopping & just slowing down.”

Some of the better truths in the story of Jesus healing the man at the pool of Bethesda happen after the man was healed & entered the temple, encountering the Pharisees.

In John 5:14, Jesus later found the man in the temple & spoke to him. Jesus had already dealt with the man in “grace” & now He applied “truth,” telling him to stop sinning or something worse would happen to him. Notice;

JESUS FOUND THE MAN IN THE TEMPLE

The narrative seems clear to me that Jesus went looking for the man He’d recently healed. It’s amazing how Jesus can always find us. Though we sometimes want to feel we went looking for Him, the fact is, God came searching for us. Do you know why it’s often said that Christianity isn’t a religion? Answer; religion is defined as, “Man’s search for God.”

In the strictest sense, a person can be praying to a bird or the Sun & be said to be practicing religion. Mankind is & has always been on a cosmic search for God.

But in Christianity, man wasn’t searching for God, but rather God came searching for man. It was happening all through the Old Testament through the prophets & other phenomenon, & it culminated in Christ coming to earth to dwell among men & die on the cross.

Paul said in Romans 3:11, --there is none that seeketh after God.

The Psalmist said in Psalm 14:3—there is none that doeth good, no not one.

Over & over it’s been demonstrated that when an individual sinks so far into sin all seems hopeless, --“man’s extremity is God’s opportunity,” & God finds that person.


WHEN JESUS FOUND THIS MAN IN THE TEMPLE, HE SAID, “STOP SINNING OR SOMETHING WORSE MAY HAPPEN TO YOU.”

STOP-SINNING!! Here’s one of the most profound theological commands ever uttered. Are you ready?

 STOP IT!!

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the YOUTUBE video on STOP IT with comedian Bob Newhart. If not, take six minutes & watch it. He’s at his funniest, stuttering, brilliant best.

Newhart plays a very different kind of Psychiatrist who charges five dollars for a five minute session. A woman comes into his office & unburdens her phobia about being buried alive in a box. Newhart asks her if anyone had ever threatened to bury her in a box or if there was any real basis for the fear & she says there isn’t. Then he looks at her & says; STOP IT!

Newhart’s finished in three minutes but he can’t break a five dollar bill for the woman so she stays for two more minutes to get her monies worth. She tells him she doesn’t think his advice is going to work for her, & he says, “O.k. if the two words aren’t enough for you I’ll give you ten words,

“STOP IT OR I’LL BURY YOU ALIVE IN A BOX.”

That little skit is humorous but in reality it speaks volumes.
We could read the Bible through & memorize every word of it but until we, as an act of our will make the decision to forsake sin & put it to death, we’ll never be victorious over sin. At some point we have to stop the action, habit or sin because no one else can do it for us.

Are you thinking negatively? STOP IT!!
Are you over-spending? STOP IT!!
Are you overworking? STOP IT!!
Are you gossiping? STOP IT!!
Are you judging others? STOP IT!!
Are you obsessive/ compulsive? STOP IT!!
Do you think your opinions are always best? STOP IT!!
Do you lose your temper? STOP IT!!
Are you overeating? STOP IT!!
Are you indulging in a secret sin? STOP IT!!

It’s like the man who went to the Doctor & told him when he lifted his arm a certain way it hurt. The Doctor, said, “Stop lifting it like that.”

I heard about a man who was having trouble with his voice. He went to a throat specialist, & after a long series of tests, the doctor told the man, the only thing I can tell you is; you talk too much. Stop it!”

Years ago I heard comedian George Burns, nearly one hundred at the time, tell about developing a condition that caused him to constantly clear his throat with a little short cough. He’d been doing it for thirty years & mentioned to his doctor that he was concerned about the cough especially since he smoked cigars. The doctor told him he could easily get rid of the cough for him & gave him instructions, “Stop doing it.” Burns said “that was fifty years ago & I’ve never coughed since.” They aren’t making doctors like that any more.

Here’s the best way I’ve ever found to lose weight; STOP EATING SO MUCH!!

You can do it the low-carb way, which is the way we’ve done it for the last few years, or you can eat 1,000 to 1,500 calories a day but however you do it, you’ve got to STOP EATING SO MUCH.

You may have a problem that isn’t a sin-- it’s just a bad habit but you can handle it the same way, JUST STOP IT!!

DON’T TRY TO MODIFY OR REDEFINE SIN, OR SLOW IT DOWN, JUST STOP IT!

In the seventies Dr. Karl Mennineger wrote a very good book called, “Whatever became of sin?” He talked about this problem of rationalizing sin or calling it by another name. Over thirty years later the problem has grown exponentially. Our society now has a hard time labeling things right or wrong. When President Ronald Reagan called The Soviet Union an evil empire, it upset a lot of people because they couldn’t come to terms with calling certain things or nation’s evil.

When I read Dr. Mennineger’s book in the mid-seventies, I humbly answered his question thus; “Sin went to the doctor & was diagnosed as a disease. Sin went to the psychiatrist & was diagnosed as a dysfunction.” Some people choose to try to modify their sin or cut down on it, like ordering a half-order of something in a restaurant. But the edict of heaven is still, STOP IT.

Jesus tells the paralyzed man,--SIN NO MORE!

You may think a Christian can’t sin but as long as we have a robe of flesh we will have a bent toward sin. The Lord’s Prayer says-- forgive us our sins; it doesn’t say –forgive them their sins.
You can be saved, sanctified & and filled with the Holy Ghost but you still have to STOP SINNING!! You can pray until your hair turns green but you still have to STOP SINNING!!

You can fast until you are skin & bones & God will certainly grant you His grace & power but at some point you’ll still have to make the decision to STOP SINNING!!

In Romans 8:13 Paul says, --For if ye live after the flesh ye shall die but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the flesh ye shall live. The word mortify comes from the same word that we get the word mortician. This is what must be done to sin.

It’s possible to be “too spiritual,” expecting to sit passively by while God comes in & takes the evil desires & temptations out of our way. He won’t do that but He’ll always create an escape hatch for us to escape the temptation. Of course we’ll have to take the time to look for His way of escape.

Listen how Paul handles a situation where a person has a problem with stealing;

Does he say to the person: “You know, stealing is so ingrained in you & you’ve been so defeated by it, the only hope you have to being victorious over stealing is to have the Lord come in & deal with it for you?” No! What does Paul say? Listen to Ephesians 4:28;

Let him that stole, steal no more! --- JUST STOP IT! Now that’s some deep theology, wouldn’t you agree?

Paul deals much the same way when it comes to growth in grace & spiritual maturity. He tells us in 1 Corinthians that he was at one time young & immature like everyone else. There were the same weaknesses & childishness in Paul’s life that all of us know about.

But did Paul say, “Well, I went to a great revival meeting & went forward & do you know what? God came & instantaneously took away all my childish ways in a heart-beat?”

No. What did Paul say? He said, -When I became a man I put away childish things.-1 Cor.13:11

Paul is saying that as an act of his will, he put away from him the juvenile things that were holding him back.

Paul also tells us how he was able to deal with his day by day attitudes. But he didn’t say;--“You know, I had such a problem with my attitude, I didn’t know what I was going to do.” He didn’t say; “I was always miserable & constantly complaining about my accommodations, the food, and the beverages & really just about everything in my life. But, you know, one night in prayer, God just came into the room & touched me. And since that night, I’m just as contented as one of those old contented cows, anywhere God puts me.”? No! Paul didn’t say that.

What Paul said was;

……For I have LEARNED, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. Phil.4:11

Paul didn’t get his sweet disposition in a miraculous manner. No Sir! He had to cultivate it. He had to learn it. Have you seen these spiritual babies that are waiting for God to work a miracle & transform them from a miserable Christian to a happy camper? God isn’t going to do for us what, through prayer, study of His word, & bringing our flesh into subjection, we should be doing for ourselves.

AN OLD TESTAMENT WAY OF DEALING WITH SIN

In 1 Samuel 15, Samuel anointed Saul & gave him instructions to kill all the Amalekites. While God doesn’t need me to come to His defense, there was a reason for this seemingly cruel order to be given. These folk, a nomadic race & descendants of Esau, were the mortal enemies of the Israelites. This was the people who attacked Israel in the famous battle when Aaron & Hur had to hold up Moses’ arms. God had already told Moses he would utterly blot out the memory of these people from under heaven.

The bloody Amalekites were one of the reasons the Israelites disobeyed God & balked at entering the Promised Land. God’s anger burned against these people because they hated Him & detested Israel. In short, the Amalekites were very bad people & Saul was to be God’s instrument to execute judgment on them.

As we know, Saul didn’t obey the clear command of God & motivated by covetousness he kept all their best possessions & actually spared their king, king Agag. Maybe Saul’s pride led him to want a “king on a string.”

The disobedience by Saul was so serious to God that He sent Samuel to tell him God was taking the throne of Israel from him & his descendants forever. We don’t usually think of Samuel, that great prophet of God who was called as a youngster under the tutelage of Eli, as a harsh & vindictive man.

But what Samuel later did about this miscarriage of God’s justice is shocking. He coolly said, “Bring me Agag!” Agag thought he was safe & came to Samuel & cheerfully told him he was glad the threat of death had passed. Obviously Samuel wasn’t amused. Do you know what Samuel did then? He took a sword & cut Agag to pieces. 1 Sam.15:32-33.

This might seem cruel & merciless, but let there be no mistake; this was an act of divine judgment to show the holy wrath of an indignant God against a cruel & incorrigible people.
For proof, you only have to go to the end of the book of 1 Samuel not long afterwards, to see the reinvigorated fragments of the Amalekites were still running around the countryside, eating, drinking & pillaging & still causing trouble for Israel. It was they who raided David’s town Ziklag & took his family captive. David caught up with them & got his family back, fighting them all night long into the next morning killing all but four hundred of them.

I can’t think of a more perfect illustration of what sin can & will do if not dealt with harshly. Like the Amalekites, sin if not mortified has a way of reviving, regrouping & launching new & unexpected attacks at the worst times & in the most unexpected ways.

Let’s be real here; living a pure life is difficult today & sexual temptation is one of the strongest. Did Jesus talk about that? Yes He did & He gave us three ways to break the power of sin in our lives.

1. LOOK AWAY

In Matthew 5:27-30, Jesus said;

Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, “Thou shall not commit adultery: But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a women to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.


Jesus is saying that looking at someone lustfully is just as detrimental to our heart & soul as if we had physically committed adultery. If you allowed contempt & hate to build up in your heart against a person it would create a barrier between you even if you never acted on those feelings. Likewise, having lustful thoughts hurts us spiritually if we never act on them because seeing someone as a sexual object builds the wrong feelings & motivations. We realize that thoughts precede actions & thinking about something paves the way to acting it out.

Look away, divert your eyes. Looking refers to one who continues to look with deliberate intent. We can’t live in a world without visual temptations but we don’t have to stare. We can always get up & leave a theater. We can put a book aside & not finish it. Even though we rented a movie, if it gets weird we don’t have to watch it.

If you go on a diet the last place you need to go is to the Dairy Queen or Wendy’s. If you’re counting calories the last thing you need is to go somewhere they have luscious pictures of Lobster Primavera on the menu. Then Jesus said;

2. CUT IT OUT.

If your eye or hand offends, put them away from you. Now we know Jesus isn’t actually speaking of mutilation here, He’s speaking figuratively. What He’s saying is whatever causes you to sin, get rid of it.

I’ve heard of good honorable people who can’t have a computer because of the temptation to log onto a porn channel. Not having a computer prevents them from communication with relatives, checking their bank accounts, checking news stories, driving directions to different locations, purchasing things conveniently, using the spiritual materials that are available online, knowing what’s happening to ministries around the world, & a multitude of other good things. But they can’t trust themselves to have those conveniences because it could open a door for a temptation they feel might be their spiritual downfall.

There are others who can’t have cable T.V because they don’t trust their ability to change the channel. Some people won’t listen to certain kinds of music & even terminate romantic relationships that are leading them into tempting situations.

There are people who haven’t had a drink for years & won’t go places where alcohol is served because it’s a temptation they don’t want to have to deal with. We might look at these folk critically but the bottom line is; whether it’s canceling AOL, having cable television disconnected, transferring to another department at work, whatever is necessary to keep out of a situation that causes temptation to sin, it’s wise to cut it out. It’s better to go dateless, have no television, not get a promotion & forego the knowledge the internet could supply than to be trapped in sin.

3. GUARD YOUR HEART

David said; Create in me a pure heart O God….Psalm 51:10

I realize that temptation is a matter of the heart not just our surroundings & certainly our heart must be dealt with but in the case of many people, they feel by eliminating certain sources of temptation they get along better & give themselves the opportunity to focus on the real issues, the state of their heart.

God wants to purify our hearts so that dating isn’t a problem, surfing the internet isn’t a problem or working with an attractive member of the opposite sex isn’t a problem. But we have to do our part. In order to be victorious, we’ve got to eliminate certain distractions, learn to look away from temptations, learn to avoid sinful situations, & learn to focus on the work he wants to do in us.

Please understand the Christian life isn’t a cut & dried proposition, a life that we live in our own strength. While It’s true that we can never abandon our responsibility to mortify our own sin, as Christians, God’s Spirit is always with us working in us, both to will & to of His good pleasure. Phil.2:13. If we have a desire to do right in the first place, it’s God’s spirit that has come along side us to give us that desire.

In a very real sense, it’s as simple as this; “Walk in the Spirit & you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. Gal.5:16.

Let us therefore cleanse ourselves from all defilement of the flesh & spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. -- 2 Cor.7:1

“When we all get to heaven” we’ll be rid of the flesh, but like the Amalekites, until totally eradicated, sin can always come screaming back with hellish fury when least expected.

Paul said, -But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. 1 Cor.9:27.

We might as well accept the fact that we have a stalker named sin & it’s our duty, with the daily faithful assistance of the Holy Spirit, to mortify it, until we rest in gloryland.


Blessings,

John