Friday, May 27, 2016

What should a servant expect?

The Bible calls us “servants” or “slaves” of Jesus. Slave has become a negative word in contemporary American society and rightly so after the sin of slavery in America’s past that was based on race and force rather than punishment for a crime or in the case of following Jesus, willing servitude. Yet the Bible, particularly the New Testament, describes how our attitude should be when obeying Jesus in this manner. One of my favorite examples of this is found in Luke 17:7-10. In this parable, Jesus demonstrates how we are to be good stewards in the Kingdom of God when serving our Lord Jesus. “Suppose one of you has a servant [slave] who has been plowing the ground or caring for the sheep. When the servant comes in from working in the field, would you say, ‘Come in and ·sit down to eat [recline;  the posture for a banquet or formal meal]’? No, ·you [he] would say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat. Then get yourself ready [or put on your apron; gird yourself] and serve [wait on] me. After I finish eating and drinking, you can eat and drink.’ The servant does not get any special thanks [Does he thank the servant…?] for doing what his master commanded. It is the same with you. When you have done everything you are told to do, you should say, ‘We are ·unworthy [undeserving; worthless] servants; we have only done the work we should do [our duty; our obligation]’” (Expanded Bible).

Plowing the ground and caring for sheep is far from easy work. Yet what is the reward for this servant who has spent all day working so hard doing what his master commanded? Does he get to come in and relax. No, his day is just beginning. He still has to serve his master’s meal before he can sit down and eat. He gets no special thanks or praise because the servant just did what was expected of him. That should be our attitude. We should do everything that God expects of us at all times, but how many of us really do that? Then when we have done that, rather than thinking we should get some big pat on the back, we should have the humility to realize that we are just fulfilling what we are called to do.

Again, this may seem a little harsh given the attitude most Americans have when it comes to “our rights” or “what we deserve.” But when we really stop to think about it, what do we deserve? All of us deserve Hell, judgment, eternal condemnation for the evil deeds we have done. It is by God’s gracious mercy and lovingkindness that we are even offered Heaven and eternal life, not by any supposed good works we have done. This sense of entitlement a lot of us have even after we have worked hard does not come from the Word of God. it comes from the world’s standards and expectations. The Apostle Paul all but said the same thing in Romans 12:1. “So [Therefore] brothers and sisters, since God has shown us great mercy, I beg [urge; appeal to] you to offer your lives [selves; bodies] as a living sacrifice to him. Your offering must be only for God [holy] and pleasing to him, which is the spiritual [or authentic; true; or appropriate; fitting; or rational; reasonable] way for you to worship” (Expanded Bible). Giving one’s whole life and body in service to God is merely a reasonable, rational service given the mercy He has bestowed on us.

Now just because I say we should not expect any rewards based on our own goodness, does that mean we will not get any? Of course not, because the Bible makes it clear in several different places that believers will receive rewards or loss of rewards based on what we do for God in this life. ““Don’t store treasures for yourselves here on earth where moths and rust will destroy them and thieves can break in and steal them. But store your [for yourselves] treasures in heaven where they cannot be destroyed by moths or rust and where thieves cannot break in and steal them. Your heart will be where your treasure is” (Matthew 6:19-21 Expanded Bible). “Behold, I (Jesus) am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to each one according to the merit of his deeds (earthly works, faithfulness)” (Revelation 22:12 Amplified Bible). “[For] God is fair [L not unjust]; he will not forget the work you did and the love you showed for him [ in his name] by helping[serving] his people [holy people;  saints]. And he will remember that you are still helping [serving] them” (Hebrews 6:10 Expanded Bible). “The foundation that has already been laid is Jesus Christ, and no one can lay down any other foundation. But if people [anyone; someone] build on that foundation, using gold, silver, jewels [precious stones], wood, grass [or hay], or straw, their work will be clearly seen [or shown for what it is], because the day of judgment [day] will make it visible [clear; obvious]. That day will appear [or reveal it; expose it] with fire, and the fire will test everyone’s work to show what sort of work it was. If the building that has been put on the foundation [work] still stands, the builder will get a reward [or wages] But if the building [work] is burned up, the builder will suffer loss [or be fined; or be punished]. The builder will be saved, but it will be as one who escaped from a fire [ through fire]” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15 Expanded Bible). “So each of us will have to answer [give an account of ourselves] to God” (Romans 14:12 Expanded Bible). The point is to realize that our attitude about the rewards believers will get from God should be one of even greater awe, amazement, and thankfulness rather than thinking we deserve anything or are entitled to it,

Friday, May 20, 2016

Keeping perspective and thriving under persecution

I was watching a sermon by Joyce Meyer earlier called “Building a Fortress of Faith.” As is the case with all of her messages, it had an application both on a personal level, but it also had an application for Christians in America I think. One of the points she made is in God’s school you never flunk. You just keep taking the same test over and over again. The best example of this that I know of in the Bible is the Israelites after God set them free from Egypt. “It is [only] eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea [on Canaan’s border; yet Israel took forty years to get beyond it]” (Deuteronomy 1:2 Amplified Bible, Classic Edition). So a trip that should have taken them less than two weeks ended up taking them 40 years. It took a very short time to get Israel out of Egypt, but it only took 40 years to get Egypt out of them.

Christians in America are getting ready to go through some tests. How we react to those trials is what is important. That is not to say everything is wonderful now, but it is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. The seeds of persecution have been planted in America with how Christian influence has slowly but surely been drained from the culture at large due to our own lack of faithfulness to God and our withdrawal from the culture. While things may be getting worse though, I think we need to keep things in perspective. While the seeds of persecution have been planted in America, church history has seen much worse. Even today in other parts of the world, our brothers and sisters in Christ are being captured, enslaved, driven from their homes, and even beheaded. While fighting against what we see happening in our country, we need to remember to have an attitude of thankfulness for what we still have and what we are still able to do if we will just use the freedoms we still have.

Then if and when the persecution increases to levels that we are currently seeing in other parts of the world right now, we still need not lose heart. The second point I got from the message I saw earlier that really applies to what I am talking is that increased persecution usually leads to growth in the church and personal growth among people in the church. “Persecution is inevitable for those who are determined to live really Christian lives, while wicked and deceitful men will go from bad to worse, deluding others and deluding themselves” (2 Timothy 3:12-13 J.B. Phillips New Testament).

For evidence of this, let’s just look at what has happened in Cuba that is having church growth comparable to the book of Acts.. Heather Sells wrote for the Christian Broadcasting Network on March 6: “Many believe the hardships and suffering have paved the way for an explosion of church planting. On a typical Sunday morning in Cuba, you can find churches across the island overflowing with worshippers. Many meet in homes and others meet in churches that look more North American but operate in a political climate that is very different. Space is the biggest challenge for many churches. Under current government rules they typically cannot buy land or expand. One church CBN News visited responded to the rules by building several stories up. Others cram into homes and multiply when they become too big...In the past 20 years, more than 16,000 evangelical churches have opened their doors...The growth of the church in Cuba is even more miraculous given the country's poverty. The average monthly government salary is $20 and professionals typically make less than $50...Still, Cuban churches are known for their generosity and willingness to sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel...Still, most churches cannot expand or buy land. They cannot produce Christian radio or television shows.”

Cuba is no paradise, nor is their persecution a goal to aspire to, but one cannot deny that when the squeeze is on the body of Christ, the results are usually difficult but positive. One thing persecution does is separate the wheat from the chaff, the true from the false, the counterfeit from the genuine. That does not mean God causes or desires persecution for His children, but as His Word says in Romans 8:28, “God works everything together for the good of those who love Him.” Regardless of what happens in the future, what decisions leaders make, or how much more apostate the church becomes, we have this promise from our Lord Jesus: “God will bless you when people mock, abuse, revile, hurt, and persecute you. They will lie and say all kinds of evil things against you because you follow me. Rejoice and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven. People did the same evil things to the prophets who lived before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

My thoughts on Ted Cruz dropping out

Obviously I am extremely disappointed that Ted Cruz dropped out of the race after losing the Indiana primary to Donald Trump, effectively making Donald Trump the 2016 Republican nominee for President of the United States. The scenario of a Trump vs. Clinton election iin November is a nightmare scenario, speaking personally. I am sure there are millions of Cruz supporters and other Christian patriots who feel the same way. Nonetheless, this is the reality we are faced with.

I saw a sermon by Joyce Meyer yesterday. A lot of applies to what is happening in America right now. In it she talked about how people are always saying, “They need to do something.” “They need to do this.” “They need to do that.” Americans in general and Christians specifically need to realize that we are “they.” Nothing is going to happen unless we make it happen. We had our chance to stop it, but not enough of us could get in agreement. But we still have a responsibility, to our country and most importantly to our Creator. She rightly brings up the point that Christians have become passive. "If one carries in the skirt of his garment flesh that is holy [because it has been offered in sacrifice to God], and with his skirt or the flaps of his garment he touches bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any kind of food, does what he touches become holy [dedicated to God’s service exclusively]? And the priests answered, No! [Holiness is not infectious.] Then said Haggai, If one who is [ceremonially] unclean because he has come in contact with a dead body should touch any of these articles of food, shall it be [ceremonially] unclean? And the priests answered, It shall be unclean. [Unholiness is infectious.]" (Haggai 2:12-13 Amplified Bible Classic Edition). You cannot know what’s right, purposely do what’s wrong, and expect protection from the consequences.

I don't know how America comes back from the last eight years plus the next four regardless of which of those two--people win the presidency. I know America in some measure deserves this. You can't kick God out of so much of American life and not expect consequences. So anything that happens, the country as a whole has asked for it. But knowing our history and where we've been versus where we will end up, it is literally heartbreaking, especially when it could have all been avoided. Either way, the answer for each of us as individuals and for the faithful remnant in the body of Christ remains the same. "Jesus must become more important, while I become less important" (John 3:30 Contemporary English Version). That is our responsibility if we are followers of Christ no matter who our leaders are or what circumstances we may face in the future. God’s standards don’t lower just because things get tougher. He doesn’t grade on the curve. So in the immediate, what does that mean for the election in November? To use a quote from Charles Spurgeon that I saw shared on Facebook earlier: “Of two evils, choose neither.”