Lessons from Ezra

Ezra

At the community Bible study on Monday, we were talking about the story of Ezra and Nehemiah (We are leading a group of people through The Story). As you recall, Ezra and Nehemiah were put in charge of the rebuilding projects in Jerusalem: the wall and the Temple. Through this physical rebuilding, God also started to rebuild His people’s lives.

Ezra made a long trip from Babylon to Jerusalem to begin the process. Read Ezra 7:8-10:

8 Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the fifth month of the seventh year of the king. 9 He had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him. 10 For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.

A few items I’d like to point out:

  1. He traveled for four months in safety and with the permission of the ruling government because “the gracious hand of his God was on him” (v. 9). God’s grace is so amazing! God knew from before the foundation of the world that Ezra would be making this trip to help bring God’s people back to Him. God knows what you are going through as well.
  2. You will notice that Ezra was devoted to the Word. What does it mean to be devoted? Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines devoted as “Appropriated by vow; solemnly set apart or dedicated; consecrated.” To be devoted to the Word means you are dedicated to it, it is a passion of yours, and something you surround your life with. So often, we think we can do our “devotions” in the morning and be done. NO! Our devotions should inform our entire life. Every decision we make, every word we speak, every thought we have, should be filtered through the lens of God’s Word. That’s devotion.
  3. Ezra devoted himself to the Word in three ways: study, observance (obey), and teaching. These should be our devotions as well. To study means we do more than simply read the Bible. We learn it, we memorize it, we seek to understand every jot and tittle in it. We ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate it for us. We also observe or obey what it says. Remember what James says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” There are many commands that are contained in the Bible, but Jesus summarized it to two: Love God and love your neighbor. Do these things! Finally, Ezra devoted himself to teaching the law of God. You don’t want to be that person who knows everything about the Bible but never shares it! Once you know and understand God’s Word, you are on the hook to teach it to someone else. This doesn’t mean you sit them down in a classroom and teach them, but you teach them by your lifestyle, you share what you are learning with your family and friends. When I became a college professor, it was amazing how much better I understood concepts and ideas that I had spent four years in undergrad studying and three years in grad school. When you must teach something, you learn it better. That is why we must all be Bible students and Bible teachers.

During Holy week, I’d like you to consider four areas God calls His people to focus on in the story of Ezra/Nehemiah. God called His people to: 1) refocus on God, 2) recenter on His plan for our lives, 3) remember who God is, and 4) rebuild our relationship with Him.

There is no time like the present to rededicate your life to Christ.

Confronting Sin

confront

Appealing to those Living in Sin

2 Samuel 11-12

Sin is often defined as “Missing the mark.” What mark? God’s Word. He has standards of behavior that govern our thoughts, actions, and speech. Anytime we don’t meet those standards, we are sinners. It sounds harsh, but it is true. We are all sinners, and the “wages of sin is death.” We deserve death, hell, and eternal separation from God. But there is a way out. Jesus Christ. You see, “Christ died for us while we were still sinners.” God has made a way for us to be forgiven through Jesus Christ. We don’t have to live or die in sin. We just need to say yes to Jesus!

We all know someone who is living in sin. It may even be us. If a person is living in sin and one desires to appeal to them to turn from their sin, there are six steps one must follow. A word of caution: you are NOT God, so don’t try to play God. You don’t save people; you simply point them to Christ. You don’t convict people of their sin, that is the role of the Holy Spirit.

You can read the story of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11, but here is a brief synopsis:

2 Samuel 11 opens up with David taking a night-time stroll on his rooftop when he should have been off with his army fighting. He notices a woman bathing, decides he must have her as his own and takes her. She becomes pregnant and David decides to fix the issue. He recalls the woman’s husband from battle so that he can sleep with her and get the credit for the baby. The man refuses. So David sends him back to battle and instructs the commander to place him in a position where he will be killed. This occurs. David then takes the woman as his own, and nobody is the wiser… At least that’s what David thinks…

Nathan is a prophet. God appears to Nathan and sends him to David to confront David about his sin. We can learn a lot about how to appeal to those we know who are living in sin by seeing what Nathan does. Follow along in your Bible.

Nathan used six steps in appealing to David to acknowledge his adultery.

Step 1. Appeal by sharing a story that illustrates the sin and wait for their reaction to the illustration.

2 Samuel 12:1-4: “The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, ‘There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. 4 Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.’”

“The Lord sent Nathan to David…”

It is not your job to be the “sin police,” going around looking for sinners to condemn. Wait upon the Lord. The Lord will prompt you to speak to someone. If you feel the urge, ask yourself, is this God asking me, or do I have ulterior motives? Will the confrontation be out of love, or something else?

Nathan tells a great story to David, appealing to him as a shepherd, and then waits for his response. David was a shepherd before he became king. The story Nathan shared would have penetrated deep into David’s past and reminded him of how helpless little lambs were. As a shepherd, this would have infuriated David.

2 Samuel 12:5-6: “David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! 6 He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.’”

 If they react to the illustration, then confront them. Their conscience is convicting them.

If they are indifferent, it indicates their conscience is seared. Do not correct them or they will attempt to get even with you. Instead, pray and ask God to continue to convict them, to show them their sin for what it is.

Step 2. Appeal by confronting them with their sin, using the illustration as an example.

2 Samuel 12:7a: “Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!’”

“You are that man!”

You can picture David, burning with anger one moment, then hanging his head in guilt the next. Nathan made the connection between the story and what David had done.

Step 3. Appeal by sharing how God has blessed them in the past and what God’s desire is for them in the future.

2 Samuel 12:7-8: “Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.’’”

David had it all. He focused on the one thing he couldn’t have.

Why do we tend to focus on what we think God is withholding instead of rejoicing in what He has given us? As king, David could have had any woman who wasn’t already married. Instead, he went after someone he shouldn’t, someone he couldn’t have. How often do we go after what we shouldn’t? It is a story as old as time. In the Garden of Eden, Satan drew Adam and Eve’s attention away from everything God had given them, and focused their attention on the ONE tree they couldn’t have.

Step 4. Appeal by asking them why they have turned their back on God’s Word and despised it while God was observing them in their sin.

2 Samuel 12:9a: “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?”

Remember, it is God, through His Word, that defines right and wrong; that shows us our sin.

The Word is a mirror that we can hold up to our lives. Don’t measure your spirituality on those around you, but measure it against Christ. Are you growing more and more Christlike? Are you maturing in your faith?

Step 5. Appeal by describing the whole scope of their sin.

2 Samuel 12:9b: “You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.”

David had acted selfishly. He did not see (or want to accept) how his sin impacted others. When we are in our sin, we don’t think clearly. Keep this in mind as you talk with other people about theirs. They may not know (or want to admit) what they are doing is wrong. They may be focused on the good feelings instead of seeing how their sin hurts the heart of God. We need someone to take a step back and show us the entire nature of our sin.

Step 6. Appeal by sharing the consequences this particular sin will bring to them personally.

2 Samuel 12:10-11: “Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own. 11This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight.’”

Listen to what happened as a result of David’s sin:

-Uriah died; one of David’s 30 mighty men, one of his closest friends.

-Joab, the military commander, knew the truth, do you think he would trust David again?

-Bathsheba, his new wife, knew the truth, do you think she could trust David? I can hear the conversation now: “David, I know you are restless, why are you getting up in the middle of the night… who is she??”

-The child that Bathsheba conceived would go on to die.

-David’s family would bicker and fight his entire life. Son against father, son against son, son against daughter. David’s family was a train wreck after this incident.

If you follow these six steps, the desire response is repentance.

2 Samuel 12:13: “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’”

Note, David repented, God forgave. David is still a “man after God’s own heart,” but there were still earthly consequences. When we confront folks in sin, we need to remind them that the punishment has been paid for eternity, but there are still consequences. If you do something stupid, God is not your “get out of jail” free card.

Are you living in sin? What can you learn and apply from David’s life?

Do you know someone living in sin? Confront them, biblically!

Matthew 18:15-17: 15If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

Psalm 51 is David’s song of repentance following this grievous sin. You can pray Psalm 51 and ask God for forgiveness.

 

This blog contains material from Motivating with Scripture by John Regier.  Used with permission.  Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.

Originally preached February 12, 2017 at the evening worship service at Faith Bible Church, Colorado Springs.

 

Commit

commit

9 Commitments of David

How are you New Year’s Resolutions going? January is almost over, have you stuck with it? If you are like me, and most Americans, you have already given up on most of your New Year’s resolutions. I tried to give up soda, and I have, unless you count “Diet Cherry Limeade’s” from Sonic for happy hour a soda… I’m not sure!

Today, we are going to look at nine positive commitments that David made to God. These were not resolutions, but solid commitments.  To “Commit” means “to give in trust, put into the hands or power of another, to do, to engage, to pledge.”

In this commitments, you will notice that David says “I will” as if it is a fact. He doesn’t say “I will try” or “I strive,” but simply that he will. “Trying” and “Striving” are weasel words because you can weasel your way out by saying, “Hey, I tried…” NO! These commitments were made to God. God is the ultimate accountability partner because He knows everything you do (or don’t do), even if you think you can get away with it.

As we read through these, we need to make these personal, make these your own.

  1. Commitment to my walk.

Psalm 39:1a: “I will watch my ways…”

Psalm 37:5a: “Commit your way to the Lord.”

People are watching you, make sure your walk matches your talk. If you say you care for people, make sure you actually do. People can see hypocrisy and inauthentic Christians from a mile away. If our priorities are correct, your walk will match your talk. I suggest starting each day by committing it to the Lord:

Dear Lord Jesus, You know my schedule and those I could interact with today. I want to make myself available to you today. If you have a person you want me to talk to, or someone you want me to help, let me know and I will help them or talk with them. In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen [From “Weapons of Righteousness” training by Dr. Gil Stieglitz]

  1. Commitment in my speech.

Psalm 39:1b: “I will… keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth while in the presence of the wicked.”

The tongue is powerful. James 1:26 says: “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”

James goes on to compare the tongue to a bit in a horses mouth, the rudder of a ship, and a small spark that lights a forest (James 3). Each one of these shows that even though the tongue is a small part of the body, it is powerful, able to direct the course of your life or light others on fire (and not in a good way). As such, we should speak kindly. As your mother used to say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.”

Jesus says in Luke 6:45: “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

You have heard the phrase, “Garbage in, garbage out.” It is true. What we let into our hearts is what comes out of our mouths. When I have found my tongue slipping, I evaluate my life. Have I been watching or listening to something that I shouldn’t? Most times, the answer is yes.

So, to quote my mother again, “Watch your mouth!”

  1. Commitment to obey God’s Word.

Psalm 86:11a: “Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness…”

Psalm 119:8: “I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.”

Psalm 119:69b: “I keep your precepts with all my heart.”

Psalm 119:106: “I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow your righteous law.”

John 14:15: “If you love me, keep my commands.”

In order to obey God’s Word, we must know what the Bible says. This means we will read it, memorize it, and meditate on it. So often we complicate things. We need to follow the KISS principle, “Keep It Simple Saint.” When the Bible says to take care of widows and orphans, that is what we should do! When the Bible talks about honoring parents, we should honor our parents. So often we get into arguments about whether or not one of the commands in the Bible applies to us that we forget about the principle of the command and ignore what is God’s will. Yes, we’ve been saved by grace, we are not under the law, but we were also created to do good works. Do them!

  1. Commitment to wisdom in my conduct.

Psalm 101:2a: “I will be careful to lead a blameless life…”

Blameless means “complete, whole, entire, sound; without fault.” This means we do what’s right, all the time. We should seek counsel and advice from those who are wiser. We need to learn from others mistakes. When I became a teenager, I knew everything; my parents were not the brightest people. However, as I age, I see now that they knew a lot more than I ever gave credit for. I wish I had listened to their counsel, and the advice of my youth pastor more often.

  1. Commitment of my walk at home.

Psalm 101:2b: “I will conduct the affairs of my house with a blameless heart.”

We must start at home. When you were a kid, you were able to see the hypocrisy of your parents. I guarantee your kids see it in you too. Lead your kids, lead your spouse, in GRACE and with humility. In addition to God’s manual on parenting and marriage (The Bible!), Dr. Tim Kimmel has written some amazing books that I highly recommend: Grace-Based Parenting, and Grace-Filled Marriage.

One other resource to help you with your walk at home is your local church. It is vital to be connected to a local body of believers that have permission to speak into your life. Here at Faith Bible Church, we have couples who have been married a week and some as long as 60+ years! Let the church help you and your marriage!

  1. Commitment to my past promises.

Psalm 116:14: “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.”

Not just vows to God, but all commitments. When I became an uncle, I would make promises to my nieces and nephew that I knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep. My sister scolded me, harshly, and reminded me that I shouldn’t make promises I can’t keep. Similarly, when you committed to your marriage in front of God and family, you probably used the words, “Till death do us part…”. That’s a commitment you must keep. Be a promise keeper.

  1. Commitment to God’s name.

Psalm 86:12b: “I will glorify your name forever.”

The Lord’s name is powerful! Over and over again in Scripture we read, “In my name,” “In Jesus’ name,” or “In his name.” Listen to the power in Jesus’ name:

The devils were powerless because of his name (Luke 10:17).

  • The demons were cast out in his name (Mark 16:17-18).
  • Healing occurred in his name (Acts 3:6, 3:16, 4:10).
  • Salvation comes in his name (Acts 4:12-“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”, Romans 10:13-“for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”).
  • We are to baptize in his name (Matthew 28:19).
  • We are justified in his name (1 Corinthians 6:11).
  • Everything we do and say is done in his name (Colossians 3:17-“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”).

Wow, what a name. Don’t disgrace His name by not being committed to it. Don’t take His name in vain. To do so is to misappropriate the power behind it.

  1. Commitment to praising God.

Psalm 86:12a: “I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart…”

Psalm 89:1a: “I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever…”

Psalm 104:33: “I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.”

Psalm 108:1: “My heart, O God, is steadfast; I will sing and make music with all my soul.”

Psalm 118:28: “You are my God, and I will praise you; you are my God, and I will exalt you.”

Begin and end each day in worship of our God. It will set up your heart, mind, and soul to be reflective and God-honoring throughout each encounter. Plus, it is joyful to praise our God!

  1. Commitment to sharing God’s blessing.

Psalm 89:1b: “With my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations.”

Psalm 108:3: “I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples.”

You have been blessed to be a blessing. Everything you have belongs to God, it is your responsibility to steward it faithfully, for His glory. We have a responsibility to shepherd our kids’ hearts toward God. We do this by sharing our story and how much God has done for us.

As Christians, we have been given the best news ever, it is selfish not to share it!

These are commitments that David made to God, we would be blessed to do the same.

Will you join me in this? Not just trying, but actually making these commitments…

If so, read these out loud:

I commit my walk to God.

I commit my speech to God.

I commit to obey God’s Word.

I commit to God’s wisdom in my conduct.

I commit my walk at home to God.

I commit to my past promises.

I commit to God’s name.

I commit to praising God.

I commit to sharing God’s blessing.

 

 

 

This blog contains material from Motivating with Scripture by John Regier.  Used with permission.

Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.

Originally preached on Sunday night at Faith Bible Church, 1/29/2017.

Right Conduct

2017-01-16

We are bombarded everyday by thousands of voices telling us what to do. Go here, buy this, don’t go there, don’t buy that, follow me, you need

As vibrant followers of Christ, we try not to listen to the world and the voice of satan (left in all lowercase on purpose) when we are deciding what to do. We want to follow Christ and His perfect will for lives. But it is hard. Just this week, I was asked by a gentleman in our church, “I’m just trying to get some help in understanding His Word and how I am supposed to be a vibrant follower of Christ.” Here is someone who is trying to listen to the right voices!

Simply put, conduct is our “personal behavior; course of actions” (Wester, 1828). It is what we think, say, and do. Not surprisingly, the Bible has a lot to say about our conduct.

Consider these verses:

1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 – “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.”

Philippians 1:27 – “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel”

Luke 6:31 – “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Titus 2:11-12 – “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age…”

Hebrews 12:1-3 – “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Colossians 1:10 – “so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God…”

So, as you live your life, you should evaluate each situation you find yourself in before you react. Paul gives us some clear guidance on how to conduct ourselves rightly.

There are six questions to ask yourself to determine if your actions are right.

  1. Is it profitable? 1 Corinthians 10:23

The “right to do anything” is asking the question “Is it lawful?” which means to be allowed by rule or customs. This takes into consideration both man’s law and God’s law—Man permits conduct that God clearly does not. Examples of this include homosexuality, adultery, stealing, etc. This is why Paul includes the second statement, “not everything is beneficial.” Beneficial means helpful or advantageous and implies appropriate for achieving some end.

As followers of Christ, we have tremendous liberty when it comes to societal norms and customs. However, just because something is legal does not mean it is always profitable for us. Whether or not it is profitable for others will be answered later.

  1. Will it build up? 1 Corinthians 10:23

Verse 23 ends with the word “constructive.” This means to build up or make near to fullness or completion; to make abler.

We must ask, is what we are doing constructive or destructive? There are some things we do that destroy (exercise) that are actually building up (lift weights, you are destroying your muscles, but then they rebuild, stronger, leaner, more flexible… so it is construction through destruction). However, we are to build others up. When you talk to someone, do you leave them more encouraged, or discouraged? Do you add value to them? Do you bring them closer to Christ?

  1. How will my actions affect others? 1 Corinthians 10:24-30

This question is a way to live out the second greatest commandment: Love others as you love yourself. Put others first; put their needs ahead of your own. We generally define love as “the commitment of my will to your needs and best interest, regardless of the cost” (Dr. Tim Kimmel, Grace Filled Marriage).

The examples that Paul offers revolves around food. But it isn’t always about food. Our choices have a direct impact on others. If someone knows you are a follower of Christ and they see you doing something you shouldn’t, it impacts them. They think you are a hypocrite or they use you as an example for their own disobedience.

For example, my wife and I try to eat healthy in front of Cora. My wife is a lot more successful than me in this endeavor. It is so hard for me. When Cora sees me eating or drinking something that she can’t have, she asks: “What is that? Can I have some? Why not?” She is a good accountability partner!

Another example of this is the consumption of alcohol. While the Bible gives the Christian the liberty to drink, we must be aware of the grip that alcohol has on other people. Alcohol has the potential to wreak havoc on marriages, relationships with kids, and society in general. How will your actions affect others?

  1. Will it glorify God? 1 Corinthians 10:31

Verse 31 instructs us to do everything for the glory of God. Glory is the manifest presentation of God’s infinite and majestic nature; brightness; splendor, amazing might, greatness. If we truly believed in the holiness and majesty of God, how would that change our actions, especially if we claim to be followers of Christ?

Is what I’m about to do going to bring honor or shame to God? The Westminster Catechism says “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Yes and amen!

  1. Will it cause others to stumble? 1 Corinthians 10:32

Our lifestyle and actions should not promote a person’s sinning. This literally means to place a block/rock in the path of someone else. Life is hard enough as it is without other people intentionally (or unintentionally) tripping us up.

When Paul includes the phrase “Greek, Jew, and church,” this implies anyone and everyone. We need to keep everyone we come in contact with from stumbling. So, don’t be a hypocrite; your walk should match your talk.

One of the downsides of growing older is the number of times you have to get up in the middle of the night. You stumble around in the dark, stub your toe, hit your knee. The solution is simple: Turn the light on! Now, you can see and are less likely to stumble. Our life should be the light, not only for our path, but for those we are walking through life with.

  1. Will it profit others? 1 Corinthians 10:33

This means our actions should give pleasure to or be pleasing to others. Is what you are about to do going to bring pleasure, joy, happiness, some sort of benefit to someone else (while bringing pleasure to God)? I wonder how much better our society would be if everyone honestly lived this out. Can you imagine how a government would function if the politicians asked this question instead of looking out to their own interests?

The Bible also encourages us to “speak the truth in love.” So often, we forget the “in love” portion. We hammer people with the truth, and it is not profitable. We also forget the “speak truth” portion with just as devastating results. We can love people straight into hell because we never loved them enough to speak the truth.

So, what do we do? There are two examples to help make correct decisions in 1 Corinthians 11:1

  1. Follow godly examples. Who are people in your life that you can emulate?
  2. Follow Christ’s example. How do you need to follow Christ more closely?

Please consider your conduct in light of Scripture. I echo Paul’s encouragement: “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

God bless your week, Scott.

This sermon blog contains material from Motivating with Scripture by John Regier.  Used with permission.  Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.

This blog was originally preached on Sunday night, January 15th, 2017, at Faith Bible Church in Colorado Springs.

A Giving Attitude

Money in hand

As we leave the Christmas season, I am amazed at how selfish we’ve become. I guess we’ve always been selfish, but it seems as if we flaunt it more (or don’t hide it as much) this time of year. I know my Amazon wish lists grow during Christmas (you did read that right, lists is plural—leave me alone), yours probably do too. I also know that this is a season that should be marked by giving, not getting. While this is generally true, we do like to receive, don’t we?

An attitude is simply a posture. How is our mind positioned? When it comes to giving, what are we thinking about? Do we give to get? Do we give for the warm fuzzy feelings it creates in us? Do we give to see the joy and pleasure that it brings to others?

My 2-year old daughter is obsessed with the Ice Age movies. In the latest installment, Ice Age: Collision Course, the main mammoth’s daughter is getting married. The husband-to-be always brings gifts to the bride-to-be’s parents. When he does so, the future in-laws remind him that he doesn’t need to always bring them gifts. His response… “But it makes me happy!” I like that line. Giving makes us happy and it should make others happy.

The most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” This verse shows an amazing reality: God is a giver! He gives out of His love, He gives His most precious possession, and He gives it for our benefit. It makes God happy and it makes us eternally happy.

The rest of the Bible has a lot to say about giving as well. While some of these passages are directed at giving financially to the church, my hope and prayer is that through these encouragements, we would have a better attitude towards giving in ALL areas of our life.

There are six qualities that should characterize our attitude in giving.

  1. Willingness to give. In his second encouraging letter to the Corinthians, Paul commends the Macedonian Church for their attitude in giving: “For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own…” (8:3), and “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have” (8:12). The word willingness points to the zeal and eagerness one has in doing something. These disciples of Jesus were willing, eager, zealous even, to give to God. They had decided what they should give by listening to God and then gave “not reluctantly or under compulsion” (9:7), but willingly. Don’t give begrudgingly. Give out of a willing heart. Give because you know God gave you everything you have.
  2. Cheerfulness in giving. If you were to look at the offering envelopes Faith Bible Church (where I pastor) provides for you to put your tithes and offerings in, 2 Corinthians 9:7 (or a part of the verse) is on it. The verse says “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” We are not alone; this is the same verse that is on almost every offering envelope in every church. Cheerful means “lively, animated, having good spirits.” I saw a video once that showed a church during offering. The folks were dancing and singing up the aisle and cheerfully giving their gifts. It was fun to watch. But I wonder how many of us truly can give cheerfully. I’m not talking about the plastic grin you have on your face when you are gritting your teeth, not wanting to let go of your hard-earned money (or time). Our attitude should be cheerful, celebratory, and excited.
  3. Love in giving. Paul continues in 2 Corinthians, “I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others” (8:8). Love should be a prevailing attitude in the Christian life. There are several words in Greek that we translate into love. This one is agape, which means “a strong, non-sexual affection and regard for a person and their good as understood by God’s moral character; especially characterized by a willing forfeiture of rights or privileges in another person’s behalf.” All that we do must be done in love or it is worthless in the eyes of God. When love is not our motivation, things tend to get messed up, especially in giving. And folks can tell when love is not your motivation. God certainly can.
  4. Sacrifice in giving. Paul relies on the Macedonian church as an example of sacrificial giving. Listen to 2 Corinthians 8:1-4, “And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.” The Macedonians were undergoing a severe trial, they were deep in poverty. They had the status of beggar’s! Yet, what did they do? They gave. They gave joyfully! They gave generously. Often, pastor’s misuse this passage to promote the line, “Give until it hurts.” These believers were already hurting, but they continued to sacrifice for the cause of Christ. They practiced giving gracefully despite their situation.
  5. Liberality in giving. Verse 2 in 2 Corinthians 8 also discusses “rich generosity.” This can also be translated, “liberality.” They gave liberally. It is a donation that implies plurality. This is the practical outworking of verses 8 and 11 in 2 Corinthians 9: “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work… You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” Somehow, God can take our generosity in poverty and turn it into abundance! This is not saying we give to get, or that God always blesses us the way we want to be blessed. However, when we give, God does look out for our needs. We give so that God can bless us so that we can give some more! 2 Corinthians 9:6 concludes, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” Don’t be stingy! God’s accounting doesn’t always add up.
  6. Secretly giving. For this last characteristic, we turn to Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:2-4, ““So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” This characteristic is pretty self-explanatory. Our giving should largely be done in secret. This means we don’t take our picture and post it on social media with our check, bragging about how much we gave; we don’t include it our Christmas letter. But, we give and know that God sees everything. He sees our heart, He sees the amount, and He sees what the people we give to are going to do with the money. Leave your giving between you and God.

When I was a kid, my parents were constantly telling me to “Check your attitude.” I’m asking you to do the same. What is your attitude towards giving? God is a giver; we should be too. We should give willingly, cheerfully, lovingly, sacrificially, liberally, and secretly.

I would ask that you do two things in response to what you just read.

First, go somewhere by yourself (or with your spouse if you are married), and ask God to reveal your attitude in giving. If it doesn’t line up with Scripture, confess your sin, repent, and then ask God to correct your attitude. If your attitude lines up with Scripture, praise God! Ask God to reveal any other hidden motivations for giving.

Second, pray about giving to the ministry of Faith Bible Church. If you have a local church, give to them. If you don’t have a local church, find one ASAP! If you are in the Colorado Springs area, we’d love to have you join us in our mission: We are going about God’s business of developing ordinary people into vibrant followers of Christ. You can support our ministry by clicking here.

Have a good week!

 

 

This blog contains material from Motivating with Scripture by John Regier.  Used with permission.  Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.

Preached on January 8, 2017, at the evening service of Faith Bible Church. Updated for this blog.

 

Power of Associations

 

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Association, noun: connection of persons; a society formed for transacting or carrying on some business for mutual advantage; An association of ideas is where two or more ideas constantly or naturally follow each other in the mind, so that one almost infallibly produces the other. (Webster’s 1828 Dictionary)

The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 15:33: “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits’” (NKJV). It is very clear that God cares deeply about who we are associated with, who we connect with.

This post is not meant to be political in nature, so please don’t read it as such. History has shown us time and again that countries and their leaders have to be temporarily linked with others in order to accomplish good. For example, when the United States teamed up with The Soviet Union to defeat Hitler and Nazism. Another example is when Wilberforce worked to defeat slavery, he had to work with some pretty unsavory people. These are not the associations I will be addressing here, although that would be an interesting discussion to have.

Rather, I want to discuss the day-to-day associations we have. Who are you connected with on a regular basis? Who do you work with? Who do you spend time with?

The Bible warns of six harmful social situations we should avoid because of the harm it can cause us.

Consider what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:9-11:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

Before we look at the eight situations, I want to draw your attention to verses 10-11. It is clear that Paul is talking about those who claim to be a Christian but are living a lifestyle defined by sin. I also want to highlight that Biblical church discipline as outlined in Matthew 18 should be followed first. This means that when a brother or sister in Christ falls into one of these sins, you are to confront them individually. If unrepentant, then confront with a group of two or three. If they still refuse to repent and turn from sin, then you are to tell the church and treat them as an unbeliever.

  1. Do not associate with a person who is involved with fornication (NIV: sexually immoral; KJV: fornicator; Greek: pornos) (vv. 9-11). Webster (1828) defines “fornication” as “The incontinence or lewdness of unmarried persons, male or female.” It also has the meaning of illicit sexual intercourse and adultery. This means that any sexual encounter outside of the biblical definition of marriage (one man and one woman) is considered fornication and sexually immoral. If someone who says they are a follower of Christ engage in this behavior, we are not to associate with them.
  2. Do not associate with a person who is involved in covetousness (NIV: greedy) (vv. 10-11). Covet is defined as “To desire inordinately; to desire that which it is unlawful to obtain or possess.” What does your mind and attention dwell on? Is it something that is good or something that is evil? Paul clarifies what we are to dwell on in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Choose today to think about and dwell upon what Paul instructs. Do not covet what others own that you wish you could have.
  3. Do not associate with a person who is involved in idolatry (v. 11). Webster provides two definitions of idolatry: “1. The worship of idols, images, or anything made by hands, or which is not God. Idolatry is of two kinds; the worship of images, statues, pictures, etc. made by hands; and the worship of the heavenly bodies, the sun, moon and stars, or of demons, angels, men and animals. 2. Excessive attachment or veneration for anything, or that which borders on adoration.” I shared more on idolatry in a previous blog, and you can watch a sermon I preached on this topic at Solid Rock Bible Church in Chappell, NE in 2014 here.
  4. Do not associate with a person who is involved in evil speaking (NIV: slanderer, NKJV: reviler) (v. 11). This is probably the most difficult of all of these because of the negative bent our culture has taken. Do me a favor, open up Facebook or Twitter and tell me how much of your feed is negative and how much is positive? Some may say that this is due to the election a few days ago, but it isn’t. To revile means “to treat with opprobrious and contemptuous language.” I didn’t know what “opprobrious” was, so I looked it up too: “Reproachful and contemptuous; scurrilous; Blasted with infamy; despised; rendered hateful.” Christians, we are to speak life and love into people’s lives. This isn’t something we just try or strive to do, but we must actually do it! We are told to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Some folks are really good at the truth part, but forget the love part. This results in harsh words, broken relationships, and strained marriages. Those who are good at the love part but not the truth part are willing to look past sin. I have heard it said that we can love people straight to hell if we are not willing to be truthful. We need both truth and love in our speech. Christ also commands us: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
  5. Do not associate with a person who is a drunkard (v. 11). This is pretty self-explanatory. When I was in college, I struggled with drunkenness. It ruined several relationships. I am trying to avoid this now. This area is one where each Christian must decide (with God) how far their liberty allows them to go. Don’t let your liberty cause others to stumble.
  6. Do not associate with a person who is involved in stealing (extortioner, swindler) (v. 11). To swindle is “To cheat and defraud.” This is taking covetousness to the next level: actually taking what is not yours. I remember when I was about ten, I was at the mall with my mom. She left me in one store to go to the next. I found something I wanted so I took it next door to show her and ask if I could have some money. I didn’t know I was stealing! I’m grateful that the mall cop didn’t arrest me and they understood my motive. Later, I would be very guilty of stealing. Years after stealing, I confessed my sin and asked for forgiveness. Once again, the person showed me mercy and grace. Thank you. Christian, don’t take something that isn’t yours. Stealing is a form of distrust because it tells God that you don’t trust Him to provide your needs.

There are several other biblical passages that deal with our associations. Proverbs is a good place to start.

But wait, wasn’t Christ a “friend of sinners” and didn’t Christ spend time with those who didn’t believe in Him? YES! We should too. Remember that the associations above have to do with those who claim to be Christians but aren’t living the Christian life.

God encourages us to associate with three types of individuals.

  1. We are to associate with sinners. We see this over and over again in Jesus’ life. Mark 2:16-17: “When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” Again, in Luke 15:2, Jesus was accused of welcoming sinners and eating with them. We are to rub shoulders with those who are sinning. We are to spend time with them, talk to them, listen to them, have coffee with them, eat with them. Why? Because Jesus did. Because they need to be loved, listened to, and they need someone to eat with! Who likes to eat alone? While we are associating with them, we are to be who Christ has called us to be. This means that if they ask us a question about life, we answer according to our Christian values and morals. We don’t hide who we are.
  2. We are to associate with unbelievers. In Acts 10, Peter is invited to a Gentile’s home. This was huge for a Jew. Peter explains in verse 28: “He said to them: ‘You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.’” It was okay for Peter, a devout Jew, to associate with a Gentile. Christian, it is okay for you to associate with an unbeliever. In our interactions with them, we are to be authentic. We are to be genuine. We don’t put on a fake front and pretend everything this fine when it isn’t. We don’t pretend to be someone we aren’t. This means that when topics of a religious or spiritual nature comes up, we engage in them. Not in hate or condemnation, but love and grace. It would be inauthentic for a person of faith to never have a spiritual conversation with someone who is an unbeliever since our faith is a large part of who we are and what we do. It is okay to share your faith.
  3. We are to associate with those who fear God and keep his precepts. The Psalmist writes “I am a friend to all who fear you, to all who follow your precepts” (Psalm 119:63). The church is encouraged in Acts 2:42-27: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” The church is a gathering of saints and sinners who are looking to worship God and fellowship with one another. The local church is a good association. An association that you need.

So, how do we balance the “avoid these people” and “associate with these people” when it appears there are folks on both lists? Good question.

If we wanted to live a life where we were completely absent from the presence of sin, it would be impossible. Sure, we can seclude ourselves in the forest or in the basement, but guess what, we are still with ourselves. We are still with a sinner! 1 Corinthians 5:10 says that if we want to avoid sin altogether, we “would have to leave this world.” What to do? Choose wisely who you associate with. Choose wisely who you align yourself with.

 

All definitions taken from Webster’s 1828 dictionary. https://1828.mshaffer.com/

Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes come from the New International Version. Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

I also consulted John Regier’s “Motivating with Scripture” and a Facebook conversation with Dr. Mark Phillips.

Renewing Your Mind

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“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” – Romans 12:1-2, emphasis added.

Anytime you see the word “Therefore” in the Bible, you need to look at what immediately precedes it to get the context. Romans 11: 36 says “For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” Paul had just finished praising Jesus Christ for what He had done for you and me. Jesus came to earth and died for us. He did this out of love so that you and I could have a relationship with God; so we could know God and be known by God.

In light of this, Paul is instructing followers of Christ on how to properly worship God. We do this by being noticeably different than the world. Verse two has one of the biggest but’s in the Bible: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

To conform means “to be or become behaviorally or socially similar to; conceived of as being or becoming shaped or molded to a certain pattern” (Logos Bible Software). Paul specifically instructs us to not be conformed to the pattern of this world. We are to look at society and examine it from a biblical perspective. This is called having a “Biblical Worldview.” In other words, we interpret our life in light of what the Bible says. This is counter to what the majority of people do. They read their experiences into the Bible, seeking to justify what they are doing. This results in all sorts of spiritual confusion as God’s Word takes a back seat to our experiences. This should not be the case. Paul presents us with a more perfect way.

To transform means “to be or become changed in outward appearance or expression as manifesting a change in nature or essence.” We are unable to transform on our own. We may be able to make small changes, but to truly be transformed, we need help. I would propose that the only way to be truly transformed is to submit your life and will to Jesus.

Paul says we should be “transformed by the renewing of our minds.” How do you do this?

There are three ways God renews our mind.

Our mind is renewed through prayer and confession. The Bible tells a horrific story of a man who commits adultery and then has the lady’s husband killed in battle so he can marry her. What makes it horrific is that this man was the king and could have had any unmarried woman he wanted, but he chose something he shouldn’t have. He is confronted by a spiritual mentor and realizes the depth of his sin. He writes a letter to God, pouring out his heart, asking for forgiveness. Psalm 51 is one of my favorite psalms because of its rawness. At one point, the writer says “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). He cries out to God to make him whole again. When you and I sin (violate God’s standard), we are to confess our sin to God and repent (turn away). In my previous post on “Spiritual Breathing,” I provided a tool for working through your life in prayer with God and confessing sin. Through this process, our mind is renewed because God opens our eyes to prior faults. Our mind is also renewed because we start to think in line with God.

Our mind is renewed through the Holy Spirit. Paul writes to Titus, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:3-6, emphasis added). Here is another big but. Paul contrasts a Christian’s life before following Christ with what their life is like after. Malice, envy, and hatred give way to the grace, mercy, and love of Christ. We cannot change our behavior (long-term) or be renewed without the work of the Holy Spirit. If someone is not a follower of Christ, their mind is depraved, and it gets worse the longer they live apart from God. Romans 1:18-32 traces the process of de-evolution (see my sermon on this passage here). For the follower of Christ, the more we yield to the power and work of the Holy Spirit in our life, the more our mind is renewed and the more we become like Christ.

Our mind is renewed through knowledge of God. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:22-24: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” and again in Colossians 3:10: “and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (emphasis added). What is the best way to increase in the knowledge of God?

Read your Bible!

The Bible is God’s Word. At Faith Bible Church, our core belief and value about the Bible is this: We believe the Bible is God’s only written communication of Himself and His plans and purposes for mankind.  Therefore, we will believe its promises, obey its commands, and apply its principles.

In addition to the Bible, there are some good books that folks have written over the years that also help us understand God. I’ll make another post shortly with a good reading list, but for now, start with Charles Ryrie’s Basic Theology. For developing a biblical worldview, I highly recommend Focus on the Family’s “The Truth Project” and the Silo Project courses on worldviews.

Please spend some time this week renewing your mind through prayer, confession, yielding to the Holy Spirit, and growing in the knowledge of God. I promise it will be time well spent.