This week a friend passed away. He had been battling ALS for four years. Warren was a good man, ambitious worker, incredibly talented musician, and a Christian. For that I am eternally grateful to God for reaching him with His love in Christ. His death on this Thanksgiving week seemed the wrong time, but we know God's timing is perfect. Even during the most festive time of year it is good to face mortality. By facing our mortality we can put into perspective what is really important in this life and the life to come. So here is a simple thought to consider.
To man, it is the greatest of sadness, death, that attempts to link us to the afterlife. With God, it was the greatest of joys, Life, the birth of Christ, and His resurrection, that would actually link us to Heaven.
As I was reading Romans 4 this morning, I considered the apostle Paul’s multiple reinforcements of Abraham’s faith. He believed that God would give him a son in his old age (almost 100). If we are to interpret the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament then Abraham’s laugh at the God's promise (Genesis 17:17) was a laugh of astonishment and not faithlessness.
Sarah, Abraham’s wife, wasn’t as believing as her husband. She too, laughed, but laughed in unbelief. After all, she couldn't have children, but, she had an idea. Like many wives Sarah may have seen the excitement in her husband’s face over this promise God made to him. The old man was changed and she could see it. Perhaps in her unbelief she didn’t want to see her husband disappointed, so she offered him Hagar, her handmaid, in hope that she would give him a son. Here’s the question.
If Abraham was as unwaveringly faithful as Paul said, then why did he take Hagar, his wife’s handmaid, to wife (engage in sex)?
Here is my answer. Abraham was every bit a man. He had the same fleshly desires and weaknesses as any man today. Here is a man that had his wife's permission to have sex with another woman, and he took the offer. Abraham engaged in an adulterous relationship with Hagar because he wanted to, not because he needed a son.
This should serve as a lesson and warning to every man. The Scriptures ask the question, “Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?” Proverbs 6:27. The answer is a resounding, NO! If we allow ourselves to be put in a place where our flesh will speak without our brain, we will most assuredly fall.
Consider this, the patriarch, Joseph did not run (Genesis 39:11, 12) from the sexual advancements of Potiphar's wife because he was strong, but rather because Joseph knew how weak he was to such advancements. May we as men also consider our weaknesses and avoid a life heartache.
Let's consider this also. Many great men in the Bible fell to the weakness of a woman. David, a “man after God's heart.” was one of those men. His son, Solomon was yet another, but was still considered the wisest of the wise. Do an internet search and you'll find many more. Many of these men learned valuable lessons as a result of their sin and found grace in God's eyes. The ideal situation is to avoid a sinful act, but God is still merciful, forgiving, loving, gracious, kind, and caring if we fall. We may feel the emotional pain of sin, but God doesn't change. His grace is greater than all our sin.
Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilled.
Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold,
Threaten the soul with infinite loss;
Grace that is greater, yes, grace untold,
Points to the refuge, the mighty cross.
Dark is the stain that we cannot hide.
What can avail to wash it away?
Look! There is flowing a crimson tide,
Brighter than snow you may be today.
Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,
Freely bestowed on all who believe!
You that are longing to see His face,
Will you this moment His grace receive?
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.
If some men’s sins are conspicuous, like I Timothy 5:24 says they are, then it only stands to reason that the rest do a decent job of hiding their sins. Isn’t it funny how people will condemn the guy who is blatantly sinful, but praise the guy who deceives us with false righteousness?
I am making an attempt to get back to writing. Actually, I like to write. There is power in words. In 1839, Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote that “the pen is mightier than the sword”. My problem is that I don't “love” to write. I want to love writing, and the best way to love something is to spend time with it and see the virtue in it and benefits of it. Unfortunately, the extent of my writing was confined to Facebook. Now, Facebook is not a bad venue for writing, but it could be if you allow other things within it to consume the time you need to write. For me it simply consumed too much of my time and energy in other things that I simply had to stop. Yes, I'll admit that I got caught up in debates and arguments that did not profit me or anyone else. So, I deleted my Facebook account to concentrate on other things that I deem more important, and this blog is one of those things.
Let me again say that Facebook is not a bad thing. Actually, it's a wonderful social happening. As a result of Facebook I am now in contact with a friend that I had since 3rd grade. We are both now in our early 60's. If you're on Facebook, let me encourage you to be careful. We all tend to act Christlike when we're communicating with another face, but with Facebook it is easy to become more free with our words, and let's not forget that God holds us responsible for our words. Here are a few other things that we need to consider as well.
One of the biggest problems I've faced on Facebook is being misunderstood. Because you are not actually face to face with the one you are communicating with, you cannot hear inflection or see expression or determine intent of the words that are written in a post or response. As a result, there is a fair share of misunderstanding. That can also be the case with a blog such as mine, but a blog tends to help you keep your focus on the reason that you have a blog.
Here's another problem. On Facebook we too quickly go from one emotion to another. Some time ago a Facebook “friend” posted that his daughter was murdered. I followed the story right down to the arrest of this daughter's husband. It was shocking and heartbreaking. I would read one of many post about this and feel so hurt for my friend, but than I'd scroll down to read a post by another friend and laugh at the meme he uploaded. So, what is wrong with that? I won't speak for everyone, but for me I find that when my emotions run from sad to happy to anger to happy to sad again I tend to become desensitized to what is really important. In this case, the needs of my friend. Yes, we need to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15), but not within seconds of each other.
OK, one more and I'll be done with my rant. We all have opinions and that's fine, but in the end your opinion is just your opinion. Same with mine. In Acts 17:21 we are told that, “all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.” Even in Paul the apostle's day there were those who shared their philosophies and opinions. As far as those men were concerned, even Paul was one with just another train of thought. Be careful in getting caught up with defending an opinion that, at best, is equal to the other guy's opinion.
Just remember that Facebook has it's virtues unless it causes you to lose yours.
"For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ." Galatians 1:10
Paul the Apostle's scathing words upon the propagators of a works centered Gospel were indicative of one whose only desire was to please God. Paul's days of attempting to be agreeable at the expense of God were over. His relationship with God was real, and this was some of the proof in his life to that end. He would not compromise the clear teaching of the Word of God.
For Paul to mention "pleasing" men, there must have been an accusation toward him. Perhaps it was his message of the Gospel that seemed to "easy" to receive, a Gospel that did not require that one work for it in order to gain God's favor, but only believe with the heart. Surely those who troubled the church at Galatia felt that man had to contribute something in order to be saved or to make God happy. Paul's Gospel stood diametrically opposed to their false Gospel. As a result, they learned that Paul was no man pleaser.
How did the church in America ever reach such depths of such shallow theology? I think the answer is simple. We have trusted the teaching of fallible "ministers" over the infallible Spirit of God. Our teachers took offense to our questions, ostracized us, and even warned others about us rather than encourage us to seek the truth through diligent study. We let "ministers" do the thinking for us. We wanted a Christianity that was not intrusive. We have not become students of the bible, and therefore have not appreciated the blessing, or seriousness of God's Word. Would churches in America have dipped this low if we had believed and understood the seriousness of Paul's indictment upon the propagators of a false Gospel?
"But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed." Galatians 1:8, 9
In the wake of Wednesday’s horrible tragedy, the murder of nine people during their prayer meeting, by a man that admittedly wanted to start a race war, I thought much about hate.
Dylann Roof hated blacks. He hated them so much that he purposed to kill, and did so this June 17th in the place where his victims found rest, love, and fellowship; their church. The white Dylann Roof walked into a predominately black church, where the members welcomed him with open arms, and sat with him, and treated him so kindly that he later said that he almost decided to not follow through with the murders, because they were so nice to him. But “hate” took control and now nine precious souls are dead, and a twenty-one year old life is in ruins.
As a Christian I hear so much about love. Jesus tells us to love one another and even love our enemies. We are also reminded that if a “so-called” Christian hates his so-called brother, he isn’t a Christian at all. The word “hate” in Scripture carries the idea of persecuting. Letting bygones be bygones is not hatred. Hatred goes out of the way to hurt and harm the object of its hate.
Love on the other hand goes out of the way to administer grace. Like hate, love also has activity. We know the love of God because God gave His Son for us. We know the love of the Son, because He gave His life for us. This is the life God calls Christians to. It is not a love of life, but a life of love. This is the purpose of the church, to display the love of Christ by giving of ourselves to those we would by nature, hate.
Now here is the clincher. Christian, you may not be a hateful person, but are you a loving person? We can pride ourselves on our lack of hate; while at the same time condemn ourselves by our lack of love. Love and hate is not like being saved or lost where there is no middle ground, where you are either one, or the other. There is ground between love and hate, and we tread that ground all too often.
I was so impressed by the members of Charleston’s AME church. While Dylann Roof stood between two law enforcement officers, he heard various AME church members say that they have forgiven him for what he did. They asked him to find forgiveness in Christ. He did not hear words of hate, but rather love. Martin Luther King once preached a sermon, We Shall Overcome. The members of the Charleston AME church have indeed overcome by the presence of Jesus Christ, and their love was evident by their desire to see the same for a murderer.
I was thinking today about the need of application in preaching. It is one thing to hear or read what the Scripture say, but it is another thing to apply what we read, after proper interpretation first, of course. What I mean by that is we must interpret the Scriptures grammatically and historically. There are other considerations that also need to be considered as well, such as word definition changes since the last Bible version that you use. Yes, word meanings change. After all of this is considered, what we know that the Bible teaches should be applied by faith.
Now I mention this because America has gone through years of preaching that was very good at telling you what the Bible says, but have failed, in my opinion, properly interpret the Scriptures and therefore, failed to give proper application in some cases. Not so much in the areas that are clear, but rather in areas that are not so clear, areas that garner questions and sometimes produce “issues”. As a result, Christians in America have been starving spiritually. Again, I present the words of Jesus in Luke 10:26.
“What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”
Anybody that can read can “see” what the Scriptures say, but proper interpretation is necessary to understand what the Scriptures “mean”. Let me add this in order to eradicate the mystique about interpretation that you may be thinking right now; if you’re a Christian, you have the Holy Spirit as your guide to understanding the Scriptures. What often prevents us from coming to a correct interpretation is our own presupposition of what the Scriptures mean. In other words, we project our thoughts into what we read in Scripture. We need to get out of the way and let God teach us what is right and true. Properly trained pastors help us in this area. There is also a wealth of good internet sites that exegete and expound the Word.
As I was thinking of the eternal nature of Christ this morning, it hit me that if Jesus, the living Word of God, is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, than it is important that we administer the written Word of God the accordingly. It is not enough to learn of the Jesus of yesterday. We must understand how Jesus works in our lives today as well, and how He works into the future. Jesus is eternal. The one who was will always be. I can read my Bible and see who Jesus was, but it is important to know who He is today and tomorrow, too. I know what Jesus did when He walked the earth, but what will He do today and tomorrow. How is Jesus working NOW? How will He work TOMORROW?
This morning I listened to a good message from Ephesians chapter 6. The preacher spoke on prayer and the importance of prayer in the life of a Christian. Often when I hear a message preached, my mind veers off to some thought that the preacher never intended to cover. Without elaborating on the message, I'll simply get to what God was showing me.
In Ephesians chapter 6:11 we are told to stand against the wiles (KJV), or schemes (ESV) of the devil. The devil is very real, and as he is the adversary of Christ, he is also the Christian's adversary. The devil is a spiritual being, and operates in a realm that we can not enter physically, but his power is able to affect the physical realm we live in. Being "strong" in the Lord (vs.10) is to be strong in a spiritual sense. The armor of God spoken of in chapter six is spiritual armor, not something we can touch with our hands. The devil affects how we live here, but our battle with him is spiritual, and he is very real.
How does the devil affect us in this life? How do we recognize his schemes? Now, what I am about to say will get some people revisiting their personal understanding of the doctrine of angelology and anthropology. They will differentiate between the credit we give the devil for our sins, and the sinful flesh we all have to deal with. When I sin, I have to take responsibility for it. The devil did not make me do it, as some people choose to believe. However, there are certain anti-God philosophies in this sinful world system that are the brainchild of a "created" higher being, and that being is the devil, Satan. So, what are some of these philosophies?
For children living at home, if you want to effect change, rebel (6:1).
For servants and masters (perhaps we could use employee/employer) (6:5-9)
This is nowhere near an exhaustive list of worldly philosophies, but it is a popular sampling that represents how Satan can affect us in this physical life of ours.
Children are told to "obey" their parents. Why? Because the sinful nature so easily wishes to follow a worldly philosophy. Fathers are told not to provoke their children to anger. Why? Because we can get results in this worldly method. It works, but it isn't right. Bond servants are told to serve masters as if they were serving Christ Himself. Why? Because serving like this goes against the grain of an addictive worldly philosophy, and we need to be reminded of godly principles. Masters are told not to threaten. Why? Does it not get the job done? It does, but it's not right.
We are in a spiritual battle and it affects our life here, where the rubber meets the road, in the home and in the workplace, in school, and at church meetings. It involves relationships. It breaks or enhances unity, and it requires that we are prepared to fight, equipped, armed, and dependent on Christ.
Thoughts to Ponder
Tom Genovese, Sr.
What you read in these pages comes from my contemplation, meditation, or just plain thought about for no specific reason. I am the author of these pages unless otherwise specified.