Yesterday morning we examined an interesting passage of Scripture in Matthew 27:22-35. It is here that we find our Lord carrying the cross through the streets of Jerusalem on his way to Calvary. But in verse 32 we are told that "they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross". There is a question that must be asked ... Why did they compell Simon? Certainly his disciples were watching from the crowd. Why didn't one of them spring from the crowd to bear the cross for their Lord?
There are 2 reasons the disciples remained hidden in the crowd that day; SHAME & FEAR.
Just the evening before Christ had told them, "All ye shall be offended because of me this night" and they were all quick to deny it. Yet, on the streets of Jerusalem there lay a cross that none of them were willing to bear! Sadly, many of God's children have responded to Christ in this fashion. We must never come to the place where we are ashamed to be identified with our Lord! How many Christians are too ashamed to tell others that they are believers?
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" Romans 1:16 (KJV)
Fear is the other reason the disciples remained hidden in the crowd. They did not want to suffer the same things they saw Christ suffering. But if we are all afraid to do something, NOTHING will be accomplished! From the outside looking in, most of us will boldly state that we would've picked up the cross if we were there that day. But is there a cross you should be carrying that is still on the ground?
"Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." Matt 16:24
"And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple." Luke 14:27
Disciples that are "Missing in Action" are disciples that accomplish nothing. We must be disciples who are found faithful, following, and fruitful!
Monday, April 18, 2011
Our church family has experienced some sadness in recent days. One of our members has experienced a severe stroke and there have been 2 deaths. Needless to say, many hearts are heavy. Yesterday I believe some people got help. I preached on "The Sweet Fruit of Sorrow" out of John 4:45-53. Sometimes the very thing that has upset our lives is the conduit God uses to bring great joy!
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Going the 2nd mile … what does that mean? One of the things that I’ve noticed about people is that they will normally do only what they want to do. Even in Christian circles we see this characteristic on display. In fact, whenever we obey God we will only do what is required, nothing more. But it is the Christian that is willing to go beyond the minimum requirements that is used in a greater way and blessed to a greater capacity.
This is what I see in Josiah, the 16th king of Judah. He was a young man that began to seek God at an early age (2 Chronicles 34:3). Not only does the Bible tell us that he was a seeker of God, his life SHOWED us! He set out to purge Judah of the high places, groves, and idols that had littered his land. But Josiah was not content with just cleansing Judah. He also went into the land that the Northern Kingdom of Israel had once occupied and purged it too!
(2 Chronicles 34:3-7)
“For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father: and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images. And they brake down the altars of Baalim in his presence; and the images, that were on high above them, he cut down; and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images, he brake in pieces, and made dust of them, and strowed it upon the graves of them that had sacrificed unto them. And he burnt the bones of the priests upon their altars, and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem. And so did he in the cities of Manasseh, and Ephraim, and Simeon, even unto Naphtali, with their mattocks round about. And when he had broken down the altars and the groves, and had beaten the graven images into powder, and cut down all the idols throughout all the land of Israel, he returned to Jerusalem.”
The areas of Manasseh, Ephraim, Simeon, and Naphtali are all part of the Northern Kingdom. The north had been destroyed and taken captive into Assyria eighty years before Josiah came to power. This land was not his responsibility, but he was not content with doing just the minimum! He even destroys the altar at Bethel where Jeroboam had set up one of the golden calves 350 years prior.
My thought centers around the desire of God’s people to do “just enough” to satisfy their conscience. This is a behavior trait that has stood the test of time. Many Christians are content with living close to the border of good and evil. But when they abide close to the boundary, they are just a step away from being where they shouldn’t be. Let me remind you of 2 people that suffered because of this; Lot and the Prodigal son. Lot started out by pitching his tent towards Sodom and it wasn’t long until he was living in Sodom! The Prodigal son didn’t live in that far country, but his heart did … and it wasn’t long before his feet followed his heart.
Josiah had some admirable character traits that set him apart. These character traits are things that God wants to see in all his children.
HAVE A DETERMINED ZEAL FOR SERVING GOD
Why didn’t Josiah stop the purging of idols at the border of his kingdom? Perhaps he thought that if the idols and groves were an abomination in Judah, wouldn’t they still be an abomination in ALL of Israel? Maybe he destroyed the last image in Judah and could still see another in the distance. Whatever he did or did not see, Josiah was determined to do right and he would go the extra mile in his service for God.
We must all ask ourselves, “Why should I be satisfied with only doing the minimum?” God will not be angry with us for going the extra mile! “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest. (Eccl 9:10)
The prophet Isaiah lived during inconsistent days. He served while the good kings Uzziah and Jotham sat on the throne, but he also served during the wicked reign of Ahaz. After Ahaz, another good king named Hezekiah came to power, only to be followed by Manasseh who provoked God to anger.
The people of Judah were inconsistent at best during Isaiah’s lifetime, yet Isaiah remained zealous. He made a statement in Isaiah 62:1, “For Zion's sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth.” Isaiah would not be silent, nor would he rest until the righteousness of his people shone forth brightly. Oh, that every Christian would have that kind of zeal! Our service MUST be without rest or compromise.
DISTANCE OURSELVES FROM TEMPTATION AND SIN
When Josiah cleansed the land to the north it was not for the purpose of conquest. Nowhere in the Bible does it even hint at this. He was just doing what was right and it resulted in removing temptation far from his land.
There is a certain percentage of Christians that live as close to the world and sin as they possibly can. They always have the old life in plain view and the old nature is always within arm’s length. It is no wonder that these are the same people that live inconsistent Christian lives.
If there is something that is a temptation for you and you can remove it from your life … REMOVE IT! If you can put up a barrier between you and your sin, put it up! This might mean that you have to find new friends. It might mean that you’ll have to make some radical changes in your life. But your spiritual safety is far more important than anything your worldly friends can give. If you’ll take the time to read 2 Timothy 2:22, 1 Corinthians 6:18, and 1 Corinthians 10:14, you’ll quickly notice that they all tell us to FLEE from sin.
The character that Josiah displayed was the character of a mature and spiritual man … but he was only 16 years old when he began to seek God. If a 16 year old man can have this much spiritual success, there is nothing preventing each of us from becoming a spiritual and mature Christian. Josiah was a great man because he did great things for God. If we are to be great Christians we must possess the characteristics a great Christian possesses.
Monday, April 11, 2011
In my last post, I began to investigate some things that have spiritually handicapped us as churches and Christians (See part one). This is a very serious problem and it has certainly hindered our ability to fight the spiritual battles we face on a daily basis.
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12)
As we seek to fulfill the great commission that has been given us, we meet opposition. Satan WILL NOT sit idly by as we attempt to reach sinners with the glorious Gospel of Christ! It is foolish to enter into battle without the “whole armor of God”, but every day people face this opposition without protection and without strength. It is never a good idea to enter a battle handicapped in any way. Last week, I identified one of the things handicapping us … our DESERTED PRAYER CLOSETS. But the identification of the problem is not the solution, correcting the problem is.
Today I will identify 2 more things that handicap the believer and our churches.
There is a basic Biblical principle that we often dismiss … the principle of Sowing & Reaping. The things we sow in life are the same things we reap later on. Christians who live worldly, sinful lives expect the same blessings from God that He gives a dedicated and separated Christian. But it never works that way! They reap the seeds that they have previously sown. But as the sown seed begins to mature, they recognize the rotten fruit and think it unfair that they are stuck with rotten fruit while the separated Christian has good fruit! We can easily recognize the foolishness of this reaction in others, but we often fail to recognize it when we’re the one reaping rotten fruit.
Churches live by the same principle! Many churches are spiritually handicapped because they have sown the wrong seed. They are without the power of God and fail in their spiritual battles. “… Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? 1 Cor. 5:6”. Leven is symbolic of sin and Christians are to be unleavened. Our Lord expects us to live our Christian lives with sincerity according to the truth of the Word of God … and He blesses those that do! The solution is simple, repent and live the life of the new creature in Christ.
“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Phil 3:13-14”
Successful, growing, and thriving churches are churches that have ambition. They desire to serve Christ to the best of their ability. They do not rely on the past because those things are history. Instead they reach for those things still out in front of them! If we talk about our service for Christ and begin the sentence with the words “I used to”, we’re not serving! We should have spiritual goals that we are striving to meet. My ambition is to be more like Christ and to tell more people about his saving grace. These are good things to strive for, but they are general goals. We should also set SPECIFIC goals for ourselves. I can have a goal to read my Bible more this year, but to read my Bible from cover to cover this year is a better ambition. Telling more people about Christ this year is a good goal, but witnessing to at least one person a day is better!
The church without ambition is a dead church and the Christian without ambition is a dead Christian! I want to be a thriving, growing, Spirit-filled, and fruitful Christian doing my best for Him who shed his blood for MY SINS!
We must each ask ourselves, “What kind of ambition do I possess? Is it dead ambition? Is it Misdirected ambition? Or is it real spiritual ambition?
The things that have handicapped us spiritually are all things that our Lord wants to restore in us! But the choice is ours to make.
Friday, April 8, 2011
As the years have passed, we have witnessed a trend in many churches. That trend is one of Spiritual apathy. More and more of our churches have become lethargic. They just exist, without fulfilling the commission our Lord has given to us.
Some will argue that the blame rests on the overall condition of our society, but the world has always been depraved. Some blame culture or circumstances. But the real reason some of our churches are spiritually handicapped is because they’ve lost the power of God.
We must never forget that God wants to do a great work through the church, but he will only use a vessel of honor. A Christian that has quit serving God is not a vessel of honor, nor is the church that has also grown cold and indifferent.
For the next few days I will mention 3 things that have handicapped our churches … but identifying the problem will not solve the problem. There must be repentance and change! A few years ago I went to my doctor for my annual exam. She looked me over, listened to my heart, and took a blood sample. When I returned for my follow up appointment, she informed me that my cholesterol was too high. Her diagnosis could only reveal the problem, not correct it. It was only when I took the necessary steps was the problem corrected. This same pattern holds true for every church and every Christian. We can identify what has spiritually handicapped us, but unless we make a correction we will remain spiritually handicapped!
What has handicapped us?
DESERTED PRAYER CLOSETS
Every Spirit-filled church I’ve ever been in had one thing in common, they were prayer warriors. Prayer was not reserved for emergencies. They’re prayer lives we constant and consistent. In 2 Kings Chapter 19, the Assyrian army had besieged Jerusalem and destruction looked imminent. But Hezekiah immediately went to the House of God and prayed. He responded that way because that was his habit. His prayer life had much to do with his success.
We are told to “Pray without ceasing”. This speaks of constant contact with God. There is a time each day that we should set aside to spend with God. It should be quality time without interruption. But that should not be the extent of our daily prayer life. Throughout the day we should talk to our Lord. There are days that I’ll speak to God twenty times, for only a few seconds. I try to always be in the state of prayer. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” James 5:16
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
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Monday, April 4, 2011
“In the second year of Pekah the son of Remaliah king of Israel began Jotham the son of Uzziah king of Judah to reign. Five and twenty years old was he when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Jerusha, the daughter of Zadok. And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord: he did according to all that his father Uzziah had done. Howbeit the high places were not removed: the people sacrificed and burned incense still in the high places. He built the higher gate of the house of the Lord. Now the rest of the acts of Jotham, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?” 2 Kings 15:32-36
When we study the life of Jotham, the 11th king of Judah, we must recognize the condition of the kingdom he inherits from his father Uzziah. Judah is in the midst of the good times! Uzziah had been a very good king that God had blessed for many years. The only spot on his record is found at the end of his life when he intrudes on the office of the priest, and as a result God smote him with leprosy.
“But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the Lord his God, and went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense.” 2 Chronicles 26:16
But for the majority of Uzziah’s 52 year reign, he served God and God blessed him greatly! He had expanded the territory of his kingdom and built the city of Eloth. Eloth is located on the coast of the Red Sea which gave Judah access to many rich trade routes. During a time when many products were moved by ships to far away ports, this city gave Judah trade access to the rich cities of the East. Uzziah also had great military success. During his reign they defeated the Philistines, Arabians, and the Ammorites. He also fortified the city of Jerusalem and built towers along the walls.
The key to his success is found in 2 Chronicles 26:5 “…and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper.” This is the key to success to every Christian, every church, and every nation. The Bible is not saying that if you seek God you will become rich. God says that if you seek him you will prosper. Prosperity does not always mean monetary wealth. I have never even been close to wealthy, but my life has been quite prosperous! I’ve got a wonderful wife and family. We enjoy our Christian lives! But it is because we have dedicated our lives to serving the Lord, and he has made us to prosper.
Judah had experienced the blessings of God for several years when Uzziah died. This was the condition of Judah when Jotham takes the throne. The Bible tells us that Jotham was an excellent king. He repeated all the things that made his father successful and he did NOT enter into the Temple, which was the downfall of his father. Thus we see in Jotham a man who learned from both the successes and failures of his father. This is the mark of a wise man.
When we read about the life of Jotham, we cannot find any fault. He is a wise man and an excellent king. Verse 6 of 2nd Chronicles chapter 27 sums up his life. “So Jotham became mighty, because he prepared his ways before the Lord his God.” But verse 2 tells us, “… And the people did yet corruptly”
Leadership is very important in the success of a kingdom, but the people of that kingdom must also respond to leadership if they are going to be successful! When I look at this period of Judah’s history, I see a population that has taken the goodness of God for granted. God had blessed them with riches, with land, and he has given them 68 years where 2 good kings ruled.
How is it that a nation can have great leadership and still fail? It doesn’t seem possible, but this is exactly what happened to Judah. Consider that in spite of Jotham’s great success as king, God took him after only 16 years! This is a referendum on the people of Judah, not on Jotham. After Jotham dies, his son Ahaz will take the throne and will be the worst king to sit on the throne in 137 years! God just had enough and gave the people the king they deserved!
Why do people fail even when leadership is good? This is an important question to consider and it applies to many situations. For example, our nation is not guaranteed success if we elect a good president. Is leadership important? Sure it is, but it is not the only factor involved for success! This same principle also applies to the local church. It is vital for a church to have a spiritual pastor, but there are many very good pastors that labor fervently amongst a congregation that will not be led!
Why do people fail even when there is good leadership in place?
FAILURE TO COMMIT THEMSELVES TO GOD
There is one thing that the people of Judah would not deal with … the High Places! The worship of Jehovah in Judah revolved around the Temple in Jerusalem, but along many of the hills of the nation, men still sacrificed to idols. This was very difficult for a king to control completely. One of Judah’s best kings, Asa, removed them, but before the end of his life they had reappeared because people would rebuild them shortly after they were destroyed. No king up to this point could control it, though several made the attempt.
It really came down to the fact that the people were not willing to fully commit themselves to God! As a nation, they served God and they served idols at the same time. This never works!
“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Matt. 6:24
We have seen people fail in this area throughout the Bible and throughout history! People try to please God while in this condition … even when God has repeatedly said, “Thou shalt have no other gods beside me”. It is an impossibility to please God while being disobedient to his Word.
When we truly commit to the Lord, by definition we forsake all others. The failure to commit is not a characteristic that is unique to Jotham’s generation. Every generation struggles in this area and our generation is no different. Loyalties are split between serving God or serving the world. The church should have a pastor that is committed to serving God; and the church should have deacons that are committed as well. That is expected of them, but church members should also expect that of themselves. The success of our churches depends on it.
God expects each of us to be committed to him!
FAILURE TO COMPLY
Rules and boundaries are good things and we find them in all facets of life. Our parents gave us rules to obey, the school sets boundaries on students, and the government has established things that we can or can’t do. Each time there is a failure; a price must be paid. Why should we expect rules in every other area of life, but not in our spiritual life?
God has given us commandments that we are to obey. When we disobey these commandments is it God’s fault? Of course not. Asa destroyed the high places and when the people would not leave their idolatry was it his fault? NO!
Never lose sight of the fact that the relationship between a nation and God is not dependent solely on the relationship between the leader & God. People play an important role as well! This is something that our nation must realize … our success is doesn’t depend upon a president, it depends upon our citizens. Leadership is important, but it isn’t the only thing important.
The same principle is true in the local church. The church is to preach and institute the Biblical boundaries God demands. But if people will not comply, God will not bless the church Judah had great leadership, but they failed because they would not submit themselves to the law of God
FAILURE TO FOLLOW
Uzziah was leading his nation in the right direction, but his nation would only follow so far. When Jotham takes the throne he also tried to lead his nation in the right direction. But the people still responded the same way, there was only so far they were willing to go.
Many good leaders had identical experiences. Whenever I read the book of Exodus, I cannot help but feel sorry for Moses. He was a willing servant who totally invested himself to the work God called him to do. But the children of Israel never really followed him, they had to be pulled along!
Samuel is another good example of a good leader who was rejected by his people. He was the final judge, only because the people demanded a king! The nation wanted to be like the other nations around them; nations that did not serve God! It is interesting to notice that when they took Saul for their king, that they ran to Samuel whenever they found trouble. Had they followed God and not their human “intellect” they would not have experienced so much trouble. The list of good leaders that would not be followed is quite long.
Uzziah and Jotham were great kings and God blessed them. But there came a time when the people of Judah would no longer follow them and they paid a price. God took their good king from them after a mere 16 years and gave them Ahaz, a wicked and foolish man to be king. I’m sure that when Ahaz came to power that many in Judah felt that life would be better because all restraint was removed. What they got was not what they expected.
The generation we live in mirrors the generation of Jotham’s day. It is a time when many will not commit themselves to God. It is a time when doctrine is dismissed in the wake of the emerging church movement. And it is the age of casting away anything or anyone who is an authority in our lives! God cannot and WILL NOT bless this type of behavior.
Our success as Christians can only come if we COMMIT ourselves to the Lord, COMPLY or submit ourselves to God & his Word, and success will only come if we continue to follow GOD!