Friday, July 28, 2006

Catching the Vision

“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” Prov. 29:18

I started reading the book of 1 Timothy last night in my trip through the Bible. I didn’t make it even halfway through chapter 1 because I sensed that God was speaking something to me from this portion of it. Let me quote the scripture I got stuck on:

“As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than {furthering} the administration of God which is by faith. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” 1 Tim. 1:3-5

There were lots of folks in those days, just as there are now, that were teaching some crazy stuff. I won’t go into speculation on what they were teaching. What was happening was that these teachers were causing people to be led away from the truth of the Gospel. So, Paul told Timothy to stay in Ephesus so he could make sure that the true Word of God was being preached.

Different ideologies carry with them different ideals as to what is as to what is right and what is wrong. From a major religion like Islam and the Muslim belief in Jihad, or Holy War and the destroying of those who refuse to accept that faith, to the “anything goes” beliefs of Scientology made popular by many in Hollywood, each faith has it’s set of ideals. The reason is that people have tossed aside God’s Word, or have diluted it to make it more palatable, into a kind of “custom Christianity”. And this is exactly what the Bible says will happen when God’s Word is ignored.

That brings me to the verse I quoted from Proverbs. “Where there is no vision, the people perish”. What exactly does this verse mean? You have probably heard this verse quoted as a preacher casts the vision he has for his congregation, or is starting a building program. Maybe you’ve heard it at the launching of a new ministry, and the leader wants to stress the importance of people catching the vision. While it is important for us to latch onto the vision God has given our leaders, Proverbs 29:18 isn't about vision-casting, it's about preventing dirty lives. Really, that word vision more accurately means a divine communication of some kind. From the context of the entire verse, it seems to me to be talking about the Word of God. Here’s how I reach that conclusion: God gave the Law to Moses, and Moses made it known to the Israelites. He was God’s prophet, his mouthpiece of divine revelation.

When the Proverb says that they people will perish, it really means that they cast off restraint and run wild. We saw that as Moses came down Sinai with the two tablets with the Law written on them, only to find these lawless people in a drunken orgy, worshipping a golden calf. That’s what happens when God’s word is ignored-we begin to live as if our own happiness is our standard for living. That’s why there are so many unplanned pregnancies, abortions and STD’s. That’s why drugs are so rampant and people are so rebellious. They think they are their own standard.

Friends, that is why it is so important to get God’s Word in our hearts. It will help us to live right. Just look at what Psalm 119 says:

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.”

“Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You.” vs. 9, 11

I am reminded of what I read recently on a church sign. It said, “Dusty Bibles lead to dirty lives”. That is a very simple way to state such an urgent truth. When we toss the Bible out, we will inevitably begin to wander into weird theology and dirty lives. And this is something I have personally witnessed happen to people who once were strong Christians. Friends, don’t neglect the importance of God’s word!

But we need to remember that God’s word just doesn’t help us keep from sinning, it makes us grow in our faith. The scripture above says that the goal of sound teaching is a selfless, giving love from a pure heart. It is to give us a clean conscience toward God as we live our lives according to holiness. It will build us up in a sincere faith. As we allow God's Word to change us, we will find that really, God is making us more like him. When we neglect the Bible, we forfeit being transformed into Christ's image.

Anyway, I thought I’d share just a little from this study. God bless you all this weekend!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Who Dropped the Ball?

“The people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, who had seen all the great work of the LORD which He had done for Israel. Then Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of one hundred and ten. And they buried him in the territory of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel.” Judges 2:7-10

I was thinking back to a “sport” we used to play in high school, which I recently found out was still popular today. In this game, several people gather in a circle and, using only their feet, knees, and even chests, they try to keep a small, bean-stuffed ball in the air without it falling to the ground. It could be a challenge to say the least. I think that is why work boots were popular footwear back then, it was easier to kick that little beanbag around with the wide, flat parts of the boot. I even got pretty good at it, as we would gather in a certain spot daily and spend lunch in a hacky-circle. One thing was definite, though. No one wanted to be the one who dropped the sack.

Well, what does this have to do with the passage in Judges that I began with? Perhaps in the hacky-circle of life, someone dropped the sack. We all know that Joshua, who took over the job of leading an entire nation of people when Moses died, was a man of God. It was Joshua who gave us the hugely popular Bible statement, “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Josh, 24:15). This was a man who not only lived for God on a daily basis, but made sure that his house, his family, lived for God, too. He strongly influenced the nation. So did the elders that outlived him. Yet, after these people died, something happened. I don’t know who, perhaps the children of those who saw the death of Joshua and the elders, but someone didn’t obey God’s word. Let’s recall what God had years earlier spoken through Moses:

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deut. 6:4-9

The purpose of this command was to make sure that the up and coming generations knew the Lord. A love for God and his word was to be in their hearts. They were to teach their children of Him. God was to be central in the Hebrew home! But for some reason, God lost that central place in the heart of His people, and an entire generation was lost.

You see, the book of Judges is a sad book. It’s a revolving door of serving God, serving idols, bondage. They would end up subject to cruel nations, and eventually the Israelites would come to their senses, remember the Lord and cry out to him. And the cycle started all over again. It was all because one generation dropped the ball. One generation was the weak link in the chain of the nation of Israel, and the chain broke.

There’s a lesson in this for us today. After all, Paul in the New Testament told us that those Old Testament people serve as an example to us. Friends, we have a spiritual responsibility before God Almighty to make sure that our children know the Lord Jesus. It is our main ministry in life to make sure that we tell them what God has done for them in sending his Son to hang on that rough cross and die for our sins. I remember the joy I felt when my daughter finally realized that the bad things she does not only hurts us, but it hurts God. Then she knew why Jesus died for her, and she decided to ask His forgiveness! My daughter loves Jesus, and we are doing what we can to keep her growing in the things of God. Our other children in time will come to that point in life that they too must ask Christ for forgiveness and live for him. But it is my job to make sure that they understand that.

Friends, it isn’t simply through the words I say and church attendance. These have their place, but nothing speaks louder than a person living what they believe. Our lives must match our words. How can I show my kids that Jesus can change their lives if I can’t treat my wife right? How can we show them that Christ brings peace and unity between us when we are constantly fighting? How can I model a consistent prayer life if they never see me pray? And by prayer, I don’t mean an occasional bowing of the head at meal time, but a life of prayer. How can I impart into them the importance of the Word of God if I never read the Bible to them? How can I show them how to honor God in every area of life if I don’t aim to honor him myself? Friends, I become just another hypocritical Pharisee to them when I talk a good game, but show them a life void of a true faith in God. Remember, it was James that said “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). If our faith is real and alive, friends, it should have vital signs. Those signs are seen in how we live our lives.

So remember that you have a responsibility. I close in the words of Jesus Christ Himself:

“Let you light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven”. Matthew 5:16

God bless!

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Master's Touch

I know that I've posted a picture of my guitar before. But today, I got to thinking about it. This is a '65 Gibson LG-1. It was my dad's. I have some very fond memories of this instrument, of my brother and I putting on "shows" for mom and dad. I would "play" the guitar, and he would sing. I didn't actually know how to play yet, but it was all in good fun. Then, as a teenager, I decided to take some lessons. I remember that this guitar sounded absolutely awful. It was pretty beat up, scratched up and even in tune, it was still out of tune! But I learned the basics, and moved up to an electric guitar.

Then, last October, as I was on the phone with my uncle Mike, who is a master with all things guitar, he asked me if I wanted the old Gibson. My dad had given it to him some time earlier, and he did some fix-up work on it.

He brought to my house one Saturday and I've had ever since. I took that guitar out of the case, and it still looked the same as I had always remembered. But as I strummed the strings, I heard something from that instrument that I had never heard before-a beautiful sound. To look at the thing, it didn't look much different. It still had the same scratches that I remembered as a kid. It still had the same knicks in the body. But it had been in the care of a master, and it was evident with the first strum on it in over 16 years.

What's my point in writing all this? We aren't that dissimilar from the old guitar. Like that guitar, we came into the hands of our Master with our warped necks, deep gouges and unsightly scratches. We came with a bitter, out-of-tune sound that made others want to plug their ears and run. But, in the hands of the Lord, he has taken our broken lives and made something beautiful out of them. He has healed our hearts and hurts. He's taken our bitter attitudes and tuned them up. Like a warped, bent neck, he has used life's trials to force change to straighten us up. And when he is done with us, we sing with the most beautiful sound, because we have been touched by the hand of God, our Master Craftsman.

You know, that guitar still may be scratched up, with those same gouges that I surely helped put in it so many years ago. But there is no mistaking the sound- the master has been there. I may still have some scratches and gouges that show when people see me, but do they look past what they see, to hear what God has done?

Paul was a man who had endured much hardship in his lifetime. But I love what he shows us at the end of his life. He shows us a sweetness of spirit. He was gouged and scratched, but he rang out in beautiful praise to God. Just listen to the sweet words he says in 2 Timothy 4:7-8:

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing."

So, submit your life to hands of your Master in heaven, and let him bring that beautiful sound out of your life! God bless!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Cost of Freedom

Well, today is the Fourth of July. I always look forward to this time of year. The annual parades, the fireworks displays, people proudly displaying their American flags. We in America here celebrate our independence from Great Britain on this day.

We must remember, however, that this freedom that we have and celebrate didn't come without cost. Many people paid the ultimate cost for the freedom that we enjoy. From the Revolutionary War to desert sands of Iraq and Afganistan, our soliders have fought for the cause of freedom, and many have given their lives for that cause.

It is a reminder of the sacrifice of Christ. He came from the glory of Heaven to stench of a sin-ridden earth to save us and set us free from cruel tyranny of sin. Let's hear what the Word of God has to say:

"It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." Galatians 5:1

We have been freed by Christ from sin. Our freedom cost Him His life. The Bible says that Christ left the glory of Heaven, and took on a human body to die on the cross for our forgiveness. Friends, our deliverance came through Christ's sacrifice.

So, today as we remember the men and women who have given their lives for our freedom, let us all the more remember the Lord Jesus' sacrifice that washed away our sins and has freed us from sin. God bless!