Weighed in the scales of popular opinion

Luke 20:4-7 “The baptism of John–was it from heaven or from men?” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ “But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us, for they are persuaded that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it was from.

Jesus asked this question of the Pharisees. It seemed simple enough – what did they believe about the ministry of John the baptism. Was it’s origin heavenly or human? But rather than answer, they reasoned. Either way they answered had consequences that they considered unacceptable. So they answered by not answering…”we don’t know”.

Their mission was accomplished. Conflict was avoided and they didn’t get on “the wrong side of history” by saying something deemed unacceptable by some group or other.

When I read this I was reminded of the Christian minister who apologized recently for a sermon he preached 17 years ago defending Biblical truths concerning marriage and homosexuality. Somebody found that sermon somewhere on the internet and challenged him over its content. I would imagine he had a few moments of weighing the possible responses and considering the issues that would be created with the various groups affected. Instead of standing firmly for the truth of God, he apologized.

For now these things are happening mostly to those who are well known public figures. But don’t think it won’t eventually trickle down to us little people. Should that day come, we must have our face set like flint to stand for Jesus, with reasonings and consideration of popular opinion not even on the table as options.

God doesn’t need us to apologize for His Word or make it more palatable for people. He meant what He said and He wants us to declare it. Some people aren’t going to like it, and that’s okay. And if they don’t like you for declaring it, that also is okay.

Denying the truth is not okay.

🚫 pleasing man

Galatians 1:10 For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.

Paul was confronting the false teaching and deception that had infiltrated the Galatian church. Men had come in bringing a distorted gospel and the Galatians had believed it. As we find out later in the book of Galatians, the perversion was to add law to grace. If you really understand grace then it is quite baffling to understand why anyone would be so accepting of law after having received grace. But there is an element to law keeping that is satisfying to man – a sense of accomplishment and having earned something from God. Of course we know that no one can keep the law thus no one can earn anything from God. Do it truly is a deception.

So Paul had to confront this error and he let them know that his purpose in preaching the gospel to them was not to please any man, he wasn’t trying to win their favor or to accommodate himself to their opinions and desires. And listen to what he says: if I still pleased men, I would not be a bond servant of Christ.

If you serve the opinions and desires of men, rest assured that you will not be serving God. Consider what Jesus said:

Matthew 6:24 No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

If you are a servant of God (as in actually serving Him) you will, at times, find yourself in conflict with others who want you to do or say things their way. When this happens, a choice must be made. Here is how Jesus chose:

John 8:29 “And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.”

John 12:49 “For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.

People may cast you aside when you don’t fall into line with their opinions and desires but the Father will not leave you alone when you are choosing to do those things that please Him.

Supernatural seed

Mark 4:26-29 And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Anyone who has been involved in evangelism has undoubtedly experienced the reality of this verse. Salvation is a supernatural experience produced by the power of God. I can preach the word of God until my voice fails, but if the Holy Spirit doesn’t move upon the heart, nothing will change.

For years in evangelism I put undue pressure upon myself to produce results, which led to times of great discouragement. I considered if I had said the right things or been persuasive enough. This verse has brought clarity to the role of man and the role of God in the salvation of souls.

The Lord has chosen to use men and women as His messengers. Angels may have been more efficient, but they have not experienced the saving power of God. So frail humanity has been entrusted with this noble task. Let’s consider what this parable says.

The sower is scattering seed on the ground. We know from Luke 8:11 that the seed is the Word of God. Any experienced farmer will make sure that the ground is prepared to receive the seed. Likewise, we pray that the hearts of men would be prepared by the Spirit of God to receive the seed of His Word.

While the seed is in the ground, hidden from sight, things are happening. Life and growth are being produced. For a while it is unseen but eventually it will sprout out of the ground and grow. God is at work.

During this time the farmer isn’t totally inactive. He pulls weeds, watches for insects that would damage the crops and provides water. He ensures that there are optimal conditions for growth. Again, this happens very powerfully through prayer and intercession as the work of God continues to produce life.

A glorious day will come when God’s work has produced a soul ready to be harvested, that is, brought into the kingdom. And here is the farmers joy, to reap the fruit of his labors.

Man cannot do God’s part. He is the one who saves, many times in spite of us. But He has given us a part to play as well. Let us be found faithful as sowers of the word, tending in earnest prayer to those souls who have heard.

Being flexible

Mark 2:21-22 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.”

In the passages leading up to these verses we see Jesus touching a leper, forgiving and healing a paralytic, eating with sinners. The religious people hated Him for it because He just wasn’t…well…religious enough. There wasn’t enough fasting, enough rigid law keeping, enough self righteous separation from sinners. It was in this context that Jesus spoke these verses. He spoke them to people whose religion made them stiff and rigid. It made them harsh and judgmental. It shut up their hearts to those broken in body and broken by sin.

They clung to the old wineskins of their religious tradition, and when Jesus brought the new wine of a Spirit filled life, just like the old wineskins they weren’t able to receive the new thing.

These rigid religionists were mad when His disciples got something to eat on the sabbath (2:23-24), mad when Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath (3:1-2), and accused Him of being devil possessed because He cast demons out of people who were bound.

Jesus just would not be like them and they hated Him for it. I supposed it never crossed their minds that they should become like Him. Rigid and inflexible, they missed the miraculous things that God was doing, and the miracle of God incarnate being in their midst.

Let God bend you, beloved. Don’t miss the glorious things He wants to do in your life by being inflexible.

Treasure Hunt

Mark 4:34 But without a parable He did not speak to them. And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples.

If you’ve ever read through the gospels, you’ve probably noticed that some of the sayings of Jesus are difficult to understand. You’re not alone in this. Even His disciples had difficulty deciphering some of these things. Have you ever wondered why He didn’t speak more plainly sometimes? There is an answer to that.

The Bible is not like any other book. It’s author wants to sit with you to explain and apply it as you read. If you treat the Bible as any other book in the way you read it, you will pass right over many of its treasures. Often in the past I have found myself passing over some obscure passage that I didn’t understand. But I have come to realize that the Holy Spirit wants to reveal these things to us (1 Corinthians 2:9-10). Sometimes understanding comes through study, sometimes it comes through pondering and meditating on the passage. But our verse is clear – Jesus will explain things to us if we will stop and listen. How many treasures in the Word of God have we passed right over because we were determined to finish our daily Bible reading!!

Bible reading is not merely about reading a book. It’s about communion with God. He wants to meet with us as we read His Word, revealing its truths, making it life-giving to us by the Holy Spirit and bringing radical change into our life through it. If everything was immediately clear to our human understanding we would breeze right on through our reading, satisfied that we have gained some bit of knowledge, without leaving any room for the Holy Spirit to speak to us.

So the next time your Bible reading leaves you with questions don’t be so quick to move on the the next verse. There may be a treasure just beneath the surface that He is waiting to reveal to you…if you will just stop, ask, and listen.

Discrimination conquered by Christ

Acts 8:5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them.

After the northern kingdom of Israel was carried off into captivity to Assyria in approximately 722 BC, people of other captive nations were brought in to occupy the land along with the impoverished Jews who were left behind.  They mingled and married and became a mixed breed of people known as Samaritans. A Jewish priest was brought back to teach them to worship the God of the Jews. (2 Kings 17) But they accepted only the Pentateuch as scripture and the Jews considered them inferior.  The hostility was such that strict Pharisees would not go through Samaria, but would cross the Jordan to avoid walking through that land.

When the Jews wanted to insult Jesus, they called Him a Samaritan (John 8:48)

In John 4, Jesus took His disciples into Samaria where He transformed the life of the woman at the well, and consequently the entire city. But we read no more about the Samaritans during the earthly ministry of Jesus.

On the day of Pentecost when the church was born and for some time afterwards the gospel was preached to the Jews. But with persecution came the scattering of the church. Most of the disciples had to find another place to go. Philip chose Samaria.

He wasn’t forced to go there. He went of his own accord and preached Christ to them. These despised and rejected people embraced the message of the One who was despised and rejected for them.

Since that time the message of the gospel has been preached all over the earth as the Spirit of God has stirred the hearts of men and women to leave everything to bring this gospel to people of different races, languages and customs.

Discrimination and racism were defeated on the cross. If you are a follower of Jesus and those things still live in you, draw a little closer to Jesus and hear His heart yearning for every nation, tribe, people and tongue. Let Him teach you to yearn and to love likewise.

Just passing through

1 Peter 2:11 Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims…..

I haven’t done lots of traveling in my life, but when I have taken trips packing is a big deal. There are lots of things that provide comfort and ease of living at my home, but when I am traveling, most of these things must be left behind. Whether traveling by car or by plane, there is limited space to bring belongings along. So I must pack the things that I feel are most necessary for the place I’m going. The more things I bring with me, the more cumbersome toting them around becomes. Those who travel frequently learn to pack light. It just makes the trip easier. The trip is only temporary and we will return to our home soon. Oh if we could learn this lesson as believers regarding our life. We aren’t home. When we get home we will have comforts and pleasure in the heavenly glory such as we could not have imagined. We will not be lacking a single thing. But when we live on this earth as though this is all there is, as though it is preeminently important in this life to acquire and obtain for ourselves more and better comforts and pleasures, we will inevitably find our pilgrimage through this life encumbered and our life in God choked out. Even Solomon, gifted with exceeding wisdom by God and wealthy beyond what we can imagine, wrote about the vanity of acquiring things (Ecclesiastes 5)

We are sojourners and pilgrims traveling through this life. We are just passing through. Whatever we acquire here must be left behind when we graduate to heaven and frequently those things become the subject of quarrels among those whom we leave behind. Many of our precious treasures may be sold or given away to strangers. All the things we labored for and lived for in this life will testify against us in the next.

It is good for us to learn to travel light through this world. If we store up treasures, let it be those that will await us in heaven.

Soldiers and civilians

2 Timothy 2:4 No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.

In this natural world, no one is a soldier and a civilian at the same time. You are either one or the other. You are either serving your country in the military (subject to the requirements and structure of that life) or building your own life according to your own desires.

There is a similar spiritual reality. We cannot be engaged in this spiritual battle and be entwined with the things of this carnal life. Yes, there are things that require our attention-work, grocery shopping, home maintenance, etc-but these things don’t need to disengage us from the battle. In fact, they could all be theaters where the battle is engaged.

How many believers indulge in entertainment that pollutes them or leisure activities that dull their spiritual appetites? We deceive ourselves when we think we are effectively fighting an enemy that we live in agreement with. A soldier that defects to the enemy is called a traitor and is subject to being charged with treason and we would agree that is the right thing to do. We are much more merciful to ourselves, justifying our daily defections as we romp carelessly in the devil’s minefields. Unaware of the danger that lies just beneath the surface, we risk being blown to pieces at any moment.

The true spiritual soldier realizes the importance of being focused in the battle and the danger of compromise, but his primary motivation is the pleasure of his commanding officer. He serves joyfully for the reward of the pleasure upon His countenance. He embraces the discipline required and the sufferings encountered because the battle is a worthy one and the reward is eternal. He is ever on the alert for a command that may be issued and hastens to perform all that his Commander requires, for he is well equipped and victory is assured. The affairs of this life pale in comparison to the excitement of his journey. He will live and die as a soldier of Jesus Christ.

The perils of dealing gently

2 Samuel 18:5 Now the king had commanded Joab, Abishai, and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave all the captains orders concerning Absalom.

By this time Absalom has:

1- killed David’s son Ammon

2- schemed to undermine David’s handling of kingdom affairs and sought to gain the favor of the people to himself

3-had himself declared king in Hebron and caused David and his household to flee into the wilderness

4-slept with David’s concubines

5- plotted to chase David and kill him

Most of our accounts of David show him as a man of mercy. And when dealing with our children our desire to be merciful is multiplied. But mercy to Absalom could have cost David his life. Had Absalom been spared, he would have eventually returned to his intrigues. That was what was in him. The kingdom would have been always vulnerable to another upending. Absalom, by his actions, had made himself an enemy to David and this situation had to be dealt with severely.

I am very aware how closely this mirrors my own situation from the last year. Compassions can be so strong that they override wisdom and good judgment and when we coddle and protect that which is at enmity to the life of the King is us, we leave ourselves vulnerable to spiritual overthrow.

Joab, the commander of the army, realized the foolishness of leaving Absalom alive (and actually David surely did also), and Joab did the hard thing that David wasn’t able to do-he removed the threat of Absalom. The Holy Spirit often acts as our heavenly Joab, rising up and taking action on our behalf to rescue our future. Sometimes we are just too weak to do the hard thing. But our Helper helps us. There may be some tears and sorrow, but that will pass and we will see the wisdom of God in what He has done.

 

Sharing the spoils of victory

David had been through many years of struggle. Anointed as king by Samuel and then chased all over Israel by King Saul, he now lived in Philistine territory as an apparent ally to Israel’s most hated enemy. He kept his military skills sharp by going out on raids, but during the absence of David and the men of war, their city, Ziklag, was raided and burned and all the inhabitants were taken captive by the Amalekites. At the Lord’s direction, David and his men pursued the Amalekites and not only recovered all of their own people and possessions, but they got extra because the Amalekites had invaded several areas prior to Ziklag. David could have kept all the spoil for himself, but instead it pleased him to share it with others.

1 Samuel 30:26 Now when David came to Ziklag, he sent some of the spoil to the elders of Judah, to his friends, saying, “Here is a present for you from the spoil of the enemies of the LORD”–

His victory wasn’t just for him. It was for the benefit of the people of God.

Although we don’t fight physical battles, we definitely are in a warfare and there are victories that we win and spoils of those victories that we acquire. And these spoils are not merely for us to celebrate, but they are for the help and benefit and encouragement of the people of God. The battles you have won—share the fruits of it with others. Share your story. Share your failures and share how Jesus brought you through it. Tell the testimonies of His grace and His power at work in your darkest days. And tell how He brought you out of that darkness. Somebody needs to hear it. Your victory wasn’t just for you.

1 Chronicles 26:27 Some of the spoils won in battles they dedicated to maintain the house of the LORD.

This is what your victory is for- to strengthen the people of God and to encourage them.

To tell the story of God’s victory means that you will have to tell the story of your failure. Don’t be ashamed. Everyone else has failed too. They just may be more concerned about protecting their reputation than sharing the spoils. Tell your story as often as you can and watch what God does.