Saturday, February 25, 2012

Divisions, Quarreling, or Unity.

Paul opens his first letter to the Corinthians with greetings and thanksgiving, affirming that the Corinthian Christians are not lacking in any spiritual gift.  They are truly saved.  They love Jesus.

Christians are called to be holy, and dare not live without prayer, for they are acutely aware of the "pardoning mercy, sanctifying grace, and comforting peace of God." ~(Matthew Henry's Commentary, henceforth MHC.  It is available free online.) Those who are saved are given useful gifts by which they are to bless others, and they will be kept to the end and found blameless when the Lord Jesus Christ returns. 

Kept and found blameless!  Think about that!

"How glorious are the hopes of such a privilege; to be kept by the power of Christ, from the power of our corruptions and Satan's temptations!"~ MHC

You'd think that because of this marvellous fact that we are sanctified and kept by the power of God, we Christians would be unified.  Sadly, just as there were divisions in the Corinthian church of the first century, there are divisions today in churches, in families, in organizations that are made up of Christian people.  Paul addresses this in I Corinthians 1.  He says there ought to be no divisions among them.  

"In the great things of religion be of one mind; and where there is not unity of sentiment, still let there be union of affection. Agreement in the greater things should extinguish divisions about the lesser. There will be perfect union in heaven, and the nearer we approach it on earth, the nearer we come to perfection."~MHC

Paul and Apollos were both faithful ministers of Jesus, and they must have been appalled when their followers broke into dissenting parties over lesser things.  

"Satan has always endeavoured to stir up strife among Christians, as one of his chief devices against the gospel."~MHC
So what were these Divisions in the Church?  The people of Corinth were quarreling among themselves over minutiae that were not essential to the faith.  The same thing happens today.  Is there one covenant, or many?  Can Christians drink wine, or not?  Should women wear dresses, or are they free to wear jeans?  Is the Lord's supper restricted to members of a local church, or ought visitors to be welcomed as brothers in Christ?  So many little things, so many opportunities to disagree.

But what is of utmost importance?  Is it not the plain preaching of a crucified Jesus?   Is it not the fact that Christ crucified is the foundation of all our hopes, the fountain of all our joys?  By His death we live.  This seems foolish to those who are perishing, who have not been given eyes to see,  Yet those who have been enlightened by the gospel see the great treasure there is in Christ.  

I do know what makes someone a Christian. It is not the life that we live for God but the life that Jesus lived for us! ...believe what the Bible says. ...understand that God is a good and holy God who deserves worship.  
Instead of honoring and loving him with all of our lives we have loved and served ourselves. This deserves wrath and hell. Instead, God has sent his Son Jesus to live the life that I could not and would not and to die the death that I deserve. He bore my penalty of wrath upon the cross of Calvary. I must turn from my sin and rebellion and turn to trust and treasure Christ, living in response to his finished work, submitting to his Lordship. ~Erik Raymond, Ordinary Pastor
God did not choose the rich and the powerful, the men of wealth and pomp and circumstance to demonstrate and be partakers of the gospel of grace and peace.  Oh, they need Christ and His pardoning grace - everyone needs the regenerating grace of God.  We are guilty, deserving only punishment, yet we are given His righteousness.  We are depraved and corrupt, yet we are sanctified by His grace, redeemed from the power of sin, and given the sure hope of eternal life.

 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,  so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.  And because of him  you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,  so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
                                                                                                 ~1 Corinthians 1:28-31
Boast in the Lord!  You have nothing to boast about, Christian.  Your doctrines, your convictions, your standards, your opinions - they all pale in comparison to the Treasure that is in Christ Jesus.  Boast in Him.  Speak much of Him.  Be thankful for Him.  Bless His holy name.  

If you are doing that, you won't have time to argue and fight, to quarrel and bicker.  

If you are doing that, you won't be grieving the Holy Spirit, or making Satan smile with glee.

Be Wise
 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. ~James 3:13-18 ESV
 “Selfish ambition” is a divisive willingness to split the group in order to achieve personal power and prestige.  Are you willing to do so?  

What is more important to you?  Your reputation, or that of Jesus Christ?  Remember, God chose the weak to confound the wise.  Are you willing to decrease, so Christ may increase?  Are you willing to humble yourself in order to magnify the Lord?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Our son Jared is a big guy.  He towers over me, and is taller than all of his brothers and sisters.  It's a rare occasion that he can look someone in the eye to have a conversation.  I think of him as a gentle giant.

The giants referred to in the Old Testament weren't so gentle.   Og the king of Bashan came out against God's people as they began to conquer the land on the wilderness side of the Jordan, and God said "Do not fear him, for I have given him and all his people and his land into your hand."

Do not fear him.  This implies Og was someone to fear.  His bed (or coffin) was huge - 13.5 feet by 6 feet!  He ruled over not one, not 10, but 60 cities.  He was big and powerful and someone to fear, but the Lord said to Moses, "Do not fear him."

Og's Bed

God had given Og into the hand of Moses.  He was a defeated enemy, even before he knew it. 

 You shall not fear them, for it is the LORD your God who fights for you.’ ~Deuteronomy 3:22 

The Lord would fight the battle!  The men of valour would also fight the battle.

The men of valour weren't sitting at home by the campfire sipping tea. They were warriors, armed and ready to fight, to conquer the enemy that God had determined must die.  
God commanded them to cross over armed and occupy the land.  

He said He was going to fight for them, but they had to do their part.  

If you read the entire chapter of Deuteronomy 3, you'll see Moses' testimony. 

"We struck him down."

"We took all his cities."

This is another clear picture of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility.  God has a purpose and a plan that can never be thwarted.  He carries out His will.  

But here's the rub:  He uses ordinary men and women to accomplish His purposes.  Moses wasn't bragging when he said "we struck him down."  He wasn't taking credit for the Lord's work when he made the point that they obeyed God completely, taking ALL Og's cities.

Notice how the Psalmist praises God for defeating Og:

Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good;
sing to his name, for it is pleasant!
For the LORD has chosen Jacob for himself,
Israel as his own possession.
For I know that the LORD is great,
and that our Lord is above all gods.
Whatever the LORD pleases, he does,
in heaven and on earth,
in the seas and all deeps.
He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth,
who makes lightnings for the rain
and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.
He it was who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
both of man and of beast;
who in your midst, O Egypt,
sent signs and wonders
against Pharaoh and all his servants;
who struck down many nations
and killed mighty kings,
Sihon, king of the Amorites,
and Og, king of Bashan,
and all the kingdoms of Canaan,
and gave their land as a heritage,
a heritage to his people Israel.
             Psalm 135:3-12

The next Psalm lists the ways God's steadfast love endures forever, including how He does great wonders, made the heavens, made the great lights, struck down the firstborn of Egypt, brought Israel out, divided the Red Sea in two, overthrew Pharaoh , led his people through the wilderness, struck down great kings, and killed mighty kings like Sihon & Og, and gave their land as a heritage to Israel his servant.

This God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  He's the same God who remembers us in our low estate, and rescues us from our foes.  He cares for us every day, giving us everything we need.  
Give thanks to the God of heaven, 

for his steadfast love endures forever.

Got any giants you need to kill?  God will fight for you!

Do you have any problems you need to solve?  God will lead you through!

Are there enemies plaguing you today?  God will rescue you!

Kill those giants!  Solve those problems.  Fight those enemies.  But do it all to the glory of God, trusting that He is working in all things for His own glory and for the good of His people.

Give thanks!   

His love endures.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

At War? Contentious? Are you a miserable comforter?

Called to Counsel

None of us live in a vacuum. We interact daily with family, with friends, with strangers in real life or online. As Christians, each of us is an Ambassador for Christ, called to be the image of God to our neighbours. Whether we speak or type, what we say matters.

Wise Words, or Not

Are your words like "hot, bubbling wax on open sores"? When you open your mouth or sit at the keyboard to communicate with the world, or with your loved ones in your home, what is your motivation? Have you learned to come alongside the person you are counselling, entering their world and hungering to understand their lives, or are you shooting pat answers at them as you whiz by the galaxy on the way to your heavenly heights?

You only have to spend a little time reading the Book of Job to understand what a miserable comforter is.

Miserable comforters don't necessarily have bad theology.

There is a way of using theology and theological arguments that wounds rather than heals. This is not the fault of theology and theological arguments; it is the fault of the “miserable comforter” who fastens on an inappropriate fragment of truth, or whose timing is off, or whose attitude is condescending, or whose application is insensitive, or whose true theology is couched in such culture-laden clichés that they grate rather than comfort. In times of extraordinary stress and loss, I have sometimes received great encouragement and wisdom from other believers; I have also sometimes received extraordinary blows from them, without any recognition on their part that that was what they were delivering. Miserable comforters were they all. ~ Don Carson, "For The Love of God".

Competent to Counsel

One of the first things we eager students learned from the Great, Lean, Teaching Machine, Ron Harris, was that counselling of any sort must be INCARNATIONAL. Jesus entered our world and came alongside those to whom He was ministering (John 1:14), and loved them. He was patient and kind, protecting His sheep even as He corrected them.

The best way to impact another's life is with honest self-disclosure. Be willing to talk about your weakness, the temptations you face, the hardships, pressures, sufferings and failures you endure. Then the person you are comforting or mentoring will say, "That's it! You get it! You know what it is to live life under the curse, to be beaten up, thrown down, discarded and bruised!" (See 2 Cor. 1:3-11)

Comfort in Christ

When you get it, when you share with others and they know you understand their weaknesses, there is only one answer: Together, you and your listeners can flee to Christ!

Bold for Christ

You may think you just have to tell the truth, that you just have to point out sin, that you just have to set them straight, and you may even convince yourself that what you are doing glorifies God. It doesn't.

There is a pretended boldness for Christ that arises from no better principle than pride. A man may be forward to expose himself to the dislike of the world, and even to provoke their displeasure, out of pride. For it is the nature of spiritual pride to cause men to seek distinction and singularity; and so oftentimes to set themselves at war with those that they call carnal, that they may be more highly exalted among their party. ~ Don Carson.

If you are warring with others, ask yourself what is motivating the battle.  Are you growing in grace with others, deepening relationships with them as you both learn more of what it is to abide in Christ?  Or are you simply alienating yourself from others because you are right, and they are wrong?

Be at Peace

If what you are writing or saying is causing division, you must examine yourself.  If wars and contentions arise on a regular basis, is it possible that you are failing to rightly divide the Word of Truth?  Remember, Jesus is full of grace AND truth, and His followers must emulate Him.  Don Carson writes about his experience of being comforted miserably, and wisely counsels us to examine our own ways:

Such experiences, of course, drive me to wonder when I have wrongly handled the Word and caused similar pain. It is not that there is never a place for administering the kind of scriptural admonition that rightly induces pain: justified discipline is godly (Heb. 12:5-11). The tragic fact, however, is that when we cause pain by our application of theology to someone else, we naturally assume the pain owes everything to the obtuseness of the other party. It may, it may—but at the very least we ought to examine ourselves, our attitudes, and our arguments very closely lest we simultaneously delude ourselves and oppress others. ~ Don Carson

The Bottom Line

Offer what Christ does.  Model what Christ models.  Encourage the timid, help the weak, warn the idle.  Be patient with everyone.  Be kind.  

Thursday, February 9, 2012

How to Handle Trouble.

The Bible has much to say about trials and tribulations.  Suffering is normal for the Christian.  

The first chapter of James addresses this issue.  

Trials test our faith, making us steadfast, teaching us to tenaciously hold on, trusting God's timing.  He will remove the trial when it has done its work of producing maturity - a deeper communion with Christ, greater trust in Him, and a stable, righteous, godly character.

When you are in the middle of the trial, ask for wisdom in faith, believing that God is working!  God has you exactly where He wants you.  Are you rich?  Poor?  No matter.  Rejoice and trust Him in your circumstances.

Christian, remind yourself that you are beyond blessed, because you will receive the Crown of Life that the Lord has promised to you.  So hold on!

If you react to trials sinfully - in complaining, in anger, in despair - you are giving in to the lust in your heart. 

Don't blame God!

Everything that happens is under God's control.  It is His PERFECT will for you.  Don't be deceived into thinking that the trial you are facing was somehow outside of His plan.  HE IS ALWAYS IN CONTROL.  He will always bring good out of evil for those who love Him.  And remember, we only love Him because He first loved us.  He set His affection on us, and called us by His grace.

James 1:17  Every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from t he Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

His gifts are adequate - they meet the need perfectly.
His gifts are complete - nothing is missing.
His gifts are beneficial - they are for our good.


God is Light.  There is not even a shadow in Him.  So don't worry that He means you ill.
God is Changeless.  Immutable.  So trust Him to do what He promised.
God is Love.  He chose to regenerate us, to bring us out of the darkness of our sin.  
                                          So respond with awe and love and service to Him and to others.

Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.  You have no idea what God is doing in the circumstances you are facing.  Don't blame your spouse, your sister, your parent, your friend.  Even if the actions of another have contributed to the squeezing, to the unbearable load you are under, keep on keeping on with faith and joy.  Do not let yourself question God's goodness or His Sovereignty.  Counter any evil thoughts with the implanted Word of God.  Never believe the whispered lies of the devil.  

Be doers of the Word.  Your actions should follow your beliefs.  Do you believe that God is good?  Then act like it!  Don't succumb to despair because you've eaten nothing but rice for a week.  Be thankful for the rice!  God has given that to you!  You have health and strength to cook it, to eat it, to enjoy it with your family.

Do you believe that God is in control?  Then keep on trusting, even when things look bleak.  If your marriage is failing or your child is dying of an incurable disease, God has not failed you.  Do not succumb to unbelief!

If you have grasped that God is good, at all times, in every way, then act like it!  You will be blessed if you proceed in faith.  As Elisabeth Elliot says, "Do the next thing."  But do it in faith, believing that God is with you, that He is helping you, that He knows the path that you take and will work it all for your good and His glory.

When things are falling apart around you, bridle your tongue.  Control the words that are coming out of your mouth, by casting yourself on Jesus.  Die to self, yield to His will, and let His life shine through you.  Remember His example - He suffered more than any man, yet without sin.  

His life is in you.  Walk by faith.