Do not be like the horse or mule

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.
(Psalms 32:8-9)

I’m going to use this verse, but talk about dogs instead. The same principle applies. Don’t be like an animal that you have to put a leash or a bit and bridle on, otherwise they won’t do what you want them to. Animal trainers may balk at this because you can train a horses and dogs to do amazing things, but what God through David is saying here is generally true. Unless you have some kind of restraint on those animals, there is a high potential that they can run away and you will have a hard time getting them back.

Our young German Shepherd wants to play with the cats. Not sure if she wants to eat them or play with them. This is something we recognize needs a great deal of attention and further training! Without the leash, the cats are in trouble. Anna and I can even get her to sit down and be still for a moment while the cats are running by her, but the moment we attempt to move on, she lunges at the cats. Again, without the leash, and without our attempts to restrain her, she would be chasing those cats all over the yard.

So here’s the lesson God is trying to teach us. Don’t be like that! Are we the kind of people that are good when parents, spouses or church members are around, but when the leash is off, we charge after sin? God wants us to build internal restraints within us. He calls us to develop self-control (Galatians 5:23; 2 Peter 1:6). The Lord doesn’t want us to have to be yanked back to Him, He wants us to stay by His side out of love, not because we have a leash (bit/bridle) on.

Don’t be like the horse or mule. Don’t be like that German shepherd puppy who wants to chase cats.

A few Scriptures about demon possession

Today I wanted to write down a few thoughts about demon possession. One of my kids asked me about this yesterday, so it got me to thinking. Right now I am preaching through the book of Mark and immediately in Mark chapter 1 you see Jesus confronting the demonic realm and casting out demons.

Here are a few observations from Scripture about it. This is not intended to be an exhaustive answer on the demonic realm and demon possession. But hopefully the passages and thoughts below can prove helpful.

Demon possession was temporarily allowed to demonstrate Christ’s dominance over Satan and the power of darkness. The Devil is the “strong man” in this parable of Jesus in the following pasasge. Jesus was disarming Satan and showing His power over Satan by casting out demons. Through this, Jesus clearly demonstrated that the kingdom of God has come.

Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil.
(Luke 11:14-22)

It seems like those possessed by demons were overtaken without an invitation. The demons just came in them and overtook them. The host was unable to resist and powerless to do anything about it. This took a miraculous intervention by someone with divinely-given authority. Others tried, but the demons knew who had that miraculous power (Acts 19:15).

A demon was cast out miraculously and promptly. There was no long drawn out exorcism that lasted for days. Jesus and the apostles said, “Get out!” and they did. If Jesus didn’t want a demon to speak, He rebuked it and made it silent (Mark 1:34).

After the book of Acts, you do not see the church receiving instruction on how to deal with demon possession. You see a limited blast of demonic possession in Matthew through Acts, but it was just that…limited.

Those today who are “taken captive” by Satan do so by invitation, and the escape is through receiving the invitation to follow Christ. We invite the Devil into our heart. And the way to “exorcise” Satan is through the teaching of the word of God. In the passage below, the way we escape from Satanic captivity is through listening to and obeying the truth of Scripture.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
(2 Timothy 2:24-26)

Sometimes we can get enamored by the intrigue of this topic, and look for complicated answers to today’s questions. People are acting “possessed” today, and that is for sure, but the simple answer is they need the word of God, not an exorcism.

Son Your Sins Are Forgiven

And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
(Mark 2:5-7)

In Mark 2, we read of a paralytic man that four friends let down through the roof to get to Jesus. Jesus saw their faith and said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” This statement sent shock waves through the religious elite in the crowd. They knew their Bibles.

Who can forgive sins but God alone? Great question. I have another question, who can forgive sins but the one offended?

So let’s say my brother comes up to me and punches me in the face and breaks a few teeth, leaving me on the ground bloody and toothless. A stranger then comes by and looks at my brother and says, “I forgive you.” I’m going to say, “What? You forgive him? I’m the one with blood and teeth coming out!” That person was not the one offended, I was.

Jesus was the one offended. He is God. It was the sins of the paralytic that hurt Jesus. Jesus was the one with blood and teeth coming out. Whatever sins that paralyzed man committed were directly against Jesus, and only Jesus could be the one to release him from that debt.

…But you have burdened me with your sins; you have wearied me with your iniquities. “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
(Isaiah 43:24-25)

The Lord God (Jesus) is speaking here in Isaiah saying that the sins have burdened Him. God was the one offended, beaten up and saddened by what we have done.

So think about what happened in Mark 2 with this paralytic man. This man had a problem bigger than not being able to walk. He had sinned against the Lord Jesus Christ. But look at the mercy of the Lord, Jesus could have said, “You deserve not to walk for what you did to Me.” Jesus gave him two incredible gifts that day, but one was infinitely more valuable. That day the man walked, and that is great, but that day his sins against Jesus were released by Jesus.

What a merciful and amazing Lord we serve!

Is This a Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 4

We continue our consideration of whether Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount was a “new” teaching. Were concepts like turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and love your neighbor uniquely Christian concepts that were foreign to the Law of Moses? No.

Let’s look into this further.

In the Old Testament, was it okay to constantly fight and litigate every issue in court? (Matthew 5:25)

…do not hastily bring into court, for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame? Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not reveal another’s secret, lest he who hears you bring shame upon you, and your ill repute have no end.
(Proverbs 25:8-10)

The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out.
(Proverbs 17:14)

A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating.
(Proverbs 18:6)

In the Old Testament, was it okay to keep from turning the other cheek? Is turning the other cheek a uniquely Christian concept? (Matthew 5:38-39)

Several examples are in the Old Testament of those who turned the other cheek: Job (Job 16:10), Micaiah (1 Kings 22:24), and the prophecy of Jesus (Isaiah 50:6). David turned the other cheek with King Saul (1 Samuel 24:10-15), and was taught by Abigail to do so toward Nabal (1 Samuel 25:31-34).

The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust– there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults. For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.
(Lamentations 3:25-33)

You can see from the Old Testament passages, God (Jesus) expected the Jew to turn the other cheek and to be quick to resolve conflicts. Jesus was not introducing a new standard of conduct that He did not always expect from His people.

More to come later..

Is This a Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 1

Is This a Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 2

Is This a Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 3

My Circumstances and My Heart

My attitude toward cold weather and snow really stinks the longer the winter drags on. I have to be honest. With prayer, including yours, I will hope to improve that attitude.

I bring this up because I was talking to one of our kids about how we can’t keep asking God to change our circumstances until we change our heart about the circumstances in which we find ourselves. While I was “preaching” to my offspring a light bulb went off in my head. Dad realized how many times he has vocally wished to be in a warmer climate. I’ve had enough of winter when March comes. But can the Lord change my heart about this? Yes, if I let Him. Instead of wishing to be elsewhere, I should take time to be thankful for snow and the cold weather. It does have a purpose (potholes, rising coat sales, slower commutes…oh, man, I did it again.). Really, there is a purpose and beauty in the snow and cold.

Our new puppy absolutely loves the snow. She doesn’t share my opinion. Her nose is constantly in the snow, and she just goes crazy jumping around in it. Watching her helps my general grumpiness.

Watching the kids play in the snow is another thing that brings joy to my heart. Going sledding with them has been a blast this winter.

There is the constant reminder in God’s word that our sins, which are like scarlet are made white as snow by God’s grace and Jesus’ blood (Isaiah 1).

So, do you find yourself in a circumstance where your attitude is crummy and unthankful? Are you trying harder to convince God to change your circumstance or to change your heart about it? There is nothing wrong with asking God to change our situation in life, but let’s not forget where the focus should be first and foremost.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Why Did Gabriel Come?

We were reading Daniel 9 this morning and considering the prayer of Daniel that he made at the end of the 70 year captivity in Babylon. So many great things to talk about and think about here. What strikes me is that “while” Daniel was speaking, in fact, at the beginning of his prayer, Gabriel was sent by the Lord. Think about this as you read Daniel 9: Why did Gabriel come to Daniel? Why was Daniel’s prayer answered by God?

Below are a few excerpts from Daniel 9.

In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans–in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules.
(Daniel 9:1-5)

While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the LORD my God for the holy hill of my God, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.
(Daniel 9:20-23)

Here are a few quick observations as to why Daniel’s prayer was answered and why Gabriel was sent to him.

  1. Daniel was greatly loved. Why does God answer prayer? Because He greatly loves us.
  2. Daniel’s heart was humble. You see his heart recognizing the sovereignty, the justice and the mercy of God. He also saw his own sinfulness in the presence of that holy God. Daniel didn’t just blame all the other people in Israel for the problem; he took personal responsibility for his own sin.
  3. Daniel read and understood the word. You see in Daniel’s prayer that he recognized the writings of Jeremiah and Moses as the words of God. He trusted in these words and understood from Moses that God’s law was broken and that punishment would follow. He also understood from Moses and Jeremiah that God was merciful and would forgive His people. Through the words of Jeremiah he understood that this captivity would last 70 years. Notice that Daniel wasn’t coming along at year 55 and asking for God’s deliverance. Daniel knew that when God said 70 years, He meant 70 years!
  4. Because God keeps His promises. Another reason Daniel’s prayer was heard was because God promised that when His people were taken captive and humbled themselves that He would forgive them and send them home (Leviticus 26:39-42; 1 Kings 8:33-34; Nehemiah 1:8-9).

Those same 4 things are true for you and me today. God answers the prayers of His people today because He loves them, because we are humble before Him and seek His word, and because He keeps his promises.

At the Same Time My Reason Returned to Me

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.
(Daniel 4:34-37)

I just love that God allowed Nebuchadnezzar’s writings to be part of Scripture. Daniel 4 is the personal record of King Nebuchadnezzar and how he was humbled before Almighty God. Because of his arrogance, he was reduced to a dumb beast eating grass for seven periods of time. At the end of that period of time, his “reason returned to him.” He gave glory and honor to God instead of to himself.

This is so true for everyone. When we take the glory and honor away from God and keep it for ourselves, our reasoning is turned to madness. Look at Romans 1:18-32 to see how Paul describes the same process. When we are lifted up in our own pride, our thoughts lead ourselves and others into total darkness and destruction. But when we humble ourselves before God, our thinking becomes clear and enlightened. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge, Proverbs teaches us.

I was listening to a sermon by Andy Cantrell about this very concept when he was preaching from Isaiah 55. God in that chapter is inviting us all to forsake our way of thinking and embrace His thoughts and His ways. And when we do, the result is life, joy and peace!

How well are your thoughts and your ways working out for you? Are you willing to become like King Nebuchadnezzar and humble yourself before God and forsake your ways of thinking? Are you willing to trade your thoughts for God’s thoughts? Then and only then will your “reason return to you.”

The Power of An Indestructible Life

who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life.
(Hebrews 7:16)

We are studying Hebrews in our congregation, and we are currently looking at how Jesus’ priesthood is compared to that of Melchizedek’s. Lots to study and discuss, but today I just want to focus on the fact that Jesus’ priesthood is eternal. He has the power of an indestructible life.

He came to save us from the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15), that through him we might live eternally after we die. But He also came, died, and rose from the dead so that we can live with full hope and confidence in this life (Hebrews 6:11). Jesus is indestructible, and the cord of our soul is securely tied to Him. He is a sure and steadfast anchor to our soul, because He is indestructible (Hebrews 6:19). Jesus isn’t going anywhere.

With all the change and decay around us and within us, we can lift up our spirits and be assured each moment that Jesus has the power of an endless life, and He promised to be with us always. If we are walking with Him and abiding in His word, then that indestructible life dwells within us and works in us.

but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.
(Hebrews 7:24)

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
(Hebrews 13:8)

And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.”
(Hebrews 1:10-12)

 

Daniel at Babylon U.

I was reading Daniel 1 this morning. Daniel and his three friends were taken into captivity to the King’s Palace and put through a 3-year program. At the end of that 3-year program they would stand before the king to be assessed.

We see that Daniel and his three friends (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) excelled far above all the rest. What I want to focus on is God’s hand through all of this.

God gave Daniel what he needed to be qualified for the position. In order for Daniel to even be considered as a candidate for being an adviser to the king he had to meet certain requirements. As you can see in Daniel 1, these young men of Israel had to be from the royalty or nobility. They had to be good-looking young men with no blemishes. Also, they had to be really smart and competent to learn the language and literature of the Chaldeans. God knew the positions where he would later place these young men, and He made sure that they had the tools and talents for that purpose. Daniel and his three friends were instruments of God, and God prepared the instruments just as He needed for this specific purpose. The same goes for every one of us. God gave us certain talents and opportunities, because He has a purpose for us to be His instruments in the places and positions He needs us to be.

God gave Daniel and his three friends favor. When it came time to stand for their faith, God stood with them, and He walked with them to help gain the favor of the King’s officials and eventually the King himself. Once again, this was all part of God’s working within the Babylonian kingdom to accomplish His purposes. If you have received a promotion or another opportunity to lead, is it possible that God is placing you in that position to accomplish His divine purpose? It helps for us to think about these things, because where we have gotten in life is not just because we are “all that and a bag of chips.” We are where we are in life because of the divine favor of God.

God gave Daniel and his three friends wisdom and understanding. They were at Babylon University learning the Chaldean ways, but God was the one blessing them with knowledge, competence and ability to understand. Those young men were bright and sharp, but in the end they knew their intelligence was a blessing and gift from God and they gave Him the glory.

There is no doubt why at the end of that 3-year period that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were found to be 10 times better than all the King’s magician’s and astrologers. Those other men were led by their own selfish ambition and/or a pursuit of false gods. In contrast, Daniel and his three friends were led by God and blessed by God because they gave their hearts fully to following God and His word.

Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.
(Psalm 119:97-100)

Committed Thomas

Doubting Thomas. We’ve probably all heard that term. Even people who aren’t Christians use that term to describe someone who is skeptical and needs evidence.

Thomas was not with the other 10 apostles when Jesus first appeared to them the day of His resurrection. It wasn’t till 8 days later that Jesus appeared to the 11 and turned Doubting Thomas into Believing Thomas (John 20:24-31). This is where we sometimes talk about “Absent Thomas” and what he missed out on because he wasn’t there.

But rather than talk about Doubting or Absent Thomas, I’d rather think about Committed Thomas today. Even when Thomas didn’t understand exactly what Jesus was doing, he was still willing to follow. Committed Thomas wanted to follow Jesus, but he just didn’t understand where Jesus was going.

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5).

Committed Thomas wanted to follow Jesus, even if it meant dying for Jesus. When Jesus wanted to leave the safety of beyond the Jordan and travel to Bethany (near Jerusalem) in order to raise dead Lazarus, the disciples knew how dangerous that would be. Thomas led the group in support of going with Jesus.

So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16)

Indeed, Thomas sought for affirmation and proof, and he wanted to understand, but Jesus gave him that evidence, didn’t He? Many other followers of God in Scripture come to mind that asked for confirmation and evidence, Gideon being the first one that comes to mind. Gideon was given reassurance and proof repeatedly by God. Gideon is highlighted in Hebrews 11 as one of the heroes of faith. We are no different from Gideon or Thomas, we all need that divine blessed reassurance once in awhile.

Jesus didn’t give this kind of evidence and affirmation to the Jewish leadership. They asked for a sign, and He told them they were a wicked and adulterous generation (Matthew 12). He may have rebuked His disciples for their unbelief (Mark 16), but He still gave them the evidence so they would believe. The hearts of the disciples, unlike the hearts of the Scribes and Pharisees, were committed to following Jesus.

Thomas most likely died a violent death for Jesus and the gospel. Yes, he was at times “doubting” and “absent,” but we see his true heart as fully committed to following Jesus.