God Bless You

“God bless you!” No, there’s nobody around who sneezed. It seems that one of rare occasions I hear someone say, “God bless you” is when someone sneezes. But are we actively wishing the blessings of heaven upon others? This is the expression of a Christian’s heart toward others, because this is God’s heart for others, too.

When I was growing up, I got the impression that we shouldn’t say, “God bless you” to someone unless we knew they were sound in doctrine and living right with God. People were afraid, I believe, of “bidding God speed” to people living in error (2 John 10).  I think we get two concepts confused. We confuse approving sinful behavior with wishing God’s goodness to come upon those in sin.

But we really need to think about this. Does God bless those living in error? Sure thing. Does the Lord bless your enemies? Yes. Does God bless those who are wicked? Absolutely. Does He bless the most wicked, heathen, nasty, disgusting sinner? He sure does (Matthew 5:44-45; Luke 6:27-28,35).

Why does God do that? Look at the following verse that shows what God’s goodness and blessings are designed to do for everyone.

Romans 2:4 – Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

Whether you wish someone God’s blessings, God is blessing them. If you choose not to say “God bless you” to someone, God is still blessing them. As long as any person is breathing air and living in this world, he or she is partaking of God’s rich blessings. And we should want that! Those blessings are intended to drive people to God!

Acts 14:17 – “Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”

God is kind to the ungrateful and evil (Luke 6:35), so what is to be said of us as God’s children? Can we wish God’s blessings upon everyone? We should, God does.

It was because of envy

Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?(Proverbs 27:4)

Who can stand before jealousy? Great question. Here are several examples of great strife and pain caused by jealousy and envy.

  • The Roman governor Pilate knew that the Jewish leaders were envious of Jesus and that is why they delivered Jesus up (Matthew 27:18).
  • Joseph’s brothers were jealous of Joseph and sold him into slavery (Acts 7:9).
  • It was because of jealousy that the Jews in Galatia opposed and contradicted everything Paul and Barnabas tried to preach (Acts 13:45).
  • Jealousy led the Jews in Thessalonica to take wicked men and stir up the crowd against Paul and his companions (Acts 17:5).

James wrote in his letter that if we see disorder and every vile practice, we will find jealousy behind it.

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.
(James 3:14-16)

Family problems? Jealousy is somewhere close. Church problems? Look for jealousy. Problems at work. Envy is at work.

What is jealousy anyway? What is envy? Let’s look that tomorrow. If jealousy is such a source of strife, we ought to find out what it is, and how we can replace it in our hearts with godly qualities.

The Holy Spirit and Me

When I was younger I heard folks around me talking down the idea that Jesus is your personal Savior. Don’t know why they wanted to make such a big deal about it, except that maybe they joined that concept of Jesus being a personal savior to some false denominational doctrine. We have to be careful about going so far to fight a false doctrine that we make the Bible say what it doesn’t say. We end up just as guilty or more than the people we are trying to correct.

But the reality is, Jesus did personally save you if you are a Christian. You have a personal, intimate relationship with the Father. The Holy Spirit was promised to you personally as a guarantee of your salvation. Paul’s conversion story is spread throughout Acts and his letters. You can see what the Lord did for him personally.

What I want to share with you today from the Word is that the Holy Spirit does save everyone the same way, through the blood of Jesus Christ. But He works on you as an individual.

  • The Spirit gives you unique gifts according to His will (1 Corinthians 12:8-11; Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:7-16; 1 Peter 4:10). The “grace” of God in this sense is varied, God gives His diverse gifts to a diversity of people. You have been uniquely blessed and gifted by God, believe it!
  • He places you distinctly and personally in the body just where He wants you (1 Corinthians 12). An example of this is the specific work in a specific location the Holy Spirit had for two people, Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:2).
  • The Holy Spirit knows your prayer life and the groanings of your heart. You have your own circumstances, level of faith and maturity, and unique needs. He knows you cannot pray as you ought, so He uniquely and personally connects your heart with the Father’s (Romans 8:26-27).
  • Your growth in the Spirit is individual. The fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc., Galatians 5:22-23) is not cookie-cutter, carbon-copy growth. Jesus told us that some produce 30 fold, others produce 60 fold and others produce 100 fold (Matthew 13:23).
  • He has begun a good work in you (Philippians 1:6) and He is creating in you both the desire and the action (Philippians 2:13).
  • Think of the 4 gospel accounts. The product from beginning to end was the work of the Holy Spirit, but each gospel account reflects the personality, background, language, experiences, and research of the author.

More could be said, but I write this to encourage you to be thankful and stand in awe of how the Holy Spirit works uniquely in each of us to transform us into Jesus’ image and to make us fit for the Lord’s service.

Abigail didn’t cover for Nabal

I was studying with someone this week about 1 Samuel 25 which covers the account of David, Abigail and Nabal. Abigail was a woman of beauty and wisdom, but her husband was a complete jerk. The Bible literally calls him “worthless.” He was harsh. He was badly behaved. He caused trouble for a lot of people, and it is clear from the text that everyone knew who would have to fix Nabal’s messes. Abigail.

1 Samuel 25:17 – “Now therefore know this and consider what you should do, for harm is determined against our master and against all his house, and he is such a worthless man that one cannot speak to him.”

Even the servants were comfortable coming to their master’s wife about him. That says this event with David wasn’t the first time Nabal had wreaked havoc.

What we see though in Abigail is that she did not cover for her husband’s wickedness. In her attempts to save her household from certain destruction, she exposed and clearly admitted that Nabal was the problem, not David.

1 Samuel 25:25-26 – Let not my lord regard this worthless fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. Nabal is his name, and folly is with him. But I your servant did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent. Now then, my lord, as the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, because the LORD has restrained you from bloodguilt and from saving with your own hand, now then let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be as Nabal.

Did you see what Abigail just said about her husband? She admitted he was wrong, and that he was the problem. His name means “fool” and Abigail agreed that his parents named him well! She also agreed with others’ assessment that he was “worthless” (literally a “son of Belial”). Abigail did not cover for her husband’s sins. Family did not come first, truth did. Family did not come first, God did. While she pleaded with David to do what was right in not taking vengeance, she did not excuse or dismiss her husband’s wicked behavior.

What about you? Does family come first, or does God? Does family come first, or does truth come first? Loyalty to family sometimes gets so pressed into people’s psyche that they can’t see the obvious truth that everyone around them sees. They find themselves defending the indefensible. Because of that misplaced loyalty, gossip about others is believed as gospel. That shows our loyalty is to family first, not to God and truth first. This just doesn’t happen in families, it happens with our friends, too. Just because someone is a close family member or a best friend, doesn’t mean we blindly take their side. Our misplaced loyalty will blind us and distort our judgment.

Listen to what Jesus said…

Matthew 10:36-37 – And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

Abigail did not cover for Nabal, nor did she make excuses for his ungodly behavior, and he was her husband! She also did not try to blame David for being part of the problem, that somehow he was guilty of stirring Nabal up. Nope. She knew exactly where the problem was…right at home with her husband.

Our loyalty must first be to God.

Abigail did not only recognize where the problem was, she also knew clearly where to turn to find the solution…God. Look at what she says about God as she talks to David:

1 Samuel 25:26 – Now then, my lord, as the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, because the LORD has restrained you from bloodguilt and from saving with your own hand, now then let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be as Nabal.

Abigail turned her attention and David’s attention to the Lord for the solution. Read the rest of that section later (1 Samuel 25:28-34,38-39) and see how many times Abigail and David referred to God as being the Source of the solution. It’s one thing to recognize that her husband was the problem, but far more important that she knew where to go for answers and wisdom to deal with the problem.

Has the Church Building Become Our Basket

Has the church building become our basket under which we have hidden our lights? I heard this idea posed in a sermon years ago by Jason Hardin. It is a great question. Read this passage about what Jesus wants us to be today in the world.

Matthew 5:13-16 – “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

We are salt, but if the salt doesn’t fill out it’s purpose, it’s taste, then it becomes only good for throwing down on the road for people to walk on. We are light, but what happens when we cover that light with a basket? That light is not filling out its purpose. People can’t benefit from the salt and light if the salt doesn’t taste like salt and the light doesn’t shine because it is hidden under a basket.

Have our church buildings become that basket under which we shine our light? It is really easy to shine the light at the church building. But what about at home? What about at work? What about showing that light with our neighbors and friends? Do we cover that light the rest of the week?

If we are going to work during this pandemic, either remotely or physically, are we shining that light?

Now many are confined to homes. Most folks aren’t “going to church” now. It is a sad time, but it is also a time for reflection. It’s a time to look into the mirror. God doesn’t dwell in buildings made with hands (Acts 17:24), He dwells within the Christian. People call the area in the church building where we worship the “sanctuary.” God’s throne and God’s holy presence is the “sanctuary.” And our hearts are supposed to be that “sanctuary.” Our gatherings as Christians, no matter where they may happen, are that “sanctuary.” The holy temple of God is not at a church building, it is within the human hearts of those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus.

John 4:21 – Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.

It is a time to rethink that far too many have put way too much focus on a physical location. Jesus reminded the woman at the well of this fact, God’s people can worship God in any location. God’s people are to shine his light in every location. God’s people are to be that salt in every location. Let’s make sure that all of us are being that salt and light in every circumstance, not just at a church building.

And They Laughed at Him

 And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. And the report of this went through all that district (Matthew 9:23-26).

They laughed at Jesus. The crowd is surrounding this family and the little twelve year old girl that just passed, and they are crying, playing flutes and wailing. That, I believe, was a normal part of how things went when a loved one passed. In comes Jesus and says she is not dead, just sleeping. Can you imagine how you would react if Jesus came into a room with your departed loved one and declare to you that she isn’t really dead?

How would you and I react? We might have had the same reaction. We’d like to think differently that we wouldn’t laugh at Jesus, but I think a lot of us would probably have had the same instantaneous response. You’re nuts, Jesus, that girl is plainly dead. Of course she was dead, and Jesus knew that, but Jesus also knew what he was about to do.

This wasn’t the first time people laughed at something God said. Remember Sarah? When God told Abraham that ninety-year old Sarah would have a baby, she laughed in her tent (see Genesis 18:9-15). God was pretty merciful to her, because then she proceeded to lie that she didn’t laugh! But again, put yourself in Sarah’s sandals, her body was effectively “dead” when it came to childbearing (Romans 4:19), so laughing would be a natural reaction to God’s promise of her bearing a child. Don’t forget that Abraham also laughed at the same promise (Genesis 17:17).

Interesting that God named Abraham and Sarah’s child, “Isaac,” which means laughter.

Here we have two examples in Scripture where God came into a hopeless situation and promised the impossible, and the reaction was the same. The people laughed. God then continued to work the impossible and their sadness and hopelessness led to true rejoicing and a faith that was strengthened.

Maybe we are facing situations in our own lives that we might consider “dead” or “impossible,” but remember that God can bring to life what we consider dead, and he can make possible what we see as impossible. Let’s finish with a question that God asked of Abraham and Sarah after Sarah laughed.

Genesis 18:13-14 – The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.”

Is anything too hard for the Lord?

Disciples, Baptism, Teaching

Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (19) Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The passage above is called by many the Great Commission. Jesus sent out His followers to the whole world to preach the good news to all people. For this morning, I wanted to make a few observations about this passage.

A disciple is a student. We are told to make disciples, but I believe that phrase “make disciples” means on our part we are to teach. We cannot “make” anyone learn. But if we are constantly teaching others, there will be those who listen and want to become students of Jesus. Our mission is just like that of Philip with the Ethiopian…preach the good news about Jesus (Acts 8:35).

We don’t teach all things Jesus commanded BEFORE someone is baptized and becomes a Christian. What does a person have to know in order to become a Christian? It’s pretty basic, isn’t it? They have to know Jesus and Him crucified. We don’t have to go into a long series of studies on learning everything about how a Christian is to behave or how the church is to worship. That all comes later. Are we trying to make sure a person has all the religious answers so they can pass the test and be approved to become a Christian? If so, we’ve got it all wrong.

We keep teaching. The work is not over when someone becomes a Christian. Too many times Christians have dropped the ball on this matter. We work so hard to help someone become a Christian, and once they obey the gospel, we move on to the next person who needs to become a Christian. It’s like the assumption is made that all the other stuff they need to know is going to be learned by osmosis. Would we take a newborn baby, set it in a crib and walk away for months? That would be negligent homicide. Jesus told us that the bulk of teaching happens AFTER the person becomes a Christian. We can’t stop teaching, instructing, encouraging, etc.

Along with that is to understand that a person who comes up from the waters of baptism is not going to understand a lot of things you and I have know for decades and maybe even take for granted. What are God’s guidelines for marriage? How do you live a godly life? What does it mean to love others in relationships? How do you worship God? Why do we need to be part of a local congregation?

Let’s remember to keep teaching. Keep in mind that we don’t have to shove all the word of God into people’s heads before they become Christians. But also, remember that we all need to be taught continuously after we become Christians. There will never be a time when we no longer need to be taught all that Jesus said.

Working Hard to Dig Holes

But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.
(Matthew 25:18)

We were listening to Matthew 25 today and we heard the story Jesus told about the talents. Three servants were each given money by the Master, but only two went and did something good with it. The third servant took his talent, found a good hiding place, and he dug a hole and hid that money.

It’s interesting that the Master called him wicked and lazy, but look at the work the servant did in order NOT to work. Think of the effort it took to go, dig a hole and hide that talent. Consider the amount of mental energy he expended to convince himself that he made the right decision. He even convinced himself that it was the Master’s own fault for why he didn’t grow his talent (Matthew 25:24-25). If he would have taken half the effort, gone down to the bank and invested it, he would have doubled his money (Matthew 25:26-27).

I remember an older man in Ohio once saying that it is amazing how hard people work not to work. This came to my mind as I thought about this third servant working to hide his talent.

So, how hard are we working not to work? Are we expending too much effort convincing ourselves that we can’t use the talents, opportunities and energy God gave us?

For example, the people in the days of Haggai had convinced themselves it was not “time” to build the Lord’s house, but were working awful hard at building their own homes (Haggai 1). The Lord expected them to use their time, money, talents and energy to build His house, but they were expending it on making their own places nice. So God poked holes in their bags of wages (Haggai 1:6). If they wouldn’t use their talents for Him, then they would be taken away. Very similar to what we see in Matthew 25.

Are you working hard to dig holes and hide your talents, or are you taking them and using them for the Master?

Jesus was offensive, but He wasn’t

Take a minute to read these two passages from Matthew. On one occasion, in Matthew 15, the disciples were concerned that Jesus had offended the Pharisees (Jewish leadership). Jesus clearly was not worried that He had hurt their feelings, because His words were intended to rebuke them and make an example of them to the others in the crowd.

On another occasion, though, Jesus was concerned about offending certain people. Some had come to collect the temple tax. Jesus taught Peter that since He was the Lord of the temple and its owner, He wasn’t bound to pay the temple tax. However, Jesus did not want to create a situation here where someone would be offended, so He had Peter do some miraculous fishing in order to pay the tax.

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
(Matthew 15:12-14)

When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”
(Matthew 17:24-27)

There were times when Jesus made a stand for God and it naturally offended people, especially the hypocritical Jewish leadership. But there were other times when Jesus went beyond what was expected in order to keep from offending someone. This is living out the concept of going the extra mile. Jesus didn’t have to pay this tax, He was in no way obligated to do it, and He could have stood His ground and proved how right He was. But He didn’t, He showed humility and love by caring for how others would respond.

It’s something to think about.

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.
(1 Corinthians 10:23-24)

When You Fast

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
(Matthew 6:16-18)

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.
(Matthew 9:14-15)

Someone at our congregation requested a lesson on fasting, so I am doing some studying on that. Fasting, as I’m sure many know is the abstaining from food or other things for a period of time. People do it for all kinds of reasons: dietary, emotional, spiritual, etc.

We see that in the Old Testament, the Jews were commanded by God to fast one day a year, on the day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29). But for the Christian there is no command for us on when to fast or for how long to fast. However, as we can observe in the passages above, Jesus said there would be a time for His disciples to fast.

  • Jesus assumed we would fast. In Matthew 6, He says, “When you fast…,” and in Matthew 9 He said, “Then they will fast.” It’s clear that Jesus knew that fasting would be part of our walk with Him.
  • He gave us instructions on our attitude/heart as we fast. This is a very powerful and intimate thing a Christian does with God, but it can really be turned into an attention / glory seeking practice, as it did for many in Jesus’ day. Jesus would rather you have a full tummy and a humble heart, than an empty stomach and a vain, attention-seeking heart.
  • We can see that this is a private, individual decision between Jesus and me. There is no mandated time for Christians to fast, although we see Christians fasting in the New Testament. This is something you decide for you. Again, it’s between you and God only. Church leaders cannot decide this for you.
  • Another point to make is that we see the churches practicing fasting and prayer when it came time to appoint leaders for the churches. It doesn’t seem like it was mandated, but we see the brethren fasting and praying before putting people into certain places of authority. It shows the seriousness of the matter, doesn’t it?

Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
(Acts 13:1-3)

And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
(Acts 14:23)

This is a start. More will probably come later.