The way of the Lord is not just?

Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? (Ezekiel 18:25,29).

The people of Israel accused God of not being fair. God turned it around on them. It was their ways that were not fair. Just read Ezekiel 34 to see how the Jewish leadership was treating people. That was injustice to put it mildly. God is always just.

Look in Ezekiel 18 to see the “just” nature of God. God doesn’t want anyone to die in his sins. He wants the wicked to repent and turn from his wickedness. God wants the righteous person to stay on the right path.

Here are six examples in Ezekiel 18 to show that God is just.

  1. If a man lives by God’s word and is a righteous person, he will live (Ezekiel 18:5-9).
  2. If a righteous man raises a wicked son, the wicked son doesn’t get extra credit points for being a righteous man’s son. He will be punished by God for his wickedness, even if his daddy was godly (Ezekiel 18:10-13).
  3. If a wicked man raises a righteous son, the righteous son is not going to be held accountable to God for the sins of his wicked father (Ezekiel 18:14-20).
  4. If a wicked man turns from his wickedness and chooses a godly path, God will save him and he will live (Ezekiel 18:21-23,27-29).
  5. If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and decides to live a wicked life, God will judge him for his wickedness (Ezekiel 18:24-26).
  6. God will judge everyone according to his ways and deeds – That is fair and just (Ezekiel 18:30).

Think about this! How much more “fair” can you get? You are judged by your own deeds. It is not a rigged system that exists in so many places, like politics and business. God doesn’t judge you by other’s deeds and words, He judges you by your own. If your parents are evil, you don’t lose your relationship with God. If your parents are righteous, you don’t get to ride into heaven on their coattails. God is fair – He judges you by what you say and do and how you respond to His word. It’s not anymore complicated than that.

3 Crosses

I saw a thought this weekend about the three crosses when Jesus was crucified. The Bible tells us that when Jesus was crucified, He was placed in between two criminals. All three were being executed. All three were dying. During that horrible afternoon, both of those criminals mocked Jesus. Somewhere near the end of their lives, one of those criminals repented and begged in faith for Jesus’ mercy. One of those criminals never repented (as far as we know).

Matthew 27:38,44 – Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left…And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.

Luke 23:39-43 – One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

So what do you have? You have one man, Jesus, who was dying on behalf of sin, the sins of the world. Another man, the unrepentant criminal, was dying in his sin. The other thief who repented was dying to his sin.

What about you and me? We can’t die for sin like Jesus did. Only Jesus could die for the sins of the world. But I have two choices: am I going to die in my sins, or am I going to die to my sins?

1 Peter 2:24-25 – He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Why did they suffer?

Luke 13:1-5
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Jesus used the adversity and pain of his time to teach others. There where Galileans who were killed by Pilate, and their blood was mingled with the sacrifices. Awful. Disgusting. Cruelty. There were 18 people who were killed when a tower fell upon them. Sad. Painful. A catastrophe.

What did Jesus do during these times of pain in His community? He used it to teach. Jesus asked a question in this passage that I believe is worth our notice. Were those people who suffered worse sinners than others? Did these people die because they were more horrible in their sin than the other people around them in the community?

What is Jesus’ clear answer? No! These crises did not happen because of sin. It just happened. That is something we today need to caution ourselves against, to try to take something from the Old Testament out of context to say that the Coronavirus is God’s plague upon America because of our sinfulness. Be careful. It may just be that sickness is spreading because we are living in a world that is under the curse of sin (Genesis 3).

Are those people who are dying from Covid-19 worse sinners than those who survive? I believe Jesus would give the same answer…No.

But what did Jesus really want them and us to focus on? Repentance! He acknowledged that all of us need to repent, regardless of whether we are facing adversity or not. Everyone needs to change his ways. Period. Jesus is like, “Don’t focus on who is guilty for this temporary suffering, focus on your own guilt of sin and repent or you will face eternal suffering!”

So, as we look at this current suffering caused by Covid-19, let’s focus on the real problem, our sin. I may get the Coronavirus, I may not. I pray like the rest of you that this awful disease goes away. But I know that all of us will die in our sins at a 100 percent rate if we do not repent and come to Jesus.

Mistakes

Here is an article that a friend, Dave, shared at Bible class the other night. It is about mistakes.

One must be big enough to admit mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them.
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:8-9
It’s a mistake to love things and use people–one should use things and love people.
So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
Galatians 6:10
“Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 7:12
  Four difficult words to be spoken: “I made a mistake.”
Until mistakes are admitted,
corrections will not be made.
When mistakes are admitted,
corrections can be made.
After mistakes are admitted,
corrections need to be made.

Rejoice

One of the great benefits of using some kind of marking system in your Bible is that it will help with recall. It will help certain themes stand out. This is especially true when reading Luke 15.

This is a familiar chapter to many, particularly with the story of the son who squandered his estate with loose living, Luke 15:13. There would be great joy when he returned. But prior to this story, we see the theme of rejoicing.

“Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!” Luke 15:6.

“I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” Luke 15:7.

“When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’” Luke 15:9.

“But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate” Luke 15:23-24.

“But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found” Luke 15:32.

Reading this chapter should cause us to rejoice.

First, we should rejoice because at one time we too were lost. But thankfully, through the grace of God, we have been redeemed from our sins. We should rejoice.

Second, we should rejoice because when it comes to doing God’s great work of evangelism, it truly is a blessing when a soul is saved. One of my favorite passages in this chapter is verse 7. The fact that even heaven rejoices when one person repents is so cool to think about. While many of us may never make the front page of a newspaper or have thousands of followers on social media, we can know that there was joy in heaven when we repented from our sins and began to follow Jesus. I love to use this verse after someone has been baptized for the forgiveness of sins.

The story of the son who was lost but then returned back home is a great story for us to think about. From this story, we should ask ourselves how we respond when a person repents. Are we filled with great joy? Are we excited and welcome them back into the fold with open arms? When we hear of someone obeying the gospel, do we feel the same excitement? Heaven rejoices, but are we rejoicing?

Jesus loved all men. He still does. He had mercy and compassion for those who were in sin. He spent time around the outcasts of His society. He would eventually die for them.

When a person is lost and then found, let us be sure to rejoice. Let’s appreciate what has truly taken place.

Their First Love

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
(Revelation 2:4)

Ephesus would have been considered by most of us as a “sound church.” From the outside they were doing all the right things. They were facing persecution and standing firm against the devil. The congregation would not tolerate false doctrine and were testing any teacher to make sure the things said were directly from God. They were patiently enduring for Christ, but Christ said that they were about to lose their fellowship with Him. He was going to remove their lampstand from its place. They were in need of repentance!

Why? Because they had left their first love. Maybe if we were in Ephesus we would be shocked to hear these words from Jesus. We are doing all the right things, why would Jesus tell us to repent? They were doing works, indeed, but Jesus said they were not doing the “first works.” Whatever they were like before, they were not like that now. On the outside all appearances looked like this was a strong, Bible-teaching congregation. But to Jesus, He saw a congregation that was now going through the motions. The love they had at first was not there anymore.

This is true in churches, organizations, marriages, sports teams, etc. At first the fire is there. We know our “why.” A young couple is just full of energy, love, passion and all things are new! But after time, years, struggles, pain, stress, busy-ness, etc., the couple just starts going through the motions. That couple may even seem to many others like they have a great marriage, but to each other they know the “first love” is not there anymore. What happens in marriages, teams, businesses, and churches is that we forget where we came from and how we were when we got started.

We have to get back to those beginnings! Jesus told the church at Ephesus to “repent.” But how is that done? He told them to, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.” Remember. Do the first works.

For a married couple it may mean going out on dates again. Getting out the wedding videos and watching them. Do you have those old love letters in a box somewhere? Read them. Remember when?

For Ephesus, they could do the same thing. They could get out the old love letters and read them again. There was this great letter called “Ephesians” sent to them by Paul decades before. It’s time to get that letter out and dust it off. Read the first half of Ephesians and you will rekindle the old flames once again. Remember what it was like when Jesus saved you from your sins and covered you in His grace and His blood. Remember where you came from. Think of the newness, fire and zeal you had when you were a new Christian. It’s time to get back to the beginning, back to the basics. Read the old love letters and rekindle the fire.

No one had the strength to subdue him

“He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.” Mark 5:3-5

No one could bind him…No one had the strength to subdue him. This man wasn’t fit to live among people. Only Jesus could heal what was wrong with this demon-possessed man. People of the village were trying to use their own strength to harness, control and stop this man, but it was the spirit inside that was giving the man this strength and destructive power.

The man didn’t need chains and shackles, they were useless. He needed Jesus. Look in Mark 5:1-20 to see how Jesus got inside of this man and changed him from the inside out. Once the man’s insides changed, then the outside reflected that spiritual transformation. This formerly demon-possessed man became a powerful evangelist for Jesus! But that didn’t happen until the demons within were cast out.

Again, it is Jesus that makes you and me fit to live among people. We may try to harness, manage or control the behavior and words of others, but it is Jesus that really has the power to release the “demon” within. Those “demons” can be things like guilt, past abuse, shame, addictions, etc. If we find ourselves breaking chains and shackles, going around in a rage, and cutting ourselves with stones, then the real problem is what is going on deep down inside of us. Until we truly get at peace with ourselves and with Jesus, then we will be like this man living in a cave howling at the moon.

In our relationships, we must focus more on root causes and not symptoms.

Only Steps Away

28 Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?” 29 Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. 33 And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  34 Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:  28-34; NKJV)

Today the sermon at South Macomb was a continuation of our working through the four gospels and focused on lessons in Mark 11 and 12.  There were many points to be made but I wanted to focus on a section found in chapter 12.  I encourage you to read the chapter as I am not going to lay down much background but want to focus on this encounter between Jesus and the scribe.  I want to attempt to paint a picture in your mind that was given today and then keep that image in our mind as we work through this week.

The image I want to paint is of a safe place, a dangerous place, and someone caught in the middle.  You might have your own version of this, but I am going to offer one of my own.  Imagine you are in a building and a battle rages outside with gunfire and explosions all around.  There is a group who is safe in their reinforced concrete bunker, with no windows and made to survive the kind of chaos and destruction going on.  They are safe, but someone cracks the door to see what is going on and notices a young man running down the street…unarmed, confused, scared, looking for shelter…to be safe and live.  The one looking out also notices he is wearing the wrong uniform…the uniform of the enemy.  Even more, the one looking is wearing the wrong uniform in the eyes of the man outside…the clothes of his enemy.  But the one inside calls out to him anyways…beckons him to come and be safe.  He hears the call and he sees the caller and even starts making his way to the door.  He is hesitant and unsure what to do as he gets closer.  What if it is a trap?  Even though the bunker gets him out of the gun battle going on outside and everything he has been taught about fighting tells him this is a secure place…how does he know what is inside is safer than outside?  Still the call goes out to him, encourages him, tells him it will be safe.  Others from inside gather with the one and join and shout this same message of safety…of friendship…of hope.  He comes closer and it is clear he really wants to live and wants to be safe and wants to believe that he can be inside the bunker.  He is right there…just a couple more steps and he will be in and safe and can live.  Everyone calls to him but he stops…he looks at them…they want to grab him but the bullets are flying and they can’t quite reach him…if only he would take one more step…but he stops.  Now he is out in the open and all the danger of the situation is upon him though he is only a step or two from safety…he is unsure, and he hesitates.  Surely he was about to come those two steps…they sure want him to…but a bullet hits its mark and he is gone.  It is too late…he was so close to safety…the caller was there to save him…they had a place for him to be safe…they called out to him…they wanted him with them…but his hesitation…his lack of faith in the caller’s intentions, their actions, and the offer left him just a couple steps too far from being saved.

I know you get the point.  So let me just end today with this.  I want us to look at these kinds of situations from three perspectives this week.  Jesus is the one calling out.  We are the ones who join with hHim to encourage.  Those in the world or those of our brethren who are astray are the man in harms way.  You saw that coming right?  But don’t stop there.  Take another look.  Jesus is still calling out, our brethren are still joining in the call, but are we the man in harms way?  That could be a likely scenario…right?  Could it be that it depends in any given situation or stage of our lives or the lives of others?  Read chapter 12.  Paint this image in your head.  Meditate and pray about what we can do about those 2 last steps…whether we are in harms way or with Jesus calling others to safety.  Take some time and work that over in your head and heart and let’s see what we can learn and apply this week.  I love you all…and thankfully Jesus loves us more.

Washing and Pigs

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”
(2 Peter 2:20-22)

One more thought on pigs today. Peter uses two nasty images to describe Christians who return to the life of sin. Dogs returning to eat their own vomit…I don’t know of a nastier, more disgusting analogy. Also Peter writes of a sow having been washed only to return to rolling around in the mud. What was the point of washing the pig in the first place?

We have to be reminded about the nasty nature of sin. To God it is disgusting and sickening. When God thinks of us returning to the ways of Satan, He sees it like a dog returning to eat his own puke or a clean pig rushing out to jump in the mire. We must see it this way, guys. Jesus cleansed us with His own blood, He was slaughtered and tortured for our deliverance from the filth of sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). For us to return to it is to consider that blood something ordinary and common (Hebrews 6:6; 10:29).

For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
(1 Thessalonians 4:7-8)

God is calling us to holiness. He washed us, and He allows us to go back into the yard. It is our choice as to whether we will choose holiness or choose to roll in the mud again. What will you and I choose today?

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
(Romans 6:1-4)

Remember Lot’s Wife

But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
(Genesis 19:26)

Last night we had a Bible study and we looked at Genesis 19 concerning the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. As we talked about Lot’s wife being turned by God into a pillar of salt, a few thoughts were discussed in the class.

Remember not to look back to that old world.

The backslider in heart will be filled with the fruit of his ways, and a good man will be filled with the fruit of his ways.
(Proverbs 14:14)

We are to die to sin. We are to leave that old world behind. That old world is going to be destroyed, including all those who follow in its ways. Some of those who are destroyed in that old world may be very close to you. Don’t look back. Don’t turn back. Longing and pining for the things and people in Sodom will only lead to your own destruction.

We have to love God more than family.

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.
(Matthew 10:36-37)

Lot pleaded with the men who were to marry his daughters. They took it as a joke; they didn’t take the warnings seriously (Gen. 19:14). It seems that this may have been part of the reason Lot delayed and lingered. Maybe there were more family members or close friends there that he didn’t want to leave.

What we do know is that the angels grabbed Lot, his wife and his daughters by the arms and forced them out of the city. This was because of God’s mercy upon Lot in response to Abraham’s prayers (Gen. 19:16,29). Lot was called righteous by God, but that doesn’t mean that he always made good decisions. God had to yank him out of this city (2 Peter 2:6-9). Lot was tormented by the wickedness around him in Sodom, yet he still delayed to leave Sodom. There is a point there for us, I believe.

Am I lingering in Sodom? Maybe because I’m too close to someone, it clouds my vision and I don’t stand up for what is right. How many times do we see that happen? Lot lingered in Sodom, when he (1) knew how wicked it was, and (2) he knew God was about to torch it. What or who was he so tied to that he was delaying the very thing God commanded him to do? It is something for us to reflect upon.

In our study last night, someone pointed out from Genesis 19:26 that Lot’s wife was behind him. She was turned to a pillar of salt. Lot never looked back. Whether he knew at that point or not that she had been destroyed, he didn’t turn back. He did what the angels of God told him to do. With all of his delay and hesitation while still in the city (Gen. 19:15-16), he now did exactly what God told him to do, even when his wife did not. He had the opportunity as well to look back with longing and/or sadness over the city and its people. But he kept his eyes looking forward.

Jesus used this event to teach His disciples and prepare them for the coming destruction of Jerusalem. He told them that when they saw certain signs, to get out immediately, don’t go back into their houses to get anything. Move! Go! Get out!

On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.
(Luke 17:31-33)

Remember Lot’s wife today, men. Am I seeking to preserve my life and my things and my ways? Or am I walking away from Sodom without looking back?

For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.
(Hebrews 10:37-39)