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A Little Effort Makes a Big Difference

A Little Effort Makes a Big DifferenceLast Sunday I concluded a brief sermon series on being part of a church family and being involved in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ. This past week I received an e-mail that showed the importance of reaching out to people, and how powerful it is to receive a simple invitation for fellowship. Here’s part of the message, which I received permission to share…

“In the past I have been one of those people hurt by others, and in spite of trying to make friends no one returned the kindness. I tried several people and still no deal. Everyone had their own friends already or were too busy. So I became too busy as well and worked all the time. I became one of those people you described who didn’t put in the time or effort to make friends. Frankly I was tired of trying. I was done. People at work were my only so-called-friends and only one was a believer, and he did not return the kindness either.

Your sermon challenged me though. Lately I had been wanting to try again – largely because of the church family at WCC – making the sermon’s timing very good. Then something happened: a person at church actually invited me out to get together, and he actually followed through and it had nothing to do with me helping him with anything. Whenever people contacted me in the past it was never simply for fellowship: they wanted something. The last time someone called to just do something was about two years ago when my friend who moved away overseas came to visit. I honestly have some hope now that having friends and fellowship will be possible in our family at WCC. Thank you for the challenge. I will work on making that time.”

It’s wonderful how powerfully God works things together. You have an individual who’s already feeling challenged to be more involved in the church. God confirms the conviction through the preaching of His Word. Then God stirs up someone to send an invitation. How unfortunate would it have been if the person didn’t send the invitation? In last week’s sermon, I said personal involvement is more important than corporate involvement in the church, because while there’s a sign up sheet for the nursery, church cleaning, serving in the kitchen, etc. there’s no sign up sheet for making people feel loved; there’s no sign up sheet for making people feel like part of your church family. If you don’t pursue this sort of involvement in people’s lives, they miss out on those blessings.

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Few Are Chosen

Few Are Chosen

During yesterday’s sermon I discussed The Parable of the Wedding Feast, stopping right before Matthew 22:14 which says, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” That verse doesn’t seem to fit though; it seems like it should read, “Many are called, but few respond” because the parable is primarily about people unwilling to accept the King’s invitation (aka call to salvation).

The many called are those who hear the Gospel. It’s the second step in God’s wonderful plan of redemption: (1) Whom He predestined, (2) these He also called; (3) whom He called, these He also justified; (4) and whom He justified, these He also glorified (Rom 8:30). The call itself takes place in Matthew 22:2-3 The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who…sent out his servants to CALL those who were invited to the wedding. The call is to see yourself as a sinner, stop trusting in your own righteousness, embrace Jesus as Lord and Savior and receive His righteousness by grace through faith.

Of the many called, it’s a much smaller number that actually respond to the Gospel and are saved: they are the few. The “many”and “few” Jesus discusses in Matthew 22:14 are the same “many”and “few”Jesus discusses in Matthew 7:13-14:

  • Matthew 22:14 MANY are called, but FEW are chosen.
  • Matthew 7:13-14 Wide is the gate that leads to destruction, and MANY who go in by it. Narrow is the gate which leads to life, and FEW find it.

The few chosen in Matthew 22:14 are the same few that enter by the narrow gate in Matthew 7:14, are they’re the same few that are predestined, justified and glorified in Romans 8:30.

The balance struck in these verses is really tremendous…

In verse 3 after the call goes out it says, “they were not willing to come”; it’s not that they weren’t able to come it’s that they weren’t willing to come. The call goes out again in verse 4: “Again, [the King] sent out other servants, saying, “Come to the wedding.” But in verses 5 and 6 it says, “They made light of it and went their ways…the rest seized his servants…and killed them.” This group’s rejection is even worse than the first as you again see the people choosing not to come, choosing instead to reject the wonderful love and grace of the King. Then after all that you see that they weren’t “chosen”, looking to the sovereignty of God in choosing the elect.

The finer details of how people are chosen, and why few are chosen instead of many, looks to the very center of the tension between:

  • Calvinism and Arminianism
  • Unconditional Election versus Conditional Election
  • God’s Sovereignty versus Man’s Free Will

This has caused a debate that has raged in the church for centuries, but the truth is if you want to be one of the few chosen as Matthew 22:14 says, and be  justified and glorified as Romans 8:30 says, enter by the narrow gate as Matthew 7:13 says by confessing Jesus as Lord.

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God's plans for our lives…

This past Sunday during the morning service I preached on 2 Kings 5, which discusses an Israelite girl that became one of the greatest unwilling missionaries in history. She was captured by the Syrians and made a servant to the wife of Naaman, the commander of the army. By the end of the chapter Naaman made a genuine confession of faith, and second only to the prophet Elisha, God uses this young girl to see that happen. I didn’t really discuss her in the sermon, because her story didn’t relate to the topic. Plus, I had to remove a large amount of notes, and she ended up a victim. Fortunately, she experienced some redemption in the form of this blog post! Although, the way people talk to me about my bulletin letters and blog posts (usually something like: “Don’t write about me!!!”) makes me think she might not see that too redemptive-ly.

Anyway, God beautifully used this girl to accomplish His purposes; she was captured by the evil Syrians, probably wondering why God would allow something like that to happen, and through her circumstances He brought about one of the greatest conversions in the OT. It wouldn’t be too much to say many people have probably felt like her at times, only to later be used by God in dramatic ways.

For example, Joseph’s brothers tried to murder him. He found himself thrown in a pit, then in prison, but before it was all over, he ended up as the savior of the known world, second in power only to Pharaoh. Daniel was captured by the Babylonians and brought into exile with three of his friends, but he ended up being the right hand man to multiple kings in two different kingdoms (Babylon and Persia). Ezekiel spent his life training to being a priest, but he must have figured his ministry was ruined when he was taken into exile. That’s when his ministry really began though, receiving the most famous and dramatic visions in the Bible, second only to The Revelation given to John. David killed Goliath, but then he went from being Israel’s greatest and most popular hero to a fugitive with his life daily in danger. By the time it was over though, God had delivered him through it all and he became the greatest king in the Old Testament.

Recently one of my heroes, Chuck Smith, went to be with the Lord. Last week I watched an interview between him and Greg Laurie that took place after he learned he had the lung cancer that would end up taking his life. Toward the end of the interview Greg asked him, “If you were going to do things over again, would you do anything differently?” and Chuck replied, “I think that the Lord had charge over the whole thing, so I wouldn’t try to improve on His program.” This really stuck with me, and reminded me how God has plans for our lives, but they don’t always take the route we’d expect (or often prefer).

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The Election & God's Sovereignty – Part II

In my last blog on the election we talked about Obama being identified as a savior and we looked at some verses regarding God’s ideal ruler. I’d like to continue with the next two verses in 2 Samuel 23 as David describes how people will be blessed if they have the kind of ruler God described…


And he shall be like the light of the morning when the sun rises,
A morning without clouds,
Like the tender grass springing out of the earth,
By clear shining after rain.’

David compares the rule of a righteous king to two things: the benefits of sunlight and the fertilizing effects of rain. The idea is as sunlight and rain help grass grow, so also the righteous rule of a king causes his people to flourish.

For most conservative Christians, not only do they feel like they don’t have a president that meets those qualifications, they probably feel like they didn’t even have a candidate to vote for that met those qualifications. This will remain the case and here’s why: no human ruler will meet God’s expectation. Look at David’s next words…

5a “Although my house is not so with God.

This was very, very humble of David. He isn’t saying he didn’t live up to the standard set by God – which of course he didn’t – he’s saying [his entire] house didn’t live up to that standard and if you’re familiar with 2 Samuel you know why he’d say this. Following David’s sins with Bathsheba and Uriah, his house was plagued with murder, rebellion, and betrayal from his own children. It’s actually had to imagine another king’s house facing as many problems as David’s house.

Here’s the really interesting thing though: David failed to live up to God’s standard, and he WAS THE STANDARD for all other kings. Throughout 1 and 2 Kings, every ruler is compared to David and receives a passing grade if he’s like David and a failing grade if he’s not like David. If David was the very best, and he recognized he failed, do we really think anyone else will be close? That means we’ll never have a candidate we can look at and say, “He is just and he will rule in the fear of God (v. 3). He’ll probably be our savior!”

So does this mean there will never be a just king that rules in the fear of God? Fortunately, no that’s not what it means. There’s another King coming that will be God’s ideal King. He will meet God’s perfect standard and that’s Jesus. These verses ultimately have their fulfillment in Him. We should fulfill our civic duty and vote for the individual that most resembles God’s ideal ruler, but we need to keep something else in mind. Nobody will be God’s ideal ruler until Jesus Christ returns and reigns. He will rule in righteousness and justice.

In my next blog we’ll consider what all this has to do with God’s sovereignty.

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The Election & God's Sovereignty – Part I

Four years ago when President Obama was first elected, people were using the word “savior.” Attaching that word to a man makes me cringe. Four years later something bittersweet has happened…

The bitterness is our nation isn’t much better – or some would argue, not at all better – than it was four years ago: still wars, still high unemployment, still high deficits, and the list could go on.

The sweetness is hopefully some people have learned not to put their faith in man.

When the Assyrians were attacking the Jews, the Jews were tempted to put their faith and trust in Egypt and the Assyrians said, “Why are you trusting in Egypt? They’re like a broken staff that if you lean on will snap and cut into your hand. That’s what Pharaoh’s going to be like for all who trust in him.”  (Isa 36:6). The Assyrians were ungodly pagans, but they hit a homerun with this statement. What they said to the Jews about Egypt and Pharaoh is exactly what should be said to people who put their faith in Obama or any man for that matter.

This isn’t supposed to be a criticism of Obama that implies someone else would’ve fixed all our problems. David’s last words are contained in 2 Samuel 23:1-7. In verse 3 he describes God ideal ruler, and interestingly even though you might expect a lengthy description, there are only two qualifications…


3b ‘He who rules over men must be just,

This is the first quality for ideal rulers: they must be just, which means lawful or righteous. Of the 206 times it’s used, 162 times it’s translated as righteous and 42 times it’s translated as just.


3c Ruling in the fear of God.

Here’s the second quality to look for in rulers: they rule in the fear of God. It doesn’t just say they fear God, it says they rule in the fear of God, which means when they rule, their decisions are motivated by a fear of God. They have that constant awareness that someday they’re going to stand before Him and give an account of their leadership.

Contained in these words is the idea they don’t fear man. You can’t do both. They’re mutually exclusive. If you fear God, you don’t fear man. If you fear man, you don’t fear God. It’s a fear of man that makes rulers withhold justice, but a fear of God motivates them to do what’s right.

I thought this was fitting consider we just elected a new president. I would say instead of looking for these to qualities, most people’s votes are guided by:

  • Who will do the most for me?
  • Who will give me the most?
  • Some people might be guided by nobler questions like:
    • Who’s going to improve the economy?
    • Who’s going to create jobs?
    • Who’s going to end wars?

But when we vote, whether it’s for the president, the governor, the mayor or any other office, our votes should be guided by two questions:

  1. Which candidate is just?
  2. Which candidate will rule in the fear of God?

We’ll continue these thoughts in my next blog…

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Did God send or allow Saul’s tormenting spirit?

1 Samuel 16:14 But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the LORD troubled him.

The struggle isn’t with a distressing spirit “troubling” Saul, but that the verse says it’s “from the LORD.” We feel comfortable with God allowing something bad to happen, but we don’t like to think of God causing something bad to happen.

Is there much difference between God allowing something

 

The first question that comes to mind for me is, “What difference is there between God allowing something or doing something?” As asked earlier, if God could stop something but didn’t, is there really any difference?

Applying it to our lives, if I knew a building was about to explode and I could disarm the bomb saving all the people, but chose not to, would I be any less culpable than the person who planted the explosive? Personally, I don’t really think so, and if we use the biblical example of the man who suffered more than anyone else possibly in history, I think we have biblical support that this is the case…

Even though Satan was the one afflicting Job, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Job essentially recognized God’s hand in his testing and it’s evident in verses like these:

  • In Job 1:21 he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.”
  • In Job 13:15 he said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”

Both of these verses show that Job recognized God as the One “taking away” and “slaying him.”

 

These are by no means the only verses dealing with God’s sovereignty over affliction and calamity:

  • Isa 45:7 I form the light and create darkness,
    I make peace and create calamity;
    I, the LORD, do all these things.
  • Lam 3:38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
    That woe and well-being proceed?
  • Micah 1:12 For the inhabitant of Maroth pined for good,
    But disaster came down from the LORD
    To the gate of Jerusalem.
  • Amos 3:6 If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people be afraid?
    If there is calamity in a city, will not the LORD have done it?

 

One additional problem for me with painting God as being passive, or passively allowing things to happen is that…it paints God as being passive! The Bible never represents God as being passive. The Bible presents God as completely sovereign. By definition, God’s sovereignty means He isn’t passive. If He were passive, He wouldn’t be sovereign.

 

Here’s an interesting example from Scripture, contrasting two verses describing the same event. One verse is from 2 Samuel and the other verse is from 1 Chronicles:

  • 2 Sam 24:1 Again the anger of the LORD was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”
  • 1 Chr 21:1 Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel.

 

One verse says God moved David to number Israel and the other verse says Satan moved David to number Israel? What are we to make of that? If we understand God’s sovereignty, that He is ultimately behind everything that happens, then we can even understand, how in a way that might not be comfortable for us, even Satan serves God’s purposes. Whether we like it or are comfortable with it, Satan furthers God’s plans.

 

If that isn’t comfortable for you, think about this: What if Satan did NOT further God’s plans? What would that mean? That would mean that Satan could thwart or compromise God’s plans. That would mean God can’t control Satan. That would mean Satan poses a threat to God and His will. Now THAT is an uncomfortable thought!

 

Here are a few biblical examples:

 

We know it was God’s will for Jesus to die on the cross. Who was one of the most instrumental people in that taking place? Judas. Look at these verses from Luke 22:

3 Then Satan entered Judas, surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve. 4 So he went his way and conferred with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray Him to them. 5 And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. 6 So he promised and sought opportunity to betray Him to them in the absence of the multitude.

 

Satan indwelt Judas who then went and betrayed Jesus. Satan used Judas to betray Jesus (as a note, this does not remove Judas’ responsibility or punishment for his actions). We know it was God’s will for Jesus to be crucified and Judas’ betrayal was a crucial aspect of that taking place. In other words, simply put, Judas/Satan was very instrumental in accomplishing God’s will.

 

When Jesus was before Pontius Pilate, another terribly ungodly man who was instrumental in Jesus’ crucifixion, John 19:10 and 11 record: “10 Then Pilate said to Him [Jesus], “Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?”
11 Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.”

 

Jesus clearly let Pilate know that as wicked and terrible as his actions looked, God was the One who was sovereignly directing the course of events. Now, isn’t that actually comforting? The alternative is that man was responsible for crucifying Jesus, and He and the Father were unwitting, powerless bystanders, watching these events unfold apart from their wishes, unable to prevent the impending death.

 

When Peter spoke to the crowd at Pentecost in Acts 2 he said, 22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— 23 Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;

 

Peter makes it clear that Jesus was “delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God” to be “put to death.”

 

When Adam and Eve sinned, their responsibility in sinning wasn’t removed any more than Judas’ and Pilate’s responsibilities for their actions were removed; however, to say their sin wasn’t part of God’s plan is to deny the clear teaching of Scripture. Revelation 13:8 says Jesus is the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” What does that mean? It means before the foundations of the earth had ever been lain, God had already determined to crucify Christ, and since God’s will is so sure to come to past, to say that God has determined to crucify Christ is to be able to speak of Him as crucified even before the crucifixion has taken place.

 

God crucified Jesus to take the punishment our sins deserved, and it was at the fall, through Adam’s actions that sin was introduced into the world. Satan was the one who deceived Eve who gave to Adam, who brought sin into creation, starting the chain of events that would lead to Jesus’ crucifixion. In that sense, Satan was initiating God’s redemptive plan. The alternative is to believe God had to sit back helplessly, and perhaps even surprised, as these events unfolded.

 

The point is that to say Satan moved David or God moved David is to say the same thing since His allowance of a situation doesn’t remove His sovereignty from it.

 

Although this might sound unsettling, it should ultimately be comforting, because how much confidence could we have in God if we thought He was only sovereign over the good, but somehow couldn’t control or prevent the “bad”?

 

If someone I loved was in a terrible accident and might die, would it comfort me to think God might want to save the person, but be unable to do so? The comfort would be in knowing He could save the person.

 

Whether comforting or unsettling, for God’s divine purposes, He sent this demonic spirit that tormented Saul. The rest of the chapter reveals much of the good this “bad” event brought:

  1. First, God used this to establish David’s throne, in that this is how David was brought into Saul’s life, because even though David had been anointed as the next king, it still leaves the question, “As a shepherd boy, and the youngest of eight sons, how is he actually going to become the next king?” God begins answering that question here.
  2. Second, for the first time David is now in a royal court, beginning to learn the customs and manners he would need to be king.
  3. Third, and by far the most important reason: this is all going to do a tremendous work in David’s life. Bringing David into Saul’s presence was going to provide David with a living warning about the danger of disobeying God. Looking at Saul every day in his afflicted state would serve as a tremendous object lesson to David of the need to obey God. And ultimately, all of this is recorded to serve as the exact same warning in our lives.

 

 

 


1 http://enduringword.com/commentaries/0916.htm