Are You An Alien?

Did you know that the Bible teaches about aliens? No, we’re talking about men from Mars, nor about immigrating from another country, nor about Lady Gaga. Instead I’m talking about what Peter said, “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11 ); we’re talking about you and me—if you’re a Christian. We’re talking about feeling at home—or not.

When you’re at home, you’re comfortable, feel loved and accepted, and that things are as they should be. When you’re an alien, on the other hand, you aren’t especially comfortable; the culture seems strange and sometimes even hostile; and we aren’t entirely sure that we’re really accepted.

So, do you feel at home in this world—or alien?

How comfortable are you with today’s sexual standards? Living together without marriage has become very common and in many cases, expected. Homosexuality seems to be practiced commonly, so that there’s not even a hint of blushing even among our politicians and religious leaders. Adultery has become such a comfortable practice that we’ve lost outrage about it. It may be worth a moment to stop and evaluate our hearts in comparison with the Bible’s teachings: “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity… because these are improper for God’s holy people” (Ephesians 5:3, NIV). Are we at home here, or are we aliens.

How comfortable are you with today’s family values and standards? Are you embarrassed to voice support of or practice of traditional marriage, of the father being the head of his house, of the wife submitting to her husband, of children obeying their parents, of the appropriate disciplining of children, or of the tragedy of divorce? Do we need to reflect a moment or two on where we’ve been led in belief and practice (especially in view of Ephesians 5:22—6:4)? Are we at home here or are we aliens?

How comfortable have you become with modern language? If you’re over the age of 30, you are surely aware of the large number of words that used to be considered inappropriate, which are now used without hesitation. Vulgar references to bodily functions, vulgar references to body parts, and profane usage of God’s and His Son’s names are no cause for blushing anymore. Gossip, bitterness, and hyper-criticism have likewise become commonplace and even “delicious”. The inspired apostle Paul taught, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29, NIV). Do we need to stop, evaluate, and consider what words we’ve allowed ourselves to become accustomed to?

And what do you feel comfortable about watching these days? Granted, these days inappropriate entertainment can be found in surprising places—entertainment that would have had “X” ratings just a few years ago, but now is considered mainstream. Think of the TV situations that people were in (in bed), the subjects the talk shows discussed, or the jokes the comedians told (and you laughed at). Remember, the Scripture teaches us, “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8, NIV). There is truth in the statement, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

We cannot completely escape exposure to many of these things; but we can be aliens to them. We can stand against worldly sexual morals, refuse modern family standards, spurn unwholesome language, and decline polluted entertainments. We are citizens of God’s kingdom (Php. 3:20). Are we acting like it?

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Going from “No” to “Grow”

Titus 2:11, 12 “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age,”

Over 20 years ago Nancy Reagan rather famously responded to a question about what she would say to today’s teenagers to help them stay away from drugs. She said, “Just say no.” Some criticized her, of course, for a simplistic answer to a difficult problem; but actually that’s not a bad start in reference to any sin problem. But you need more than just “no” ; you also need “grows. Let me offer a few “grows” to help us overcome against the temptations we face as Christians.

Don’t say “yes” the first time. This advice would be primarily for young people who still haven’t said yes to some very dangerous things. Young people, you’re going to face some really alluring temptations in your life: sex, drugs, drink, gambling, and much more. And when Satan throws these temptations your way, he’ll usually also throw in, “Go ahead, just once. What will it hurt?” In a word, “Plenty.” Just once sometimes leads to pregnancy, death by drugs, or someone killed from drunk driving. But even more than this, ask any adult in the congregation (ANY adult), doing something just once is the doorway to doing it again and again. Temptations are far less powerful, if you never say yes the first time and give it the chance to get its claw into you. It is a preemptive strike” and enormous advantage “against sin.

Cultivate good thoughts. Jesus taught us, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders” (Matt. 15:19). We are told in Scripture that we need to think differently than the world (Rom. 12:2 & Php. 4:8). Your thought-life is terribly important, if you are really serious about overcoming temptations and difficulties in your life. Our thoughts are the origins of our sins or our righteousness. Feed our minds with goodness, and our words and actions will be good. Feed our minds with greed, lust, contempt, and jealousy, and our words and deeds will result in sin. We can change the “channel” of our thoughts and change the course of our lives.

Cultivate good substitutes. Paul taught, “that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Ephesians 4:22-24). So much sin is a matter of habit that needs to be replaced to be overcome. This takes a little forethought, but it is really effective. Find better words than the coarse ones, when things don’t go so well. Find better ways to spend spare time than ways that are worldly and spiritually harmful. Find better ways to solve problems with spouse or children or neighbors than harsh words, angry tempers, or cold shoulders.

Cultivate good associates. Paul taught, Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Because we are social creatures, we are often influenced for good or ill by those that we spend the most time with—family, friends, neighbors. Don’t let them lead you away from God. And by the way, be aware of another influential associate, our TVs. Are they good or bad influences? And this is the very reason why spending time with Christian friends is so crucial!

Lastly, cultivate good motivations. Want a decent “motivations” list for doing right? Staying out of Hell. It’s good for me here and now! Faithful obedience leads to Heaven. Love for the Savior. Thankfulness for all that we have received. Appreciation for the new “clean slate” that we’ve been given. Understanding the seriousness of the covenant that we’ve been given. Or understanding the full impact of what Paul said, “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15).

Do more than just say “No”, “grow”.

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Are You Fully Redeemed?

The story of Zaccheus is found in Luke 19:1-9. He was a rich tax collector, but he was also short; so he climbed a tree to see the Lord passing by. Jesus called him and invited Himself to Zaccheus’ house, a privilege he was overjoyed to receive. In his joy, Zaccheus volunteered to give to the poor half of his possessions and repay anyone he might have defrauded four times as much as he had taken. In response, Jesus remarked, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham” Luke 19:9. For Zaccheus, salvation and redemption weren’t just his personal condition; he made everything in his possession “redeemed”, too.

Everyone who is a Christian has had the Zaccheus moment, when salvation came to us. We were redeemed: forgiven, given a home in Heaven, and given a new kind of life. It just makes us want to stand up and cheer—maybe like Zaccheus. But did we stop at personal redemption? As with Zaccheus, there’s more to our redemption.

There’s the redemption of our stuff: money, possessions, homes, cars, food, etc. Can stuff really be redeemed? It’s interesting how Romans 8:19-21 talks of the whole created universe longing for redemption, isn’t it? And if the whole creation wants to be redeemed, perhaps your stuff would like to go from being used for ordinary, sometimes sinful, purposes to being used for God’s purposes. Your contribution is redeemed stuff. Giving a ride to those in need is redeeming the car. Your home used for Christian hospitality makes it a redeemed home. Food provided for the hungry and clothes for the needy are all ways of redeeming our stuff. Grow beyond personal redemption, redeem your stuff, too.

Have you ever thought about redeeming your time? Paul wrote to the Ephesians that they should be “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16, KJV). The book of Ecclesiastes has a lot to say about the time that we waste on things that won’t last (“vanity of vanities, all is vanity!”); but it concludes with what gives meaning to our lives, “fear God and keep His commandments” (Eccl. 12:13). While there are things that we ordinarily do that are truly important to sustain ourselves and meet the needs of our families, do I really need to list the many ways that tend to just “kill” time? Instead of killing time, let’s redeem it. Let’s use it to promote the Gospel, help those in need, encourage the church, and “…store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal” (Matthew 6:20). Grow beyond personal redemption and redeem your time, too.

And let’s also redeem our talents and opportunities. Moses had been trained in leadership in the palace of the Pharaoh, but by Exodus 3, he was content with using all that talent as a shepherd in the  middle of the wilderness. Esther had been elevated to queen of Persia, but when the chance to rescue her people first presented itself to her, she wanted to pass on it. The apostle Paul in Romans 12:6-8 encourages the Christian in Rome (and everywhere) to use the talents and opportunities the Lord gives to us with our whole heart and at full capacity in His service—redeem the talents and opportunities.

Full redemption is about more than a saved soul. It is also about living a redeemed life, using our stuff in redeemed ways, spending our time in redeemed hours, and engaging our skills, talents, and opportunities with redemption in mind. Live a fully redeemed life!

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Embrace the Blessings

Would you agree with this statement: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments…” Most Bible students would quickly agree, I suspect. But what if we quoted the rest of the verse: “…and His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3)? Perhaps, the second part would draw out the more skeptical side of many. Yeah, I get it.

When I was a freshman in college I had an interest in philosophy, deep thoughts, and logical thinking; so, I took a couple of courses in philosophy. Somewhere in his opening remarks my first professor made a statement that I had never thought about before, “Philosophy is always about living a happy life.” The more I read, the more I thought, the more I saw that he was right. From Plato to the most contemporary philosophers, their deep thoughts were all about ways of thinking and acting that would lead to a better, happier life. No, we’re not saying that all philosophers are “party-ers” at heart. What I am saying is that even thoughtful pagans and atheists realize that the short-term happiness of sensuality, drunkenness, lack of self-discipline, laziness, and irresponsibility unerringly resulted in longer-term unhappiness, dishonor, and emptiness. So, although pagan philosophers weren’t guided by divine morality (the gods sinned as much as humans), it was philosophers that taught men to be good as a road to long-term happiness, honor, and fulfillment.

But it wasn’t necessary among God’s people, because they had something better—much better. They had a caring God, who gave them commands that would astonish the philosophers and be the envy of the entire world. In a revealing passage in Deuteronomy 4:5-8 Moses tells Israel,

“See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”

Here’s a tragically overlooked facet of God’s commands laid out before us. God’s commands are a blessing! They are not burdensome. Indeed, it is the sins that we commit that become burdensome and curse our lives.

Let me illustrate with the very first story of mankind in the Bible, the story of Adam and Eve. God had created and laid before Adam and Eve a world of blessings even greater than the beautiful world in which we now live. God put them in the Garden of Eden, a world full of blessing. But the Garden He also placed the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, their only choice for disobedience. God told them that they would die, if they ate from it; but Adam and Eve ate from it anyway, apparently thinking that God’s warning was a bluff. Thus, we now live with death and the others curses carried into the world by their disobedience. Instead of embracing the blessings of obedience, the first man and woman chose the curses.

As with Adam and Eve, so with us; when we embrace God’s commands, we embrace blessings for our lives. As we embrace sinful deeds, words, and attitudes, we embrace trouble, curses, and destruction for ourselves.

Think about it with me just a moment:

  • When obeyed, God’s laws about marriage brings personal happiness, love, emotional stability, economic stability, fulfillment, real satisfaction, the best chance for well-adjusted children, and (on the societal scale) societal stability.
  • God’s law on children obeying their parents, when observed, gives children (from infancy to adulthood) the benefit of wisdom, experience, skills, and mistakes. It will be the difference between success vs. trouble and heartache and long-term happiness.
  • God’s law on sexual morality, when followed, gives appropriate structure and parameters to a very powerful appetite, gives stability and security to marriages and homes, avoids diseases, avoids powerful emotional damage and distress, dodges watering down your marriage bond, and stops perversions before they can get started.
  • When we observe God’s law on turning the other cheek we find peace more often, we avoid the violence that begets more revenge and more violence, and we don’t bear the  grudges that hurt the grudge holder more than it hurts the the one against whom the grudge is held.
  • God’s law on forgiveness, when observed, kills grudges, brings family healing, reconciles friends, and is the foundation for peace and love.
  • God’s law on using our tongues correctly, when carried out, avoid the curses of hurt feelings, fights, and the general evil that the tongue engenders. And it gives blessing upon blessing, when we use our tongues well.
  • God’s law on worry (that is, “Don’t”), when followed, avoids disease, ulceration, and unhappiness.
  • God’s law on humility, when carried out, avoids pride, arrogance, and bragging, which breeds a world of hateful things and curses from others who resent the pride. Humility, on the other hand, blesses with appreciation and uplift of others.
  • God’s law on cooperation and service, when submitted to, builds love, accomplishes more than any one person could, and breeds social ties like nothing else.
  • God’s law on self-control and self-indulgence, when followed, provides the gatekeeper of so many blessings and curses, making a major difference in one’s life and success.
  • God’s law on drunkenness and drugs, when observed, saves from broken homes, broken lives, broken health, broken minds, and broken souls.
  • God’s law on patience, when done as God has commanded, succeeds when others have quit, shows mercy to those who’ve had difficulty, and reflects one of the things we are most grateful to God about.
  • God’s law on courage, when obeyed, yields honor, success, and a good conscience about standing for the truth.

And the list could go on about truth, honesty, integrity, love, kindness, and gentleness. And that’s not even to speak of the blessings accompanying religious commands about church attendance, singing in worship, prayer, giving, thanksgiving, worshipping, Scripture reading, fellowship, and involvement—all of which are blessings to our spiritual lives.

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Don’t Forget to Tell the Kids

Has it ever occurred to you that maybe Santa Claus gets more notice and prominence than Jesus at Christmas time? That the gifts under the Christmas tree get more attention than God’s gift of His Son, which is what the holiday is supposed to be about? Do you think I’m exaggerating? Ask any kid under the age of 8; they will almost all tell you that Christmas is about Santa, gifts, family, and pretty lights. Those things are great, of course (I love them myself), but how did the greatest news the world has ever heard get bumped from the “lead story of all time” to a mere footnote? How did our values get so upside down?

My hunch about “how?” is that parents themselves have gotten so entangled in the hustle and bustle of gift giving, holiday parties, tree trimming, house decorating, and family gathering that the “reason for the season” just drops off their radar. And when it drops off mom’s and dad’s radar, it doesn’t get passed on to the kids—and it becomes all about Santa etc.

Now, of course, celebrating Christmas is not a Biblical command; it’s a tradition that is optional (see Romans 14:5) depending on each man’s conscience. But if you are going to celebrate, let me encourage you to not forget to tell the kids (and remind yourself, too) of the priceless gift of a “Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (see Matthew 2:11), and why He is so very important to us all.

So enjoy the tree, the gifts, Santa, the parties, the family feasts, and all the rest—I will. But don’t forget the “reason for the season”, Jesus the Christ, God’s Son, Savior, the Lamb, and our Hope of eternal life. It’s really the best part—and don’t forget to tell the kids.

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Are You a Gambler?

OK, on the surface of it, it may sound like I’m asking for a confession of sin or something, But in this post I’m actually encouraging you to gamble—just, not the way that you may think. I’m encouraging you to gamble God’s way.

In Philippians 2:30 Paul speaks of a dear friend from Philippi, Epaphroditus. His name may not roll off the English tongue with ease, but he was a major encouragement to Paul in prison. Epaphroditus had been the messenger of a letter and gift from the church in Philippi, while Paul was in a Roman prison. And in Philippians 2:30 Epaphroditus was the carrier of the letter from a grateful Paul to the Philippian church. Paul was full of praise and thanks for all that Epaphroditus had done for him—especially since it was a great risk.

Rome like any big city of that time was fraught with danger not only from big city crime, but also sickness in a world without aspirin or antibiotics. And Epaphroditus had indeed fallen ill, almost dying, during his visit to Paul. So, Paul praises Epaphroditus as one who had “risked his life” (v.30) to complete the Philippian church’s service to him. The word for risk here is the word “to gamble” (parabolano). Later, in early Christianity, there were Christians who visited the sick and those in prisons who were called the “parabolani“—the gamblers.

Indeed, risk is an integral part of the definition of faith in God. Faithful men and women of God step off into “thin air” without visible “safety nets”, only the commands and promises of God. Think of…

  • Noah, who built an ark and preached repentance to a mocking world that was soon to drown in the great flood. Risk
  • Abraham, who left home and family to follow God to a land that God would show him on the basis that God would make of him and Sarah a great nation (in their 70’s). Risk.
  • Moses, who as a fugitive from Egyptian justice, upon command of God, returned to Egypt and had the audacity to demand that the powerful Egyptian Pharaoh to obey the command of the God of the Israelite slaves to “Let My people go.” Risk.
  • Joshua and Caleb, who urged Israel to start the conquest despite the walled cities and the giant in Canaan. Risk.
  • Gideon, who was commanded to attack a Midianite army of over 120,000 with 300 and did. Risk.
  • David, who as a youth took up the challenge of a 9’6″ giant with a sling and 5 stones, because he had taunted to armies of the living God. Risk.
  • Peter, who not only spoke up and asked to walk on water, but then stepped out of the boat to do it. Risk.

Faith is always more than just an opinion, it is action, the life that we live. Faith speaks up, when it is safer to be silent; faith goes, when it would be more secure to stay; and faith stands alone with God and truth, when it would be “wiser” to stand with the crowd.

Let me encourage you to…

  • Risk by being generous with money, time, and skills for the Kingdom
  • Risk by mentioning Jesus name and His saving message
  • Risk by doing good toward an enemy
  • Risk by “doing family” God’s way
  • Risk by being an honest business man or woman
  • Risk forgiveness
  • Risk serving others in sickness or risky places
  • Risk by doing mission work

There are risks, of course, that you should never take. Never risk your soul by failing to obey the Lord in the matter of baptism. Never risk your soul on a man-made doctrine. And, of course, never gamble in a casino.

But do live the life of faith, that steps out onto the water, when the Lord says, “Come.”

Epaphroditus risked his life to serve. What are you willing to risk?

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The Organization of the Lord’s Church

It shouldn’t surprise the Bible student that the Lord has given a pattern for the church. In the construction of both the Tabernacle in the wilderness (Exodus 25-31) and the Temple in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 28:11,12,19) patterns were given by God. And so also in the New Testament Temple (the church, Ephesians 2:20-22 & 1 Corinthians 3:16) a pattern has been given:

  • for entrance (e.g., Romans 6;17 & Acts 2:47),
  • for worship (e.g., 1 Corinthians 14:1-33),
  • for mission (e.g., Mark 16:15,16),
  • for holiness (e.g., 1 Peter 1:15,16),
  • for unity (e.g., Ephesians 4:1-6 & 1 Corinthians 3:16,17), and
  • for leadership and organization (e.g., Ephesians 4:7-16).

And part of that pattern of leadership and organization includes the establishment of elders (e.g., Titus 1:5 & Acts 14:22-23).

Some churches follow the Biblical pattern for church organization, others don’t. We might categorize how men organize churches in four different ways.

Scripturally organized—As Paul sat in prison for his faith, he was determined that his mission of planting and nurturing churches not be stopped, he wrote instructions for both Timothy and Titus about how to encourage and organize new gatherings of disciples into functional churches. These instructions included the appointment of elders and deacons as part of a pattern of church organization. Churches that follow this pattern are Scripturally organized flocks of believers in Jesus, and this is the Lord’s desire for us.

Scripturally unorganized—Of course, New Testament churches don’t start full grown and mature. As Paul went through southern Turkey and established churches there, they were, for a while, without elders and deacons. As Paul doubled back on his mission route and returned to these new churches, he established elders in every city (Acts 14:22,23). He was able to do this, because he gone first to the local synagogue and was able to convert already Biblically educated, morally upright, and spiritually practiced Jewish men to fill that position. Not every group of believers has that advantage in our age; many smaller churches are without qualified elders for many years. Such churches remain Scripturally unorganized led by the men of the church, often by traditional customs like business meetings. It is not ideal, in the same way that we want our children to mature and grow up, but it remains within the pattern of the New Testament.

Unscripturally organized—Then there are those who have chosen to organize their churches by worldly wisdom. One of the more popular unscriptural organizations is pyramids—pyramids of bishops overseeing thousands of congregations with a human at the top overseeing them all. These pyramids come in a variety of “flavors”, the most famous being centered in Rome. Other unscriptural organization would include women in leadership positions, “open fellowship” leadership, and the appointment of unqualified leaders (see 1 Tim. 3). Such organizations (“churches”?) have clearly added to and departed from the Biblical pattern—unscripturally organized.

Unscripturally unorganized—Then there are churches who give lip service to following the Biblical pattern; but who deliberately neglect the appointment of elders and deacons, when there are qualified men willing to serve. The motivations for this neglect are various; but the end result is an unscripturally unorganized church, a stunted body of Christ, and one disobedient to the will of God. If the church has men who are both qualified and willing to shepherd God’s flock, they should be appointed and followed (see the above scriptures).

God has indeed given us a plan for His New Testament Temple, the church. Let us, as faithful disciples, humbly submit to His will and wisdom, and let us organize His church His way.

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