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And He Himself gave some to be....evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ...
- Ephesians 4:11-12

THIS BLOG HAS MOVED TO www.timeintheword.org

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Location: The Hill Country of Texas

Pastor - Providence Reformed Baptist Church
Director - TIME in the Word Ministries

Friday, September 30, 2005

Pearls before Swine

“Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” - Matthew 7:6

To conclude His remarks about judging, Jesus paints a powerful word picture. Remember, He did not tell us that we shouldn't ever judge at all. He told us not to judge self-righteously, with the thought that we are better and superior and therefore have the right to condemn someone else. But we know from the Scriptures and from Jesus here that we are to discern - to know what is right and wrong, and to have the insight into people's character (or lack thereof) to make a judgment (or decision) about whether or not we should listen to them, associate with them, or continue to witness to them.

Jesus tells us not to give what is holy to the dogs or to cast our pearls before swine. Let me explain what He is saying here - first, dogs in this verse are not household pets. As a matter of fact, in most families today it seems that dogs aren't even pets but members of the family! He is referring to the wild, stray dogs that roamed the wilderness. They would congregate around the city dump looking for food. These were wild animals that were often diseased and if bothered, they would attack people!

Jesus is giving the crowd an idea - and asking a question." Would any of you listening ever think to give something holy to a wild dog?" By this He meant that in the sacrificial system, parts of the animal sacrificed was given to the priest, part of it was kept by the family that offered the sacrifice, and part of it (the best part) was left on the altar for God alone. This was the holy part. Can you imagine the uproar if a person took what even the priest could not have and gave it to a wild, diseased dog? That was God's!!

Jesus also tells us not to cast our pearls before swine. This one is easy to understand - who among us would take the most expensive and precious piece of jewelry they could find and throw it out into the pig pen? At the time Jesus was preaching, the pearl was one of the most rare jewels. And the pig was one of the most "unclean" animals to the Jew. Who would ever think to take their most valued possession and toss it to pigs? And these were wild boars who would just as soon rip a person to pieces with their tusks if they had the chance.

So what is Jesus saying here? I mean, wasn't He just talking about how not to judge with the wrong motive? Didn't He just say to take the blinding beam out of our own eyes so that we could see to help others remove the splinter in theirs? So, where is this going now? Don't take what is holy and precious and throw it out to dogs and pigs? In other words, our responsibility as Believers is to preach the gospel to everyone. We are commanded to take the truth of God wherever we go and share it with anyone we come across. But as we do that we must understand - we are not responsible to "win souls". Only the Holy Spirit can win souls. We are not convert makers, we a truth sowers! Everywhere we are able, spreading the truth of the gospel.

As we do so, we leave the results up to God. He gives the increase! And we are to realize that we are not to judge self-righteously and write people off. We can't judge a person and decide that they don't need the gospel because they wouldn't respond anyway. We can't condemn like that - He just commanded that we not. But at the same time, we must discern. We must make a "judgement call" about what to say and when, and how to say it. And we must understand the character of those with which we deal. To know and admit that someone is a sinner is not the same thing as to judge them. To know that someone needs help is not to look down at them.

Jesus Himself told the disciples that as they were a witness, some would heed their message, others would not. Not every person we talk to will believe what we tell them about Christ. We will, at times, see our witness rejected. And Jesus said that if the gospel was shared and a person was of such evil character that they refused the gospel and fought against the witness - then we are to "shake the dust off our feet." The kind of judging God expects of us is judging when to witness, when to rebuke, when to comfort, and when to quit.

As He leads us there will be times that we have said all we can. And if a person does not heed our warning about the judgement to come and if they reject the good news - there is nothing else we can do! To persist in sharing the truth, that which is holy, and that which we hold as more precious then pearls, that would be just like giving what is God's to a dog and tossing jewelry out to the pigs.

For example, Jesus in Matthew 10:14, tells the disciples, "And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet." In other words, you've done all you can and all I've commanded, so move on. And even Paul, in Acts 18:6, told a group of disbelieving Jews, "Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I shall go to the Gentiles." Paul discerned that his efforts where he was were fruitless and he made a determination - he had done all he could so it was time to move on. If we persist to witness and share truth where truth is not accepted, in time the ones we share with will turn on us and tear us to pieces (verbally or maybe even physically).

It doesn't do any good to continue in a fruitless effort. So when do we stop? That is the judging we are to participate in! We are to judge for ourselves when God is leading us to move on and let them alone. We must judge the time. Is it time to take our efforts to make disciples elsewhere? Just as we are not to hatefully condemn others for their sin, we also are to judge when we have done all we can do, and to realize that any other effort on our part would be as foolish as accessorizing a hog.

Now today, we must admit that we do not cross the line very often as far as offering holy things to dogs. Actually, we are so timid and so infrequent at sharing the truth, that I believe we are in no danger of violating this verse. We must be sharing and witnessing if we are to know when enough is enough. We can't even for a moment think that we should share a "God bless you" once and think that we have been a witness and that to press things any further would violate this principle. NO! In order to understand this principle we must be doing what He says. We must be obedient to witness before we can judge when to stop. If any of you use this as an excuse not to witness ("Oh, I don't want to cast pearl before swine because they hate God anyway!"), God will send His Spirit to convict you of the truth you have heard here. And I won't be responsible for the Father/child talk that ensues!!!

Be faithful to witness. Don't judge others. Inspect the fruit. And trust Him today for every provision!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Speck and Plank (part 2)

“Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.” - Matthew 7:5

To judge hatefully and make assumptions and condemnations with the motive of pride and self righteousness is sin. We have seen that the technical aspect of these verses proves that the motive of our heart will indeed be the determining factor in God's response to our behavior towards others. We have also seen the practical side, that if we go as far as to judge others for their sin but refuse to see our own sin, then we are indeed blinded by the plank and ignorant concerning how we are influencing others!

Today we will look at the spiritual side to this discussion, and we will see the proper actions that must be taken to heed Jesus teaching. First, notice that if we act as the Pharisees did, if we judge, if we presume that we are qualified to deal with everyone else's sin because we have arrived to spiritual maturity, then He calls us outright a "Hypocrite!" One who says one thing but does another - a play actor who couldn't be real if his life depended on it!

Secondly, notice that he never says that we are to leave the speck in our brother's eye alone! The sin is not in the attempt to help remove the speck - the sin is when we attempt to do just that with the wrong attitude and motive! We must take steps to be sure that the sin in our lives (the plank) has been removed and that we can see clearly!

When we sin, we must confess that sin - give it to God and let Him have it. Leave it with Him! Mourn over our sin - realize our spiritual bankruptcy without Christ! After we have removed any plank that is in our eye, then we can humbly and lovingly help others to be freed from the bothers of sin they encounter. Galatians 6:1 tells us that if a brother (a member of the body of Christ) is overtaken in a sin, then we should help restore that person to a standing before God with a clear conscience. So we can identify sin in someone's life - that is not judging! Judging once again, is the attitude that we are better and therefore qualified to rule over people and to condemn them for actions or attitudes when we can't even see their heart, their motives, or their relationship with God.

But as we recognize sin in ourselves and deal with it we are to help others do the same - we are to as lovingly as possible walk along side and help other Christians bear their burdens! Coming along side as an equal, as a fellow sinner, and helping each other deal with sin and its effects in our lives - that is proper "judgment."

Paul tells us and Timothy that all Scripture is God breathed (inspired) and good for "doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness." We are told that God's Word will help us in these areas ourselves and it will equip us to help others! Doctrine (what we believe) must come from the Bible - and we are commanded to refute false doctrine and false teaching. Reproof is the rebuke of wrong behavior or belief. Hebrews 4:12-13 tells us that God's Word is the tool that exposes these wrong items in our lives. Correction is a term that is simple to understand, it means "restoring something to its proper condition." You see, discipline and correction are not punishment! God doesn't punish the believer (Christ was punished on the cross). Instead, God corrects, to train us and teach us. The Word is the tool that He uses for correction. And lastly, the Word is used for instruction in righteousness. It teaches us how to be right with God.

We are to use the Word in our lives to root out and reveal hidden sin (and maybe sin that is not so hidden)! We are also to use it to encourage others to do the same. In love, we are expected to HELP each other live up to God's standards for us! We do this first by having the proper attitude, not like the hypocrites who judged in pride, but an attitude of service to each other as a body!

Have you noticed that some people hear but they don't listen! Or they look but never quite see! A Christian that refuses to help a fellow believer because he thinks that to do so would be judging - that is the person who has heard the Word, but wasn't listening! They look at truth, but they can't seem to see anything to make sense of or to apply and obey! Watch out for each other, remembering that we are slaves to Christ and servants to each other.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Speck and Plank (part 1)

“And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye?” - Matthew 7:3-4

Jesus now teaches us more about the true motive behind judging others. We have seen that the motive is pride and our pride usually manifests itself in the form of self-righteousness. Whenever we think that we are okay - that we possess what it takes to serve God - when we falsely believe that we are righteous on our own, these are the signs of pride and specifically of self-righteousness.

He teaches us here about the speck and plank. The speck can also be translated as the splinter, or a small piece of straw. The plank is also a way to say log or support beam. He asks why we look so intently at the small speck in our brother's eye and ignore the plank sticking out of our own! We will examine this at length in the next few days, but today I want to set the stage by looking at what is actually happening here. In order to fully grasp Jesus' meaning here, we are going to take the sentence apart grammatically. Remember the subject and predicate? The subject of His sentence is "you". The verbs are "look" and "consider." And He is asking a question, "Why?" So to dig in, Jesus is asking a basic question - "why do you look and consider?"

Well to answer that we must fill in the adjectives - the things we are looking at and considering. "Why do you look at the speck" and "why do you not consider the plank?" The focus of the discussion is on us!

Why do we insist on judging others? Why do we focus on the speck in our friends eye while we completely miss that we have a plank sticking out of ours?
So what's the point? I'm glad you asked. There is a much deeper point to be made here than a lesson about eye irritations. You see, a speck in our eye is painful, but really it is only a small irritation. If on the other hand we had a telephone pole sticking out of our eye socket we would most definitely be blinded.

Jesus is teaching us that when we judge others we are missing the plank that blinds us while trying to investigate the speck that simply irritates our neighbor. I call it the discussion between the bothersome and the blinding. How on earth could we ever attempt to pluck a splinter out of someone's eye if we have a beam sticking out of ours?

"Don't Judge," Jesus has said. Because when we judge often we miss the beam of sin and self-righteousness that blinds us to ourselves and our own condition in sin. When we judge, too, we often pick up on the very small, bothersome things that others are doing and want to help them when we are ourselves completely spiritually blind!

So He asks the question before He embarks further on the point - "WHY?" Why would we take the time and invest the energy at removing a small, bothersome speck from someone's eye if in the mean time we were completely blinded by a plank in our own eye? He wants to know! He really does want an answer - this is not a rhetorical question! When we judge others, why is it that we are so picky about their lives and don't even see that the plank of self-righteousness that motivates us to judge is actually a blinding agent in our lives?

He wants to know because we have already been told not to judge others. So no matter how we try to justify it - "Did you hear what so-and-so did, or said?" "Did you know that he acted like that in front of other church members?" Did you see what she was wearing?" - if we are guilty of judging we must examine ourselves to see that our own sin and self reliance isn't blinding us to the truth about ourselves and about others!

Why do we examine others with a powerful magnifying glass and yet look at ourselves through the wrong end of a telescope? Why do we focus on simple annoyances in others' lives and completely miss the things that would render us helpless, powerless, and without sight? How do we manage to obsess about battles other Christians are fighting while we don't even give a thought to the temptations we face and fall to every day?

If you find yourself judging others today - stop and ask why! And ask yourself how that beam of self-righteousness got in your own eye! Then repent and get on with your day. He has much to say to us today – and much to say through us - sow the seed of truth today in a dry, parched world!

We have looked at the technical aspects of what Jesus is teaching. We have also looked at the motive behind judging. Self righteousness leads us to place ourselves above others in such a way that we feel qualified to deal with every sin we can identify in their lives. Now we are going to look at the practical side of this lesson and reveal the characteristics of "splinter pulling."

Jesus asks a question, again, "How can you say?" In other words, how can we possibly find the way to say that we need to remove a splinter out of our brother's eye when we are standing there with a beam in ours? Don't we even notice the huge log sticking out of our eye?

You see, we get so caught up in being "holier than thou" that we do indeed neglect to see our own sin. We are blinded by the plank itself to our own condition. But Jesus has just opened our eyes! Now we know that if we are judging others, then we have at least one beam protruding from our eye - the blinding sin of self righteousness. We also might have other beams right along side it as well.

Now picture this if you can. Imagine walking up to someone you know at church. While you are walking up to them you are totally unaware that a telephone pole is sticking out of your head! Never mind that your eye is blinded and that your head tilts toward the ground - it's okay, you've been stiffening up those old neck muscles. But anyway, as you walk up to this person with this protrusion from your cranium, you happen to catch a glimpse of them blinking funny. Their eyes are watering and they keep complaining about the discomfort they are feeling. You, being a busy body (of course you say you are motivated by care and concern), just have to know what is bothering them - and upon closer inspection you find a small splinter has gotten into their eye. Do you have the picture?

Now imagine you, telephone pole intact, walking over to them to help pull the splinter out of their eye! (The word for remove, by the way, means to violently pull out). Every step you take toward them your telephone pole slams against their head! There you are, all caring and what not, trying to pull out a splinter and beating them half to death with this huge pole in the process - he would have been better off if you had let him get the splinter out himself! Now he has an eye irritation and a bashed head!

Spiritually that is exactly what we do when we judge! We attempt to "help" remove a speck (by force if necessary - "I'm only doing this because I love you; and it hurts me more than it hurts you.")and in the process bludgeon them upside the head with the plank in our own eye. We can't see the plank, much less anything else because of our heart attitude and motive - so now we are trying to remove small specks?

The practical application is this - if we are refusing to see our own sin and self righteousness then how can we possibly see sin in someone else's life? If we are motivated to judge and condemn when a brother sins instead of picking him back up again and helping him find forgiveness and freedom, then indeed we have become blinded and it is we who need the spiritual help. Jesus is asking a simple question - if all we are concerned about is the sin other people commit, then we have the wrong focus! Our focus needs to be on Christ alone. When we see Him then we can see ourselves and the areas of our lives that need work and the sins that need forgiving.

If on the other hand, we live to reprove others, then it is we who need reproving - if we are to be like Christ we must understand that with the woman caught in adultery He did not condone the sin, He forgave; and instead of condemning (or judging) He set an example for us by telling her simply to "go and sin no more." He forgave and loved and encouraged and lifted up - often we tear down and destroy - all in the name of our own self righteousness!

Today, don't go splinter hunting - instead ask the Father to show you things in your own life that need tending!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


"For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you." - Matthew 7:2

At the root of hatefully judging others is the sin of pride – we set ourselves up as superior to others and therefore think we are qualified to pass that judgment! The Pharisees judged the way they did because they actually believed that they had met all the requirements of the Law and were therefore in a position of spiritual superiority and were themselves exempt from such judgment. How could anyone judge a wholly righteous person? (or so they thought).

MacArthur writes, "When we assume the role of final, omniscient judge, we imply that we are qualified to judge - that we know and understand all the facts, all the circumstances, and all the motives involved." As a result we will then be judged by the standard that we claim to have met. In other words, Jesus is teaching that if we are proud enough to proclaim that we can judge because we know it all, then God will judge us by the standard as if we do indeed know it all! And the more you know the more accountable you become! (See James 3:1, and Luke 12:48)

Jesus also tells us that with the measure we use, it will be measured back to us! I think this refers to the positive side of the coin. The negative was about judging and being judged. But here, we can measure good, and generosity. We can measure mercy and compassion. As we measure out these things to others it will be measured out to us by the One who controls it all. This is similar to the principle about forgiveness - when we forgive then our heart is in a position to be forgiven. If on the other hand we hold a grudge we aren't in a spiritual position to accept forgiveness!

A very simple way to remember the truth of this verse is the saying, "What goes around comes around." In the Bible this principle is called the sowing and reaping principle. Whatever we sow (disperse, plant, scatter) we will likewise reap (receive, harvest, gather). If we sow love we will receive peace in return. If we sow anger we will reap conflict. If we sow faith we will reap spiritual growth. If we sow criticism, we will reap scrutiny.

Jesus reinforces the truth of verse 1, do not judge. If you do you should expect to be judged yourself. And if we treat others with pride and contempt, then we will be treated the same by other and by GOD! He sets the standard - that is not our job. He has given us the standards in His Word - if we attempt to set our own standards and make our own rules and set ourselves up as the boss then indeed we have dishonored Him, proclaimed that we have a better Way. We have made ourselves a god unto ourselves in our likeness - and then we will be assured of judgment and consequences. We can either do it His way or ours. And guess which brings peace and which brings punishment?

Today, as we interact with others, remember - He is LORD, He is Boss, He calls the shots - we humbly obey! And the moment pride rears its ugly head we must run to the cross, deny self by means of crucifixion, and seek humility (Luke 9:23). How can we minister to a lost world if we can't even view them as we all are - all of us are sinners - some have just experienced the grace of God. Is the experience of that grace the means to setting ourselves up over those who have not? Does grace make us immune to self-righteousness? Just because we have benefitted from God's grace, does that mean we are thereby "special" to the point that we can look down on others? Grace should never be a motivation for condescention. Grace should motivate us toward humility!

As we have established, pride is at the root of judging. And in the list of the 7 things God hates (a strong word!! HATES), the sin of pride is mentioned twice! Two out of the seven things God abhors the most is the very sin that leads us to judge others. No wonder we are commanded not to judge, because then we set ourselves up for judgement – instead today, let us measure out the things that we want in return! Do unto others!! Minister humility and grace and receive the same!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Judge Not - Matthew 7:1-6


Last week we learned why God commands us not to worry. We looked at the causes of worry and the effects of worry. We know that according to the Word of God, we don’t have to worry! Did you overcome worry in your life last week? I hope you had victory as Christ empowered you by the Holy Spirit.

This week we are going to take a look at another portion of the Sermon on the Mount. We are going to learn what Jesus meant when He told us, “Judge not that you be not judged.” How often do you hear someone say, “Judge not!”? Often throughout the course of every week it makes its way into our conversations. The phrase has become part of the way we talk. If someone is critical you will hear, “Judge not!” If someone makes a statement about right or wrong, there it is again, “Judge not!” We are told that to think of anything or anyone as wrong or sinful is to judge. And they always add, “Jesus said, ‘Judge not!’”

So what did Jesus mean when He commanded that we “Judge Not”? This week we are going to learn the truth about tolerance, judging, and discernment. We are going to learn why we must judge ourselves and strive to become “fruit inspectors” as we fellowship with those around us. What did He mean? What does it mean to judge? Let’s find out!

Judge Not
"Judge not, that you be not judged."
Matthew 7:1

Although this is a short verse it is packed with meaning, and as I have studied it I have come to the conclusion that as often as we hear it quoted people really don't understand what Jesus is saying here.

All the time we hear "Judge not" - we usually hear it when a Christian takes a stand for what is right and declares that something or someone is wrong! “OH - DON'T JUDGE!!” we hear people reply. So what exactly does Jesus mean when He tells us not to judge? We cannot answer that question by appealing to modern circumstances and standards! In today's world the catch phrase of the day is "tolerance." We are all to tolerate others! We are to let everyone do their own thing-don't get in the way, don't set a standard. After all, right is now thought to be wrong and wrong is excused as weakness, disease, mistakes, or choice. It's not wrong if you think it's right!! Whatever is true to you is true the world teaches.

Have you ever noticed that those who cry the loudest for tolerance refuse to tolerate Christians or the Bible or any hint of God?! They tolerate everything and everyone except those who stand for the Truth of God's Word. Indeed, when Jesus says not to judge He is not telling us not to discern, rebuke, confront, examine, or qualify!! He is not saying that we can't make "moral judgments" about the character or integrity or spiritual status of others or ourselves! Jesus is once again contrasting proper living with the lives of the Pharisees. They had become so judgmental of everyone that did not exhibit their brand of godliness and spirituality that they actually looked down on others!(see Luke 18:9-14). Jesus will go on in the verses to come and command us to beware of false teachers! How can we know a false teacher if He means here that we can't make a "judgment call" about the doctrine one espouses? The word for judgment here alludes to the judgment of motives! Who on earth can see and understand the motives of others? Only God sees the heart! Only God can determine if our motives are pure and holy and merciful and just. The Pharisees liked playing God! They were of their father the devil, and his original sin was the pride he possessed in thinking that he could be just like God!

Jesus is forbidding "self righteous, hasty, unmerciful, prejudiced, and unwarranted condemnation based on human standards and human understanding," John MacArthur explains. We as humans are not ever the final court. Even if sanctioned by government by a call to jury duty, we are never the final court or the last say about a matter. All will be judged by Christ one day! That is a position and function reserved for Him alone. We may do the work of society and pass a legal judgment, but God in the end will pass an eternal, spiritual judgment - and His decision will either be eternal death or eternal life based on His eternal decree according to His own will and good pleasure. From our perspective, the judgment we will receive is based upon what we have done with Jesus!

We are commanded in the Scriptures to be discerning, to make decisions about others based on their doctrine, practice, lifestyle, and the presence or absence of spiritual fruit in their lives! We are not to maliciously condemn others when we don't have any way of understanding their motives. A friend of mine once said that we are not judge and jury when it comes to the attitudes and actions of others - but we are told that we can be fruit inspectors! We are expected to look for fruit, to look for truth, to examine ourselves (a primary purpose of the Lord's Supper - 1 Cor. 11:27-29), and to examine others to see if we and they are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5).

In these days where everyone overreacts to those who would stand up for the truth and make moral decisions about the right and wrong being committed by our fellow men and our society, we must realize that the only thing God won't tolerate is sin! Should we be any different? If we are walking in the Spirit, motivated by love, then we won't judge! To judge is to assume we can read other people's minds and see their hearts and motives. We aren't God - We can't rule about someone's heart and then condemn them - but we can and are expected to make decisions about right and wrong!

We are told not to judge or we will be judged! The judgment that happens to the "judger" is simply explained. If we seek to condemn and hatefully judge others, then that proves that our heart is evil and that we ourselves are in danger of judgment for sin. If we continually make condemning statements about others and if we constantly seek to pass sentence on others based on our own standards and personal "holiness", then we really do need to examine ourselves (Galatians 6:4) to see if we are in the faith - because those walking in the Spirit and obedient to our LORD will not think like that! So, the next time you are tempted to really judge someone else - don't - that is not what Christ would have you do! And if you ever hear someone use this verse to condemn a stand for truth, you might consider sharing that for them to say "don't judge" is in fact them judging! You see, they don't know motives or read minds - so if they assume that someone is judging, actually, they have made a decision to judge based on their own standards of right and wrong! Just as those who say Christians are intolerant are actually being intolerant of Christians!

Above all today, learn to listen to the Word of God, as the Holy Spirit uses it to search your heart and your motives. God alone is judge because He alone is holy and just. And don't make condemning judgments about others, you haven't seen their heart!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Phillip's Phunnies

Time for our usual Saturday comics.....

My favorite comic strip since early in life has been Peanuts created by Charles M. Schulz. The older I get the more I appreciate his work. The insight to human nature, the imagination, the humor, the theology - I love it all! While Snoopy is my favorite character, my wife will tell you that I am most like Linus. She is most like Sally and does occassionally refer to me as her "Sweet Baboo."

Here is a link to a strip that shows us Linus in his early years as an apologist!

Bible Trivia

Now for a few more Phunnies:

My friend Dustin (The Once Dead Poet) recently told me a joke about a man who went to the barber for a hair cut and shave. Afterwards he thought to himself that he had never had such a good shave before so he started going back to this barber for his daily shave.

One day however, the barber was not available but his daughter was there and assured him that she could shave just as well if not better than her father. So he agreed, with some reluctance, to allow the barber's daughter to shave him.

He noticed something strange the next day. He had no stubble. No whiskers. Not even a 5 o'clock shadow. In fact, several days past and he still did not need a shave!

He was perplexed and so returned to the barber shop to ask what the deal was. The barber asked when the man had come in for his last shave. The man explained that it had been many days ago and that the barber's daughter had given him the shave.

The barber immediately replied, "Oh, I understand. You were shaved by Grace - and when you are shaved by Grace, once shaved, always shaved!"

Of course that joke reminds me of the one about the small country church in West Texas. The new, young pastor there was trying to raise funds to repaint the church. The building was old. Really old. And it needed some repairs.

A few weeks later, when a church painting was scheduled on a Saturday everyone showed up to paint the old building. However, about half way through the job the young pastor realized that he had miscalculated and that they did not have enough paint. He did not want to paint only half the building because he knew it could be weeks before more money would be raised to buy more paint. But one of the deacons had a suggestion.

He told the pastor that whenever he had painted his barn and was running out of paint that he just added thinner to the paint to make it go farther. The young pastor believed this to be a good solution and so instructed the painters to thin the paint.

They were able to paint the whole building, but the day was not over yet. Just as the last few areas were touched up it began to rain!! Sure enough, the downpour began to wash all of the wet thinned paint off the building.

The young pastor was distaught. He began to pray asking God what he was to do now. About that time there was a beam of light that broke through the clouds and a booming voice from heaven said, "Repaint, Repaint and thin no more."

hehehe - okay - that's enough for today....

Friday, September 23, 2005

Seeking First: The Moral of the Story

"But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." - Matthew 6:33-34

(this concludes our devotional look this week at the topic of worry from Matthew 6)

Jesus truly laid the foundation for this verse back in verses 19-24. He told us there to have ONE treasure (eternal things), ONE eye (a singleness of heart), and ONE Master (OUR LORD). If we have those things then we are commanded not to be sidetracked into the realm of worry and fear. Indeed, if we are living by faith, focused on spiritual things and serving God, then we can't worry!

Now, after giving us 7 reasons not to worry (can you recite them?), He tells us what we are to do. He told us the NOT and the WHY NOT. Now He tells us WHAT to seek. Instead of seeking after daily needs (food, clothing, etc.) we are to seek 2 things - His Kingdom and His Righteousness!

BUT - or rather - seek first (singularly, or only) His Kingdom and His Righteousness, then all these other things will be provided anyway. The lesson here is that when we seek the proper things and live by faith in Jesus and obedience to the Word of God, then He has already promised to give us all that we need on a daily basis. Remember, we can trust Him, because if we are walking with Him, He is our Provider and Redeemer. He will take care of us!

Interestingly, at times He may withhold provision at times or for a time! If He doesn't provide our needs NOW, know that He will provide! And He is never late!! He may want us to trust Him, He may want to stretch our faith and grow it a bit, He may be giving another believer an opportunity to be obedient and be used as His resource to meet our need! But the point is this - if we seek Him above all else, cast out worry and fear with faith, them we will see His provision in our lives - He will provide even the most basic things we need day to day!

But the life of obedience is described in the first part of the verse - seek His Kingdom and His righteousness. What all does that mean? Simple. First we are to seek His Kingdom. This refers to His authority and rule. We seek His Kingdom when we seek to obey Him (ONE Master) and find His will for our lives. His Kingdom here alludes to His sovereignty. We must live day by day understanding His will and striving above all else to be obedient slaves of Jesus Christ. So the first point is that rather than worry, we are to live daily seeking to find and obey His will for our lives!

Secondly, we are told to seek His Righteousness. This refers to present and practical holiness - a state of being right with God. As we live and walk in obedience, we must be holy! It is a command just as not worrying is a command - it is expected of the Believer that we be HOLY! Present holiness alludes to here and now, daily as opposed to waiting for some future time when we hope to live as we ought. Practical holiness means it works in our daily lives.

When we strive to be like Christ, laying up eternal treasures, having singleness of heart, and obeying ONE Master (HIM not self), and when we learn to trust Him with everything - down to our most basic daily needs - then we can walk by faith and see His care and provision despite our circumstances.

Jesus concludes this thought in his sermon by summing it all up. The moral of the story He has been telling is NOT TO WORRY!! As we look at the lessons here it is plain that Jesus told us not worry about the provisions for today! So inevitably there will be those who will do all they can not to worry about today and its needs - but what about tomorrow?

The point Jesus has made is that it is still sin if we worry. Period. If we worry about our past (which has been forgiven), if we worry about our present needs (which He promises to meet), and if we worry about what might happen tomorrow (isn't He still God, the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow?), then indeed we fail to trust Him completely.

John MacArthur has said it this way, "Making reasonable provisions for tomorrow is sensible, but to be anxious for tomorrow is foolish and unfaithful." We are NOT told here not to give thought for tomorrow, or not to plan for our future. We are commanded in Scripture to be faithful stewards of all that God has given us. We are told that we are to be like the ant, who prepares for winter by harvesting diligently all summer. We are to be prepared, but we are not to worry. There is a great deal of difference between facing our future with peace and confidence and facing it with fear and trepidation.

Trust Him - tomorrow will have more than its share of trouble. Troublesome things happen, they happen every day. Things go wrong. Circumstances change. People suffer - and yet through it all we are told to trust Him and not to worry. Anxiety on our part can't change today, why would we think it can change tomorrow? We must learn to trust completely and to love without exception. He is LORD and He is going to provide what we need on a daily basis.

When He says, "tomorrow will worry about its own things" He is teaching us that tomorrow will take care of itself. We are not to worry at all, ever, about anything, because just as tomorrow takes care of itself, every problem, obstacle, trial, and tribulation we face has already been prepared by God to be turned to His glory and our good! ALL OF IT! Nothing slips through His fingers or gets by. Let the worry take care of itself - have faith. Believe God. He can overcome the waves – and if He doesn't then He is more than able to make it possible for us to walk on them!

Today, listen to the lesson He reiterates - trust Him, have faith - know that there will be trouble every day but He can and will and has overcome the trouble by the blood of His Son. And now He promises us that we won't just overcome - but we are more than overcomers! We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. God will provide. He is faithful. He can be trusted. He wants us to enjoy fellowship with Him. And when we walk by faith (not by sight), then we will see Him work ALL for His glory and our good.


So we should SEEK HIS WILL.

He loves you and cares for you. He will meet every need – look to Him with expectation today. Instead of asking if God will provide - ask how God will provide! Because He will. He promised. And He cannot lie!

The final lesson in this chapter is simple -" have faith in God, He's on His throne; have faith in God, He watches o'er His own. He cannot fail, He must prevail - have faith in God, have faith in God!"

Isaiah 9:6-7
Psalm 11:7; 17:15; 23:3; 27:10; 89:14; 95:7; 145:13-15
Proverbs 6:6-8; 10:2-3; 11:4-6; 21:21; 22:19-21; 27:1

The Difference between Discipleship and Debate

Many in Christian circles today, be it in the church or on the internet, enjoy finding topics to debate. These debates can grow quite heated. Lines are drawn from the Scripture, and then logic, reason, philosophy, theology, etc. Then the lines are defended to the death! Sometimes the arguments are civil, at other times they are less than civil and even unbecoming for believers.

Having participated in or witnessed my share of these kinds of “discussions”, especially on internet forums, I have been convinced that we must pause and take a look at the Scriptures and evaluate the difference between discipleship and so-called debate.

Discipleship is the process whereby we obey the Great Commission and teach disciples all that Christ has commanded (Matt 28:18-20). It is teaching and being an example, but it is also a reciprocal relationship where both parties teach and learn. Of course, one will be “older”, more mature in the faith, but those who are older do still have things to learn from the younger!

I must be clear that the kind of debate I am addressing and comparing to discipleship is not the debate of the legitimate ministry of Christian apologists (James White or Ravi Zacharias come to mind). No. Instead it is the kind of debate engaged in by those I refer to as “keyboard theologians.” These are debaters who have definite opinions on everything, spend lots of time talking (or typing), lots of time arguing, lots of time trying to tear up or tear down both the argu-ments and the argu-ers from the “other” side, but if they are examined closely, their lives are apparently just as void of real true Christian ministry and fellowship as their arguments are void of charity (or any of the rest of the fruit of the Spirit).

These kinds of debates and discussions are supposed to aid the reader or the participant in coming to a better understanding of a text of Scripture or a topic in theology. However, often it seems there is more concern that a debate be won and an “opponent” convinced so that “my side” is vindicated and advanced. There is little concern for the fall out, little care given when we wound those we argue with, and little thought given to the message that is sent to the rest of the watching world – not that the world cares nearly as much as some would lead us to believe.

So what are the basic differences between discipleship and debate? Which is commanded for us in the Scriptures? Which is the God ordained means of assisting others as we all grow strong in grace?

Iron Sharpens Iron

Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” This verse has been used time and again to defend the practice of believers engaging in heated debate in order to knock the rough edges off of each other. However, in examining the truth here, in looking at the way this verse is written, we might learn a few things about the difference between discipleship and debate.

What Does It Mean to Sharpen?

What does this verse mean when it says that just as iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend? What is it to “sharpen?” The word means to cause to grow sharp or keen. So as iron will cause another piece of iron to grow sharp, able to cut or pierce, so too a man can sharpen the countenance of his friend.

Who is Sharpened - A Friend

The next thing we notice from the text is that a man sharpens the countenance of his friend. The sharpening, the removal of rough edges, the refinement, the growth in grace that results from diligent discipleship occurs between friends. In the Body of Christ we see that much is required of us as we relate to one another. Fellowship, an act of worship toward God and an act of love and service towards each other, finds us in a loving, deep, and even spiritually intimate relationship with our “friends.”

A brief summary of what the Bible says about the relationship between friends is also summed up in a Proverb. Chapter 17 verse 17 begins, “A friend loves at all times.” So the very relationship necessary for “sharpening” is a relationship built on unconditional love. That means that 1 Corinthians 13 applies specifically to how friends interact with one another. Let’s look at these verses:

1 Corinthians 13
1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails.

So when we take a look at discipleship and the love that is required of us by our Lord for one another within His Body (1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:14), and when we see how serious the presence of love is in our relationships (without love, we are nothing!), and when we evidence Biblical love as is described above in our friendships, then we see what it means to sharpen the countenance of a friend!

We disciple friends, fellow members of the Body of Christ. This is fundamentally relational. We are motivated by love for them and for Christ. And we show by our actions, words, thoughts, motives, and attitudes that this is genuine, patient, longsuffering, gentle, well behaved love!

If we engage in theological discussions with any other motive or outlook then we are not dealing with a friend, nor are we being obedient to the Scriptures!

But now let us take the examination a step farther. Since we know who is sharpened, let us ask next:

What is Sharpened – His Countenance

We sharpen the countenance of a friend. What does this mean, to sharpen his “countenance?” The Hebrew word here means literally, “face” and it is used throughout Scripture to refer to a person’s presence or bearing. This includes his ability to think, discern, respond, and act.

So this means that a man who is sharpening the countenance of his friend is working within a relationship based on unconditional love to refine and polish who he is, how he thinks, what he says, and how he behaves. Sharpening a man’s countenance is to work to refine who he is in every part of his being. It is indeed nothing short of teaching a friend how to avoid being conformed to the world while instead teaching him to be transformed by renewing his mind in the Scriptures (Rom 12:1-2).

How do we Sharpen – like iron on iron

It is often believed that this sharpening is heated confrontation, even to the point that friends or fellow believers will offend one another in the process. But if we remember that this is all taking place within the context of a relationship based on unconditional love, then will this sharpening ever be offensive? Will it draw out the depravity in all of us? Will it hurt our pride or cause us to rear up in defensive anger toward the one sharpening us?

To understand and answer these questions we must ask, “Why is this process one of iron on iron?”

In order to make a cutting tool or a weapon effective, it has to be sharp. At the time this verse was written workers, weapon makers, and soldiers would use a piece of iron to sharpen another piece of iron. The goal of the process was to take off the blunt, rounded edge along with any burrs, bumps, or irregularities in the metal. The end result, after pressure and friction, was that the edge was not round or jagged, but smooth and sharp. The point was to make a point!

I think that often the focus is set on the friction and pressure instead of on the goal. The goal is not to pressure one to become sharp, nor is it to create friction, confusion, or agitation. The goal is to remove those things that keep us dull and unusable!

Think of it this way, this word picture (iron sharpening iron) can just as easily be restated in another form. In fact, the writer of Hebrews does just that. Let’s look at Hebrews 12:1-2.

Hebrews 12
1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

There it is. In order to run a good race, to compete with any skill, the athlete must “lay aside every weight” that would slow him down. Can you imagine running a race, be it a sprint or a marathon, with a heavy weight chained around your neck? It would definitely slow you down, hinder your progress, and probably would even injure you if you continued to run without taking it off.

So if we are to run the race skillfully, to compete, to finish the course, then we must first remove every weight, anything that might ensnare us, slow us down, and hinder our progress. And the Scriptures are quite clear – the weight that slows us down is sin.

The task of laying aside the weight, of being sharpened so that the rough irregular blemishes are honed off, is the task of removing sin. It is repentance and confession. If we want our countenance to be sharpened, our presence and being to be keen and useful, then we must get sin out of the way!

The Word of God

This can be applied as we see that a man sharpens the countenance of his friend by aiding him in the battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. It is using the Word of God as it was meant to be used!

The Word is the tool we use to sharpen one another with, set in a relationship of love and concern for spiritual growth and effective service to our Master. It is the Word that is “inspired” and useful for “doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17).

Doctrine – the Word is used to teach us what to believe.

Reproof – the Word is used to confront sin and error in our life and our belief system.

Correction – the Word is used to give us steps of correction, a remedy for what has been reproved.

Instruction in Righteousness – the Word is used to show us how to be right with God and how to grow in our fellowship with Him. We are taught, instructed, in how to be right with Him.

There is no anger here. No animosity. No pride. No condescension. No irritation. No impatience. No harshness. No rudeness. No temper, wrath, or ill esteem. Because the Word, when used rightly to disciple one another, is used in the context of a relationship built on unconditional love. There we are again, back to love.

The Plank and Speck

Now some might say that removing the speck from a brother’s eye can be hard work. There are some, especially on internet forums, that are professional speck removers. In their opinion, they are right and we are wrong. They will expose the error of our ways, tell us how ignorant and naive we are to have fallen for such a false piece of doctrine, they will reprove us for not being as wise as they, they will correct us with harsh impatient unkind words, and then they will insist that to be instructed in righteousness is nothing less than embracing their point of view without question.

Here we have a brother, though not necessarily a friend, running straight for us, tweezers in hand to pluck the speck out of our eye. But as they get near suddenly we are bludgeoned by the telephone pole sticking out of their head! Can you imagine this zealot trying to remove a speck of dust from someone’s eye all the while a utility pole complete with garage sale flyers attached is protruding from their eye socket?

But these pole bearers and speck removers forget what the Bible says. While the Word of God never condemns removing a speck from a brother’s eye, it is absolute in giving us this instruction: first remove the PLANK from your own eye! In other words, be ready to deal with your sin and your pride and your false beliefs first, then seek to assist others in the pursuit of right living and right belief.

It is also interesting to me that the difference between a speck and a plank is simply perspective. If a speck is in your own eye, it appears as a plank, obscuring much of your field of vision. But if it is another’s eye, at a distance, it is but a speck.

Sharpened Iron

So to conclude this portion of our article, the iron that is sharp and the runner that is fast, the eye that can see without obstruction, is the iron, the runner, the eye that is consistently and continually being rid of sin. It is an application of Romans 6. It is aiding one another in the pursuit of holiness. It is becoming more and more like Christ, by the power of the Spirit through the application of the Word of God to our daily lives.

Debate – the right way and the wrong way

In the arena of debate then, we ask what role iron sharpening plays? Often, in a true debate, the sides are opposed to one another. One side affirms a positive the other a negative. But in the task of iron sharpening iron we are on the same side! It is not a confrontation with an opponent but an exercise in striving to understand, apply, and obey (to hear and to do) the Word of God.

But in many debates, the sides that disagree on points of doctrine or practice often fail to view one another as friends, as co-citizens of the kingdom of God. They really do view each other as opponents.

Debate that Destroys

When the view is skewed, and heat and friction seems to be the tool of choice, when one is trying for all he is worth to change another’s mind, then we see that debate does not edify, it does not build up, it does not lead to growth. No. Instead it often leads to ruin. This kind of debate destroys! It tears down people and their ideas. It belittles, derides, and holds in contempt. It is surely not loving or compassionate, but proud, puffed up in a sense of superior knowledge and a more progressive state of sanctification. It builds up the individual putting forth the argument instead of building up the Body.

Often too we find that people in this category of debaters usually have very narrow views on many things. If you disagree with them in any one single point, no matter how minor, then they are ready to disown you, amputate you from the Body, and cast you aside to the condemnation they are sure that you deserve and have coming. And they do so all the while believing that God has used them to proclaim to you the very truth by which you will be judged!! What love is this??

Debate that we are commanded to avoid

In truth, the simple Scriptural fact of the matter is that as believers, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are given some very pointed, specific, and clear commandments in regard to this kind of debate. The Bible says:

1 Timothy 6
3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, 4 he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, 5 useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself.6 Now godliness with contentment is great gain.

If the doctrine being taught, insisted upon, or pushed is not a doctrine that leads immediately to godly living, then that is a presentation of unwholesome words! And that person is then labeled by the Word of God as, “proud, knowing nothing, obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings.” What is produced by Biblical discipleship? The fruit of the Spirit. What results from improper debate? The works of the flesh! (see Galatians 5:16-26). And the command here is that we are expected, yes ordered to withdraw from such a one! We break fellowship.

2 Timothy 2
14 Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 16 But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. 17 And their message will spread like cancer. 23 But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife.

And here we are charged before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit. Not to argue about those things which RUIN the hearers. We must be careful not to put forth doctrine in the form of argumentation that will ultimately lead to the destruction of those who hear us! Rightly handling the Word of God means that we shun profane and idle babblings, arguments that lead not to godliness but to godlessness! These ideas, these false doctrines, these false teachers are infecting the Body like CANCER. So we are to avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, those discussions that promote strife instead of harmony!

Closing: Responsibilities to the Weaker Brother

We must be reminded that the liberty, the freedom we have in Christ is never to be used in any relationship to further indulge our own flesh or draw others, especially weaker Christians, into disputes! The whole point of Romans 14:1 is that we must not engage in disputes over doubtful things with weaker Christians!

Yes, we must teach truth and help others grow in grace. But we must do so with pastoral concern and care for souls. Arriving at the truth is important, but the process to get there is even MORE important! To arrive at truth through violence means one might believe rightly, but they will carry scars and be hard pressed to lead others lovingly into that same truth. To arrive at truth through loving discipleship and shepherding will mean that we appreciate both the truth and the journey! We will have enjoyed the Pilgrim’s Progess.

For those who debate, who fight to win, who are making the narrow way more narrow than it is – for those who are so theologically ingrown that they cannot even see where the plank is protruding from their own eye – for them I have two words. Stay away. And take heed – when you think you have it all figured out, when you think you are standing – it is then that you WILL FALL.

My desire is to promote growth, edification of the Body for the work of the ministry (literally, "the work of service"), by means of Biblical discipleship. I am beginning to believe that this goal is rarely to be achieved by participation in debates or involvement with internet forums. Too many keyboard theologians, with no accountability, no wisdom, no humility, no pastoral heart, no care and concern for the weaker brothers, no love for their “opponents”, no discernment, no understanding, and no obedience ("be slow to speak, quick to hear"), are ruining the faith of others. They are spreading like cancer. They may even seem to be right in some areas, but their attitude, their language, their words, their demeanor, their tone, even the way they think things through all points to one huge unmistakable red flag. They have no real ministry, no real love, no real heart for God, and no fellowship in the Body. It is all about the promotion of self. Of course they would deny this, but a the heart of the matter, this is the truth – to them the gospel is a means of gain, be it in reputation, prestige, the appearance of intellect, etc. For them, it is all about self promotion.

The bottom line is that as we are sanctified, as we walk in the light, we have this guarantee – we will have fellowship with one another! (1 John 1:7). And any doctrine, any agenda, any system of theology, any point of debate that leads to a break in fellowship between fellow believers must be carefully examined in the light of Scripture. We should be Christians first and foremost, laying all other titles, categories, and denominators down at the foot of the Cross. Yes, there are times to withdraw, but if we are forcing schism at every turn then we have fallen into a category that is truly frightening. For of all the things that God tells us in His Word that He hates, near the very top of the list is one who would cause division among brothers (Proverbs 6:19).

Be sure to read the follow up to this article:
A Shocking Truth about the Making of Disciples

Thursday, September 22, 2005

He Knows

"Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?', or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things." - Matthew 6:31-32

Let's review for a moment and take a look at the reasons we are not to worry. The list is simple and easy to remember - We are told NOT to worry because (1) He commands it, (2) He cares for YOU, (3) He controls your "cubits", (4) He clothes creation with beauty, (5) He conforms you daily to Christlikeness, (6) He can be trusted, and today's addition to our list (7) He is cognizant of your needs! (How's that for finding enough words that begin with "c" for my list?)

There is a therefore , and it is there for showing us that we don't need to worry. Jesus is teaching us that because of all these things He has just talked about, we really don't have to worry. After all, it only does harm to worry, right? We do not need to be concerned about the daily needs we have (things like clothing, food, or drink). He also takes the time to let us know that if we are consumed with worry about these daily needs, we are doing what the "gentiles" do. The word Gentile here means peoples or nations, any non-Jew. Jesus uses it in this context to mean pagans. People outside of God's kingdom and family. The word is used to denote those without faith. It is the pagan non-believers who lack faith completely and live only to chase after things. It is their motto to "Eat, drink, and be merry; for tomorrow we die!" They believe that No One cares for them and so they live to themselves ("If it doesn't hurt anyone it's okay!")

So if we worry about these things, we are doing what those without faith do! Again we see that faith is at the heart of the matter. The Gentiles believe that they need to please themselves – instant gratification - and so they live to that end. How sad to miss the fact that the Heavenly Father loves each of us enough to have sent His Son to die for us on the cross - the "gentiles" fail to see any meaning or purpose to life, least of all service to a loving Creator.

I like the end of verse 32 especially for today - God already knows what we need. He doesn't say that it's wrong to need or want food, drink, or clothing (basic necessities). As a matter of fact, Jesus tells us that God knows what we need. He is cognizant (aware) of what we need. He "knows that you need all these things."

So the things aren't the problem, it's the priority that is the problem. If we have faith we realize our dependence on God for everything - life, peace, faith, joy, forgiveness, as well as food, clothing, and drink - He will provide everything we need. The things though aren't His concern. He cares about our attitude - the things we seek and chase after. Just because we need something doesn't mean that the need has to overwhelm our thoughts and desires.

We can take comfort today that we have faith and that God knows about what we need. He knows. Trust Him. And obey Him - once again He started this verse with a command - "therefore, do not worry." I will say it again - trust Him - and you can't trust Him if you don't know Him - take the time to get to know Him better today.

Don't live like those who have no faith and only live for self - instead, be overcomers in the faith - and take the victory over worry that He has given us. We are more than conquerors - in Greek that phrase is hypernikos. It can be broken down into two words "hyper" and "nike" - yes that's right, nike! Nike in Greek means victor - and hyper means more than or "hyper"! So in Christ we are hyper nikes - more than victors - through Him that loved us and gave Himself for us. Don't worry – trust Jesus!

Once again, remember the seven reasons we are not to worry.
(1) He commands it - Psalm 37:7-8
(2) He cares for You - Isaiah 49:16
(3) He controls your "cubits" - Psalm 139
(4) He clothes creation with beauty - Psalm 19:1-3; 21:5
(5) He conforms you daily to Christlikeness - Lamentations 3:22-23
(6) He can be trusted - Psalm 19:9; 20:7
(7) He is cognizant of your needs - Psalm 139:2-4; 73:11

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

At The Heart of Worry

"Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith." - Matthew 6:30

Jesus is using a word picture here to make a vivid point. In that day (as is today still) when one would want to cook or build a fire, they would gather small sticks (kindling) and large logs, and a handful or two of dead grass. In order to start the fire, the grass would be lit under the kindling. When it caught and the kindling began to burn, the larger logs used for cooking would be added. So the beautiful flowers He had just alluded to would fade and whither and die within a matter of days. At that time they would be available to be pulled up and gathered for fire making in an oven or a furnace. (This was before the days of "chemical starter logs" and gas fireplaces or electric ranges - our equivalent is a good old fashioned campfire). But if God were so involved in His creation that He took the time to clothe the grass with those gorgeous flowers, knowing that they would only last a short while, how much more would He care for us - who will live forever?

Our attention seems to always be drawn to the here and now. We are the most concerned about what is going to happen in the next few moments and maybe the next few days. We worry about what we are going to eat and wear. We are consumed with daily needs. In reality this is pampering the self! And we are called to deny self - we need to learn how to focus our attention on God and others!

Jesus says that since God clothes the grass of the field with His beautiful flowers, then why would we expect God not to take care of our needs, He talks specifically about clothing, but He is teaching us about a deeper matter. God will provide our daily needs - remember the model prayer? Since Jesus tells us that God has clothed the grass with flowers, and His point is that God will likewise clothe us with whatever we need, we must see the lesson He is trying to convey. If indeed God takes the time and interest to make sure the creation is "clothed" then why would He ever neglect one of His children? This goes back to His care for us - we are valuable to God. We are so valuable that He promises to give us whatever we need on a daily basis.

Because of this FACT of TRUTH (God promises to provide every need) Jesus is telling us that we shouldn't worry - we shouldn't even think about our daily needs! Can you imagine going through a day, a complete day, and never once thinking about or dwelling on, or worrying about the daily necessities we need? But this is what Jesus is teaching. We don't have to be occupied with our needs - we don't even need to think about them, other than to pray that He will provide (in order to acknowledge that He is the Source of all we have and need).

God will provide, so we have much more important things about which we can be thinking. To think about ourselves and what we need means that we are self centered instead of God centered! It is indeed a lack of faith. We dwell all day long on SELF. God has already promised to give us what we need, right? Therefore, if we focus on needs, we can't see everything else God wants to show us each day! Just think how much more sensitive to the Spirit we could be if we weren't so self absorbed that were taking God's promise for granted and letting our own needs and worries and cares interefere with His use of us each day!

Matthew Henry wrote in his commentary on Matthew, "There is scarcely any sin against which our Lord Jesus more warns his disciples, than disqueiting, distracting, distrustful cares about the things of this life." Indeed, if we constantly dwell on the here and now then we will miss quite a bit of what God has in store for us each day. I like the words he uses there about worry - it is disqueiting (can we "be still and know that I am God" if we occupied with worry?), it is distracting (how can we possibly hope to see God's will each day if we are focused on self?), and it is distrustful (a simple lack of faith in God leads us to think about our needs instead of the needs of others!).

After teaching all about why not to worry, Jesus pauses briefly before telling us the truth about our affections and attention. He takes a breathe and utters the words, "O you of little faith?" It is a question. Or the completion of a question. The question is this - "If God is going to take care of you, why do you worry?" He has gone on and given us several different pictures of how God will take care of us! But we still worry! Why?

Maybe it's because of a problem with our faith! Maybe it is too little! Actually, there is no maybe about it. We worry when we stop believing God! We read in the Word that He tells us that He will provide our every need and yet we are still consumed with thoughts of worry, stress, unbelief, depression, and grief. That is exactly why worry is a sin. That is also why Jesus goes to the length He does here to discuss it. Worry about daily necessities (or anything else for that matter) constitutes a lack of faith! So what is the implication of a lack of faith?

It's not that we don't have any faith. We have already believed and been saved - you can't be saved without faith! (Eph. 2:8-9) So we have faith, but we have only a little faith. But a little faith, or the lack of faith in God to provide our needs reveals an even deeper lack. In truth, if we worry, we don't believe God. Isn't that right? Doesn't faith also mean belief? If we lack belief what does that say about what we think about God.

Think this through very carefully - let this sink in. If we are so SELF centered that we don't believe God when He tells us He will meet every need, then in reality we have just said in our hearts that God can't be believed! WE SAY THAT GOD CAN'T BE TRUSTED! Remember, if we believe it in our hearts it comes out our mouths and out in our actions or behavior. So if we act worried and talk like we are worried and tell people we are worried, then in our hearts we simply don't believe we can trust God!

So -would you ever say out loud to anyone that you didn't trust God and thought He was lying to you? OF COURSE NOT. But when we worry that is exactly what we are saying with our attitudes and actions. To worry is to call God a liar. To worry is to say that He can't be believed, or trusted. To worry is to trust self and feelings and others more than we trust God. To worry is to make a god out of self. WORRY IS SIN AND IDOLATRY.

At the heart of the matter is the heart! What do you really believe about God? And what can you do to cure worry? In order to overcome worry, we must first repent of sin, because it is a sin. We must confess it as sin (to agree with God that our worry is sin). Then we must seek Him to grow our faith! If we lack faith, then faith is what we need more of - so how can you get more faith? SIMPLE - The Word of God! Romans 10:17 says, "So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God." Faith comes and grows when we hear. We are given the ability to hear (with spiritual ears) when we are listening to the Word of God - reading, meditating on, or hearing sung or preached - it is God's Word that is the tool that He uses to give us stronger faith. ( That is also why we MUST attend a church regularly that preaches and teaches the Word of God - not popular Christianity, but the Word!) We must also realize that Faith is a fruit of the Spirit - so if we are walking in the Spirit, our faith will grow. How do we walk in the Spirit? Colossians 2:6 says, "As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him." How did we receive Him? BY FAITH! Have faith (believe) that God will give you more faith - and get faith from the Word! The more we read the Word the more of God we can know and the better we can trust Him!

Here again are the simplified steps to overcome worry -
1. Confess your worry as sin.
2. Repent of the sin of worry.
3. Get in the Word.
4. Walk by faith in the Spirit daily.
5. Believe God!

Notice that #5 does not say believe IN God. It says believe God. There is a difference. If you believe in God you are no better than the demons who believe in God. If, on the other hand, you just believe God, then you will do whatever He tells you! The proof of faith is obedience!! (And in reality, we are not told to chase after more faith - we are commanded to know more of God! It centers on Him - if faith is the object we won't grow. If God is the object, our faith will flourish.)

Today - He is going to meet your needs! If He doesn't, they weren't really needs were they? So if He is going to meet your needs, why on earth would you have anything to worry about? Leave it to Him! He is in control and He knows how to take care of His children!

Don't Worry because (1) He commands it, (2) He cares for YOU, (3) He controls your "cubits", (4) He clothes creation with beauty, (5) He conforms you daily to Christlikeness, and (6) He can be trusted!

    Read these verses that also deal with the grass that fades - and notice in these verses what never fades!

  • Psalm 90:5-6
  • Isaiah 40:6-8, 10-14

    And now, find fertilizer for faith in these verses.

  • Psalm 37:3-9 ; 73:28 ; 115:11-15; 118:8-9
  • Proverbs 3:5-10

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Why Worry?

"Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." - Matthew 6:26-29

Yesterday we learned that we are not to worry because Jesus commanded that we stop and never start again. So as we begin to make a list of reasons NOT to worry, number 1 is "Jesus said not to worry." Now we will move on to number 2. We are valuable to God!

Jesus says that we are to look to the birds of the air. Think about the birds for a moment. They have everything they need, don't they? Birds aren't known for their sowing seed and reaping at harvest time - they don't plan out how to provide food for themselves or their families. They don't store food away in the refrigerator or freezer - or their barns! Birds just take one day at a time and wait on God to provide all they need. Creation is very aware of God and His plan and purpose. The birds know that He will provide their every need. Have you ever heard a bird question God or doubt? Has a bird ever told you how awful it is to have to depend on God for everything? Then maybe it isn't so awful! We are told to look at the birds and follow their example - because when all is said and done, God takes very good care of the birds.

And yet we are of a much greater value to God! God didn't only create us, He sent His Son to die for us so that we could have eternal life! He values us so much and loves us so much that I fear we cannot fully appreciate nor comprehend His love and grace! God, the Creator of the universe, took the interest and the time in us to save each of us and to grow each of us, to forgive our sins and change our hearts. We can never say that He doesn't care!

The point Jesus is making is quite simple - if God cares for the birds the way He does - and we are more valuable than the birds are - then how will God take care of us? That is why He can command that we worry not! Even in the day to day "little" needs, God cares more about us than we may ever know. Our motive for stopping the worry is His care for us. He cares for all of His creation - but He cares most of all for YOU!

We now know that we are NOT to worry because (1) He commands it, and (2) He cares for us. Jesus here it appears to me uses a point of humor in His sermon to further make His point. I have to believe that maybe the disciples and the people there that day on the side of the mountain were just as I am - vertically challenged! They seem to have been short! Seriously, though, Jesus makes a point that we can't ignore. Who among us, whether short or tall, He says, can add "one cubit" to our height? A cubit is a term of measurement - it equates to about a foot and a half, or 18 inches. Can anybody by shear force of worry (anxiety) add any length at all to their body? NO! No matter what we try, standing on our heads, getting stretched on the "rack", nothing we do can add a cubit to our height! (Hence our futile attempts at platform shoes and high heels).

Interestingly, this phrase can also be translated another way. Jesus may also be referring to life span! The Greek text can be taken to say that none of us by worry can add any length at all to our "stature", which can mean "span of life." Think about that for a moment - what is the world running after these days - health clubs, organic food, exercise videos - everyone it seems is working hard at being fit and trim, healthy and slim. Now, it isn't wrong to be healthy - it certainly is not a transgression to seek to use our bodies for His glory in any way possible. As a matter of fact we are commanded in Scripture to take care of our bodies. And gluttony is a sin!! (When was the last time you heard a sermon on that?)

Jesus is teaching us that we cannot worry our way to long life. Each of us has one appointment for which none of us will be late - it is appointed unto man once to die (Hebrews 9:27). We will all one day die unless Jesus comes again. In the meantime we must identify that simple fact that if we worry about it, and worry about it, and continue to worry about it, we still cannot add to our live span! Only God can extend life (see Isaiah 38:5).

Worry , on its own, does not foster health or life! Jesus is letting us know that if we fail to trust God and realize His care for us, then we are actually hurting ourselves! Dr. Charles Mayo (that's right - of Mayo Clinic fame) said, "Worry affects the circulation, the heart, the glands, and the whole nervous system. I have never met a man or known a man to die of overwork, but I have known a lot who died of worry." Today - know that God cares enough for you that He has commanded that you not worry - it harms you! And after all is said and done, the lesson of this verse is this - if we worry, does it really change anything at all? NO! Worry just makes the circumstance that much more unbearable! Stop and notice, if we don't worry and instead have faith in God and trust His care, then even though the situation may not change, our attitude certainly will.

When we respond as we should God gets the glory because we refuse to allow circumstances to become our god. Worry is really idol worship - the worship of self. We can't add height to our bodies just as we can't extend our life span - but we can trust God and see Him bring us through for our good and His glory! Indeed, if we worry the only thing that changes is us! Our faith, or lack thereof; our fear, or peace that passes understanding; our relationship with a loving, saving God, or our self absorbed, self righteous ego. Today , when you are tempted to worry, remember, if you do worry you will expend all that nervous energy for what? For nothing! Would you trade the gift of God (faith) for a lie (worry)? You see, worry tells us that if we think, say, and do the right things, and feel a certain way, then we can change our situation. HOGWASH - trust God and learn to be content where He has put you. Walk with Him. Learn how much He cares for you. Love Him with all your heart, with no room for doubt or fear or worry or any other such lack of faith!

God cares about his creation. His care is so deep and abiding that He commands us not to worry. Worry is a simple lack of faith in God's provision, care, and love. Is God sovereign, or not? He oversees every aspect of our lives - height (or lack thereof) and life expectancy, just to mention the two Jesus has preached on.

Now we are challenged to see God's provision in creation once again. He has already pointed us to the birds. Now He points us to the flowers. These lilies of the field were probably not a specific flower but a wide array of wild flowers growing on the hillside that day. Undoubtedly many people had trampled them underfoot and sat on them. Their beauty was ignored and overlooked.

Have you ever stopped and really looked at wild flowers? Think about the Blue Bonnets that pop up on the roadside in Spring (for those of you not in Texas, I'm sorry! You are truly missing a glorious creation of God -but you can look at the wild flowers where you are!). In all of their beauty and splendor they declare the glory of God. And think about all that is there that we can't even see with our naked eye! Flowers have all sorts of patterns and color schemes and even reflect certain light that we can't see without a microscope! Some flowers are colored to attract specific birds and bees. Others are used by God to paint the countryside it seems as they sway in the breeze.

Jesus teaches here that for all our worry and care we could not even dress ourselves like the flowers! Not even Solomon, the richest of kings, could adorn himself in a fashion that wasn't shamed by God's creation. And many of the people there that day had only one change of clothes. So in comparison to Solomon they were poor and needy. And the flowers of the field out dressed Solomon!

In all its beauty, the creation around us declares the glories of God - it points out His tender mercy and care, His love and provision. If God can make the flowers of the field so indescribably beautiful, then He can more than provide for us what we need to be presentable! Don't worry so much about what you will wear! Just honor Him with your life and dress.

You see, if God cares so much to take care of the birds and flowers, then we need to learn how to let Him take care of us. Quit trying to do it on our own - we can't even compare to what He can do! Instead, stop and smell the roses today. Take a look at the flowers of the field - and rest assured in the hope that we have that God cares for us - more than we could possibly comprehend!

Today - don't worry. Remember:
1. He commands it.
2. He cares for us.
3. He controls our “cubits.”
4. He clothes creation in beauty.

And His care will never be lacking, for He is faithful without end. Amen.

Find His care in these verses.

  • Psalm 19:1; 28:8-9; 31:10; 34:17; 40:5; 57:1-3; 62:8; 90:10-13; 93:1; 97:6; 119:50
  • Proverbs 10:27; 12:25; 15:29; 14:32
  • Isaiah 12:1; 42:11-12
  • Jeremiah 17:8

Monday, September 19, 2005

Don’t Worry

"Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” - Matthew 6:25

Therefore. Remember the rule - whenever we see a "therefore" we ask what it is there for! Jesus has just finished teaching about our hearts. Our attitudes and motives are very important to Him. He came to give us new hearts, hearts that seek to please Him. The command He gives us is plain - store up treasures that are eternal, not temporal, walk in light not darkness, and serve One master, that is God, not possessions!

Therefore - because of these things, don't worry! DON'T WORRY?! What? With all the stress and pressure and work and family and life and people, and all the bad things happening around the world and communism and politicians and racism and hatred and violence and kids killing kids and mothers killing their children and drive by shootings and gangs and drugs and drunk drivers and ...... AND YOU SAY DON'T WORRY?! Wait a minute - Who exactly told us here not to worry? Isn't this Jesus speaking? Isn't this our LORD, our Master? Isn't this God? He says not to worry - and it's a command. It literally means stop worry this instant and don't ever start worrying again!

You see, we worry whenever we take on responsibility that doesn't belong to us. If we are laying up treasures here on earth and being stingy and selfish and walking in darkness, then we have every reason to worry - at any moment we could be destroyed by the way we live! But if we heed His Word and value eternal things and walk in light and serve Him instead of things or self - then what have we to worry about? He is responsible for us. So if we take that responsibility on ourselves then we begin to worry. And Jesus here is talking about basic things - don't worry about food and clothing! Basic, simple, daily necessities. He is telling us that not only should we quit worrying about the "big" things. We should also not worry about the "little" things - the everyday things that we need just to survive.

We must ask a question - Who is in charge? Who is the Master we are serving? If we listened to Jesus and put away our allegiance to things and committed ourselves to serve only God, then if we continue to worry about things, we really aren't serving God are we? Remember, what we believe we act on! Just like the bear chasing us in the woods - whether there is a bear or not if we think the bear is there we RUN! If we bow our will to His and serve Him alone as Master, then we won't worry!

Jesus also asks a pointed question at the end of this verse. "Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?" Here is another way to say that, "Isn't there more to life than what you eat every day? And isn't there more to your body than the clothes you put on it?" In other words, clothes do not make the man! What you wear on the outside does not change who you are inside. That's why a serial killer can wear an expensive business suit and fit in to higher society. No one knows that deep inside he is nothing but a murderer!

Likewise, there is more to life than food (even Mexican food!). I know, here in America we put so much emphasis on what and when to eat and what to wear. A closet full of clothes and nothing to wear?? We are so focused on ourselves and our physical needs that often we neglect service to God because we live only to serve ourselves (one more helping). Let me put our material things in a new light for you - take this test.

1. Do you have more than one change of clothes?
2. Do you have a roof over your head (roof is defined here as any material from shingles, steel, tin, grass, or dirt)?
3. Do you have a mechanical form of transportation (this includes any machine from a bicycle on up to a car)?

If you answered "yes" to all three questions then you are ranked in the very top of the wealth of the world! WAIT a MINUTE? Yes, you heard me correctly - if you have 2 or more sets of clothing, any material roof over your head, and transportation from a bicycle up, then you are more wealthy than most of the people here on planet Earth. It is estimated that as many as 80 to 90% of human beings alive right now do not have these things. Here in America we really don't have a clue as to how good we have it. And we are so worried and occupied with our next meal (Wendy's, McDonalds, Burger King, or Arby's????) and what we are going to adorn ourselves with that often we neglect and just overlook the things God wants to teach us as we trust Him. That is why He doesn't want us to worry - worry is the opposite of faith! We are to trust Him and serve Him gladly - instead we are disabled by our worry and fear - all because we refuse to take Him at His Word.

Life is more than clothes and food - and if you have not come to that realization, then you need to seek Jesus today - you may not know Him! Isn't it silly the things we think about and worry about (and are "concerned" about) when we see the big picture. We have it better then most the world and think about how long it took you to decide what to wear today before you sat down to read this devotional!!

In the coming days, we will look more deeply at why Jesus commands us not to worry - but for now we must simply obey the command - "therefore, do not worry" - there is a lot more to life than the insignificant choice of what to eat and what to wear - let's look beyond those things for the true treasures that God has for us!

What if all we care about is here and now? Read these verses to find out.

  • Psalm 59:12-15; 78:18-25
  • Proverbs 23:4-5, 21
  • Isaiah 55:2-3; 65:11-14
  • Micah 6:10-15
  • Zechariah 7:6-10