Sunday – July 13, 2014 1st John 1:5-10 “Fellowship with God”

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1 John 1:5-7
“This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

These are extraordinarily strong words. Sadly, our culture has become so emotionally fragile; everybody is sensitive to having their feelings hurt. If this were not an apostle talking, I can imagine someone today saying, “Do you have to use such harsh words when you warn people about their lifestyle?” If someone said your conduct made God out to be a liar, how would you respond? John evidently felt that so much was at stake the language, “You make God a liar,” should not be softened into something like, “You disappoint your heavenly Father.” I’m not sure the Scriptures should be adjusted to our emotionally fragile age. I think we need to get toughened up a bit.

Walking in the light is the opposite of walking in darkness. It means seeing reality for what it is and being controlled by desires that are aligned with God’s light. If God is light, and in him is no darkness at all, then he is the bright pathway to the fulfillment of all our deepest longings and desires. He is the deliverer from all dark dangers and obstacles to joy. He is the infinitely desirable One. If in His own light He shines forth as a Being of infinite worth, then He is the star of glory that we were made to admire and cherish. If God opens the eyes of our hearts to see all that, then our desires are captured by the surpassing glory of God over everything that the world has to offer, and we walk in the light as He is in the light.

There is a walk, there is a lifestyle, that necessarily results from the miracle of new birth when we are given eyes to see the surpassing worth of the light of God. 1 John is written to describe what that lifestyle looks like and how it results from the God’s light and our new birth. Walking in the light means seeing things the way God sees them and responding the way He does. We walk in the light when we hate the sin we fall into and name it for the ugly thing it is and agree with God about it and turn from it. So confessing sin is a crucial part of walking in the light. And verse 9 makes forgiveness of sin dependent on walking in the light. Therefore we are warranted in taking the cleansing of verse 7 to refer to forgiveness and not just to sanctification.

Sunday – July 6, 2014 1st John 1:3-4 “True Fellowship”

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 1 John 1:1-4
“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life — and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us — what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.”

We often hear people talking about fellowship. We hear it said that what we need is more fellowship. But our modern ideas of fellowship have become so watered down that the word no longer carries the same meaning it did in New Testament times. The Book of Acts tells us early Christians also devoted themselves to fellowship. They just didn’t have fellowship; they devoted themselves to it. This means that fellowship was a priority and one of the objectives for gathering together. They made fellowship a priority.

Today, however, we often view fellowship as what we do in “fellowship hall.” It’s the place where we have casual conversations and savor coffee and donuts. This is not bad and can contribute to fellowship, but it falls far short of fellowship according to biblical standards and according to the meaning and use of the Greek words for fellowship. In the New Testament, what is shared in common is shared first of all because of a common relationship that we all have together in Christ. Koinonia was an important word to John, but it is never used in merely a secular sense. It always had a spiritual significance and base.

The idea of an earthly fellowship founded upon just common interests, human nature, physical ties like in a family, or from church affiliation was really rather foreign to the apostles. In the New Testament, believers can have fellowship and share together because they first of all have a relationship with Christ and share Him in common. Fellowship is first the sharing together in a common life with other believers through relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Fellowship is first and foremost a relationship, rather than an activity. The principle is that any activity that follows, should come out of the relationship.

Fellowship in the body of Christ is certainly no side issue. It was one of the four things the early church devoted itself to, and from this brief study, we can see why. It is a means of support and encouragement to others and of ministry in the Savior’s enterprise on earth.

June 29, 2014 1st John 1:1-4 “True Christianity”

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1 John 1:1-3
“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life — 2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us — 3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”

What is fellowship? Fellowship means “to have all things in common.” When you have something in common with another you can have fellowship with him. If you have nothing in common, you have no fellowship. We all have things in common. We share human life in common. Most of us share American citizenship in common. But John is talking about that unique fellowship which is only the possession of those who share life in Jesus Christ together, who have this different kind of life, this new relationship. This makes them one and that is the basis for the appeal of Scripture to live together in tenderness and love toward one another. Not because we are inherently wonderful people or that we are naturally gracious, kind, loving, and tender all the time – for at times we are grouchy, scratchy, and irritating to others. But we are still to love one another.

There is not only the horizontal relationship but that, in turn, depends upon a vertical one. John tells us, “and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” Our horizontal relationships are directly related to the vertical one. If the vertical is not right, the horizontal one will be wrong, and, if it is wrong, it is because something is wrong between us and the Father. If we want to straighten out the horizontal relationship, that of getting along with our fellow Christians and fellow-men, we must be sure that the vertical one is straight. Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

The most remarkable thing about Christian life is fellowship with Christ. It really takes two English words to bring out what this really means. There is, first of all, a partnership – the sharing of mutual interests, resources, and labor together. God and I, working together, a partnership. All that I have is put at His disposal. Well, what do I have? I have me. I have my mind, my body. True, these are gifts of God, but they are put at my disposal to do with as I please. That is what I have, and now I put them at his disposal. When I do, I discover everything that He is, is put at my disposal. Is that not marvelous? The greatness of God, the wisdom, the power, the glory of His might –- all is made available to me, when I make myself available to Him. This is the great secret of fellowship.

Sunday – June 22, 2014 Introduction to 1st John

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 1 John 5:13-15
“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.”

Watchman Nee, in his very helpful book, What Shall This Man Do?, suggests that these three ministries of John, Peter, and Paul can be distinguished by, and are characterized by, the tasks that each of these men were performing when they were called of God.

Peter, for instance, was called as a fisherman, and we are told in the Gospels that the moment of his call occurred when the Lord found him casting a net into the sea. That work of fishing for men is characteristic of the Apostle Peter. He is always beginning things, initiating new programs. To him was committed the keys of the kingdom by which he could open the door to the new things God was introducing. On the day of Pentecost he used one of those keys and as a result caught 3,000 fish in his gospel net. You find that characteristic of this man all through his written ministry.

To the Apostle Paul, however, was committed a different task. When Paul was called he was a tent maker. He made things. He built things. This, then, was the ministry committed to the Apostle Paul. He is a builder. He not only lays the foundation, but he builds upon it. He calls himself “a wise master builder” and to this man, this mighty apostle, was committed the task of building the great doctrinal foundation upon which the Christian faith rests.

But John is different than both of these. When John was called he was found mending his nets. John is a mender. His written ministry comes in after the church has been in existence for several decades, and at a time when apostasy had begun to creep in. There was need of a voice to call people back to the original foundations and that is the ministry of the Apostle John. He calls men back to truth. When we begin to drift, when some false concept creeps into our thinking or into our actions, it is John who is ordained of the Lord to call us back, to mend the nets and to set things straight. The apostle John wrote the epistle First John against the backdrop of influential false teachers to help believers know that their faith was genuine and that they possessed eternal life in Jesus Christ. His great emphasis is on the differences between the genuine Christian and the spurious, and how to discern between the two. John wants us to know our salvation with certainty!

Sunday – June 15, 2014 Father’s Day “Boaz: A Mighty Man of God”

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Psalm 78:2-4
“I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not conceal them from their children, but tell to the generation to come, the praises of the Lord and His strength and His wondrous works that He has done.”

The role of mom is pretty well-recognized by everyone (including the secular world) as vital to the family, but for some reason fathers have been relegated to the position of second class citizen, especially in our day with the active feminist movement. A well-known feminist leader has gone so far as to say, “Fathers are a biological necessity, but a psychological absurdity.”

From the standpoint of God’s word and the evidence of research that has been done recently, such a statement is an absurdity. Dads have a vital role in bringing strength and stability to the home. Actually, both mom and dad bring ingredients into the home that are crucial to the spiritual and emotional stability of the home. Together they bring a blend of femininity and masculinity which in many ways reveal the image of God. These two influences together, especially when they are the product of godly parentage, are vital forces in shaping spiritually and psychologically healthy children.

In Psalm 78, we have the words of Asaph, a contemporary of David, who needs to be heard because he is speaking an important word from God to God’s people. It is a message that is absolutely essential to the preservation of society and the purpose of God’s people in society. When we fail to communicate God’s truth to our children, we are guilty of hiding from them the most important information in the world. We are like someone who knows where there is water, but refuses to reveal it to someone who is dying of thirst. The great mission of the psalmist (as it should be with all believers and parents) is to unveil the truth of God. Here the truth that the psalmist has in view is that which is seen in the history of God’s dealings with the nation, but the goal is for God’s truth to be communicated effectively from generation to generation.

The psalmist is aware of the ever-present problem parents have of communicating the truth of God to the next generation. By our own indifference to the things of God, by our preoccupation with the pressures of life, by our materialism, by our failure to get real in our walk with the Lord, we become guilty of concealing God’s truth because we fail to tell to the generation to come, the truth of God’s Word. The psalmist teaches that this is one of the greatest missions of God’s people. Indeed, we have in this one of the great commands of the Bible – the command for parents to teach their children and bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Sunday – June 8, 2014 PENTECOST SUNDAY, Ruth 4:1-22 “Gentile Redemption!”

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Ruth 4:5
“Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of the deceased, in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance.”

Unlike some other cultures, Americans love to link romance with marriage. As the lyrics of one 1950s popular song put it, “Love and marriage … go together like a horse and carriage.” You might be disappointed in the story of Ruth because it does not contain as much “romance” as you are used to finding. Naomi sought to orchestrate a marriage between Ruth and Boaz, based on “romance.” She convinced Ruth to bathe, put on perfume and her best dress, and then crawl under the covers with Boaz on the threshing floor once he had fallen asleep. A sexual union in these circumstances would have consummated a marriage, albeit not by the most honorable means. Such a “marriage” would have been a “shortcut.”

Naomi’s scheme did not produce a “romantic evening,” or a midnight marriage. However, it did give Ruth the opportunity to ask Boaz to become her husband so as to provide protection and security for her (and for Naomi), as well as to produce a child who would carry on the family line. Boaz regarded Ruth’s actions as honorable, and assured Ruth that he would do as she asked if the nearest kin declined to assume this responsibility. They did spend the remainder of the night in close proximity, but it was far from a romantic interlude. When Ruth reported these things to Naomi, her mother-in-law assured her that Boaz would quickly bring this matter to a conclusion.

In stark contrast to the events of the previous night, we come to the seemingly unromantic legal negotiations and commitments of Chapter 4. Quite frankly, such “unromantic” dealings are a beautiful thing to behold. Chapter 4 is also a stark contrast to what we read in Chapter 1. There, Naomi returned to Bethlehem accompanied by Ruth, refusing to be called “Naomi” (Pleasant), but insisting on being called “Mara” (Bitter) instead. She sought to justify this by claiming that God had dealt harshly with her. She claimed to have gone out to Moab “full,” while returning to Bethlehem “empty.” However, when Chapter 4 draws to an end, Naomi’s arms are “filled” with the child that God has given her through Ruth and Boaz.

 I believe that both Ruth and Boaz took great pleasure in doing God’s will, even in those times when this appeared to be contrary to their own best interests. Naomi, on the other hand, could only sit back and complain, and propose actions that were contrary to God’s will. Chapter 4 of the Book of Ruth puts all the previous events and responses into a proper perspective. Understanding this chapter as we should will enable us to understand the entire book, so we should listen well to what God has to say to us in this text.

 

Sunday – June 1, 2014 Ruth 3:1-18 “Undercover Operations”

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Ruth 3:1-4
“Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you? Now is not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maids you were? Behold, he winnows barley at the threshing floor tonight. Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself and put on your best clothes, and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. It shall be when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies, and you shall go and uncover his feet and lie down; then he will tell you what you shall do.”

Naomi has proposed to Ruth a shortcut to getting what Naomi wanted, but by the grace of God, the two principle characters – Ruth and Boaz – remained sterling examples of godly conduct. I have found I have been influenced by some Bible teachers who have tap danced all around the threshing floor, fervently trying to sanctify Naomi’s actions. It is time to take off the rose colored glasses and see the godly manner in which Ruth and Boaz handled the risky situation into which they had been placed by others’ plans.

You might rightly ask why I hold to this position, when others I highly respect and admire see the text quite differently. It all comes down to one’s hermeneutics (the interpreting of Scripture). First, I believe that the Bible is to be understood as it appears. Second, I believe that the Scriptures provide the willing student with all the supporting information one needs to understand what they find in any biblical text. I do not believe that the interpretation of any text hangs upon information discovered outside the Bible whether that is from historical narratives or scholarly commentaries. External information may supplement and illustrate biblical truth, but the interpretation of a biblical text does not hang on something outside of Scripture.

When it comes to the Book of Ruth, many want to see a common cultural practice underlying the actions which Naomi directed. The reality is that we see no such practice in the Bible – anywhere! (Please search for yourself!) Without other biblical texts to support this conclusion, I must take the text at face value. There is no unique cultural interpretation here. In other words, when a woman bathes, puts on perfume and dons her best dress, and then secretively climbs under the covers with a man who has had his fill of food and wine, I don’t think anyone in any culture would read this in any way but what we all assume.

That being said, the godly character of both Ruth and Boaz is dramatically displayed against the backdrop of Chapter 3. Circumstances were far from ideal here but that did not prevent them from living in a way that should command our respect. We often bemoan the fact that we live in dark days and are more than willing to complain about the evil of our day. Is today any different than the times of the Judges of Israel? It is during such times that the light of the gospel should shine ever more brightly from the distinctiveness of His people so God will get the glory!

Sunday – May 25, 2014 Ruth 2:1-23 “Can Christian Mingle Beat This?”

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Ruth 2:15-17
“When she rose to glean, Boaz commanded his servants, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not insult her. “Also you shall purposely pull out for her some grain from the bundles and leave it that she may glean, and do not rebuke her.” So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley.”

For many years the issue of giving to the church and charity to the poor has been one of the great debates in the Christian community. Should our giving be to the church allowing the church to meet the needs of the poor or does the Christian have an obligation to meet the needs of their community as an individual. And when you finish wrestling with that, does giving to the poor offset your tithe to the church or should it be above what you give to Christian ministry?

For many years, I thought of giving as a New Testament teaching. Since we are now under grace, rather than under law, the Christian is not obligated to tithe or give a tenth of what they make to the work of the kingdom of God. The Christian still has the obligation to give because this responsibility is clearly taught in the New Testament, but the amount that is given was a matter of personal choice. When it came to the amount that was to be given I had lost my way in the discussion over tithing. I was caught up in the details of giving and lost sight of the heart of the giver. To put the matter in the mind of Jesus, I had fallen into the trap of straining gnats while swallowing camels.

Reading the account of Boaz’s generosity in Ruth 2 challenged me to consider giving in a new light. The Israelites of that day were “doing what seemed right in their own eyes,” which is but another way of saying that they disregarded the Word of God as it was revealed to them in the law. Boaz was a man who (like Paul in Romans Chapter 7) loved the law and who delighted (like the psalmist teaches) in doing it. Boaz, like Ruth, had the law written on his heart, a heart of flesh, not a heart of stone. As a New Testament believer, that should be true of you and me as well.

The instructions of the law pertaining to giving (particularly to the poor) were not a burden to Boaz, but a delight. He did not strive to figure out how he could reduce his benevolence to the bare minimum, but instead he went far beyond what the law required of him. The law was just a baseline for Boaz. This, my friend, is the kind of heart we should have toward giving to the poor and all those who are in need. No more debates for me about the minimum requirements of the law, or of the New Testament, for that matter. I pray God would give us all the heart of Boaz, who gave bountifully and joyfully.

Sunday – May 11, 2014 Mother’s Day

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Philemon 15-18
“For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me.“

Year after year we are flooded with supposedly Christian books telling you how to use God and the Bible to reach your full potential, to boost your self-esteem, and to achieve your best life now. Mankind will speak about good intentions, but they are arguments to make life about ourselves. We have missed the point. These books and sermons convey the worldly message that it’s all about you, when the Scriptures make it clear it all about God and His glory.

The Bible is radically God-centered. It’s all about God and His glory, not life coaching to have health, wealth or success in the home and marketplace. The main reason that you should work through your marriage problems and relate to your children in a loving manner is not so that you’ll have a happy family, although it will result in that. The main reason you should work through your family problems in a godly manner is so that God will be glorified and others will be drawn to the Savior. The main reason we resolve conflicts in the Body of Christ is not to have friendship in the church, but that will happen. We resolve conflicts so that God will be glorified!

Worldly people should look at your marriage and home life and marvel at how you love one another. That’s when you tell them the difference that Jesus Christ has made in your life. He gets the glory and, of course, you enjoy the harmony of a happy home. But it’s all about His glory and the testimony of the gospel first. That’s why when Paul gives instruction to wives and husbands in Ephesians 5:22-3), he says (5:32), “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” Your marriage is to reflect the loving relationship between Christ and His church.

The same is true with regard to unity in the local church. When believers cannot get along and split over minor doctrinal differences or personality conflicts, it is not a great advertisement for the gospel. The world looks at the church, shrugs its shoulders, and says, “They’re no different than we are.” But when we demonstrate the love of Christ, especially across cultural, social, and racial barriers, the world takes notice. And most importantly, God gets the glory.

Sunday – May 4, 2014 Philemon: How the Gospel Changes Us

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Philemon 10-13
“I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me. I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart, whom I wished to keep with me, so that on your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel…”

Philemon is Paul’s shortest and most personal letter, written during his first imprisonment in Rome. Philemon, the main recipient of the letter, was a wealthy man from Colossae, about 100 miles inland from Ephesus on the west coast of modern Turkey. The letter was also addressed to Apphia, who was probably Philemon’s wife; to Archippus, who may have been the pastor of the church there (some think he was the son of Philemon and Apphia); and to the entire church that met in Philemon’s house. (There is no record of a church building until the third century.) Paul had not visited Colossae, although he hoped to do so soon. But somehow, perhaps during Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, he had come into contact with Philemon and led him to Christ.

One of Philemon’s slaves was named Onesimus. He had stolen from his master and run away. In the Roman Empire, masters had absolute authority over slaves and they often tortured or killed them for minor offenses or mistakes. So Onesimus was a fugitive slave, under a capital offense, running from a household where the gospel was proclaimed. But just as the Old Testament prophet Jonah found out, no matter how far Onesimus ran, he could not outrun God.

In his travels, God providentially led Onesimus all the way to Rome, where he crossed paths with the apostle Paul. We don’t know whether he was imprisoned with Paul or how they met. But the Hound of Heaven was pursuing Onesimus. Although he had undoubtedly heard the gospel in Philemon’s household, Onesimus ran from the place where he easily could have been saved. He traveled hundreds of miles to a large city where he happened to meet Paul. When Paul shared the gospel, God opened Onesimus’ heart and he trusted in Christ. He then stayed with Paul and the two men formed a close relationship as Onesimus served Paul.

Maybe you once heard the gospel before without understanding, but suddenly God opened your blind eyes and it made sense. You never could hope to pay God back for all of the sins that you have committed. But you don’t have to. Christ paid your debt on the cross. Everything that you stole and all the back wages that you owe were charged to His account. You put your trust in the Savior who paid the debt that you owed. You returned to the Master and willingly put yourself under His lordship. For the first time in your life, you were truly free. Now, you live to please Him and do His will from the heart. And to your amazement, the blessed Lord Jesus, who paid the debt you owed, is pleased to call you his beloved brother or sister, just as Paul refers to the slave, Onesimus!