Idolatry

Ignore God at Your Own Peril!

 

danger thin ice

There are many people today who believe that God does not exist.  According to Geroge Barna Research, the number of atheists in America has grown to almost 25% of the population (The State of the Church Series, 2011). And there are others who claim to be Christian yet do not accept all the teachings of the Bible.  According to that same Barna Research study, only 43% of self-identified Christians in America believe the Bible to be accurate in all of its teachings.  Many of them believe that what the Bible teaches is not relevant anymore in today’s world.  Unfortunately, their beliefs put them in grave peril.  It’s not that they are necessarily turning to an alternative set of truths, but rather they are making up their own truth and living their lives accordingly.

God has a lot to say about His creation, and the Bible records His truth and His message for ALL people. Now, of course, not everyone believes in God or the truth of the Bible, but that does not negate that it is God’s Word and wisdom for us as His creation. (You can choose not to believe in gravity, but if you fall off of a tall building you will discover its truth rather painfully!)  Watch this brief video by Frances Chan on Why We Need the Bible that offers a wonderful and clear explanation of this reality.

The Bible says in Genesis 1 that God created us. Later on in Exodus God gave Moses 10 basic rules by which we are to live by called the 10 Commandments.  His number 1 rule is that we “shall have no other gods before Him.” (Exodus 20:3)  In other words, we as humans are not to worship any other gods but Him. So, for those people who do not believe in God, they are worshiping other gods instead. This is called idolatry, and God issues warning after warning throughout Scripture of the danger of following other gods.

So those who choose to ignore God and the Bible do so at their own peril.  In Galatians 6:7 it says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.” Relying on one’s own self or other gods will ultimately prove disastrous. That’s why Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”  When we go our own way instead of God’s, it will not end well for us.  Jesus also confirms what happens when God or His Son is ignored.  He says in John 3:36 that “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”  These Scriptures clearly point to the consequences of ignoring God – and the result is disaster, death, and destruction!

All people have a choice on who or what to believe in.  But as Frances Chan says, God’s Word is eternal and the ultimate Truth, because it comes from God Himself. If we choose not to listen to God then we do so at our own peril.  Deuteronomy 11: 26-28 says, “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse – the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.”  God is clearly giving us the opportunity of making our own choice. Choosing to ignore God will bring us curses rather than blessings in our lives.

But if we turn to God, worship Him, obey His commands, and follow His Son Jesus, God promises to bless us.  In Psalm 1:1-2 it says that “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.  But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”  By looking to God and relying on the Bible (His Word) God promises that we will be blessed!  Jesus confirms that blessing when He says in Luke 11:28 that “blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and obey it.”

So what choice will you make?  Will you follow God and reap His blessings for your life, or will you follow yourself or other gods and so bring ruin upon your life?  The choice is yours.

Choose wisely!

 

Humility

Oh Lord, It’s Hard to be Humble…

 

mirror

Back in the 1980’s, singer-songwriter Mac Davis wrote a song entitled, “It’s Hard to be Humble.” It was a tongue-in-cheek look at how popularity and good looks could go to one’s head. As I survey the landscape of America today it would appear that the Biblical virtue of humility is hard to come by.  There is pride and arrogance in professional sports, entertainment, politics, business, and just about every vocation in America. We have become a me-centered culture that seeks to promote ourselves to the world. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media were designed to tell others about ourselves and what we are doing, and they contribute greatly to our culture of self promotion.

The Bible says in 1 John 1:8 that “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  This means that we are sinful by nature. In other words, we are inclined to be self centered by our very nature. When we come into this world as babies we develop a sense of self centeredness since we need others to do everything for us.  As we grow, our parents try to teach us to do things for others, to share, and to consider the needs of others.  But this goes against our nature and often is hard to overcome. Several years ago our educational system started to focus on building self-esteem rather than knowledge.  We have been telling our children for years how important they are and how they are all winners and there are no losers.  Has this created a generation who see themselves as the center of everything?  Perhaps.

But the Bible distinctly condemns pride (Proverbs 8:13“I hate pride and arrogance”) and elevating ourselves above others (Matthew 20:27“Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.”) Pride is also idolatry and puts ourselves above God and violates the very first commandment (Exodus 20:3“You shall have no other Gods before me.”) The Bible also clearly tells us what God expects of us in Micah 6:8.  He says that we should “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.” I think many Christians get the first two conditions but the humble part often gets left out!

We also live in a culture that encourages individualism and personal effort to achieve success. So when you look at athletes and other high achievers we often see a lot of pride and arrogance. They are proud of their achievements and the success that comes from their personal efforts. So it is hard for them to be humble, and to some extent it is understandable.  But yet God’s Word clearly calls us to deny ourselves and to be humble.  We are not to give glory to ourselves but rather only give glory to the God who created us and gives us the abilities to achieve (Deuteronomy 8:18).

So how can we be humble if our nature is to be self centered? The answer is to seek the Holy Spirit.  The Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 5:16, that we should “live by the spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” In other words, only the power of the Holy Spirit will enable us to overcome our sinful nature.  Only by turning to God and seeking His will for our lives will we be able to deny ourselves and be humble.  We cannot do it on our own.

Although humility goes against our nature and is hard at times, it is possible.  And if we turn to God and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit, He will help us to be humble.

 

Obedience

God Wants Our Obedience, Not Our Accomplishments!

 

Obedience

“Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and obey it.”

– Luke 11:28

In July 1976, Israeli commandos made a daring raid at an airport in Entebbe, Uganda, in which 103 Jewish hostages were freed.  In less than 15 minutes, the soldiers had killed all 7 of the kidnappers and set the captives free.  As successful as the rescue was, however, three of the hostages were killed during the raid.  As the commandos entered the terminal, they shouted in Hebrew, “Get down! Crawl!”  The Jewish hostages understood and lay down on the floor, while the guerillas, who did not speak Hebrew, were left standing.  Quickly the rescuers shot the upright kidnappers.

 But two of the hostages hesitated – perhaps to see what was happening – and were also shot and killed.  One young man was lying down and actually stood up when the commandos entered the airport.  He, too, was shot with the bullets meant for the enemy.  Had these three heeded the soldier’s command, they would have been freed with the rest of the captives. 

 Salvation is open to all of us, but we must be obedient to Christ’s command to repent and make Him Lord.  Otherwise, like these hostages, we will perish with the judgement meant for the Enemy!

 

One of the key messages in all of Scripture, in both the Old Testament and New Testament, is that of obedience to God.  In the OT, the Hebrew people continually failed to be obedient to God, turning away to chase after man-made idols and to worship other gods.  In Daniel 9:9-11, the prophet writes that “The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; we have not obeyed the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. All Israel has turned away, refusing to obey you.”  And in the NT, Jesus Himself says in John 14:23, “if anyone loves me they will obey my teaching.”  Obedience does not guarantee our salvation, because we are saved by grace and not our own works (Ephesians 2:8-9). But obedience does demonstrate our love for God, and is the main thing that God wants from us in return for His love for us! And like the above story illustrates, obedience to God will save us from perishing with the enemies of God!

Often times we feel as though we need to do good works or achieve something significant for God with our lives.  And so we do things that either bring attention to ourselves or our own accomplishments, as if God will somehow love us more or will guarantee our acceptance as His child.  But that is not what Scripture teaches.  God loves us no matter what we do (Romans 5:8).  But He desires our obedience as a sign of our love for Him.  Obedience is our way of thanking Him and honoring Him for what He has first done for us.  If you are a parent you know exactly what this means.  You love your children no matter what they do.  But your desire is to have them be obedient to your guidance and wisdom because it pleases you and is a sign of their respect for you as their parent. God desires no less from us!

So we should not obey God’s Word because we have to, but we should obey God’s Word because we want to!  And God is pleased whenever we are obedient because it demonstrates our love for Him and gives Him the glory and praise. Our obedience should never be driven by our own self-esteem or in an attempt to impress God, but rather solely as a humble servant trying to please His Master.  Jesus never sought fame for himself nor did anything more than what God asked Him to do.  The outcome of whatever we do for God should always be to praise and glorify Him, never ourselves. God wants our obedience, not our accomplishments!

So as we enter 2014, let us commit our lives to being obedient to God’s Word, not to try to “score points with God” or to impress anyone, but only so that He alone who is worthy might be glorified!

Here Comes the Judge!

judge

In our culture today the most common criticism people hear is to not judge others for their actions.  People want to be free to be who they are and do not want others to judge or criticize their behavior in any way.  And the Bible is often used to support this viewpoint.  In Matthew 7:1 it says “Do not judge” and that’s as far as most people will go. But the Bible is being misquoted in this context because the rest of that verse says “or you too will be judged.”  Verse 2 goes on to say “for in the same way you judge others, you too will be judged.” The Bible does not prohibit us from judging the actions of others, but it issues a stern warning that if we do we must be able to withstand judgment of our own actions.  Jesus goes on to say in verse 5 that we must “first take the plank out of our own eye, then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  So it is not a matter of not judging at all, it is a matter of judging properly.

Judging is about deciding on the merits of another person’s behavior. We are constantly judging the actions of others, whether it’s politics, business, legal matters, or even the church.  We do it all the time.  When someone harms us we sue them because their behavior was wrong.  When our children misbehave, we punish them for their inappropriate behavior.  When we get poor service at a restaurant we complain to the manager about the server’s behavior or lack of it.  But for the most part we don’t verbalize our judgments.  But we think it.  Those men on Wall Street are all greedy. That dress that Mary is wearing is inappropriate for church. I believe that George Zimmerman is guilty of murder.  I think Alex Rodriguez should be banned from baseball for taking steroids.  President Obama should have done something to protect our people in Benghazi.  And the list goes on and on.  Every opinion we have is a judgment. It is our observation on the merits of another person’s behavior.

The important question we must ask ourselves is what standard of behavior are we judging others against?  If it is our own standard, then we are in deep trouble.  What gives us the right to ask others to conform to our standards? I find it utterly amazing that the people who call others judgmental are usually the most judgmental people there are because they are telling others that they don’t conform to their standards, whether cultural, political, religious or ideological.  When Christians speak out against homosexuality and the LGBT community calls them bigots, intolerant and homophobic, who is really judging who? When Baptists criticize other Christians for drinking alcohol, are they not judging their behavior against a Baptist standard?

There are really only 2 standards that we as American Christians can judge others against.  The first are the laws of the United States.  When someone breaks the law their behavior is outside our civil standard and so they must be held accountable for their inappropriate or unacceptable behavior.  This is the foundation of a safe and secure society. When we see others break the law we are responsible for notifying the authorities so that appropriate action and justice can prevail.  Micah 6:8 says that we are to “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.”  Acting justly is looking out for the welfare of others and to seek justice for them.

The second standard is much higher.  It is the Word of God.  But this only applies to Christians.  We cannot judge non-Christians against a Christian standard. Since they do not believe in God or Jesus Christ, then we cannot judge their actions against a standard they do not believe in. But we are to judge other Christians against His standards found in the Bible. In 1 Corinthians Chapter 5, the Apostle Paul  sharply criticizes the church in Corinth for their tolerance of sexual immorality in their church. In verses 12-14 he states, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.  Expel the wicked man from among you.” So it is clear that we as Christians should judge the behavior of other Christians according to God’s standard, and rebuke them, if we are to keep the church and body of Christ pure and Holy.

Ultimately, God is the judge of every person and will judge each of us according to what we have said and done in this life (Acts 17:31 & Matthew 12:36).  And we should be very careful when judging or commenting on the actions of others as we will be judged according to the same standard that we use.  If it is God’s standard, then we can rebuke other Christians, and they can rebuke us, according to God’s Word. But we have no business judging those outside of the church.  God will judge them in His time.

So be careful how you judge.  Because one day all of us will come before God and say, “Here Comes the Judge!”

 

What Will You Stand For?

MC900196562There is an old saying that says, “if you stand for nothing you will fall for anything.”  In our culture today of political correctness and relative truth, very few people seem to be willing to take a stand for their beliefs, especially if it runs counter to conventional thought.  That’s why most politicians are careful not to take definitive positions on issues until they know how it resonates with the voting public.  And if one does speak out on their beliefs, often they are immediately chastised by the media or harassed by those who take an opposing viewpoint.  We seem to now live in a country where freedom of speech is apparently not so free.  While we can still speak freely in public (for the most part) we must also be ready to endure the consequences.  It is not easy to take stand today, and it is becoming much more difficult to take a Christian stand or to take a stand for the truth of the Bible.  Yet the Bible commands us to  “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).  Today, Biblical truth is often not very well accepted in our culture, and to take a stand for Biblical truth is often met with criticism, intimidation or even outright harassment.

So it seems to me that there are few people today willing to take a stand for Biblical truth in our society.  But is that really any different than it was 2000 years ago when the first disciples went out to proclaim the gospel and the truth about God incarnate in Jesus Christ?  The first disciples were all persecuted and eventually killed for their faith in Jesus Christ and public statements about Him and His truth.  The Bible even says in 1 Peter 4:12 “that we should not be surprised at the painful trials we are suffering” and then in 1 Peter 4:14 that “if you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed.”  As a matter of fact, we are called to share in Christ’s suffering if we truly are to follow Him.  2 Timothy 3:12 says “in fact, everyone who wants to lead a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”   So if we are not being persecuted then perhaps we are not taking a stand for Jesus or Biblical truth in our culture.

So the question every Christian must ask themselves is this:  Am I willing to stand for Biblical Truth?  If not, then we are not being obedient to God’s Word.  If we are, then we must be ready to accept the consequences of public ridicule and scorn like the first disciples.  We must also be armed with that truth so we can articulate it clearly and confidently.  And we must do it all in love, and with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).  It will not be easy.  But if we are faithful to God’s Word, He says we will be blessed. 

If we want to see our culture change and turn to the Lord, then we are the ones who must take a stand today for Biblical Truth.  We must take that stand in the public arenas, in schools, on Facebook & Twitter, in our places of employment, in our communities, and in our neighborhoods. We must continue to speak the Truth in love and let the Holy Spirit lead others to accept His truth. And we must be willing to endure the consequences knowing that in doing so we will unltimately be blessed.  If we Christians fail to do this we will continue to see our culture move further away from God and His truth.

I pledge to take a stand for Biblical Truth in our culture.  Who is with me?  If all Christians unite together, we can change the culture!

Barry Voss

Don’t Miss the Blessing!

John Lennon once wrote a song called Beautiful Boy with the line that “life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.”  Many times in our lives we get so busy with life that we miss the the joy and blessing of what we are experiencing at the time.  In this season of holiday parties, gift shopping, and family traditions, we too often lose sight of the blessing of Christmas.

When Mary was visited by shepherds after the birth of Jesus, and they told her what had been told to them about her child, she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19).  These are two words we don’t hear very often except at Christmas – treasured and pondered.  God had just stepped into humanity and became a man.  Mary treasured and valued her child, and thought deeply about who He truly was.  Have you treasured Jesus and pondered His humanity? 

This is the blessing of Christmas that too many people miss today.  The fact that our God became like one of us, so that He might demonstrate His love for us, is so unbelievable that we don’t take the time to treasure and ponder what this means.  This single event changed the course of the entire world, and impacts every life.  This is no trivial matter that we should gloss over quickly.  But rather we should take the time to really contemplate this reality and what it means to each of us.

So I pray that this Christmas we all will take the time to treasure and ponder the Christ Child, like Mary did, and to seek Him like the wisemen did.  For nothing can “separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 9:39)  This is the Blessing of Christmas!