Friday, November 30, 2007

The Lost Sheep

Matthew 18:12-13 "What do you think? If a man has 100 sheep, and one of them go astray, won't he leave the 99 on the hillside and go search for the stray? And if he finds it, I assure you: He rejoices over that sheep more than the 99 that did not go astray.

In this parable Jesus is making sure that we believers in Jesus Christ understand our relationship to Him, and more importantly His relationship to us. In this parable Jesus is the shepherd and we are the sheep. I want to show you a few things I saw as I read this parable and make a few observations that I hope will be a blessing to you.

This first thing that I saw as I read this passage is that Jesus is talking about sheep going astray. These were not goats disguised as sheep, these were true sheep. Why do I make this point? Because we have a lot of people in our churches today who think that if a person goes astray and falls into sin that proves that they are not, and were not ever, truly saved, but in this passage Jesus teaches us that sometimes even sheep go astray.

The second thing I noticed as I read this is that it is the shepherd that went in search of the lost sheep. He did not send someone in His place, nor did He say that it was the sheep's own fault that it wondered off and got lost. Neither did He say If the sheep want to come back it knows where to find Me. No the text is clear, it says that Shepherd went and He searched and He found the lost sheep , and then He was the one who brought the sheep back home.

The third thing I noticed is that when the sheep went astray Jesus did not just abandon the other 99 to go and find the one that was lost. The text says that He left them on the hillside when He went to search. I am not a shepherd, but I think it's safe to assume that if the shepherd is going to go searching for a lost sheep he would first make sure that the rest of the flock was safe. In this parable Jesus tells us that the shepherd left the rest of the flock on a hillside; I believe that He is showing us that they were left in a place where they could continue to graze (if that's what sheep do) and that they would be safe until the shepherd returned.

The fourth observation that I made is that when the lost sheep is finally found the shepherd rejoices over it. The text says that He rejoices more over the lost sheep that was found than over the 99 that were not left on the hillside. But please note that Jesus does not say that the shepherd does not also rejoice over the other 99 sheep; He actually says "He rejoices over that sheep more than the 99 that did not go astray." This indicates that the shepherd did rejoice over all of this sheep.

This also tells me that when a lost sheep is found and it is brought back to the flock the rest of the sheep should also join in the rejoicing. We can see another example of this in Luke 15. In this chapter we have the parable of the Prodigal son and at the end of the chapter when the elder son is complaining to his father about the treatment of his returning younger brother the father says, "Son, you have always been with me, and all this is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found." (Luke 15:31-32)

So as you go think about this parable today, rejoice and be glad that you have a shepherd that cares enough for you to search for you if you happen to go astray, and rejoice with the shepherd whenever a wondering sheep is brought back to the flock.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Puritans (Part 3)

Here is another excerpt from that great Puritan, Thomas Watson. This is from his book entitled "A Divine Cordial," which was written in 1663. Enjoy.

"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28

Even temptations are overruled for good, to the children of God. A tree which is shaken by the wind is more settled and rooted. Just so, the blowing of a temptation does but settle a Christian the more in grace.

Temptations are overruled for good in eight ways:

(1.) Temptation sends the soul to prayer. The more furiously Satan tempts, the more fervently the saint prays. The deer being shot with the dart—runs faster to the water. When Satan shoots his fiery darts at the soul—it then runs faster to the throne of grace. When Paul had the messenger of Satan to buffet him, he says, "Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me" (2 Cor. 12:8). That which makes us pray more, works for good.

(2.) Temptation to sin, is a means to keep from the perpetration of sin. The more a child of God is tempted—the more he fights against the temptation. The more Satan tempts to blasphemy, the more a saint trembles at such thoughts, and says, "Away from me, Satan!" When Joseph's mistress tempted him to lust—the stronger her temptation was, the stronger was his opposition. That temptation which the devil uses as a spur to sin—God makes a bridle to keep back a Christian from sin!

(3.) Temptation works for good—as it abates the swelling of pride. "To keep me from getting puffed up, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from getting proud!" (2 Cor. 12:7). The thorn in the flesh was to puncture the puffing up of pride! Better is that temptation which humbles me—than that duty which makes me proud! Rather than a Christian shall be haughty minded—God will let him fall into the devil's hands awhile, to be cured of his swelling pride!

(4.) Temptation works for good—as it is a touchstone to try what is in the heart. The devil tempts—that he may deceive us; but God allows us to be tempted—that He may try us. Temptation is a trial of our sincerity. It argues that our heart is chaste and loyal to Christ—when we can look a temptation in the face, and turn our back upon it. Many have no heart to resist temptation. No sooner does Satan come with his bait—but they yield; like a coward who, as soon as the thief approaches, gives him his purse. But he is the valorous Christian, who brandishes the sword of the Spirit against Satan, and will rather die than yield. The valor and courage of a saint is never more seen than on a battlefield, when he is fighting the red dragon, and by the power of faith puts the devil to flight. That grace is tried gold, which can stand in the fiery trial, and withstand Satan's fiery darts!

(5.) Temptations work for good—as God makes those who are tempted, fit to comfort others in the same distress. A Christian must himself be under the buffetings of Satan, before he can speak a word in due season to him who is weary. Paul was well-versed in temptations. "We are very familiar with his evil schemes" (2 Cor. 2:11). Thus he was able to acquaint others with Satan's cursed wiles (1 Cor. 10:13). A man who has ridden over a place where there are bogs and quicksands—is the fittest to guide others through that dangerous way. He who has felt the claws of Satan, the roaring lion, and has lain bleeding under those wounds—is the fittest man to deal with one who is tempted. None can better discover Satan's subtle devices—than those who have been long in the fencing school of temptation.

(6.) Temptations work for good—as they stir up fatherly compassion in God to those who are tempted. The child who is sick and bruised—is most looked after. When a saint lies under the bruising of temptations, Christ prays, and God the Father pities. When Satan puts the soul into a fever, God comes with a cordial; which made Luther say, that "temptations are Christ's embraces," because He then most sweetly manifests Himself to the soul.

(7.) Temptations work for good—as they make the saints long more for heaven. There they shall be out of gunshot; heaven is a place of rest, no bullets of temptation fly there. The eagle which soars aloft in the air, and sits upon high trees—is not troubled with the stinging of the serpent. Just so, when believers are ascended to heaven, they shall not be molested by the old serpent, the devil. In this life, when one temptation is over, another comes. This makes God's people wish for death—to call them off the battlefield where the bullets fly so quick—and to receive a victorious crown, where neither the drum nor cannon—but the harp and violin, shall be eternally sounding.

(8.) Temptations work for good—as they engage the strength of Christ. Christ is our Friend, and when we are tempted, He sets all His power working for us. "Since He Himself has gone through suffering and temptation, He is able to help us when we are being tempted" (Heb. 2:18). If a poor soul was to fight alone with the Goliath of hell, he would be sure to be vanquished! But Jesus Christ brings in His auxiliary forces—He gives fresh supplies of grace. "We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us!" (Romans 7:37). Thus the evil of temptation is overruled for our good.

Question. But sometimes Satan foils a child of God. How does this work for good?

Answer. I grant that, through the suspension of divine grace, and the fury of a temptation—a saint may be overcome; yet this foiling by a temptation shall be overruled for good. By this foil, God makes way for the augmentation of grace. Peter was tempted to self-confidence; he presumed upon his own strength; and Christ let him fall. But this wrought for his good—it cost him many a tear. "He went out, and wept bitterly" (Matt. 26:75). And now he grows less self-reliant. He dared not say he loved Christ more than the other apostles. "Do you love me more than these?" (John 21:15). He dared not say so—his fall into sin broke the neck of his pride!

The foiling by a temptation causes more circumspection and watchfulness in a child of God. Though Satan did before decoy him into sin—yet for the future he will be the more cautious. He will beware of coming within the lion's chain any more! He is now more vigilant and fearful of the occasions of sin. He never goes out without his spiritual armor—and he girds on his armor by prayer. He knows he walks on slippery ground, therefore he looks wisely to his steps. He keeps close sentinel in his soul, and when he spies the devil coming—he grasps his spiritual weapons, and displays the shield of faith (Eph. 6:16).
This is all the hurt the devil does when he foils a saint by temptation—he cures him of his careless neglect; he makes him watch and pray more. When wild beasts get over the hedge and damage the grain—a man will make his fence the stronger. Just so, when the devil gets over the hedge by a temptation, a Christian will be sure to mend his fence; he will become more fearful of sin, and careful of duty. Thus the being worsted by temptation, works for good.

Objection. But if being foiled works for good, this may make Christians careless whether they are overcome by temptations or not.

Answer. There is a great difference between falling into a temptation, and running into a temptation. The falling into a temptation shall work for good—not the running into it. He who falls into a river is fit for help and pity—but he who desperately runs into it, is guilty of his own death. It is madness running into a lion's den! He who runs himself into a temptation is like king Saul—who fell upon his own sword.

From all that has been said, see how God disappoints the old serpent—by making his temptations turn to the good of His people. Luther once said, "There are three things which make a godly man—prayer, meditation, and temptation." The wind of temptation is a contrary wind to that of the Spirit; but God makes use of this cross wind, to blow the saints to heaven!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Faith Of A Child

Matthew 18:3 "I assure you," He said, "unless you are converted and become like a children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

In this verse Jesus characterizes saving faith as faith that is simple, trusting, helplessly dependent, and that acknowledges that one has no resources of his own, but it utterly and totally dependent upon God. Jesus makes His point by using a child as His illustration. So what is it about children that illustrates this kind of faith?

First, a child does not worry about where their food is going to come from, they don't worry about if they will have a place to sleep, they don't think about what they are going to wear. They know that their father will provide all of these things for them, and they never even think to doubt that. Children rely on their father for their very existence; they are not out looking for a job and trying to scrape up money to buy the things they need, they have the faith that everything they need will be provided when they need it. And it is not even a conscience thought, children trust their fathers blindly. This is how our Heavenly Father wants us to trust Him

Jesus goes on to say in the next verse that we are to humble ourselves like children, which brings us to the second thing that I think Jesus was telling us here. Jesus says that we are to humble ourselves and be like a child, but a child does not need to humble themselves - they simply are humble. I think what Jesus is telling us here is that humility should be such a part of who we are that it is not a conscious thought. Children don't worry about who is the greatest; to them it's their dad.

Spend some time today praising God because He is Your Father. Ask Him to show you any area that You are not trusting Him like a child. Ask Him to remove anything that causes you to worry. Thank Him for the care He takes of you. Just take some time today to love your Heavenly Father like a child loves their earthly father, not because of what you will get for doing so; just because you love Him

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Gospel?

For those of you who may still think that Joel Osteen is preaching the Gospel here is a clip contrasting the teaching of Paul Washer with the teaching of Mr. Osteen. We desperately need to fall on our faces before the throne of God and repent for what we have allowed to happen to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this country.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Deny Yourself, Take Up A Cross, And Follow Jesus

Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me."

"This passage sets forth the heart of Christian discipleship and it strikes a death blow to the self-centered false gospels that are so popular in contemporary Christianity." So says John MacArthur of this verse. Jesus is telling His disciples here that a true Christian, one who is truly born again, is one who denies self, takes up a cross, and follows Him. Lets take a look at each of these and see if we can discover what Jesus is saying to us today.

First He says that to be a disciple of His we must deny ourself. The perfect example of self denial is Jesus Himself; in the garden the night He was betrayed Jesus prayed "Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will." To deny yourself means that you are now submitting to the will of God in everything - even when it hurts, even when you get ridiculed, even if it means that you loose your friends, your family, your job, your possessions. To be a disciple of Christ Jesus has to be the most important thing in your life.

Second Jesus says that we must take up our cross. The cross was an instrument of death; Jesus was saying that His disciples are those who die to themselves. To be a follower of Christ we must no longer live for our own interests and desires, but we must do what He wills. Galatians 2:20 tells us that as a follower of Christ we have been crucified with Him, and it is no longer us who live but Christ who lives in us.

And the last thing Jesus says is that we are to follow Him. This does not mean that we can say a prayer, or walk an isle, or sign a card and be a Christian. Being a follower of Jesus Christ means that we learn what His will is and we do it. We can not just make an intellectual ascent to the facts about Jesus and say we are a Christian; Jesus set the bar a lot higher than that. We must follow Him. There is an old saying that says becoming a Christian is free, but being a Christian will cost you everything; That is exactly what this verse is telling us..

Spend a few minutes today thinking about what it means to deny yourself, take up your cross, and then follow Jesus.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Are You A Berean?

Matthew 16:12 Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the yeast in bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

How many times have you been told to beware of the teaching that comes out of our pulpits? I would guess not many, but this is exactly what Jesus was telling the disciples in this passage. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were the religious leaders of their day. They were the ones who interpreted the Scriptures and taught the people; they were the ones in the synagogues and temple telling their congregations how they should live; they were the ones that the people of Jesus day looked to for an example of godliness. But Jesus here tells His disciples that they are to be aware of the teachings of these men.

This New Testament is full of passages that tell us that we are to be aware of what we are being taught. For example Jesus said in earlier in Matthew that there are false prophets that come in among us disguised as sheep, but they are really ravenous wolves who will destroy us (Matthew 7:15). Peter also tells us that false prophets and false teachers will appear and rise up among us, that they will bring in destructive heresies, and that many will follow their ways (2 Peter 2:1-2).With all of these, and many more, warnings we had better be aware of who is teaching us and what we are allowing them to teach.

But how, you ask, do we do this? In Acts 17:11 we are given the answer; this verse says "The people here were more open minded than those in Thessalonica, since they welcomed the message with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so." This verse is talking about the people of Berea; they are praised because they not only received the message with eagerness, they then went home and searched the Scriptures to make sure what they were being taught agreed with what was written. We could eliminate a lot of false teaching in our churches today if the people in the congregation would not blindly accept everything they are being taught, but would listen to what is being said and then search the Bible for themselves to see if what they are hearing is true.

I encourage you to be a Berean; open your bible and make sure what you are being taught agrees with what you see there. I don't care if it is your paster, a preacher on the radio or TV, or even me. If what you hear doesn't agree with what the Bible says it is false teaching and you need to run from it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Give Us A Sign

Matthew 16:2-4 He answered them: "When evening comes you say, 'It will be good weather because the sky is red.' And in the morning, 'Today will be stormy because the sky is red and threatening.' You know how to read the appearance of the sky, but you can't read the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation wants a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign on Jonah." Then He left them and went away.

Once again we see the Pharisees trying to test and trap Jesus. This time they tell Him that they want to see a sign from heaven, and the verses above give us the answer that Jesus gave to these men. He told them that they were able to predict the weather because of the appearance of the sky, but that they were clueless about the plan of God. These were the teachers of Israel, and they were completely missing what God had been promising them for 2000 years. Jesus called them an evil and adulterous generation and said the only sign they would receive was the sign of Jonah.

What they were doing by asking for a sign from heaven was discrediting His miracles and His ministry. So Jesus told them there would be the sign of Jonah, and no other (because they had already missed all of the other "signs). So what is the sign of Jonah? Jesus was telling them two things here: first, and most obvious, this is a reference to His death and resurrection. In Matthew 12:40 Jesus says that just like Jonah was in the belly of the sea monster for three days, so would He be in the heart of the earth. The second, and not quite as obvious aspect to this sign was the fact that because of their rejection of Jesus the gospel would go to the gentiles just as Jonah had done by taking the message of God to the Ninivites.

But what does any of this have to do with us today? I'm glad you asked. How many times do we read God's word and doubt what it says? How many times do we fail to recognize the hand of God in the situations of our lives? How many times do we just ignore what we know to be true instead of acting on faith and trusting God to do what He said He would do? In a lot of ways we are just like the Pharisees of Jesus' day. We are more concerned with our particular denomination than we are with a personal relationship with Him. Don't get so caught up in the things of this world that you miss the most important thing, Jesus.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Letter From Hell

Every Christian needs to see this video.

Now, go share your faith!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Our Deceitful Hearts

Matthew 15:18-20 "But what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this defiles a man. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies. These are the things that defile a man, but eating with unwashed hands does not defile a man."

The Pharisees have once again confronted Jesus. This time they are accusing His disciples of not keeping their traditions. In the minds of the Pharisees their traditions were superior to the Scriptures because they were the only reliable interruption of them. But Jesus points out that their traditions were actually contrary to God's law. In other words they had been so zealous for the law itself that they had missed the most important element; the law was given to draw them to God. They had embraced the law but not the God who gave it. Are we guilty of the same thing today? Do we place the teachings of our particular denomination above what the Bible says? Do we even question what our church is teaching us and compare it to the Scripture to make sure they agree?

Using this as an illustration Jesus shows us that what we put into our mouths is not what defiles us, and that not washing your hands before you eat is not what causes one to sin. He tells us that what we eat just passes through our body, but we need to be concerned with what is in our heart because that is what defiles us. Jesus has made this point before when He told us that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34). Here He is telling us that the things that come out of the heart of man are evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies. This list is not all inclusive, but He has made His point.

Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that "The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and desperately sick..." This is why we cannot clean ourselves up to please God; there is nothing good in us. We are desperately sick. In order to please God we need to have a new heart, and that is exactly what God promises to those who put their faith in Jesus. In Ezekiel 36:26 God says, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." This is exactly what we need, because what is inside of us is defiled and no matter what we do we will never be able to please God on our own. That is why Jesus came.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Importance Of Time Alone With God

Matthew 14:23 After dismissing the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray, When evening came He was there alone.

How many times do we see this picture in the gospels; Jesus going off by Himself to pray? This was where Jesus connected with His Father, this is how He re-energized for the mission He was on. But that is not all that was happening here. Jesus had just miraculously fed five thousand men, plus women and children. After they had eaten, He dismissed the crowds and He dismissed the disciples; the text tells us that "He made the disciples get into a boat" which suggests that they didn't want to leave Him. If we look at the parallel passage in John chapter six we see that the reason they were all sent away was because they (the crowds) were about to come and take Him by force and make Him their king (John 6:15). The fact that He also sent the disciples away may indicate that they were also thinking that this would have been a good opportunity for Jesus to assert His authority and set up His earthly kingdom.

We see in Luke's account of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness that "when the devil had ended every temptation he departed Him until an opportune time." (Luke 4:13 ESV). This could very well have been one of those opportune times in Jesus' life. This temptation would have been very much like the third temptation in the wilderness, where the devil offered Him all of the kingdoms of the world, because here was a crowd of probably up to 25 thousand people all wanting to make Him king. But by becoming king now He would have had to bypass the cross. We don't know for sure what was going through His mind at this time, but we can take away from this the example that Jesus set for us in the face of temptation. The text tells us that "He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray."

We all face numerous temptations every day, and each one of them is an opportunity to resist and obey God. We are told in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that with every temptation God will provide us a way of escape. If we choose not to take that way we end up in sin, but that doesn't mean the way wasn't there; it just means that we either failed to see it, or failed to take it. We need to make it a habit to get alone with God to pray, especially when we are in the face of temptation. Just like Jesus did.