Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Leader Led the Way

The Leader Led the Way
October 1, 2018
Ezra 9:2  ". . .And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness."

Not ironic, leaders are meant to lead. There have been many successful leaders in the past few thousand years, leaders both good and evil. Nebuchadnezzar could have been considered a successful leader in Biblical times, building a vast empire, however he was not considered a moral man even by non-Christian standards today. There are many successful leaders that lead entire nations of people astray and down the wrong path. World War I & II are perfect examples of that, with successful leaders on both sides. In the end, good won out over evil, but not after many people were led down the wrong path and millions upon millions died unnecessarily. And those evil leaders convinced many their way was right, leading them to commit the unimaginable. Today, those unimaginables are obvious, but that does not mean the world is absent of leaders who lead many down the wrong path.

In Ezra's time, there were some Israelites left in-country, under occupation of foreign rule, and some who were carried off into exile, into that foreign land. Both groups of Israelites were still under the rule of the foreign king, though. One of the Lord's commands to the Israelites after they left slavery from Egypt was not to intermarry. This was not because of racism, but because of the propensity of foreign idol worship and the different religions and gods brought along with these different people groups. The rule of not marrying and mingling with them was intended to keep them pure from a religious perspective. The draw and influence from a spouse was, and is, significant if they serve another religion. The Lord wanted to stave this off. He instructed them to marry only other Israelites. But during the occupation by the foreign king, the Israelites intermarried with them. Not only were the general population intermarrying with them, but even the religious leaders, the Levites, were intermarrying. This frustrated the Lord, not because of racism, but because of the disobedience, as likely those foreign marriages resulted in household trinkets and symbols and practices to influence Judaism.

The Bible says the leaders led the way in these practices. If anyone should have known better, it was the religious leaders, but they compromised. That compromise enticed more people into what was somehow acceptable and they were led into that same sin. While each person is responsible for his or her own sin, the Bible is clear that leaders, specifically religious teachers, will be held to a higher standard. The way a religious leader leads will have a profound impact on each person's future, their eternal future. In Ezra's time, these leaders led the people into sin. From the outside perspective, it did not look to be an immoral activity, but it was against the Lord's rule book. There are millions of churches, that look to be completely fine from an outside perspective, not harming anyone. But are the practices in each church leading someone to live and act in a manner that does not line up with the Lord's rule book? Not all who call themselves Christians follow the Lord's rule book. What is more important, calling yourself a Christian or living according to the Christ standard?

While neither of us can judge, specifically, we are called to weigh everything according to the Lord's standards. We are called to live according to the way the Lord set up, the example led by Jesus, and the instructions left in the Bible. We are to hold the church, the church doctrine, and the religious leaders up to the litmus of those standards. While the leaders should know better, ignorance is not a viable defense before the Lord. Just because a leader is leading, does not mean it is the right way. You have an obligation to make sure you attend a Bible-believing, Bible-practicing church. You also have an obligation to weigh your pastor in light of the Bible, which requires knowing the Bible. Just because the leader is charismatic and seems to have good intentions, does not mean they are leading your down the correct path. Be careful of the doctrine you follow. Is it the doctrine of the church or the doctrine of the Bible?

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Ezra 9:1-4, Acts 17:11, Rom 12:2-13, James 3:1

Sunday, September 23, 2018

And There Was Light

And There Was Light
September 24, 2018
Genesis 1:3  "And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light"

In the beginning, the Lord created the heavens and the earth. This is the start of the Bible, and we all can quote it so easily. The Bible opens that way to set a precedent and should not be glossed over The precedent is one of authority and responsibility. The Lord opens the Bible setting things clear that what unfolds in the Bible is a result of His creation, His handiwork in motion. It's all about the Lord. He created it and He is in charge. The opening of the Bible is swift, but very clear who it is about and what it is about. It is about Him and His relationship with His creation.

After the Bible leads at the opening, the Lord quickly establishes two more ground rules for the rest of creation as well as the rest of the Bible. Let there by light. The Lord spoke light into existence. This is critical, because the Lord is a creator. He is never referred to as the one who once created. He is referred to in the Bible, throughout, as the creator, one who creates. He formed the heavens and the earth and then He continued create. He does not stop creating. He did not create once and stop there. He continued to create and He continues today. And how He creates is almost just as critical. He speaks it into existence. When He said, "let there be light," there was light. He spoke it into existence and it could not be undone. It had to come to fruition. What the Lord declared is so, is so. If the Lord declared it, it will happen, it will come about. Nothing can stop what the Lord spoke into motion. And there was light. It happened, and it came about in the simplest of manners. The Lord just speaks and it is done.  

As Christians in this century, we often think the Lord is done creating. We fail to recognize how quick and easy it is for the Lord to create something out of nothing. We also fail to recognize that what the Lord speaks into motion cannot be undone. There are so many applications to our lives. Christian, the Lord is still creating in your life. He is speaking things into existence, and will continue to speak things into existence for the remainder of your life. It is that easy for Him, no difficulty in accomplishing the task with a simple spoken word. And furthermore, what He speaks into existence for your life cannot be undone. It is done. You cannot halt what the Lord has spoken, nothing can.

You may be trying to create in your own life, and understandably so as we are made in the creator's image. One thing is certain, however, and that is you have no ability to speak things into existence in the same manner. You cannot fight what the Lord wants to do in your life and what He has already spoken into motion for you. On the flip side, if you are struggling with facing a dead end, thinking the road cannot be made or an oasis in the midst of a desert, you would be wrong. The Lord can make a way where there seems to be no way. He can speak the situation into existence; He can create something from nothing. When He speaks something into existence, it will materialize. As sure as there is light, the Lord is speaking things into existence at this very moment. If you need a way in the desert, where there seems to be no way, pray to the One who can speak it into place.

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Genesis 1:1-5, Proverbs 16:1

Monday, September 17, 2018

Write It Down

Write It Down
September 17, 2018
Ezra 7:10:  "For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel."

Ezra is a small book of the Bible, coupled with the books of the prophets. If you were able to ask Ezra, he would probably not have considered himself a prophet. He was, however, an impressive man of God. He was one of the Jewish leaders in the time of occupation. Much like in the time of Jesus the Romans occupied and ruled over Israel, the king of Persia was in charge. But Ezra found favor with the foreign king, and somehow found himself as the head of the Jewish state. A more correct interpretation of Ezra would put him as a figure head over the Jews, with no real authority. Not born as a king, Ezra was a priest, a direct descendant of the first priest Aaron. He was first a priest by occupation, and as a priest he was a scribe and teacher by default. The Bible says he was an impressive teacher, an expect in the Law of Moses. Researches, however, call him a scribe. He was both.

One does not simply become an expert by accident, or adept at anything difficult without trying. His resume, as suggested by the Bible, lists his skills as understanding scripture, living out scripture, and teaching scripture. Also noted on his resume was his ability to read and write, extremely well, able to take dictation and scribe letters, in several languages. Ezra was not a warrior, or a charismatic leader, he was a book worm. He devoted himself to the study of the Scriptures. Never intending to be a leader, he probably felt most comfortable with his books, some candle light, and maybe some paper to jot down notes. If you look through the Bible, though, he is most often associated with being a prophet and with being a scribe. The Bible calls him an expert in the law and a teacher but somehow he is not known to us in that way. If you consider his pathway, though, on how he become known, you must understand his beginnings.

Part of the priestly duties were reading the scriptures out loud and writing them down for others. The ink back then did not last long, so they had to constantly re-write out the Scriptures. As well, many smaller versions of the manuscripts were needed and used by the priests to teach others, so they often had to write out significant portions of the Scriptures over and over again. He spent many hours, by default, writing out the Bible, tediously and meticulously. If you want to guess how he became so good at understanding the Scriptures, you can understand that much of it came from patiently copying it over and over again.  He could not have been able to be an expert at applying Scripture if he first did not have such a deep understanding of it. He could not have been such an amazing teacher if he first was not able to apply it in his own life. Say it all another way. He was such a good teacher because he lived it. He was able to live it, because he knew it and understood it. He was able to understand it because he spent countless years of his life writing it down. He would not have become the leader he was unless he started out as a book worm and a scribe. He was an impressive leader because he first started writing out the Bible.

Translate that over into daily life and I wonder how much more impact full a Christian we would be if we wrote out Scripture, understanding it to the depth of Ezra. Sure, you might read it, maybe even study it a bit, but have you written it out on paper, tediously and meticulously, so you know it like the back of your hand? There is a strange connection with your cognitive understanding and ability to memorize something when you write it down. We know this when studying for a college exam, but how many of us have done this with Scripture, for no other reason than writing it down. If you look at how Ezra had to write it out, it was a slow process, making the characters with his ink pen after dipping it in ink multiple times for the same word even.  He didn't type it; he spent hours on the same page, literally hours copying down one page worth of material. Accept this challenge to copy down even one small book of the Bible by hand and see if it does not illuminate your understanding of Scripture and effect your Christianity. If you want to take your impact up a level, start copying Scripture down and see how much better you will be able to apply it to your life.

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Ezra 7

Monday, September 10, 2018

Blood Money

Blood Money
September 10, 2018
Matthew 27:5  "So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself."

The story of Judas betraying Jesus is slightly confusing if you study it in depth. It takes several epistles to explain the whole story and then you have to piece together the parts to see the complete picture.  The Jewish leaders were the ones who wanted Jesus to go away. That was no secret. They just wanted Him to go away. There were some Jewish leaders who respected Him, but an elite band of leaders wanted Him out of the picture. Judas agreed to help the Jewish leaders capture Him. There were countless opportunities to nab Jesus, but they wanted to do it in the dark, in the secret, to make it all just go away quietly. Judas agreed to help that happen. 

Judas was tempted. It is baffling that someone can spend so many months and years in a relationship with the person of Jesus and decide to do Him wrong, intentionally harming Him. Judas knew who Jesus was; He understood Jesus was the son of God. How, then, could Judas conspire against Him? Were they not at least friends? Was the money really worth selling out someone you once considered your friend? Evidently, the money was good enough to sell Jesus out. Judas originally worked with ministry money, keeping the books. That was part of his giftings and service. Satan tempted him in the area of his giftings. The money was good, for whatever Judas needed it for and he fell for it. The price for Judas to sell out Jesus was 30 pieces of silver.

Judas took the money, turned over Jesus, and then felt the regret. The Jewish leaders who conspired with Judas did not truly need his help; they could have done without him, but it sure was easier with an insider. Judas became a part of the story and for that he felt regret. Judas knew what he was doing, and Satan helped him. Judas gave in to the temptation as put before him by Satan and his own fleshly desires. We judge Judas wondering how he could do that, but the reality is, we all might have our sell-out point. There might be a sum of money or temptation large enough for you to walk away from your relationship with the Lord. Judas regretting taking the money, in retrospect and threw it back on the Jewish leaders who conspired against Jesus. The Jewish leaders who took it back called it blood money and couldn't take it into the temple. They were a part of the conspiracy and blood money, yet they recognized what was wrong about the entire situation. They recognized it represented someone conspiring against the innocent. They also realized it was wrong, in retrospect.

It took 30 pieces of silver to sell out Jesus; what is your price? At what point would the money be good enough for you to walk away from the Lord? There are many opinions but the range of worth for 30 pieces of silver today is one to four months of income. Look at your income and calculate four months' worth of pay. Would you sell out Jesus for four months of your pay? It made sense to Judas at the time. You may not be willing to sell Him out for four months of income, but what about 400 months of revenue?  Would you do it for a million dollars? Would you do it for fame or status or privilege?  Maybe you would sell out in order to live without hardship. I've seen many Christians retain the name but have figured out how to remove anything difficult or uncomfortable about being a Christian. Many have a sell out point, maybe it is torture. Maybe if you were tortured you'd be willing to renounce your faith in Jesus? Blood money does not always come in the form of silver. There is much this world has to offer and Satan has all different types of currencies. He will tempt you in the area of your giftings and you might end up accepting a sum to turn away from Jesus. You might be surprised at the low price people accept to sell out Jesus. Take it from Judas, no amount is worth it, and in the end it is all blood money. Blood money is useless. He tried to return it but in the end it was too late.

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Matthew 26:1-5 & 47-50 , Matthew 27:1-10, Luke 22:1-6, John 13