Friday, December 20, 2013

The Christian's Diet: Feast Upon the Word.

Note: Today's post is from one of my dear brothers in Christ, Ryan Burris. He has been called to the ministry and is currently pursuing his Master's of Divinity at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also a youth minister, a gifted preacher and, as you will read, a wonderful writer and expositor of God's Word. I hope you enjoy his thoughts on this important subject and are blessed and challenged by his message.

Christian

Ezekiel 3:1 He said to me: “Son of man, eat what you find here.  Eat this scroll, then go and speak to the house of Israel.”

A new year is just around the corner, and with that comes resolutions.  Consistently, one of the top New Year’s resolutions is going on a diet or losing weight (which typically includes dieting).  Our culture is crying out for new, more successful diets with quicker results, and this is not necessarily a bad thing.  While I am not a dieter myself, it seems as though most diets that I have heard of are based around 1 primary principle.  It may be a low or no-carb diet, perhaps a no sugar or low fat diet, maybe, like me it is a “seefood” diet.  When I see food that looks good, I eat it.  I believe in taking care of oneself physically, hence the reason why I do workout and for the most part eat a healthy diet.  I believe also that the Christian should have some concern for taking care of his body.  Scripture explains that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20), therefore, I believe we should take care of them.  Further, Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 4 that training the body does have some benefit, though it is limited.
However, he does not stop here, but continues on to say that training for godliness and being godly is of far greater value.  Paul is emphasizing the fact that as Christians we should be much more concerned with our spiritual health than we should our physical physique.  This should lead to the Christian being on a spiritual diet and having a routine of spiritual exercise in order to make sure that he is healthy and in peak shape.  Paul compares the Christian to being an athlete, and not a mediocre one at that, but rather an athlete who is competing for the prize.  We must be striving in our Christian walk each and every day to grow as a Christian, just as the professional athletes “strike a blow” to their bodies each and every day to get better, faster, and stronger. 
                So what is this spiritual diet??? As I mentioned earlier, most diets are built upon one basic principle.  The same is true for the follower of Christ.  We must feast upon the Word of God. 
                I have been amazed recently at how this idea of eating the Word of God floods the text of Scripture.  I don’t think any Christian would disagree that the Bible is important to Christians, but I want to propose that we have allowed it to subtly become far less important than what it ought to be.  It has become a self-help book when it should be our lifeline.
Littered throughout the pages of the Bible are verses that speak to this very idea.  At the beginning of this post, I quoted Ezekiel 3:1.  God had Ezekiel do some very interesting things to say the least, most of which were unique to Ezekiel himself.  However, one interesting thing that is commanded to more people than just Ezekiel is this command for him to literally eat the scroll that God had presented him.  At this command Ezekiel goes on to say, “So I opened my mouth, and He fed me the scroll. ‘Son of man,’ He said to me, ‘eat and fill your stomach with this scroll I am giving you.’ So I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth” (Ezk. 3:2-3).  Wow!  I wish I had the zeal of Ezekiel to just do whatever God asked me, no matter how crazy it sounded, without hesitation or question.
The psalmist had a very similar experience to Ezekiel as he too ate the Word of God.  He writes, “How sweet your word is to my taste – sweeter than honey in my mouth” (Ps. 119:103).
 The feast continues for the prophet Jeremiah who says, “Your words were found, and I ate them.  Your words became a delight to me and the joy of my heart…” (Jer. 15:16).
 Job also speaks to this idea as he says, “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my daily food” (Job 23:12b). 
When Jesus was facing temptation He reprimanded Satan, and reminds readers, of Deuteronomy 8:3, that “Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4).  Then in John 4 when His disciples beg Him to eat He explains that He has a food that they do not understand, which is to do the will of the Father (Jn. 4:32-34).  Further, in John 7 Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn. 7:53).  Flipping a few pages back to John 1, the reader will remember that Jesus is the Word of God, which has become flesh. 
Then In John’s Revelation, he was given a very similar command to Ezekiel: “Now the voice that I heard from heaven spoke to me again and said, ‘Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.’  So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll.  He said to me, ‘Take and eat it; it will be bitter in your stomach, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.’  Then I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it.  It was as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I ate it, my stomach became bitter” (Rev. 10:9-10).  While this scroll is likely filled with more revelation of God’s wrath than what we are actually given in the book of Revelation, it is still a clear command for John to eat the scroll, which illustrates the idea being discussed in this post. 
While I do believe in some of the above instances that these men probably did physically consume the scroll, in contemporary application it’s what eating the scroll or the Word of God implies that we should understand.  As I mentioned before, the weight of the Holy Scripture seems to be far heavier and far more important than what many seem to give it.  The benefits that come along with eating are far beyond the mere reading of words on a page.

The Benefits of Eating

                Go back with me to Ms. Ferguson’s Anatomy and Physiology class my senior year of high school.  As we began the section on nutrition, I remember her making the statement “We eat to live, we do not live to eat.”  This statement rings in my ears as I think of the importance of the Word for the Christian life.  The Word is what gives us life, after all the Word became flesh. 
                The majority of people who will read this do not know what hunger is like.  We eat merely because we want to.  However, even for us who have plenty, we understand that without food we would die.  We eat food in order to gain essential nutrients that keep us alive and healthy and give us energy.  If we decided that we would never eat again for the rest of our lives, we would surely not have very long.  In the same way, for a Christian to continue in the ways of the Lord, He must know and believe God’s Word.  He must chew through the Word, savoring the flavors, digesting it and absorbing the life from the Word of God.
More to the point, he must make a routine of reading through the Bible carefully, understanding the truth of the Gospel on every page.  He must spend time praying through the Word asking God to reveal Himself and His truth.  He must memorize the Word so that when faced with a temptation he can do as Jesus did and say “it is written.” 
I believe that when we do this, we will understand in a greater way the story throughout the Bible, the Gospel: Creation, Fall, Rescue, and Restoration.  The Gospel is what allows us to understand where we can find life! 

Eating the Word leads to sharing the Gospel

                As we mull over the Scriptures, it will not be long until we see the urgency with which God told all of those who had eaten the Word to go and proclaim the message! (refer back to Ezekiel 3:1 at the beginning of this post)  We all know the cliché “you are what you eat,” and such is true with the Bible.  If we feast upon the Word of God, while we will not become God’s Word, we will begin to go out and proclaim it.  It will leave us with a burden for those who have no access to it or have not heard it.  As it gives us life we will want to share it with others so that they too may have life.  This message is far to important for us to keep to ourselves.

                So, to wrap this up, I think Scripture is pretty clear that we must consume the Word of God.  We must ask ourselves if we are making the Word a staple in our diet as Christians.  We must also ask if we are allowing it to transform us.  Are we digesting it?  Are we truly allowing the words of the Almighty Himself to shape our life?  Are we relying on it to give us life, or are we looking for satisfaction and understanding in other places? 
                Friends, I pray that we will no longer take lightly the Word of God.  I pray that we will read and re-read the Scriptures so that we may grow stronger in our faith and become more committed followers of Christ.  I pray that you will make a commitment today to feast upon the Word of God.


In Christ,

Ryan Burris

Monday, December 16, 2013

Ninety-nine Percent isn't Good Enough For God.

What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which was lost until he finds it? Luke 15:4.

Have you ever lost something?

Naturally that is a rhetorical question because we've all lost things in our lives. Whether it is the TV remote, our car keys or even something less mundane, we often misplace things that are important to us. What ensues is usually a frustrating series of events to include tossing the couch and living room, rummaging through pockets and disgorging the contents of closets until the lost item is found.

In Luke 15 Jesus tells a series of parables to show that God is no less dedicated to the search for lost things than we are. In fact, His search goes over and above the effort we would put forth for all but the most valuable of things. For now, I want to focus on the first two parables in this chapter because they are very, very similar and the third is the parable of the Prodigal Son and requires it's own post.

At the opening of the chapter we find that Jesus is being surrounded by, not only curious Pharisees and scribes, but also tax collectors and "sinners." I do find it somewhat humorous that tax collectors often fell into the same category as "sinners." Oh how the same sentiment lives today!

The religious elite were, as always, flabbergasted that Jesus would associate with the dregs of society but their grumbling would only lead to another teachable moment for the entire crowd. Both the Pharisees and the sinners were in desperate need of the message that Christ was about to bring through two, easily accessible parables.

The two parables are that of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin. Both carry the same core message but with slightly different details. In the parable of the lost sheep the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine which are safe and goes after the one which is lost. In the parable of the lost coin the woman lights a lamp and sweeps the entire house to find the one lost coin out of ten. The divine application would have been clear and earth-shattering to the hearers that day.

Why would such an obvious statement to us be so revolutionary to the people in Christ's day? The answer lies in the Pharisees' understanding of God. To them there was no question that God would welcome people to come to Him, so long as they cleaned up their act first. Naturally, the Pharisees would have considered themselves righteous in their own eyes and in the eyes of God. They had done a stellar job of following the law so they believed God would eagerly welcome them into His Kingdom. However, there would be no way that God would want to have anything to do with an unrighteous sinner. In their mind mankind had to seek after God.

What Jesus is teaching here is that their concept of God was completely backwards in this area. Not only, He teaches us, does God seek after the lost sinner but, there is no man who truly does seek after God. Romans 3:9-12 makes this truth abundantly clear.

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, "There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, not even one." 

This is, of course, a reaffirmation of the truth God already spoke in Psalm 14 but clearly someone needed a refresher course. The really intriguing thing to me is thinking that Paul wrote his words to a Christian church in Rome. Perhaps the early Christians there had already fallen into the same trap as the Pharisees prior to them. Just as the Pharisees believed they were seeking after God because of their adherence to the Law, so these early Christians may have started thinking more highly of themselves than they should have.

The point that Jesus is making to both the Pharisees and the sinners is that God, in His love, actively seeks those who are lost. Let us not forget that He has been doing this from the very beginning of time. After Adam and Eve sinned and decided it would be good to make some clothes for themselves God came looking for them in the garden for their evening stroll. "Where are you?" he asked them. Now, God has never once lost us in the sense that He doesn't know where we are.

The word translated "lost" in both of these parables comes from an ancient word that carries the meaning of "destroyed" or "perish." We can understand this because if we lose our car keys they may as well be dead to us because they are of absolutely no use in their lost state. This helps us understand the sense in which we are lost to God. He knows where we are but because of sin our relationship with Him has been severed. Ephesians 2 puts it this way;

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins...but God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).

To be lost is to be dead. To be lost is to have a broken relationship with God. However, He loves us so much that He refuses to let us continue in our lostness without offering us a chance at being found. These two parables show us to what lengths He is willing to go to in order to find us.

1. The parable of the lost sheep tells us that God is willing to put Himself in danger in order to find us. The shepherd had no idea what kind of mess the lost sheep had gotten itself into. It could have fallen in a ditch, made its way into a terrible bramble patch or even attacked by wild animals (remember what David had to fight off when he was a shepherd). The shepherd was willing to face whatever may come in order to save the sheep. Likewise, God sent His Son into danger to rescue us. Philippians 2 tells us that Christ was obedient to the Father to the point of death, even death on a cross.

2. The woman who lost her precious coin tore her house apart until she found the lost coin. In the same way, God will move heaven and earth to get an invitation to His feast into our hands. What we do with the invitation is completely up to us but He'll do His part in getting it to us. Also, nine out of ten coins wasn't good enough for this woman just as ninety-nine sheep out of one hundred weren't good enough for the shepherd. God never thinks to Himself, "Well I've got 99% and that ain't so bad. I'll forget about the 1%."

The final thing that I want to point out about these parables is the reaction of God to finding that which was lost. In both instances the person rejoices greatly when they have successfully found what they were looking for. Friends, know this, God wants to find people and when He does there is rejoicing like we can hardly imagine. In the first parable the rejoicing is described as "in heaven." This tells us that the entirety of the heavenly host throws a party when one person gets saved. Their rejoicing is so great because the angels of heaven know far better than we do what we are being saved from and what we are being saved to. In the second parable the rejoicing is said to take place in the "presence of the angels of God." This tells us that someone else is involved in the party and that someone is God Himself. Nothing makes God happier than seeing the people He loves so dearly accept the invitation to His great feast (salvation). He does not begrudgingly welcome people into His Kingdom, He does so with joy unimaginable. Why? Because His love for us is so vast and limitless.

As we continue headlong into this Christmas season let us take time to consider the love that God has for us. So great a love that it would drive Him to actively search for the lost and rejoice when you and I have been found.  

Monday, December 9, 2013

Love - Hate Relationship

If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Luke 14:26

There are times when I read the Gospels and wonder if Jesus didn't just get fed up with people misunderstanding Him, following Him for the wrong reasons, and just plain being silly. The verse above represents one of those times for me. Looking at those words one can only wonder if Jesus had simply had enough and laid into the people who were following Him just to see the next cool miracle. In the previous verse it says that "large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, if anyone comes to me..." you know the rest. Clearly Jesus wasn't up to speed on the current trends in mass evangelism and church growth strategies. That's right folks, Jesus used the word "hate" and He said if we don't we can't follow Him. It almost sounds like Jesus didn't want all those people following Him. Hmmmmmm, I wonder.

The fact is, large crowds of shallow followers who just wanted to see the next amazing thing or get the next blessing was never Jesus' goal. He was, and is, after people who will count the cost of following Him, buckle down and go with Him wherever He may lead. After He lays down that track about hating everyone who you're supposed to love the Lord goes on to explain that if we're going to follow Him we had better count the cost and be willing to give up everything for Him. This is a difficult teaching indeed.

To fully understand and better appreciate what Christ is teaching here we have to go back to the verse referenced at the beginning. Jesus is not telling us that we should literally hate our family. That would be utterly contrary to so many things He has already taught us, and will reveal to us through the New Testament. How are we to love God and love our neighbor (the two greatest commandments) and, at the same time, hate our family. That would be ludicrous and that gives us a pretty good idea that Jesus is speaking in hyperbole in Luke 14:26.

The kind of hatred that Jesus is speaking of here is a relative hatred. I understand that I may be making that term up but hear me out. What He is trying to get across to us is that if our love for Him isn't so great and overwhelming that every other love in our life seems like hatred in comparison, we don't love Him enough. Let me see if I can make this more clear. We use the word "love" for many things in our culture; food, games, sports teams, people, etc., etc. If you read one of my recent posts you know that, as far as cars goes, I love Corvettes. Now, if I compared my "love" for Corvettes with the love I have for my wife, my love for Corvettes would pale in comparison to the point that it would look like hatred. This is what Christ is teaching us.

Christ demands to be our first love. He will not accept second place, or even first place by a narrow margin. He wants to win the race for our hearts by a mile. Revelation 2:2-7 paints a clear picture of this truth. In this passage we have the letter John was to write to the church in Ephesus. In first bit of it God is commending the Ephesian church for their perseverance and discernment. He is basically giving them a divine pat on the back and praising them for the things they have gotten very right. However, He says this in verse 4;

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.

Then He goes on to say that if they do not repent, and return to their first love He will remove their lampstand. In essence, "All those good things don't mean a hill of beans if you don't love Me above all else." Individually, or as churches, we can have all the right doctrine, theology, programs, good works and all of that but if our love of Christ is not the defining characteristic of our identity then it is all for naught.

Our love for the Lord is not something that is expressed only on Sunday morning, or Wednesday evening, or when we are doing a church sponsored service project; it is to be expressed in every part of our life. As with so many other things Christ Himself acts as our example for this kind of love. In Philippians 2 Paul give us some insight into the love of Christ that we are to embody.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking on the form of a bond-servant... Philippians 2:5-7.

I would be willing to bet that Christ was quite comfortable seated at the right hand of God being the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. However, His love for us was so complete that He was willing to empty Himself, lay aside all of those royal privileges and become a man for our sake. A good leader does not merely order those underneath him or her to do difficult things, they lead by doing the difficult things before their followers. If Christ demands our ultimate love then we can rest assured that He has paved the way, by example, in what that love is supposed to look like. If this incredible example of total love does not motivate us to return it, then I do not know what will.

Friends, Christ will not settle for partial love. He doesn't want to work out a visitation deal in a custody battle. He wants our heart, soul, and mind, our total being. If we are only willing to offer a portion of ourselves to Him we are not willing to follow Him at all. As we draw near to the celebration of the first coming of Christ let us remember the total and complete love that He showed us by becoming one of us and let us strive to return that love to Him.

Godspeed,
Christian

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

No More Excuses

But they all alike began to make excuses. Luke 14:18a.

As human history has advanced over thousands of years we have made great strides of advancement in many areas. From the advent of fire we have now come to a place where we have harnessed that power for all types of helpful, and destructive, things. Since we first left the confines of terra firma using powered flight just over one hundred years ago, we can now travel all over the world in a matter of hours on the wings of jetliners. There are some areas, however, where our growth has been...stunted. One such area is our ability and willingness to make excuses. Who among us has not been invited to a function we do not want to go to and subsequently made an excuse?

This all began very early in our history. After eating the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve were faced with an inquiring God and Adam provided the first excuse; "That woman YOU made for me made me do it." Adam says raising his arm with an outstretched finger towards his wife. Wide-eyed at her husband's lack of hesitation in throwing her under the bus of divine inquiry Eve makes the second excuse, one that will be used for the remainder of human history, "The devil made me do it."

Moses, the greatest leader in Israelite history, is also famous for his excuse making. When confronted with a burning bush and the holy commission to lead God's people out of the land of Egypt he was quick to make his excuses. "They won't believe me and besides I'm not a good public speaker." Neither of these would satisfy God and guess what Moses did? He lead the people out of Egypt.

Perhaps one of the most flamboyant excuses of all time happened in the wilderness after Moses came down from the mountain of God. Finding the people worshiping a golden calf Moses confronted his brother Aaron for some answers. "Well," Aaron began, "We tossed all of this gold into the fire and...and...this golden calf just came out!" Sure it did Aaron and I suppose your dog ate your homework as well.

In Luke 14 Jesus offers a parable in which three people who had been invited to a celebration make excuses why they couldn't come. The first one claimed to have just bought some land and needed to go check it out. The second one, similarly, claimed he needed to go test some newly purchased oxen. The third begged that his recent marriage would offer a suitable excuse for his absence. To be sure, there are certain unavoidable circumstances that truly do keep us from an obligation. Unfortunately, neither of these three excuses fell into that category.

As I studied this passage one great question took up residence in my mind;

"What excuses are we making before God?" 

First and foremost, what excuses are we making to God for not accepting His offer of salvation? Do we claim that there is not enough "evidence." Romans chapter 1 sends a torpedo deeply below the waterline of that one. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. Perhaps you tell yourself, and God, that there are some things that you want to do in your life before you turn it over to Him. Friend, our lives are like vapors and there is precious little time to waiver on the issue of salvation. The saddest excuse that has ever been made goes something like this, "I need to get my life straightened out before I go to God/church," or even sadder, "God wouldn't want to have anything to do with me." I cannot think of a more sinister deception foisted on humans by the enemy. The truth is 1) you can't straighten you life out without Christ and 2) it is not the healthy that need the physician but the broken. God desperately wants your brokenness so that He can make you whole again. It was the sinners and outcasts that Jesus spent His time with. Know this, Jesus knew how limited His time was on this earth and He chose to spend it with the ones who society didn't want to have anything to do with. He wants sinners to come to Him so bad that He came and died for us!

Those of us who are redeemed also have a nasty habit of making excuses. What kind of excuses are you making for not obeying the call of God? Every so often we are bold enough to tell the truth and just say, "I don't want to do what God has told me to do." However, usually we do what? Make an excuse. I'm not skilled enough, I don't have the talent it would take, I don't have the resources it would take, I don't have time, I'm not worthy and on and on it goes. If God has called you to do something rest assured that He has the details of it all figured out. He didn't accidentally call you. "Sorry, I dialed the wrong number" is not in God's vocabulary.

Jesus makes the consequences of excuse making very clear at the end of the parable.

For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.

The consequences of not responding to the invitation into God's kingdom are severe. No matter how we try to explain it away Jesus said it in no uncertain terms. If you're invited to come to the King's feast and you turn Him down, there will be no supper for you. For those of us who have become a part of God's eternal family there are still consequences to rejecting His call on our lives. Those consequences are going to vary from person to person but there are real none the less. In Ezekiel chapter 3 God gives the prophet his instructions and tells him that if he decides not to warn someone who God has told him to warn, their blood will be on his hands. The most basic calling that all Christians share is the call to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. If we are not doing that then there may be people that God intended to warn through us that will perish and not taste His dinner. Our personal salvation may not be at stake but we will have to answer for our disobedience.

I can scarcely imagine what the world would look like if people would stop making phony excuses. Many more people would be joining the Kingdom of God, of that I am sure. Friend, what excuses are you making for not coming to Christ? Christian, what excuses are you making for not following the call of God in your life? Put them away and let there be no more excuses.

In Christ,
Christian